If I had to take a guess, I’d say the first part of the headline is what grabbed your attention.
You’re over 40, feeling stuck and willing to try anything.
For Gen X’ers and Boomers, living with less isn’t in our nature. We’re accustomed to accumulating stuff. Coming of age pre-Internet, we took our cues from TV, magazines, friends and family.
Consumerism was drummed into us at every turn: Stuff is what will make you happy and give meaning to your life.
Without Google to tell us otherwise, we went along with it.
Stuff Isn’t All It’s Cracked up to Be
The thing is, if stuff delivered on its promise you wouldn’t feel stuck. You’d be perfectly happy with your life. Maybe you’re happy with parts of it, but there’s a nagging feeling that things could be better. A lot better.
The good news is that things can be better. A lot better.
Before we get into that, a quick primer on what minimalism is and what it isn’t. If you’ve heard the term, you might think it the sole domain of possession-averse millennials (and certain urban hippies).
Given all the look at me with the
three 44 things I own vloggers out there, I can’t blame you for assuming that. While that’s certainly one approach to minimalism, it’s not the only one.
Viewed like that, minimalism can have a profoundly positive effect on your life as well as on the planet. Finances improve, stress levels go down, you have more time. Heck, it even ticks the sustainability box.
Minimalism makes you happier, there’s no doubt about it.
A Minimalist Guide to Living Your Best Life
Now that I’ve sold you on the benefits of adopting a minimalist lifestyle, let’s dive into the tips I mentioned in the headline. you can tackle them individually if you like, but in our experience, one builds on the next.
You may also be surprised to notice that the advice offered doesn’t focus solely on downsizing your physical belongings. All aspects of your life can benefit from a little streamlining.
I’m talking about everything from your habits and mindset to your finances, lifestyle and diet. Have a read and see what you think.
1. It’s Never too Soon to Declutter and Downsize
The first step on the path to living a more minimalist lifestyle is to declutter and downsize. We need to get rid of the things we don’t use or like.
As William Morris put it, ““Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Humans (especially those of us born between 1944 and 1980) own a lot of stuff. It’s only through eliminating the extraneous that we’re able to view life more clearly.
Put another way, clutter bogs you down. It creates an underlying sense of overwhelm. Something’s not right, but you can’t exactly put your finger on it.
What’s not quite right is that you have too much stuff.
The psychological effects of clutter are massive. Along with eliciting feelings of shame and inadequacy, it increases your cortisol levels and stops you from focusing on what’s important.
All of which lead you back to doing what got you into this mess in the first place: buying more stuff in an attempt to self-soothe.
Maybe you have a small amount of excess, maybe you’re an all out hoarder. It doesn’t really matter. The first step is to declutter your home once and for all. How do you do that? You start by deciding.
It’s not enough to acknowledge there’s a problem and then go back to surfing the internet. Decide right now, once and for all, that you’re going to get a handle on your stuff problem.
Set a deadline for when you’ll be done or you’ll risk invoking Parkinson’s law: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
In other words, the more time you allow for decluttering, the longer it will take. Get your family onboard and start decluttering.
2. Fix Your Finances for Good
If you’re drowning in stuff, chances are your finances aren’t in the best shape either. Now that you’ve decluttered, it’s time to pay attention to your financial health.
This means getting a handle on your spending habits, paying off your debt, working on a retirement nest egg, creating a rainy day savings account, etc.
Being in debt is super stressful. When you live paycheck to paycheck there’s a constant feeling of instability. What if you lose your job? What if you get sick and you can’t work?
According to The Balance, consumer debt in the U.S. is off the charts. Take a look at these personal debt statistics.
- More than 189 million Americans have credit cards.
- The average credit card holder has at least four cards.
- On average, each household with a credit card carries $8,398 in credit card debt.
No wonder 69% of Americans have less than $1000 in savings. I’m not pointing fingers. For a long time, Sporty and I had no savings whatsoever. Things only changed for the better when we downsized our lifestyle and curbed our spending habits.
If you know for a fact that your wealth health is in good shape, great. If not, start by performing a financial audit. You can’t improve unless you know what’s wrong.
Having the state of your finances in front of you in black and white can be a rude awakening. I know it was for Sporty and I. But, that’s what motivated us to change. It’s also what led to us becoming debt-free.
We hired a financial advisor to help dig us out of the hole we were in. If you’re in a position to do that, go for it. Just make sure the person is reputable. If you’re not, I always point people to Dave Ramsay.
His website literally has everything you need to fix your finances. Some of it is paid, but a lot of the tools he offers are free to use.
From budgeting and getting out of debt to advice on investing and calculating your mortgage, it’s a one-stop-shop for sure.
