A few years ago I was introduced to the concept of Minimalism. I lived in a 3 bedroom townhouse at the time. It was a decent-sized townhouse, roughly 1350 sq. ft., which my husband and I purchased as newly weds. 6 years later, living in that space with 2 toddlers and a baby, the townhouse no longer felt comfortable. May I mention that little babies come with big accessories? We felt like a pack of sardines squeezing into a little can. Why wouldn’t we move?
We’d made that purchase during an inflated market, meaning we bought the house at a high price (10 year mistake). When the market came crashing down, suddenly there were great, big houses available at more than affordable prices, but our money was tied in our little townhouse. We did not want to sell it and take a haircut, but couldn’t buy a new house without selling the old one. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Lots of people panicked during that time and reacted to the market in many ways, which I won’t waste time discussing on this post, but we understood this was a temporary situation. We knew the market would eventually stabilize. We were certain we would eventually own a bigger home. And I had the perspective that even though this space seemed too small for my family, New Yorkers and Europeans and many others were living with the same square footage and family structure as we were. Why couldn’t we?
We stayed put.
So instead of going into panic mode, I turned to minimalism. I read Joshua Becker’s book, Simplify, and read his blog posts. I figured I couldn’t get rid of any of the family members, but I could get rid of some of their stuff, so I started purging. Minimalism is a journey. It requires you to deal with the emotional attachment you to have to things. I was never able to go to the extreme of having everything I own fit in my backpack, but I was able to reduce my family’s material possessions and clutter to help us feel comfortable in the space we had. I confess we actually did fit fine in the townhouse until my husband bought us 4 bicycles (and the baby seat for the bicycle) for Christmas and then we really had to move. My cup runneth over.
The time finally came when we found the house we loved, the market was stable enough to sell without taking a loss and we did buy a larger house. Still, the principles of minimalism stuck with me. I wanted to have more space but I did not necessarily want to overfill that space. I am weary of the trap of buying things just because I have the space to do so. We have now been living in our new home for almost 2 years and I can say that we are sticking to the minimalism lifestyle. For example, I am proud to announce our car gets parked inside the garage and we have less tv’s than people or rooms.
Don’t get me wrong, we do live with three small boys and stuff does accumulate – toys, art, papers, etc. I still have friends who I turn to when I need a purging intervention. But we continue the journey and when we realize we have begun accumulating again, we reset and start again.
As I became conscious of simplifying my material possessions, I realized I had been applying similar principles when I began my healthy eating lifestyle. I was eating like a minimalist long before I was living like one. I thought it would be a helpful exercise to outline three minimalist principles to apply to the way you eat. These three simple concepts will transform you into a conscious food shopper and eater.
- Be weary of a cluttered nutritional label
The easiest way to eat clean is to focus on single ingredients. Whole foods are single ingredient foods. Apples, oranges, broccoli, asparagus, chicken, fish…you get the drift. What can get tricky are foods that come in containers. A good example is peanut butter. Peanut butter should be peanuts blended with an oil to obtain a creamy consistency. Problem is, when you skim the peanut butter isle you will find 100 different brands of peanut butter. They are not all created equally. Most peanut butters, even organic brands, contain sugar, salt and other ingredients. Those are not the peanut butters we should be eating. Another example is coconut water. Make sure the ingredient label reads: coconut water. If there are several ingredients, including sugar, be weary. Another common culprit is snack foods. Chips, crackers, cereals, and energy bars come with cluttered nutritional labels. When you pick up one of these foods and turn it around to read the label, think clutter. If you can’t define the words on the label, if you find yourself skimming through it because the small font is hurting your eyes, if reading the label is a painful exercise…that is your cue to put the item down. Imagine your body as a drawer. If the drawer is overstuffed, you end up not using clothes that you actually like because you don’t find them in the pile of stuff you have. Similarly, If you overstuff your liver with processed foods, toxic residue builds up and your liver cannot break down fat efficiently. Cluttered livers don’t work any better than cluttered minds.
2. Only eat what you need or what you love.
This concept really struck me. I always thought of minimalist people as people who only possessed material things they absolutely needed. I pictured bare, empty spaces which I associated with a “cold” look. I didn’t want a cold home. I pictured my home to be warm, cozy, and inviting. Furthermore, there are things that I don’t “need” such as photo albums, but that I could not fathom parting with. Then I learned this principle of owning what you need and/or what you love. Now that made this lifestyle attractive. I could be warm and cozy while owning as little as possible. I could do that.
I think of food the same way. I often hear comments such as “I love food too much to eat healthy,” or “I don’t want to give up eating x.” That’s where minimalism helps. What does YOUR body need from food? This is an individualized question. Sure we can generalize, but a marathon runner needs more energy than a couch potato. A young person needs more caloric intake than an older person. If you suffer from food allergies, your needs are different than someone else’s. So the question becomes what do you need in your daily diet- or in the reverse – what does your diet not need? On a daily basis, you should be eating what your body needs the most at the current stage you’re in. And then the question becomes, what do you love? The ideal would be for you to love the foods you need to consume. But there are always foods that we love but don’t need. Don’t deprive yourself of those foods all the time. Life is meant to enjoy. So imagine you’re at a party and there are lots of options available. Chances are you may be tempted to try everything, drink soda, or overeat. But if you practice mindfulness and assess your situation, you may realize you’re not really hungry because you had eaten lunch just an hour before. Or you may scan the food items and spot one particular food that you love that is a total treat. Since you are practicing minimalism, instead of sampling everything, you might just eat that one irresistible item and pass on the other unnecessary calories. The point is to choose wisely. So often we eat just because the food is available to us. Not because we need it or even love it. Minimalism can help you detach from stuff, but it can also help you detach from foods. When you adapt to eating whole and simple foods, you begin to love food in a different way. And even if you love yourself your cheats, you will enjoy them so much more because you’ll be eating those foods that are simply worth the cheat.
3. Eat higher quality foods.
Eating healthy is expensive, especially if you are buying organic. However, a minimalist lifestyle allows you to spend more money on the things you are buying, because you are buying less overall. Before I changed my eating habits, I would go to the store and see items like Mac n cheese or Pasta Roni and because I wasn’t meal planning, I would purchase them just to have them in the house. I would also buy products that were on sale, even if they weren’t on my grocery shopping list. My refrigerator and pantry was always full of food but I wasn’t necessarily eating those foods. Since I wasn’t meal planning, nor was I concerned with what I ate, I also dined out more often. I didn’t shop consciously or eat consciously. Things have changed. I buy perishable foods so I know I can’t buy too many or they will spoil. I plan my meals so I eat out much less. I also repurpose my foods. If my son had a few apple slices for snack, I toss the leftover in a smoothie the next morning. If we make soup one day, we blend it into a puree two days after that or toss it over some quinoa to change the meal. My refrigerator sometimes feels so empty and yet I have plenty of food for my family. Does it mean I save money by eating healthy? I can’t say yes for sure today, but my gamble is that any extra expense I incur will be saved in medical bills for my family.
I have found that diets work short term, but it is the principles that sustain a healthy lifestyle. This is not a quick fix to weight loss, it is a journey to a lifetime to health, happiness and mindfulness.