by Liberty Stembridge, Relationships Columnist
Published in Relationships on 12th August, 2018
By now most of us know the benefits that leading a minimalist lifestyle can have for your finances, mental health, ability to move and the planet in general, but have you ever thought about how minimalism extends to your relationships? Most of associate minimalism with clean white bedrooms, anti-consumerism and being able to pack light when going on holiday, but the real core tenets of minimalism can extend to all areas of your life, from how many socks you own to who you choose as your life partner, to your relationship with your cat. In fact, many people have actually found that through minimalism, they have been able to save their relationships both with romantic partners, family, and friends. So how exactly does minimalism do this?
There's some debate within the minimalist community as to what the core values of minimalism are - some people see it as purely practical, but many see the true meaning of minimalism to be making space in your life for what is really important. When viewed in this way, minimalism can be applied to all areas of your life and can make a huge impact on your relationships.
Stress is the worst enemy of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. When we get stressed we are more likely to get angry, frustrated, annoyed, nit-picky, hungry and a hundred other negative emotions. Stress has a physical and mental toll on the body and therefore quickly starts to affect our relationships. You may not realize it, but the clutter of all the unnecessary things in your life may be placing subconscious stress on your brain and body. This is where minimalism comes in - by getting rid of all the junk we don't need, we help to de-stress ourselves in numerous ways. Less stuff means less mess, less clutter and less time wasted cleaning, which all leads to more time and less stress in our lives (and less stuff to get annoyed about to your family/SO).
One of the most common reasons cited for a break-up is not feeling close to the other person, because of the lack of quality time spent together. When you both work 9-5, or especially if you work alternating shifts, it can be easy to feel like passing ships in the ocean, never seeing each other except for the occasional rushed breakfast. This very quickly leads to feelings of resentment, a loss of connection and a subsequent break-up. Minimalism can help to prevent this. One of the core ideas in minimalism is that you shouldn't have to spend so much time working if it is taking away from other more important parts of your life. With a minimalist lifestyle, you can ideally save money and live in a way that means you don't have to work so much, or can switch to a better but maybe slightly less paying job, you can spend less time cleaning or worrying or consuming, and use all that free time to spend on whatever it is you want to prioritize, and this can really be a game-changer in a struggling relationship.
Minimalism goes hand-in-hand with a frugal, money-saving lifestyle. By adopting a less consumerist mindset and really beginning to cut down on unnecessary expenses, you'll find that you'll be able to start saving. While it's totally true that money can't save a relationship, it can definitely give you a bit more freedom and reduce any financial strain on your relationship.
Although it's not a cure for all mental health difficulties, leading a minimalist lifestyle has been shown to help in reducing the effects of mental illness and in some cases, completely erasing it. To many people, minimalism represents freedom from whatever it is in life that is tying them down, and once they've changed their life to prioritize what they feel is truly important, their mental health can drastically change for the better. Even if you don't suffer from mental illness, minimalism can still reduce stress, anxiety and help to regulate moods. This all contributes to a healthier, more balanced space for your relationship to grow in.
Minimalism can lead to a better understanding of yourself and what you want in life. People who have taken on challenges such as the extreme minimalism challenge often report inadvertently finding a better understanding of who they are and what they want. This knowledge is absolutely invaluable for anyone in any kind of relationship. Knowing yourself, what you find important and what you want to have more (or less) of in life will help you to express this to others and have better, more open relationships. With a better understanding of what you like and dislike, you'll be able to pick and choose your relationships better, but more on that later...
Living a minimalist lifestyle almost requires you to practice non-attachment, or at least, less-attachment, especially to material goods. This practice of non-attachment is preached worldwide by Buddhists, who teach that having less attachment to material belongings helps us to create more space for living in the present moment and more appreciation for the important things in life such as love, family, mental health and so on. Minimalism is a perfect way to practice this, and can help you to live more mindfully. Studies have shown that couples who practice mindful living and try to remain present in the moment generally have a better quality of relationship both with each other, the people around them, and themselves.
