I remember first hearing the term minimalist and imagining a concrete room, empty of furnishings and any sense of frivolity. It's funny how these unfounded opinions can lodge themselves in your brain; for years I thought vegans were crazy, militant extremists, but now I am one, I've realised they're just normal people with an extra spoonful of compassion.
With every move I make towards an ethical lifestyle, I'm finding the process more and more addictive. Going vegetarian five years ago was the first 'compromise' I made - the first time I decided to put a wider issue before my own gratification. But it turned out to be the first in a domino effect of changes. Once you recognise the downsides of eating meat and fish, you can't help notice the downsides of dairy, too. And the truth is that, if you're going vegetarian for animal welfare, climate change or human health, cutting out meat is only addressing half the problem.
Once I made the switch to veganism and felt such a positive difference in my life, I became addicted to improving my life in other ways. It's like going to the gym. If you have a solid two hour session in the gym, burn loads of calories, drink water, feel the endorphins, you're not likely to then eat five doughnuts afterwards because it would offset all the effort you put into working out. Instead, you embrace the momentum, keep living healthily and enjoy feeling great (until the weekend, at least). Eventually, those 'compromises' you make aren't compromises at all, just onward steps to a life of better health and happiness.
Netflix brought minimalism into my life after years of not being aware of it. When I'm painting I often listen to podcasts or watch stuff on my laptop, and I've been really enjoying iconic documentaries like Cowspiracy, What the Health, Take Your Pills and The True Cost. One day a new suggestion came up called Minimalism. I watched it and, like each of the others listed above, it changed my life.
My fiancé Dave is incredibly supportive when it comes to life improvement. He turned vegan with me and watches all the important documentaries with me, but one thing he struggles with is putting a label on things. When you call yourself a minimalist, I suppose it can feel like you're jumping onto a trend or trying to give yourself an edge, and I can see why that might be annoying. On the flip side, I'm open to anything that can make people change the way they live. Sometimes a label gives us the motivation to remember why we're doing something, and it can remind us that we're part of a larger community trying to do the same thing.
In a stroke of luck, I watched the Minimalism documentary in the middle of trying to move. We still have a few weeks to go until we pick up the keys for our new house (and garden!), and I hadn't yet started to think about packing up. After watching the film, I started reading around the subject, watched YouTube videos and looked into the ethos behind it, and all of a sudden I couldn't wait to start packing up - just so I could get rid of the majority of our stuff.
So what is minimalism? Let me start with the definition given by two guys called The Minimalists, the main stars of the documentary. They say that the root of minimalism is this:
'Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.'
(Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, The Minimalists)
Minimalism is not just about getting rid of most of your stuff - although this is the best way to start. It's about freeing ourselves from the false gratification we get from buying crap we don't need, and clinging to our possessions like they are friends or family. It is about being materialistic, but also not materialistic enough. We give value to things that we shouldn't, and don't value other things as much as we should. It's about not consuming more than we would ever need, which leads to, at best, poor quality items, clutter and stress, and at worst, environmental degradation, the exploitation of poor communities, and global pollution. Minimalism is about looking around you and being honest with yourself about how much you need your possessions. It isn't about throwing things away that you love, or having to suffer and be miserable. The best thing about it is it's subjective - everyone will approach minimalism in their own way.
For example, I love books. I buy second hand books, keep the ones I love and give the others away to charity shops. I love how they look on my bookshelf, I organise them neatly and I would be slightly unhappy without them. Therefore, I'm going to keep my books. Similarly, I'm an artist and I have a collection of art materials. Some of these I don't use, so I went through my box and either gave away or recycled the things I didn't need. Now I still have my art materials - because I genuinely value them - but I only have the ones I will actually use. To be a minimalist isn't about depriving yourself of things, but letting go of stuff that is making your life cluttered. It isn't a sacrifice at all, but a huge unburdening of the consumer pressure we have all grown up with.
I'm going to take moving house as an opportunity to completely revamp our living space. I've already started giving things to charity shops - I got rid of about thirty drinking glasses the other day - and anything that can't go is being recycled or, as a last resort, thrown away. I can't wait to start living with less because it leads to so many other things. When you buy less, you have more money, which means you can spend less time working and more time enjoying life, as well as spending less time cleaning, tidying and sorting. We're also going to stop buying terrible, cheap items like clothing. Since going vegan I've lost a healthy amount of weight and none of my old clothes fit me very well - they are also cheap and unflattering, so I'm going to be giving everything to charity shops and building a new capsule wardrobe from scratch using only ethical brands. Watch this space for more on that!
I'll be documenting our minimalist journey here on my journal, so if you'd like to keep updated with how we're getting on then you can subscribe to my monthly round-up of creativity, nature and inspiration.