Essentialism seems to be quite the catchword nowadays. With reason – that amazing book has opened up lots of people’s minds, including ours. The main idea? Doing less but better. However simple that may sound, it’s a concept that most of us are not truly familiar with, as it involves saying “NO” to a lot of things. Removing noise from our lives, so that we can define and prioritize what really matters to us.
You can say this mindset is closely linked to…minimalism. Minimalism is really about removing everything that doesn’t serve you – a concept usually only linked to material goods. Essentialism on the other hand, is not about removing it all, but rather muting it and bringing what matters to the front. As you can guess, it doesn’t only apply to stuff, but to everything else as well: your lifestyle choices, your creative endeavours, your relationships… Every single thing that is part of your life and that you give your mental resources to. Everything!
As you may have seen, our lives changed so much in these past months. Not only have we left stuff behind, shrunk the content of our lives into a couple of suitcases and became nomads, living & working in different places in the world. But within this process, we have also evolved our way of thinking around so many other aspects of our lives. I am so grateful of this intense growth experience. So today, I want to reflect upon all of it and share this with you. Here’s how we have applied essentialism in our lives!
Less money. Excuse my coarse language, but: we literally stopped giving a shit about making a lot of money. We come from a place where being wealthy is the norm – but where there are also a lot of unhappy people. A well-loaded account can make you feel more comfortable at times and don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have a few savings for a rainy day. But the rat race of “making more” is one that can easily make you forget your true priorities and your true meaning in life. Having our own business and working on projects we love might not ever make us financially rich, and we are totally ok with that. We might not be able to ever afford a big house, but that’s ok too. We will always prefer to have more time, and valuable memories rather than the extra money.
Budgeting. Now that is a very essentialist thing to do and I recommend it to anyone. It can be SO eye-opening to see where your money is going. Tracking it down can allow you to see which spendings bring you value and which don’t. If you think that you are financially restricted to live the lifestyle you dream of, think again. How can you spend “less but better”? Which brings me to my next point…
Removing obstacles. We always wanted to live an adventurous, creative life. I always loved how travel made me feel more inspired and I fantasized about moving to a new place. When we found out about the nomadic lifestyle, we got so curious, we knew that was something for us. We made it happen because we made it a priority. In order to make something a priority, you have to see what stands in the way, and remove it or minimize it. For us, that was: too much stuff, the commitment of having our own place/mortgage, and many other fears. If something is standing in the way of your dreams, define it and remove it or see how you can minimize it. It can be a tedious process, but man does it feel liberating!
Happy with less. I guess that in order to make an adventurous lifestyle choice, you have to be really open to the idea of “having less”. Since we stopped letting money rule our lives, we also decided not to be trapped in one that gives us debt to begin with – so we embrace a simpler, low-maintenance lifestyle and we’re comfortable with the idea of downsizing it even further if we need to. As much as this can sound restrictive, there is no other concept in life that has brought us so much freedom. There’s a reason why more and more people live in tiny houses (whether or not that’s your thing, it just proves a point, doesn’t it?).
Slow living. Living slow and intentionally should be at the heart of someone’s life, especially if they want to witness their inner magic. That stuff takes time, it doesn’t show in hectic conditions. Even nowadays (as we travel and move to new places very often), we make it a point to not be obsessed with trying to do it all and see it all. We travel slow and live like locals. This helps us not only to save on our budget but to also keep our minds sane, to be present in the moment. Enough with FOMO (fear of missing out). Slowness is where true revelations begin.
Daily happiness as a priority. Essentialism is practiced in search of happiness. We keep asking ourselves: what would our ideal day look like, if we could choose to spend it exactly as we want? We constantly work towards making that happen. If one of us has something that makes them happy and that they want to make a priority (playing music, drawing, doing yoga, whatever), we see how we can structure our day, carve time for it and make it happen instead of keeping it on a vague note to “someday”, or postponing it endlessly. Sometimes priorities change and that’s ok.
Choices. To be able to live freely, and to improve our ease of living the lifestyle we currently want, we have also made some choices. We have clearly said no to certain things: as much as we love pets, we will not have one right now. As much as we love children, that’s not our priority either. It’s just not in the plans and I’m not sure it will ever be. Nor having a big home, like mentioned before. I’m not saying it’s impossible for people to combine these things, but defining what we say no to can make it easier to say YES to the things we truly want to. That’s actually a blessing!
