Minimalism, essentialism, simple living – is it all the same? For me, these are leaves on the same tree, sharing the same root. Essentialism means focusing most of your resources on what moves the needle most for you, in the direction that matters most. However, it does not mean you should own only fifty items. That would be extreme minimalism.
Also, a minimalist may own only what is necessary and enough for a good life – which may well mean a private library.
Finally, simple living is a merger of the two: trying to live with less frills and fuss, focusing on what is most meaningful.
In my head, all three boil down into intentional living: where each decision is consciously directed towards a way of life or a life goal one values. This is not my own invention – google it and you will discover a whole host of definitions and wise words about how to practice intentional living. For some, it has a personal wealth ring. For others, it appeals because it resonates with Buddhist philosophy. In all cases, intentional living is about shaving off random busywork, meaningless consumption without a positive outcome, and focusing time and energy on intentional decisions and actions supporting a future one envisions.
For me, this funky COVID-2020 we are all wading through has been a great practice in intentional living. I have a life plan, which I update once a year. It requires a good financial basis, and to get there means deprioritizing things that I don’t really need. And so, thanks to coronavirus, I have practiced deprioritizing the following:
- Owning a car. I have never owned a car of my own, although I have almost bought one more than once. Again, in my new life in Copenhagen, I conclude that even during this pandemic, the only times I really need a car are when I am in Finland, going between Helsinki and the house of my parents – which requires another solution than a car of my own.
- Eating out. I used to eat out a lot, both because of social reasons and the 1-3 days of weekly international travel my previous employer required. And, when I lived in Helsinki, I loved a Saturday shopping break at a ramen or pho restaurant, or hot soup or gluhwine in the Kämp library bar in the winter, all by myself, with a good book. Now, in 2020, I do not eat out by myself, and I always think twice whether it makes more sense to convert a lunch or dinner with a friend to a walk followed by takeaway tea on a park bench.
- Buying clothes. Since I KonMari’d my apartment in 2016 I stopped buying clothes, unless they replace item types I already own and which I cannot use anymore. Basically, the one-in-one-out rule. I still own too many clothes, because I had to buy new items when I arrived to Denmark with two suitcases. It took time to transfer clothes over during various trips to Finland, and when I finally shipped the remainder over I discovered I now have way too many summer clothes and sweatpants. Time to wear them out before buying anything new (and getting into a crowded clothing store).
- Buying expensive clothes, unless it is an essential long-term item (like a great overcoat). I used to gravitate towards more value for fairly pricey clothes. The quality is often better, and I used to think that if I pick them with care, I can use them for a long time and thus generate value. Then I remembered L.L. Bean. And discovered Uniqlo and Muji, and Clarks and Ecco for shoes. While these are probably not the most ethical or sustainable brands, they do the job of replacing what I have with a new item that will last a long time, which in itself decreases any footprint on this planet. And sometimes I splurge, because I still have not found better suit pants than Ralph Lauren’s, or a better fall/spring overcoat material than real Harris tweed.
- Buying makeup I do not really need. This became so easy with 1) less space for items; and 2) knowing my seasonal color palette (which also helps reduce the number of clothes I buy). If it isn’t Soft Summer coloring and I don’t need it to replace something I already have, I’ll leave it. Besides, Sephora during COVID-times is NOT a pleasant experience. Also, I need to find an exact color match by trying it against the palette the first time I buy the product, so online shopping only works for repeated purchases.
- Using taxis. I used taxis a lot in my previous travel-heavy job. In Helsinki, I often noticed I was late for something and had to uber. Now, I use the bike and even avoid public transport if I can, to avoid being in confined spaces with other people.
- Staying in pricey hotels. Because of my job the past 9 years, I have stayed in so many sleek, pricey hotels I crave a more original experience when I go on vacation. And now I can’t really go anywhere for the moment.
- Unnecessary home decorations. Again, non-COVID-related, except for that it reduces the amount of time spent in busy interior decor stores just because I feel like “I have to have something new.” Ever since Mari Kondo’s teachings found a place in my life.
- An expensive rental apartment. Non-COVID-related, but after living in rental apartments for the past 2 years I still feel my heart bleeds a little every month when I look at the money I waste. Some is compensated for renting out my own apartment in Helsinki, but I bleed hundreds of euros down the drain every month if I count the mortgage I have. This is the price I pay for flexibility. The balance of finding a home that is nice enough to make me feel calm and at ease, and a rental price that is not more than I get in rental income from Finland, is an impossible equation right now.
I’d be curious to know if there are things you deprioritize and which you think I could add to the list. Naturally, I also have a list of the things I actually value and prioritize – which cascade down into a life plan – but that is for another time. (Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)