3. Liven up Your Lifestyle
If you’re in the 40+ age bracket, your kids (if you have any) are either out the house or heading in that direction. Even if they’re not, now is still the perfect time to think about different ways of living. It could be as simple as moving to a smaller house, but maybe it’s time to liven things up.
The older we get, the more stuck we become in our ways. Living in the same house for decades adds another layer to an already sticky situation. The trick is to avoid becoming that old person who refuses to do anything new.
Why is that a problem? Well, for starters, nobody wants to hang around a stick-in-the-mud. More importantly, the brain circuit that helps us adapt to change fades with age. All is not lost, however.
According to Dr J. Bertran-Gonzalez, a neuroscientist at the Queensland Brain Institute. “There is more and more evidence showing the brain is similar to a muscle. The more you work it the more it responds.”
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Rather than shying away from it, be someone who embraces change. No, it’s not easy or comfortable, but that’s the point. You have to choose between growth and stagnation. One allows you to live without regrets. The other keeps you on the couch.
Even if it’s not feasible to make big changes right now, at least start thinking about how you want the next phase of your life to play out. Would you like to travel more, live in another country, have a smaller house?
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from making some changes while your children are still with you. There are plenty of inspirational stories of families who’ve taken off on amazing adventures. The bottom line is that you need to be open to new possibilities.
Sporty and I love trying new things to shake things up. Adopting a minimalist lifestyle has created space for adventures. We’ve been house-sitters, tried our hand at permaculture farming, given small town life a go. These lifestyle experiments force us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Which is a good thing, by the way.
4. Downsize Your Eating Habits
The food we eat on a regular basis has an effect on our health and wellbeing. (Inputs determine outputs.) It’s not just about us, though. What we eat affects the planet and the animals we share it with. Lastly, our eating habits play a significant role in our finances as well.
We need food to nourish and fuel our body. Unfortunately, we humans have lost sight of this. Instead, we eat to please out tastebuds, stave off boredom and quell anxiety. We end up feeling sluggish and grumpy, stuffed like sausages into clothes that no longer fit us properly.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the reason why so many people are struggling with lifestyle diseases. It’s why our kids are overweight and unhealthy and it’s a big contributor of greenhouse gases. Lastly, eating this way has a negative effect on our bank balance.
Eating a whole food plant based diet, on the other hand, has a rejuvenating effect on your health, wellness, finances and the environment. Off the bat, transitioning to a plant based diet can seem daunting. What even will you eat? Where will you get your protein? Will your friends still talk to you?
Start by doing some research. Once you understand just how beneficial this way of eating can be, it’ll be easier for you to make the leap over to the green side.
Even if you’re not ready to go 100% vegan (I get it, it took Sporty and I quite a few years), think about how you can downsize your diet in order to supersize your health. Every little action helps.
Try eating less processed food and more whole food. Cook at home instead of ordering take-out. Make an effort to eat less meat and other animal products such as eggs and dairy.
5. Ditch the Habits That no Longer Serve You
Habits are great when they work in our favour us and a disaster when they don’t. Brushing our teeth, showering regularly and minding our manners all serve us well. Without them, we’d be ostracised from the clan.
Unfortunately, by the time we reach adulthood we’ll have managed to accumulate a number of not so good habits along the way.
Some are on the fringe of what society deems acceptable behaviour (smoking, getting tippled, wearing jorts to the mall).
Others are less obvious, but in a way, more harmful. We work too much. We say yes too often. We compromise more than we should. We’ll keep the peace at the expense of our happiness.
Eliminating the habits that don’t serve you creates room in your life for a host of possibilities. The longer you keep doing things that aren’t good for you, the less time you’ll have for things that matter.
Bad habits affect your health, hamper your productivity and drain you emotionally. Ditching them is key to your happiness and wellbeing.
Habit maestro James Clear offers advice on how to break a bad habit and replace it with a good one. His book Atomic Habits has some greats tips on how to implement small changes that yield big results.
From Chaos to Calm (In All Aspects of Your Life)
Getting into minimalism can be like diving down the proverbial rabbit hole. There are many benefits to downsizing, but at the same time it can easily feel overwhelming.
Realising how much room there is for improvement can cause you to stick your head in the sand and do nothing.
If you feel like it’s too much, stop and take a deep breath.
Imagine how your life will be in a year from now if you don’t take action.
Imagine how much more stuck and frustrated you’ll feel.
Imagine how much more clutter there’ll be.
Now, let’s imagine a different scenario.
One where you take action everyday, where you make small but consistent changes in all areas of your life.
In a year from now your life won’t look the same as it does right now. In fact, it’ll look so different you won’t remember being stuck in the first place.
These minimalist living tips are just the beginning. Who knows what changes you’ll implement after working your way through the guidelines in this post.
All you have to do is decide.