Back in June, right before this whole “journey towards minimalism” began, I was still in the habit of going for brunch nearly once/week. I’ve often said brunch is one of my favourite meals, and that I would always spend money on it, until I realized that blowing $20 on some fancy eggs and coffee wasn’t going to help me reach any of my financial goals. (I’m also fairly certain I used to go for brunch simply to take pictures of my food and show people that I went out… so, there’s that.) To go along with my yearlong shopping ban, I decided to decrease my monthly restaurant budget and have only gone out a couple times since. But I digress…
The last time I went for brunch in June was with an acquaintance I’d tried to maintain a relationship with for the past year or so. We had some mutual friends and a couple things in common, and we were finally both living in the same city, so it only made sense we would be friends, right? That’s what I used to think, anyway. During our meal, however, I finally listened to my gut instinct (gotta love that thing) and paid attention to how I felt both during and after our interactions. The verdict: it wasn’t good.
Not only was this person not very kind or supportive, most of their comments were filled with backhanded compliments. Whenever I walked away from one of our hangouts, I always felt like I’d been interviewed by a reporter who was planning on writing a story about all the ways I was screwing up my life. And while I personally know a few great reporters, there are some general rules everyone should follow when talking to one: be mindful of what you say and always ask beforehand if you want something to be off the record.
Think about that for a minute, then try to imagine how uncomfortable those hangouts used to be for me. I felt like I couldn’t be myself, had to hold back in conversation and could never share how I really felt about anything; this is not how two friends should feel when they talk to one another. For so long, though, I’d been holding onto that list of reasons why we should be friends… until I finally realized it just wasn’t going to work. So, I decided that would be our last brunch and we haven’t spoken much since.
According to The Minimalists, “minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important, so you can find happiness, fulfillment and freedom”. When I first read that definition, I was focused on the material aspect of my journey towards living a more meaningful life, so I assumed it was just talking about the physical items around me. Of course there will benefits from removing clutter/excess stuff from my life! It’ll help me appreciate the things I love most! But once I got past that part, I realized why they had a chapter on minimalism + relationships in their first book.
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that one of the ways I am pushing past the material part of my journey is by paying attention to how I feel about all my relationships, nurturing the ones I care most about and putting less energy into the ones that drain me. So far, the example above is the only one where I’ve felt the need to stop interacting with someone, so it’s not like I’m cutting out friends left, right and centre here. In fact, it’s been the opposite: removing one negative relationship that wasn’t “working” has made me that much more mindful and grateful of all the amazing people I am able to call my family and friends – and there’s the connection.
I hate to compare people to “stuff”, but this has to be what minimalism is all about: putting energy into needing fewer things but seeing greater results. I saw it when I decluttered my home, then finally felt like I could move around it with more ease and started to procrastinate household chores less and less. I’ve seen it at work, since I’ve been able to pass off some of my work to freelancers and focus on the projects I enjoy most. And now I see it in my relationships. While I don’t necessarily have fewer of them, I did remove one that brought me down, which has allowed me to focus on the ones I truly care about. (Sending someone a little gratitude note each day has been a great start.)
In making the connection between minimalism + relationships, a few of the other lessons I’ve learned are:
1. “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” This is a quote from The Minimalists’ book, and is one they share on social media often. For me personally, it’s a good reminder that I don’t have the power to change something I don’t like about a person, but I do have the power to change my reaction to it. For example, I didn’t feel as though that acquaintance was ever going to become a supportive friend, so I stopped putting myself in situations where they could make me feel inadequate.
2. You’re allowed to identify a list of traits or behaviours you need from someone you are in a relationship with. And I’m not just talking about people we establish intimate relationships with; this includes our friendships too. When I was younger, I often spent time with anyone who was nice to me – even if they were only nice half the time and awful the rest. Now, I am obviously much more confident in what I can offer as a friend and know I want the same in return. Some of the things on my list of needs from others include: understanding, support, honesty and communication.
3. You’re allowed to let people go – and you should. The example I’ve used in this post is not the first time I have decidedly removed a friend from my life. In the past, I have identified a few relationships that were toxic and/or brought me down in some way and made the difficult decision to end them. It wasn’t easy at the time, especially because I felt like we should be friends for whatever reason. But I have zero regrets because letting each negative relationship go allowed me to start opening myself up/giving time to more positive ones.
The result, I’ve realized, is that all of my existing friendships and relationships today are intentional. I want each and every person who is in my life to be there, and I will pour any amount of energy I have to in order to maintain each relationship and watch them grow. No two relationships are the same – and, therefore, I don’t have a definition of what a “good” relationship is, because mine are all good in their own way. But friends are the family you choose for yourself… and mine are awesome.
When was the last time you evaluated your friendships/relationships?