Mellow Minimalism – Reflections
My last big ‘minimalism’ push was a few years ago now, when I spent a couple of years buying nothing. Since then I haven’t really posted that much about minimalism. I wanted to write a little about what I’ve been doing in that time, the effect it had on my life, and where I’m at now.
One Empty Shelf started off as a minimalist blog and all I wanted to do was write ‘more’ about ‘less’, if that makes any sense. My life was a big push into the world of minimalism and I had a ball getting rid of loads of my possessions. I was entirely taken with my new minimal life and wrote posts describing the new sense of freedom as a shiny minimalist. I had all this new space and after a few big decisions, I had a lot of spare time, too. And that’s where things started to get difficult.
I don’t want to go over the intervening years again, I think I’ve spent a lot of time writing about that! If you want to catch up, here are some posts about mental health and life after buying nothing. Instead, I wanted to look at how my thinking has changed a few years down the line, what habits stuck with me, and how I feel about minimalism now, almost 9 years later.
Interestingly, my first foray into minimalism gave me an intense dislike of advertising. I became so cynical about advertising during my first no spend year that I actively avoided places where adverts were displayed. I turned off commercial television and radio. Adverts started to put me off the products they were supposed to be promoting. Years on, advertising has changed – and I think I have, too. The internet is absolutely awash with adverts, on blogs, on YouTube, in apps. Influencers, including, occasionally, myself, post about products they’ve used, products they enjoy. I feel there is a more organic feel to adverts now, mostly due to the advent of big data and targeting – we are shown adverts for things we are likely to enjoy and therefore purchase. I’ve promoted products and books here on One Empty Shelf, products I’ve really enjoyed and wanted to share. It’s a big shift, from almost feeling a hatred for any form of advert, to actually becoming an advertiser myself.
I feel a force behind my change in mind is the ability to choose the products I see advertising for, or that I promote myself. I can choose companies that are ethical, smaller companies, companies that look after the environment, that treat their workers fairly. It’s still promoting products, at the end of the day. But with influencer marketing, there is a choice for that influencer to be honest about each product. If it didn’t work, the influencer can write about this. There isn’t as much of a glossy coating. There’s a choice to say no. I find it interesting to look back over the years and see my mindset change.
My first year buying nothing, I replaced my spending on physical items with spending on experiences. The second time around I didn’t find this so much, but that could have been due to my changing circumstances, where I didn’t have as much spare cash floating about. In the intervening period, my income has dropped dramatically. I went from working full time to working part time, then I left my part time job for health reasons and my personal income dropped to nothing, supported by my husband’s sole income. Now, I have a small holistic therapy business that I run on a very part-time basis. Over the years, my spending has changed in line with the change in income. I can’t really remember the last time I bought any new clothing. Almost everything in my wardrobe has come from charity shops, and in the last year I haven’t even bought anything from there. The important thing to remember is that I am very, very lucky in that my husband’s income has been able to support us both. So many people don’t have the luxury of this choice. In this respect, I’ve become more of a minimalist in my spending habits, but was it by choice? I’m not sure.
Importance and Privilege
I think the best thing about my whole minimalism journey is the realisation of what is really important to me. All those years ago, I was bright eyed and looking forward to finding out what really mattered in my life. After all those ups and downs I’m actually in a place where I’ve been able to work that out. It’s time, nature, learning. It’s friends, creativity, music, writing. It’s laughter, wild places, experiences.
I am privileged to have had the opportunity to discover this. I look at minimalism and wonder if it is a privileged movement. In my white middle-class bubble, of course it is. If I hadn’t had the luxury of being able to take time off work, I’m not sure where I would have ended up. If I hadn’t had the luxury of being able to choose to donate my belongings, if I hadn’t had the luxury of living in a very privileged country, if I hadn’t had internet access, if I didn’t have the NHS to help me through, all these things that have afforded me the opportunity to have the space to really delve into myself and live these experiences. I have previously had the choice of being able to buy products that were more expensive and better made, more ethically produced. On a lower income now, I don’t have as much of a choice, but my goodness I’m miles away from being broke. I have a house, a comfortable life, a car, and am soon going to university to pursue a doctorate. If that’s not privilege I don’t know what is. To be able to say shopping doesn’t matter to me any more, to be able to say I want to choose ecologically friendly products, to be able to say I have enough, I don’t want to buy more. It’s important to realise this. Allie Long has written a brilliant piece about the ideology of minimalism and privilege.
After all this, would I still call myself a minimalist? Isn’t that the million-pound question. In some respects, I wouldn’t. My house is fuller that it was. I buy some stuff for pleasure and for no other reason than I love it. I haven’t even got an empty shelf any more. But I think the effects of minimalism have reached much further than pure consumer behaviour. It’s made me question my reasoning and what’s important. It’s helped me let go of things that don’t serve me any more. And in a more mental respect, I’d say I still have a minimal approach. Stuff doesn’t really excite me as much any more. So I’m claiming the term ‘mellow minimalist’ – I’m older, wiser, and a lot more mellow in so many ways. I am still re-collecting my books that I de-cluttered all those years ago, realising that happiness is more important than image, and if that involves repopulating all those empty shelves then so be it. With the new year, the blog is changing to be more expansive in what I share – my home, my thoughts, my hobbies – I’m looking forward to including more, not less. Minimalism is the tool that gave me space to work out who I am and allowed me to curate this life I have now. Now I can begin to move on. Slow, simple, relaxed, considered.
Mellow minimalism – I like it.