Free Speech Friday

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Here at the University of Washington, there is frequent discussion on mindfulness, with various university and department activities promoting self-care year-long. Additionally, centers frequently host time management and wellness seminars, open to students, faculty, and staff alike. I propose awareness of a complementary mindset that, when adopted can promote that process of mindfulness and self-care in many facets of our lives: minimalism.

While not not an encompassing solution, engaging in minimalism can ease stress, help prioritize values, and promote a grateful mindset. Adopting a minimalist mindset can help foster prioritization at a time of life where we as students face many pressures, including work, school, and social demands. Before I explain further, though, I want to explain what minimalism is not. Minimalism is not clean lines, white walls, and black and white clothing. While these descriptors can portray a minimal aesthetic, practical minimalism addresses broader attitudes towards material items and personal values 

Minimalism as a lifestyle has garnered a lot of attention in the past few years, though the virtues of a less materially-minded life have been lauded for millennia. Writer and activist William Morris wrote, “have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful, or know to be useful” (1880). Linda Pierce believed “simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life” (1947). Recently, decluttering coach and author Marie Kondo has shared her belief that one should “discard everything that does not spark joy” (2016). These insights illustrate a clear pattern: minimalism is a mindset of eliminating the excess — those things which detract or do not contribute to your life or happiness — to better focus on what brings you purpose and joy. 

By focusing on the things that either bring joy or are needed, you practice prioritization. Inspired by Marie Kondo, I underwent a New Year’s sweep of my apartment. I was embarrassed by the number of bags that brought clothes and clutter that went to the donation center — all things I had accumulated in merely three years since moving. Yet what I kept became more meaningful and deliberate. Moreover, I have a more peaceful study space, and practice the same prioritization in my academic work.  

If exploring a minimalist mindset appeals to you, there are several easy ways to began to engage in practical minimalism: 

  • When possible, buy quality. Buying fewer, longer-lasting things is eco-friendly, and can be cheaper in the long run.
  • Eliminate responsibly. Donate to thrift stores, such as Goodwill or Value Village. Oftentimes these donations fund job training. Items or clothes in good condition can be sold on Craigslist or the UW Free and For Sale Facebook Page. Brand name or durable clothing can be brought to consignment stores. Alternatively, textiles no longer in good condition can be recycled through King County’s Threadcycle program, which accepts textiles in all conditions. Drop-off locations can be found on the King County website. Look for responsible alternatives to throwing things away whenever possible.
  • Go digital. An easy way to discourage clutter and save paper is to digitize. This can be done in many ways — most books are available in digital format. University forms and reminders are often available through email rather than mailers. Autopay and email reminders are also available as an alternative to paper bills. 
  • Learn to say no. A minimalist mindset includes being aware of your commitments. Pay attention to your stress levels to avoid overcommitment, and learn to step down when you find yourself overburdened. Time is precious resource.
  • Minimalize social media. A study by the University of Copenhagen found that more frequent social media use correlates with greater feelings of stress and unhappiness. Consider which apps you most use and get rid of others, or limit the time each day you spend on them. 

Minimalism is a process, yet we must remember that choosing to engage in it is a privilege. There are many who have no choice but to engage in necessary minimalism. Living in Seattle, we are keenly aware of the necessary minimalism that goes alongside homelessness and housing insecurity. Not everyone is capable of opting for more expensive long-lasting quality items, or able to discard multiples. We must therefore recognize and appreciate our privilege and choice if we feel so compelled to explore the process of minimalism. 


Ellen Ahlness 

Class of 2020

Political Science

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