It seems like everywhere I turn these days I hear a report about how social media affects people’s self-esteem. On NPR recently I heard a reporter describes this phenomena by saying,
“A number of studies have found people feel worse after scrolling Facebook – more envious, lonely, even angry. In one German study, people were particularly unhappy after viewing vacation photos. They were also more envious when browsing Facebook instead of actively using it by posting comments and photos of themselves. Passive use is how Facebook officials describe it.”
When I heard this report, I got it. I’ve had that feeling after seeing vacation photos, or reading status updates about how “advanced” other people’s children are. However, I can remember a time when I faced the same insecurities even without the social media. Comparing myself to others, and finding myself lacking, is not new. This type of comparison has driven feelings of insecurity my whole life.
However, in the last eighteen months, I have felt far less insecure and worthless, even when being a “passive” user of Facebook. While I’m not constantly happy I am far more content, and confident than I have ever been. I didn’t find religion, or a 9 step program. In fact, all I did was start a cleaning project. In the past year I have embraced minimalism and started to get rid myself of clutter, both physical and mental. With the help of blogs like Minimalist Mom and Becoming Minimalist, and I have cleared out two bookshelves, a dresser, a guest room, a walk-in closet and given away carloads of stuff. In the process of clearing out my physical objects, I was forced to confront my commitments. I started reflectively writing about my personal goals and joys, and in the process discovered my own values. I started saying “no” to things I didn’t find intellectually or emotionally rewarding, even if they might have helped me move “ahead” in my profession. I started committing time to my family and health as concretely as I commit time to checking my e-mail or grading papers. While I did not embark on these acts specifically in order to decrease feelings of insecurity, it is a very welcome by-product. Embracing aspects of minimalism has helped me focus on the most important objects and commitments in my life and made me more aware, and therefore more confident, about what I really value and what I do about these values every day.
So, if you willing to do a bit of cleaning and soul-searching, you too could start to use your time and space more strategically and, hopefully, enjoy life more. The minimalist path looks a bit different for everyone, but here are the four major steps I took (and continue to work on) that are at the core of the confidence I carry with me today.
1) De-clutter the stuff: I started my journey by reading The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life which was simultaneously practical and inspiriting. This is the book that helped me clean-out my closets, get rid of magazines, readings and a plethora of other objects that lingered around for years because of the fear that, someday, I might need them. Getting rid of this stuff opened space in my home, but also helped me realize that there were parts of my life and commitments that I was also hanging onto because of mis-guided habit.
2) De-clutter the values: As I donated mounds of clothes and books, I realized that some of my person and work “priorities” were really no different than the size eight skirt I hung onto for 10 years, even though I never wore it. Sometimes we hang onto objects, or keep up with tasks, simply because we have always done so. It was time to reflect and re-prioritize. After reading a great little e-book, Tell your Time, I made a list of my roles in my life (parent, teacher of teens, proponent of adolescent literacy development, spouse, friend, etc.) and reflected on what these roles mean to me and what behaviors best aligned with the way I want to live these roles in my life. I was writing just for me, and I pushed myself to be honest, and to clarify my own expectations for myself.
3) De-clutter your time: There are plenty of ways to organize your tasks and your time. Some people like planners. Some people use online calendar reminders. I cobbled together a system that uses Google calendar, Evernote, and a weekly plan that I type up in Word. But the core of any system is the recognition that you have a choice in how you spend your time. Yes, you have to work and earn money (although, I highly recommend reading Your Money or Your Life for a new view on this) but how do you use your hours at work? How do you spend time away from work? You are making choices about how you spend that time, and the act of using an organizer of any kind is really just a way to track the choices you are making. The focus of this step is to take a step back and consider where your time is going. Are your choices aligned with your values? The act of reflecting on my values and making choices accordingly (such as saying “no” to projects that didn’t fulfill me and weren’t necessary to sustain my family) led me to be a happier and more confident because I was aware and fully in control of what I was choosing to do.