Minimalism teaches that you should treat and review your relationships the same way you do any material possession. Is it important to you? Does it bring value to your life? Or does it weigh you down and prevent you from moving further in life? By applying some of the common minimalist practices to your relationships you can start to cut out the toxic and negative influences from your life to make space for the relationships that you do want.
When you start to take a more minimalist approach to dating and relationships, you'll instantly find that your standards are raised much higher. If you force yourself to think about what's actually important to you and cut out the peripheral nonsense, you'll not only be left with a core set of qualities to look for in potential love interests or new friends, but you'll also be much less likely to compromise. If you think about your dating life in the same way a minimalist might think about buying a new table, it becomes a lot more clear. Generally, from a minimalist perspective, if you're looking to buy furniture, you'll look for some long-lasting, high-quality furniture that fulfills all your requirements. It might take some time, but eventually you'll come across the perfect piece with the right dimensions, color and materials. Because you focused on what was important and new exactly what you wanted, you didn't compromise and eventually landed yourself an excellent piece of furniture that will last you the rest of your life. The same concepts apply to dating - if you find what's important to you and don't compromise on those key qualities, eventually you will find yourself in a fulfilling long-term relationship.
There is so much social pressure surrounding relationships nowadays, it's difficult to escape. There's ads telling you what to buy and what to look like, and social media stars joking about what your relationship should or shouldn't look like. There's an expectation for the women to be jealous and controlling, and to want lot's of gifts, while the men are supposed to have it all and pay for everything all while looking a certain way and impressing her parents. Minimalism helps to break down and remove those societal expectations, so you can thrive in your relationship and let it be exactly what you want. Without the pressure to get engaged and have a big fancy wedding, you might find that actually, having a ring on your finger isn't that important, and your relationship (and your bank account) will thrive because of it. With less pressure to look and act a certain way or reply in a certain time limit, you can be free to be yourself and let your relationships take their own unique shape.
A minimalist mindset is a positive mindset - it's all about focusing on what you want and getting rid of what you don't, so that you can live a more liberating and satisfying life. The same applies to your relationships. When you cut out all the negative and unhelpful influences from your life, it leaves space to focus on the positives and to reflect and change your relationships if necessary. Once you adopt a more minimalist mindset, you can really start to prune all of your relationships to help them function better and be a part of your ideal life.
While minimalism isn't all about living with less, that is often a big part of it and the fact of the matter is, the less stuff you have, the less there is to annoy your partner with. Once you get rid of all the old dolls you've had since you were five, you instantly make space and don't have to live with your partner moaning at you for tripping over them again. In most cases, living with less will lead you to a simpler way of living, where you're not being annoyed and hindered by material possessions. No more fighting for wardrobe space or panicking when you have to move, everything becomes simple and easier - which will inevitably reflect in your relationships.
Walking the path of minimalism forces you to become a little more introspective, and start thinking more about who you are and what you want. It also encourages openness with the people around you, whatever relationship you have to them. This helps to create open and positive lines of communication, where you and your loved ones and talk about and work on your relationships together. They'll be able to keep an eye on you and you on them. You don't even both need to be travelling a more minimalist path, just by looking a little deeper and opening up a little more, you start creating a safer space for those around you to follow suit.
When you start researching minimalism, you'll quickly come across the idea of putting experiences over material items, and this extends to your relationships too. Rather than offering up flowers or presents as tokens of love and affection, you switch to prioritizing spending time together. This can make a massive difference in a relationship. Using the money spent on a fancy necklace or a new phone to go on a couple's vacation or even just going on a walk and out to dinner will do far more for your relationship than any material item every could. Slowly you can disconnect the idea that love comes with gifts and start re-kindling love in a more natural way, by spending time and enjoying each other's company. This isn't to say that buying your SO gifts is always bad, but when you start prioritizing experiences over material items, the gifts that you do buy will be much more special and meaningful to your partner.