From shoppers to minimalists. Yes, this drastically changed when we had to fit out lives in a suitcase. But the process had already begun before that. It was a huge process. We changed out mindset from buying anything we liked, to being really conscious about every single item that we allowed into our lives. This has made a positive impact in our wardrobes, for example: our clothing is now only made of neutrals & basics that will last us for years and that we can mix & match forever. Easy to layer no matter the weather, and it also saves us tons of time when getting dressed. As you might be aware, Steve Jobs used to do this too – that guy was an essentialist! He knew that he simply did not want to waste his time with that, and as a result, have more time for making shit happen instead.
No hauling. With minimizing our possessions comes de-cluttering. We give away what we do not use, and every single time this feels liberating. Instead of letting it pile up as clutter, we let go of things that do not longer serve us, no matter what they are. We don’t need more storage, or space – we simply need less crap into our lives. Less stuff, more mind clarity. That’s all, folks!
Minimizing brain fog. We have new creative ideas ALL THE TIME. As much as it can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming, because we get confused, lose our focus and do not know where to start. So what we do nowadays is to write them down, but resist the urge to pursue all of them at once. We store them (in notebooks, dropbox files, whatever) and let them sink in a little, before choosing which one to take further. Choices, choices, choices…
Having a development day. Once a week, we take a day for ourselves, a day for… Kinlake. We realized that taking the time to improve our website, analysing the ins & outs of our business, streamlining our process, talking about ideas from blogposts to bigger endeavours, or just organizing all our projects (personal & commissioned by clients) is so, so valuable. It is definitely a priority. Every minute we invest in it is worth it, as it brings us closer to all of our goals. So to us, it’s more than reasonable to take a day and dedicate it to just that. You can read more about this here!
Not overcommitting. Thankfully, since we started working together as a design studio, we’ve had plenty of demand from clients who needed our help on branding and other creative projects. That is something we are so grateful for, yet in stressful times we also came to realize that every creative project deserves individual attention. In order to do that, we try to place every project very mindfully in our schedule, so we can maximize the focus and creativity we can give to it. Instead of trying to fit as much as possible in there, we prioritize a good process and quality. Every project gets its own special spot in our calendar and sometimes this can create a waiting list, but we clearly see that the results are well worth it.
Attracting like-minded people. We realized that the greatest and most creative projects we are proud of, happen when we work with people who truly like what we do, trust our skills and are ready to invest in a meaningful process. The less time we spend with people who clearly aren’t ready to work with us, the more time we can give to those who are. We pay a lot of attention to the information we put on our website, how we present ourselves and what we expect of people who get in touch with us. I find that our little quirky questionnaire (for example ) has helped us filter out a few wrong clients. If somebody is not ready to spend a few minutes answering these few questions, this is a likely indicator that they will not commit and take the time to work with us properly, ever. And we’re probably better off “not” working with this person, but with people who do care instead.
Less confusion. Creativity can be endless, but it’s important to make it purposeful. We have embraced essentialism as part of our creative process as well, especially when we work on branding projects for example. Instead of pursuing thousands of graphic directions then showing them to our client and letting them sink in confusion, we decide to put more attention and time in what matters: the purpose. Defining a purpose and a strategy for each project is something that we now spend most of our time on. This is exactly what helps us justify every creative interpretation, and our clients love seeing one direction that is THE right one for them!
Delegating. We are not experts in delegating, and as business owners we still wear way too many hats. That’s ok though, because so far, everything we do is something we enjoy doing. What we clearly do not enjoy doing, though, is…dealing with accounting. We do the basics, like keeping our books. But we don’t lose a single minute if we receive tax mail that we do not understand. We scan it in, and forward it to our accountant. God bless her. Of course, we have to pay her to do our taxes, but she’s so worth it: every minute she saves us, we can rather spend on doing the things we love.
Not forcing it. We are often told that it’s good to be ultra-social, to connect with everybody. To maintain all of our relationships. But that’s not really essentialist. Some relationships just don’t evolve and that’s a completely natural thing. We can’t “click” with everyone. Instead of letting this upset us, we just focus on those who do evolve, and it feels so good!
Individual attention. We have a love/hate relationship with social gatherings. As much as they can bring a lovely mood, sometimes, when there are too many people in a room, it gets distracting and it’s not easy to focus and have a long, meaningful conversation with the person who really matters to you. So similarly to our creative projects, we try as much as possible to give individual attention to our relationships instead of trying to fit them all together. Of course, we never say no to a party, but we find that a cozy coffee date generally brings us more.
