One day in January I needed a curled up day, to just watch something. Opening up Netflix I knew that later I would be self-critical and beat myself up for wasting time. So in attempt to offset that viewed the documentaries section.
First I watched the excellent “Pacific Warriors”, which a friend had recommended. It’s about Pacific Island rugby teams, but you don’t have to be a rugby fan to appreciate the simple joy in life these guys have, alongside a humbleness which matches their huge talent.
I then stumbled onto a documentary called “Minimalism”.
I was partially aware of the concept culturally. As part of my fledging painting attempts I had been drawn towards minimalistic art styles and find some music under the minimalistic genre relaxing and peaceful. I had the misconception that as lifestyle it was all white rooms, very little furniture and stylish, expensive accessories.
Being honest, my cynicism hit during the opening montage. We meet Ryan Nicodemus, one half of The Minimalists, skateboarding down the road, in flip-flops and shorts. Very cool but it set off a judgemental stereotype in my head. Something made me stay with it, which I am grateful for and proved that stereotype wrong.
Ryan and Joshua Fields Millburn, the other half of the duo, are authentically engaging and passionate about how a minimalistic life style can help. The documentary includes numerous contributions, including Leo Babauta whose Zen Habits blog is a very thoughtful weekly read.
So what has this to do with depression? Am I just picking up the trendy things like minimalism, meditation and mindfulness?
Go beyond the hype and marketing, dig deeper and there are simple and valuable principles we can learn from. Without getting socio-political, I think the growing awareness of these so “trends” reflect questions we are starting to ask about modern life, especially within Western society. For me, there are many themes within minimalism which align with other things I have written about.
One key theme is to review what you own and do, to really understand what gives you value and enjoyment. It does not dictate throwing everything away, but living with what reflects your values and being aware of marketing. For every purchase consider, do I actually need this? We all hang onto things for sentimental or emotional reasons. Some objects you will never give away – I have the hospital tags from when my children were born and always will- but does not having a thing reduce the emotion and memory associated to it ?
I had a load of books stored away, which I was keeping to perhaps re-read at some stage. But I have a long list of new books to read, how many of those would I ever actually re-read? So majority went to charity. I still have the stories in my head, the experience of reading them hasn’t gone.
“Do more things that make you forget to check your phone”
This can be applied to our digital life as much as physical. How many apps do you actually use? A digital detox can be as healthy as a physical detox, especially given the way that our social media and news apps are designed to appeal and encourage us to check for new things. That isn’t to say that social media is bad, it’s how we use it to add value. It enabled me to be able to write this, which is a creative outlet that really helps with the depression.
That theme of considering value is so important to time. How do we spend our time and how much of that is a conscious decision, made with full awareness?
As part of my depression management, to help with stress and self-criticism it helps to reduce daily distractions and decisions. Recent research suggest that we have a daily decision “quota” – as you use it you expend mental energy and every decision, no matter how big or small, reduces that quota. If you eliminate the smaller decisions then you have more energy and time to focus on more meaningful decisions. Too much choice can be a bad thing.
What The Minimalists talk and write about isn’t a doctrine that says you should get rid of everything or that decluttering is going to change everything. It’s about focus and values, considering the impact to yourself, to others and the environment around you.
“We are what we focus on”
In a way minimalism is a label itself- it’s the elements and principles you apply to your life which really matter, the ones that make you really, honestly focus in on what is important to you. That completely aligns with mindfulness and self-compassion.
If you find ways that help you live a simple, meaningful life, aligned with your values and leave you able to say at the end of each day ” This was enough” then that will help with mental health, which we all have irrespective what state it is in.
One of my favourite quotes from them is:
“One day: these two words are dangerous because they give us an excuse to shelve important decisions that radically influence our future”
What could you do less of or not do today that would allow you to do something you really want to and had put off to “one day”?
Hope you found thoughtful, comments always welcome.
Leo Babauta’s blog can be found at https://zenhabits.net
More on the Minimalists at http://www.theminimalists.com