What can minimalism teach us about life goals? I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had, but I’m also thankful that I abandoned what didn’t feel right.
I celebrated my 43rd birthday this month.
And even writing that feels strange. Because although I’m not ashamed of growing older, the very idea that ageing is taboo – and something to fight with anti-wrinkle cream – has been so ingrained in us women that shame kicks in regardless.
But I’m not embarrassed to share my age or of the strands of grey hair and fine wrinkles that come with it.
I’ve found the older you get, the more comfortable you feel in your own skin and the less you care about impressing others.
Ageism and growing older
Though it isn’t always easy for women when popular culture mocks age with tired sitcom jokes about awkward grandparents who are oblivious to new technology.
At the same time, youth is worshipped and ads that may show black people or minorities will still not dare to feature anyone over 40.
A pottery artist once wrote on Instagram about how she was too embarrassed to ever post photos that showed her hands, crumpled as they were.
But when she finally did, the support flowed in from women relieved to see someone who represents them and their reality in a sea of aspirational fantasy.
Not enough women in their 30s or 40s are visible online.
And while curated Instagram feeds are beautiful, more people want authenticity and women who look like they do.
As I celebrated my own 43rd birthday, I thought how I’d often heard that a lady never tells her age.
And I thought how these years have been some of the best and most valuable of my life.
Minimalism and life goals
I’ve accomplished a lot that I’m proud of. I’ve graduated from a top university, travelled the world (even though I never had much money) and worked my way from a small newspaper in the Arizona desert to an international press agency.
But the more I look back the more I realize I’m also proud of what I’ve left behind.
I never wanted children and never had any, despite the pressure and the odd questions I still get about my decision. I never bought a house – a mortgage has always terrified me. And though I did once buy a new car, I ended up selling it a year later when I moved overseas.
And I’m grateful for the experiences life has given me. But I’m also thankful for having the courage to abandon what didn’t feel right.
I quit ballet despite the years of sweat at the barre. I quit grad school in London despite the effort I’d made to study abroad in Britain. And I quit my job at a business magazine right after I got a raise that nearly doubled my salary.
The aftermath of those decisions were often difficult and uncertain times. Sometimes at my parents’ house without a paycheck or any hopes.
But those were formative years too because they taught me about myself.
As you grow older, you get to know yourself better. You can distinguish your own desires from social pressures and expectations. You’re more confident in your choices, even if they’re unpopular. And you’re less concerned about convincing others of your worth.
Or at least this is what I’m learning.. chipping away at everything I’m not until the essentials remain.
I’ve pursued things because it was expected, or because my family wanted it, or because society told me it’s what success looks like. But leaving those goals behind has cleared the way for better things.
It’s a process of elimination as your goals are whittled down to a few non-negotiables, and you no longer have the time or energy to pretend.
There’s a Joshua Becker quote on how minimalism is about removing the things that distract you from what you love. And I don’t think that only means old clutter. It can also mean our life’s goals.
Because there we’re also constantly told that more is better. If we don’t want the house and the family, then we’re less of a woman. If we don’t want the status symbols, then we won’t be respected.
It’s not always easy to leave behind a life you’ve worked hard towards. It feels like throwing away your effort and starting again with nothing.
But the older you get, the more you realize there’s no formula for happiness and the more you give up, the more space you’ve got for what matters.
As I celebrated my 43rd birthday, I thought of all the things I’ve never done. And I realized how grateful I am for not giving in to pressures to settle down or stick with a job for the sake of a steady paycheck.
Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is quit and move on.
Part of this post originally appeared in my monthly newsletter. Sign up here to get the next instalment. And read more about slow living (and how to make it work for you) in What is Slow Living?