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Why the first steps toward minimalism are the most exciting – and how to keep the spark alive

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I often envy brand-new aspiring minimalists. It’s so exciting, sitting here on the other side with clasped hands, squeeing with excitement over all the things these minimalist-elects are going to learn about themselves, their priorities, their needs, and their world. Maybe a few will become famous bloggers and speakers. A few might become Zero Wasters and environmental advocates. Maybe she’ll build a tiny house; maybe he’ll begin an ethical, high-quality clothing company. There’s unlimited potential when you’re just starting out.

When I first encountered the idea of a minimalist lifestyle almost two years ago, my initial progress was incredible. I remember several knee-deep piles of clothes on my floor, destined for donation. I remember the freedom I felt when I let go of that zebra-striped party dress I bought for college nights out and never used. I remember taking a deep, contented breath in my very first capsule wardrobe, luxuriating in all the space in my closet and the orderliness of a simple color palette. I remember staying up late at night as one Zen Habits article after another clicked for me, and feeling the urge to write creatively for the first time in years. I remember experimenting with Zero Waste until my husband got sick of it (admittedly, it’s difficult to compost in an apartment, especially in Kansas).

Like any obsession, the novelty has worn off. I continue to keep a donation bag in my closet, but I’ve only found a couple of things to discard over the past few months. I’ve built up some good minimalist habits, such as eschewing shopping for fun, delaying unnecessary purchases, focusing on experiences, and trying to meditate more. But it no longer feels like progress, and I miss that feeling. I guess it’s like losing weight, where at first you see impressive results, which inspires you to keep working at it, but eventually you plateau and it’s difficult to continue seeking improvement.

To top off the slight ennui I’ve been feeling lately, today I saw this article on Twitter, entitled: “Am I still a minimalist?” I hadn’t considered the idea that maybe I’d fallen out of minimalism, and I clicked on the article a bit breathlessly…but I needn’t have worried. Read the post; I found it heartening.

Now that I’ve confirmed that I am, indeed, still a minimalist, what can I—and other habitual minimalists—do to keep the spark alive and continue down the path of minimalism? How can we continue to delight in the process like we did back when it was easy to see visual progress in our homes and lives?

I can write. The posts I write for Minspiration provide me a creative outlet, but they also act as catharsis for whatever is on my mind (see: today’s topic) and remind me that as long as I’m learning a lesson, I’m getting better: as a minimalist, as a person, as an employee, etc. And if somebody else gets some insight from my writing, so much the better!

I can add something back in. Yes, simplifying your schedule is great. But it’s important that you keep a consistent influx of meaning in your life. If you find yourself spending time obsessing about how you’re spending your time, consider adding (or switching) one activity that makes a difference for you. Maybe it’s volunteering at the animal shelter. Maybe it’s joining a running club or a church or a debate club. Spending time on your physical and emotional health is one of the most important aspects of simple living.

I can slow down. As the London Minimalists said in that article, minimalism isn’t a destination. If you’re too concerned about getting to the finish line, you aren’t taking time to be mindful and focus on the important things. That promotion isn’t as important as spending time with your kids. Scanning pages just to finish a book misses the point of reading it. Trying to do things quickly or conveniently isn’t improving me—taking time to eat dinner without TV, ride my bike to work, or just meditate reminds me that being somewhere isn’t as important as getting there.

I can focus on the things that I can’t see. Really, it’s a privilege to get to the point in your minimalist journey where you no longer need to focus all your attention on your possessions. Instead of trying to hunt down one more thing to donate, I can work on building my relationships, my faith, my health, my education. Better yet, I can try to make a difference in the world and give back to the communities that have given me so much.

I can dream. Being present, mindful, and focused does not preclude being ambitious. Once you’ve simplified your life, you should have an uncluttered, streamlined schedule that allows you some flexibility to work toward your goals. So spend some time imagining. See the future you want, and how you can help create it. See your life in five or 10 or 20 years, and do what you can to start aiming for it now.

See, minimalism is not about living moment by moment. It’s about making room to pursue everything you’ve dreamed of. You may not be able to do it all right now, but that’s fine. What’s important, just like with everything else on your minimalist journey, is that you’re always taking steps forward.

And that’s a lesson that I needed to hear today.

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