A couple of years ago, I celebrated Valentine's Day by bringing over hundred strangers together and going through the Minimalism Game with them.
The Minimalism Game (more on this in a moment) helps people get rid of things they no longer need in their lives. As such, it seemed like the perfect response to the mess that our culture has made out of Valentine’s Day.
The pressure to spend money on cards, flowers and gifts. The stress created by the assumption that we simply must do “something special” for our significant other (or feel bad about not having a partner in our lives).
Where did the love go?
Of course this is but a reflection of the general state of affairs—our culture’s consumerist tendencies are hardly restricted to one day in February that’s supposedly about love. Valentine’s Day is just one more reason to spend money on things that we don’t really need and that don’t add value to our lives.
So how can we help change that cultural story? How can we get back to the heart of what matters?
The promise of Minimalism
What prompted me to play the Minimalism Game is a documentary I watched called Minimalism. This documentary features ordinary humans who have created their own version of a minimalist life.
They have done so by letting go of possessions and obligations that did not add value to their lives. Some of them moved into tiny houses. One person reduced the number of her wardrobe items. Someone else decided to fit all of his belongings into a few bags so he could travel the world.
Because this is such a personal process, what minimalism looked like in someone’s life was different for everyone. However, the internal results were remarkably similar—everyone seemed happier and more fulfilled. As material possessions lost their meaning, immaterial goods such as love and friendship became even more important.
I immediately found myself desiring the simplicity of their lives. This documentary prompted me to ask myself what really matters to me. The spotlight on this question made it apparent to me that a lot of my answer had gotten lost underneath, well, things.
The truth is that things are not the answer to anything. Things often not only bury our answers, but even our questions.
It can be hard to ask ourselves what really matters if we numb ourselves with the consumption or possession of things that clearly do not matter to us. Here’s my invitation for changing all of this within the next 30 days. Introducing: the Minimalism Game.
What is the Minimalism Game?
The Minimalism Game was created by the Minimalists (yes, that's literally their name!). When I first read about this game, I was immediately hooked. It was not just me who had this reaction—when I mentioned the game to a friend, his eyes lit up with excitement and he asked, “Do you want to play?”
If your answer to my friend’s question is yes, here are the rules of the 30-Day Minimalism Game (which I slightly adapted):
The game lasts 30 days. On Day 1, you have to get rid of one item. This means you need to find one thing that you are going to donate, recycle, return, sell, gift someone, or throw away. It can be any physical thing as small as a ring or as big as a mattress (something that I recently donated).
Every day, you have to get rid of one more item than the day before. This means that on Day 2, you need to find two things to let go off. On Day 3, it’s already up to three things. Needless to say, this game gets more and more difficult as you advance.
Depending on your situation, you may want to adapt the rules to allow yourself to play the game. For instance, if you have very few physical things to get rid of because you are currently traveling (is anyone currently travelling???), you may decide to declutter your laptop by deleting emails or files instead.
If you don’t have that many personal possessions nearby because of, say, a cross-continental move (like I do), you may also want to include stacks of paper as something that counts for the purpose of this game.
According to the official rules, the items you chose need to be out of your house or flat by midnight of that same day.
To make this game more fun, you want to find someone to play it with you.
According to the official rules, whoever continues for the longest wins (if you both finish the 30 days, you both win).
I’ve played this twice (once with the group of people that I brought together, another time by myself) and both times, I was very happy that I played it.
While I’m not a Minimalist, it feels great to get rid of things I no longer need… especially when others could still use them.
One of the things I loved the most about playing the Minimalism Game with a group of people is to hear how many items found a new purpose. For instance, one person brought mugs she no longer wanted to work… which replaced the throwaway cups people had been using until then. Another person realized she had an electronic item she no longer wanted but that her friend could use. And so on and so forth.
Whether you read this on Valentine’s Day or not, right now is the perfect time to create space for what really matters in your life.
Let’s make space for love—not things!
This was first published on Elephant Journal.
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