“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
– Jim Ryun
Why am I a gradual minimalist? Because I’ve found that gradual changes are easier to sustain. Scientific studies also show that smaller changes are easier to make than big ones (no surprise there). Luckily, small changes eventually add up to a new lifestyle.
It’s also a good idea to start small, because researchers have found that willpower is similar to a muscle. This means we can deplete our willpower. It also means that we can strengthen our willpower the same way we can strengthen our muscles – by starting small and building up to heavier weights (or more difficult tasks) over time.
“Your little choices become habits that affect the bigger decisions you make in life.”
– Elizabeth George
If you’ve been living a typical consumerist lifestyle, becoming a minimalist will be a big change. If you’ve been focusing on keeping up with the Joneses, simple living will mean changes to both how you think and what you do. It’s not a question of simply getting rid of a few items so your house looks less cluttered.
You’ll probably live with less stuff, yes, but you’ll declutter until you’re down to what you need and love. Retail therapy will be a thing of the past. You may cook more and eat out less. Perhaps you’ll cut back to a part-time job. You may move to a smaller home.
Maybe you’ll become a vegan and sell your car. Perhaps you’ll quit your job for a Fortune 500 company and work for a nonprofit. Or spend less time at parties and more time reading.
Obviously, minimalism encompasses a variety of lifestyles. What they have in common is their focus on dropping out of the rat race and instead doing what brings us joy and contentment. Building stronger relationships instead of buying the latest gadgets. Seeking out meaning instead of prestige.
These aren’t the kind of changes most people can make in a day or even a few months. Major changes in housing and employment require planning and negotiations with family members. Determining your values and conforming your lifestyle to those values is often much harder.
“On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.”
– James Clear
A simple change, like drinking a glass of water before breakfast, generally isn’t a habit until you’ve done it daily for at least three weeks. In one study, participants took an average of 66 days to turn a single new behavior into a habit.
When you’re talking about making lots of small changes at once or making big changes, it’s going to take a lot longer. This can be a depressing thought, and if you have unrealistic expectations, you may give up and decide there’s no point in even trying to live more simply.
The solution is simple: become a gradual minimalist. Give yourself small realistic goals you can meet. Declutter a few minutes day. Cut back on one obligation at a time.
Even as a gradual minimalist, I was able to downsize with my family to a townhouse 55% the size of our old house in about two years from when we began decluttering. Despite the fact that our cabinets and closets were overflowing. We owned stuff we didn’t remember we had. Our one-and-a-half car garage looked a little like a scene from Hoarders.
“Such a simplified lifestyle can be truly wonderful – you’ll finally have time for the things you really love, for relaxation, for outdoor activities, for exercise, for reading or finding peace and quiet, for the loved ones in your life, for the things you’re most passionate about.”
– Leo Babauta
The nice thing about being a gradual minimalist is that marathon decluttering sessions weren’t required. Most were under a half hour. Often, decluttering took almost no time at all. We’d just be more mindful, and if we have happened to come across something we never used, put it in the “Goodwill pile.”
Because I chose the gradual minimalist path instead of trying to do it all in a few months, I still had time to spend with my family. Time to sit on the porch swing with my husband. Time to go hiking with my son. Time to cuddle with the dogs, knit and read.
Had I tried to rush through the process, I wouldn’t have had any time to relax. Working, running errands, cleaning and cooking would have consumed all my remaining waking hours. Exhausted, I would’ve given up after a week or two. Gradual minimalism is the only way I could’ve succeed at downsizing.
If you want to live simply but feel overwhelmed by the idea of minimalism, join me – become a gradual minimalist, too.