by Leo Babauta
One of the biggest challenges for anyone wanting to live a minimalist life is not internal but external — their loved ones aren’t on board the minimalist train.
How do you deal with that? What’s the simple solution?
There isn’t one.
Dealing with others who might be hoarders, clutter-bugs, just plain messy, or maybe just regular people who don’t care about minimalism … it’s not easy. It’s so much easier to live alone and not have to worry about the living habits and preferences of others, but many of us don’t have that “luxury” (although there are a few benefits of living with those who love you).
Here are some strategies that have worked for me. Your mileage will definitely vary.
Focus on yourself. While your spouse or partner or children may not want to declutter their lives or live without consumerism, you can, at least in the areas you control. You can stop buying. You can get rid of things you personally own that you don’t need. You can find joy in doing rather than owning or buying. You can reduce what you do, what you consume, what you eat, and so on. These you control, and they should be your first focus. Sometimes, it will be your only focus, if the strategies below don’t work.
Lead by example. You must remember that others are people with their own beliefs and way of living — which you cannot control. However, you can influence them. And one of the best ways of influencing others is by example. Live a life of minimalism, and show how wonderful it can be. Show how easy — and actually fun — it can be to declutter. Show how happy you are. Share it all with those around you. Do it without trying to push it on them, because they will react negatively to being forced or nagged into doing anything.
Educate. Often people are against change because they don’t know enough about it. Combat this ignorance with non-pushy education. Talk with your loved ones about what you’re doing and why. Show them examples of people who inspire you. Send them links to mnmlism.com, Zen Habits and other blogs and magazines you enjoy — not as a hint, but as a way to share things you’re excited about. Over time, they’ll start to understand, and maybe even join you.
Ask for help. Your loved ones, most likely, care about you. They want you to be happy — but want to be happy themselves. Enlist your loved ones’ desire to make you happy … ask them for help. Say, “I need your help in getting to the minimalist life I want. Do you think you can help me?” Of course, if you’ve educated them, they already know what you want, but most people would love to help you if they can. Don’t ask them to change, but ask if they can help you declutter, or keep a certain area uncluttered, or figure out a solution to a problem you’re facing.
Set boundaries. If you can’t get a loved one on board, it helps to set boundaries. For kids, ask them to keep their clutter to their rooms. Give them that personal space, and don’t bug them about it. For adults, you might designate certain rooms or areas as yours and others as theirs. I’ve known some people who’ve split rooms or entire homes in half — one side is uncluttered, and the other was … not.
Find compromises. Living with other people means finding ways of living that work for everyone. That might mean you need to give a little, if you want to ask them to give a little in return. Be willing to accept a less-than-perfect solution, if the solution will work for everyone.
Find acceptance. In the end, you might not win over the people who live with you — and you can either be frustrated or angry with that, or you can accept it. The second option is preferred, as you’ll have more peace of mind. It’s not easy, and will require you letting go of certain expectations, letting go of a need to control, and learning to love someone for who they are, not who you want them to be. But in the end, the effort will be worth it.