Being ok with a polite “no”. We love pleasing the people that we love. Inviting them over to dinner, sending them birthday cards, going to gigs together. Yet, sometimes we just don’t like the same things, and that’s ok. I guess that rave parties, baby showers or big weddings…are just not our favourite way to spend time with our friends! And that’s not a problem. We save ourselves the hassle, politely decline and come up with another way to have a good time together.
Life happens. Yes, it happens. People change. We change too. People come in & out of our lives. More than ever, we realize that friendships are like waves, they fluctuate. Everything may as well be impermanent. Instead of letting it be upsetting, we now see the beauty in it.
Family matters. Like everyone, we sometimes have misunderstandings with our families. But it’s just not worth holding grudges. Friends may leave, but family will always be there no matter what, and they are our roots. While we are not completely “hooked” and dependent on our families as other people may be, it’s just not an essentialist thing to let any drama go on. Reminding them that we love them always brings much more happiness.
Wholesomeness. Thinking like an essentialist can also be hugely beneficial in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, particularly when it comes to eating wholesomely. By focusing on the foods that bring us energy and happiness, we can naturally care less about the foods that don’t. We prioritize healthy, wholesome foods which we turn into delicious dishes that are nourishing and that we crave again and again. You are what you eat. So give those avocados some love!
Less but better indulging. Having said that we eat healthily, that doesn’t mean we do not occasionally treat ourselves. Hey, balance is everything! However, when we do indulge, we make sure it’s the good stuff. We couldn’t care less about McDonalds, but we sure do give a damn about a homemade, gigantic veggie burger. And we don’t eat chocolate on a daily basis because it messes up our energy levels, but we are confirmed chocolate snobs and we get a good one when it feels right! Less, but better. Repeat this mantra in your deepest foodie dreams, my friends!
Minimal stress. By de-prioritising a money-driven lifestyle and living with less, we have managed to reduce our work hours. This contributes to keeping our stress levels at a minimal level, as we have more time to be flexible. It allows our schedule to fluctuate according to our needs. We are more likely to make time to do things that are beneficial to our health, like walking around, trying a longer yoga class or doing relaxing things like playing music/drawing.
Boredom is magical. Yes, you heard right. Being busy is often way too glorified. In the weekend, people often ask us “so, what are your plans for the weekend?” and this can be awkward. Because we intentionally keep most of our weekends free of any plans at all. It’s so good to not have any plans and just go with the flow. Sometimes we might feel like doing something fancy, sometimes our minds just tell us “I want to do nothing at all“. And in boredom, we embrace what is feels like to just BE. Being instead of doing. Feeling our breath, gazing at the sky, listening to those birds chirping. It can sound like hippy talk, but you and I both know how much it really matters 😉
Of course, having said all that, we are not complete and converted essentialists yet! Although we are very proud of what we have achieved, this is a process and we are continuously striving to find even more balance in our lifestyle. There are a few things we are still working on, and are trying to solve.
I personally still have a bit of an problem with being a workaholic (yes) and I often feel terribly guilty during those plan-less weekends I mentioned before. I always try to find something productive to do with my time and this often fills me with anxiety. So I gotta figure out how I can allow myself to slow down when it’s necessary.
I’ve also been better with saying “no” to people but in my uncomfortable nature I do have a hard time with that. I tend to sugarcoat things and lose a lot of time explaining myself when I shouldn’t. Not very essentialist! David is way better at this though.
David and I both have trouble tending our minds and getting organized with all those ideas/thoughts/responsibilities that keep coming in, often putting ourselves much pressure to try to tackle them all together and that can sometimes make us go nuts. We also have a bit of trouble finding balance between the different activities we are pursuing, because we often do the mistake of prioritising all of them instead of highlighting just one!
We have reduced a LOT of our belongings and things that don’t bring us value. But… we still have a bunch of stuff we have to get rid of, creeping in our basement and other random places. We realized this while travelling, and we cannot wait to do a second even more radical round of de-cluttering when we’ll be back home for a bit. I highly admire minimalists and I can definitely imagine us working towards that path.
How about you guys? Are there any ways that you would like to be more essentialist in your lives, and do less but better? Let me know what you think, this is such a huge topic for us and we sure hope that you found our post interesting 🙂