There’s a lot that’s been said about living without tons of belongings. Whether it’s an overflowing closet, a packed storage unit, or just a car trunk with way too much in it, most of us have more stuff than we feel is necessary clogging our lives. It’s the reason why it seems like, as a society, we’re obsessed with finding ways to live on just the essentials; shows like “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” provide us paths to minimizing the amount of stuff in our lives as a method to bring us better fulfillment.
But this concept of “minimalism” gets a bad rap. Images of Spartan accommodations as a way of saving money often leave people feeling like adopting such a lifestyle is all about depriving yourself of the things you need just so you can get your finances in order. NEWSFLASH: Living like a monk might help you pay a few bills, but it doesn’t do much for your inner light. That’s why I prefer essentialism over minimalism — believe it or not, there is a difference between the two.
Pivotal Moments That Shape You
Essentialism is something I learned from a young age, even before I knew what it was. Right from the beginning, I’ve always been the kind of person that keeps the amount of stuff they have to a minimum. As the daughter of immigrants, I learned to navigate between two worlds: my American life and my Asian life. We lived in modest neighborhoods growing up, but since my family ran several small businesses, we always had cash to pay for convenience as most places give discounts for buying outright. What those early years taught me was that living like an immigrant was fairly inexpensive compared to my friends whose parents were professionals. Other than the annual golf tournaments in L.A., a rare occasion when I saw my family elegantly dressed, there were never any societal pressures to drive luxury cars or look swanky for evening parties. By that time, I was a chameleon cognizant of weaving in and out of different worlds while trying not to alienate my audience. Having access to various circles was a privilege that I never took for granted, and being able to explore my curiosity became an integral part of who I was.
Growing up I attended private schools and ran with kids who made me feel cool for having immigrant parents. They were a fun group that thrived on the novelty of biculturalism that was lacking in the small town where we grew up. Aside from our love of fashion and music, hanging out at my house where the smell of steamed rice lingered in the background made our days more interesting. I was equally intrigued by their lives. It wasn’t until much later, in my early 30’s, that I found out not all Americans ate pickled herring? It challenged everything I thought I knew about American culture. But it was my early years that shaped my worldview today.
Needless to say, this lifestyle continued as I grew older. I remember going to New York for the first time at 16-years-old when my friend’s dad told me that you could never tell who has more money on the subway, a homeless man or the guy in a three-piece suit. He was right. The scruffy beatnik types that rocked the homeless aesthetic always seemed to have the best stories (and sometimes, zip codes). Maybe they didn’t have anything to prove, or maybe they were like me — just a nobody searching for truth. In any case, it had a profound effect on me. Making space for only the essentials and seeing it as a way to simplify life made it easier to trust people who befriended me. It’s easy to focus on intrinsic values when friendships aren’t blinded by flashy status symbols.
Whether this was a philosophical approach to our belongings or one borne out of necessity didn’t matter, the stage was set, and I was primed to live well within my means. For clarification, I do appreciate quality and I’m more than happy to pay for it, I’ve just never felt compelled to splurge on trends. It’s easy to buy every Lil’ pretty shiny thing when it’s being marketed to you. But when you live outside your means, your belongings start owning you instead of the other way around. As a free spirit I always knew that if I wanted to be free, I couldn’t be weighed down by stuff. So, I intuitively collected experiences and lived for moments. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those adventures. And for the memories? Priceless.
Just The Essentials
The lessons learned from my early days have lasted into adulthood, and the results couldn’t be more profound. Understanding that status symbols aren’t important and that having your needs met without overreaching is spiritually and emotionally fulfilling, things I learned at an early age, mean that today my approach to physical possessions is less minimalist and more essentialist. There’s a major difference; minimalism generally focuses on saving money. While part of essentialism certainly revolves around living within your means, it’s more about enjoying life by focusing on what gives you the most fulfillment — experiences versus stuff.
The experiences I internalized when I was younger now inform the joy of my life today. There’s an old saying among the environmentalist community: leave only footprints, take only pictures. There’s no need for stuff to have such an impact on your life, and it has nothing to do with how much space or money you have. Curate your belongings carefully and know the difference between wanting something or needing it. I’m convinced that experiences are more important than belongings, and I’d rather have the precious memories of time well spent with family and friends rather than a home filled with things I don’t need.
Trailblazing A New Life
It takes courage to live like this. It’s not easy going against the grain and creating a vision for your life that feels true to you, yet also aligns with God’s purpose. It might not even make sense based on the world’s standards. But if you had a chance to live your ideal life tomorrow what would it look like? Start with your why and gradually assemble your answers around it. This exercise will help you see things from a new perspective. To get a better idea of what you want, create the schedule of your dreams on a blank calendar. Make time to plan your personal life. Build your business and career to fit the vision for your life. Then, take action. It may be different from what the world expects, but why would you follow someone else’s game plan if we all value different things? It’ll be easier to stay the course without straying from your vision once you determine what success means to you — because there’s a vast difference in how you measure success with the world’s standards.
The greatest gift I can give as a mother is to teach my daughter how to live. Before we leave an inheritance she needs to know how to master her finances and her life. If I don’t show her the source of life and how to pursue it no amount of money will ever make her happy. Most people will trade the majority of their time and energy for the hope that someday they’ll be free. We have a finite amount of time on this earth to realize our unique purpose. Living a life of abundance that aligns with God’s perspective, which I believe is to make a difference in the lives of others, is attainable once we’re honest with ourselves about how much time we’re willing to trade for the things we want. Invest in your relationships. And create experiences that will strengthen those bonds. Building your world around what truly matters will allow you to see that the only real luxury in life? . . . is time.