Minimalism: Making Home a Mindset, not a Space

I remember how I felt six months ago, squeezing the zip closed on my 55-litre backpack, only to realise there was another essential that I needed and reluctantly dragging the zip open again. This went on for hours as I stressed over what I could possibly want with me on the journey of a lifetime. When would I be back again? What could I live without? What should I definitely take? All these unanswered questions – that when I finally checked my bag in at the airport it was a relief; no more overthinking about what is appropriate for the #onewayticket lifestyle. Whatever I had or didn’t have – I could deal with it.

Throughout my six months of making a ‘home on the road’, I’ve come to embrace the minimalist lifestyle and slowly my mindset has transformed. It’s taken me on a crazy trip of realisations along the way, and I want to share these with you.

1. You don’t need a lot of stuff, you just need the right stuff.

This is broad, I know, but often you don’t need a choice of something. You just need something. One pair of pyjamas, one pair of jeans. Swimming togs. A scarf. The dress that’s appropriate for everything. I came to realise and appreciate that choosing what to wear was a practised exercise and instead of making a new decision each time I was repeating a comfortable old one.

2. Some things are useful. And some things are useful and sentimental. These are the things you call home.

I then came to realise that some things I carried were practical, like socks. But some things were more to me than that, like my pink fluffy slippers. A few months ago, I wrote an article for an engineering firm about designing meaning into infrastructure at the planning stage. The ideas behind the writing that I did back then have stuck with me and magnified… I think we can design meaning into objects in our everyday lives. The value in my slippers is hidden in the association of meaning that I have built into them: home. Whenever I feel like I need to walk on clouds for a while, I put them on and I’m comforted, instantly. Because I’ve trained myself to believe that this is what home feels like.

Some of the stuff that I had left with was just stuff. Now it was stuff with a meaning.

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3. Everything has a purpose. If the purpose doesn’t serve you, you don’t have it.

Carrying everything you live with on your back makes you immune to shopping. It’s not enough just to like something to add it to your collection; you need to see value in it, purpose, consistency, dependability, and consider the physical weight and size of it before welcoming it into your life (pack). Everything you purchase should be useful and in line with your morals in terms of contributing to supply and demand. Similarly, if you’re building a home and wanting to live the tiny home or minimalist lifestyle, ask yourself questions of everything. What is the utility of this? When and how will it be useful? Is it just pretty?

4. Learn to love how the things make you feel, not the things.

This is where it gets interesting. After reaching the point of feeling at home in my slippers, I realised there was another whole level where the metaphor I worked so hard to create isn’t irreplaceable itself. If I lose my dear slippers, I lose the connection to home that I have been carrying for 6 months. Yes, I would be a bit sad. If I have completely internalised this concept of slippers = home, I could even be beyond repair, damaged for life. But in reality, I would have lost a $5 pair of slippers that are looking worse for wear anyway. The trigger for feeling ‘home’ would be gone, but the sense of home would not be; because that feeling is still built in my mind. I would need to find something else that is familiar and get used to building the same trigger into that instead.

Suddenly my irreplaceable slippers became completely replaceable as I realised that if I lost them, it wouldn’t tear me apart.

5. Less clutter equals more spontaneity.

Having less ‘stuff’ around you not only helps to keep a tidy physical space, but a tidy mental space. It forces you to realise the actual value of things and what’s important – not only in your home but in your life. Are you tied down to one location by a whole bunch of accumulated stuff that you can never imagine sorting through? When you have one bag, you can literally take it anywhere and have everything you need. Because of this, you say yes to almost every opportunity; and it would be silly not to. What do you have to lose? If it doesn’t work out, you just pick up your bag and leave again. It’s surprising how much more mentally open you can be without having all this subconscious baggage tugging at the corner of your t-shirt saying ‘but what if?’

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I know what you’re thinking: this nomad life is a totally different story. Personally, I don’t need a soap dispenser for the bathroom; I don’t need space to store tea towels; I can walk through IKEA without buying anything. But I promise you, it’s not that different in terms of placing value into things. Whether you are on the road or in the space you have come to call home, you can still ask yourself of every item: what does this mean to me?

It will probably fall into one of three categories:

- I like the use of this and I enjoy it, but I guess it’s not irreplaceable.
- This makes me feel at home, has meaning, and I don’t want to live without it.
- I have this just because I have it and it doesn’t really serve a purpose.

I want you to savour these thoughts.
Stuff is just stuff.
You can design meaning into things to trigger feelings.
This increases the value of your stuff.
If you let yourself have only meaningful things in your life, you’ll have way less in it.
And although these things have designed meaning in them, they are not irreplaceable.
They are a metaphor for the values that you hold in your head.

After six months of reaching this conclusion, I leave you with this: if I lose my bag on a bus, I’ve lost a bag full of stuff, not my home. And it’s the same for you; if your house burns down, you’ve lost a house full of stuff, not your home. Because if you can nurture yourself to understand and internalise this level of metaphors, you'll realise one important thing.

Home isn’t a space, it’s a mindset. And you can never be truly lost if you carry home with you inside your head.

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