Finding the Connection Between Minimalism and Relationships

September 10, 2014


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?

Flickr: e-mariano

  • Strandedrocks September 10, 2014 at 4:20 am

    Hi Cait,

    I was at the Toronto meet up, it was nice to meet you.
    This post is so pertinent to what I am going through. I also have evaluated a long friendship of mine and I have realized that the thought of getting together with this person makes me feel as though it’s a chore. The idea of never interacting with this person makes me feel less stressed. I think it’s sad that it has come to this but if I never talk to this person again I wouldn’t regret it. I think as we get older we either grow apart from people or grow closer together. That’s life I guess.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm

      Oh, the chore feeling… I’ve experienced that a few times – not so much with friends, but with freelance I’ve taken on in the past. Definitely pay attention to how you feel and change your relationship as you see fit. You never know – they may feel the same way, even to some degree.

  • Taylor Lee September 10, 2014 at 4:56 am

    I’ve definitely snipped off relationships with people that weren’t making me happy or adding benefit to my life. Luckily it hasn’t happened often, I generally know to pick good people to add into my circle, but the few times it has have been rough.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 8:49 pm

      Yea, I can only think of maybe 2-3 people I’ve had to do this with (other than exes, lol). It’s not easy to do, but worth it in the long run.

  • Will @firstqfinance September 10, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Quite frankly, I don’t care to put energy into lackluster relationships. So I evaluate them a lot! In college, I settled far too often though! Ha!

    And what a witch for the backhanded comments.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      Meh, I’m not too worried about it. Honestly, it’s coming from something inside the person that has more to do with them than me. I’m just sad at the thought that it’ll likely affect many of their relationships, not just ours.

  • Kassandra @ More Than Just Money September 10, 2014 at 7:18 am

    I did a major clean-up of not only things but people who were just on the fringes of my life. I am not one to let new people into my life very easily. I need to feel a strong and safe connection with someone before I can start spilling my guts as to say. Maintaining relationships takes a considerable amount of energy and investment so it’s something that none of us should take lightly.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 8:51 pm

      I’d never really considered how putting time into friendships could be an investment, but I suppose that’s true! I’m happy to invest in all the people I call “friend” today. :)

  • Aleksandra Sagan September 10, 2014 at 7:27 am

    I’ve found that the older I get, the more aware I am of who I choose to keep in my life and why.

    Back when I attended elementary, high school and university, a lot of my friends were those of convenience and proximity. Some of those, of course, turned out to be great people and amazing friends that I completely clicked with and value having in my life. But others, they were fun to go out with in a group, grab a coffee with on the way to class, etc. But, they weren’t necessarily people I had too, too much in common with.

    Now that we’ve all moved on, into our own apartments, jobs and relationships, I find that we have a lot less time to devote to our friendships. So, I treat the time I have for social encounters as a lot more precious and am much more aware of who I want to fill that time with.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Oh, I think most people can agree with your sentiments about friends from school – most of those relationships are just based on convenience. A few of mine have certainly lasted ever since, but certainly not the majority.

  • Bridget September 10, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Interesting post.

    I have a friend I was very close to in our early 20s, but as the years have gone by, our relationship took this weird turn where whenever we got together, she would ask about my life and share hers while simultaneously being ridiculously competitive and seeking approval. It was so BIZARRE. She would criticize me for pursue money/career and then her next comment would be sharing her own savings and asking me if it’s enough.

    Eventually it just got too exhausting and we’ve drifted apart. I really miss our friendship that we had before but I just couldn’t handle being grilled, criticized, and then asked for my opinion every time we got together.

    It’s been hard for me to let my friendships run their course. I really wish I could stay close to EVERYONE but there are 1) not enough hours in the day and 2) people change and what served you at age 21 might not work at age 31 and it’s nobody’s fault.

    Great post Cait!

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      I think that’s where it gets hard: remembering that it was good, at one point, and having to let go of that. But it’s ok for friendships to change. I wrote this in another post a couple years ago:

      To help myself move past lost friendships, I try to imagine that each of us is a car on a road trip. On certain stretches of the trip, you will be surrounded by other cars. You’ll hang out every day and support each other, especially during some of the long hauls. You’ll all stop when one car needs to refuel or another breaks down and needs a few days to get better. But on your road trip, there are also a number of exits. And some of the other cars may take an exit sooner than you expected. You can miss their company but don’t stay mad at any car for leaving. They just need to continue on their own road trip, to reach their final destination. And their purpose was to help you reach yours.

  • Dayle September 10, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Aleksandra said it well… now that we are all grown up, the amount of time we have for friendships and social activities is considerably reduced making it that much more important to spend our time maintaining those relationships that add value.

    Strandedrocks also echoed my thinking that as we get older we grow away from people. I have a handful of about 3 or 4 friends that I have known and been close with since I was a kid. With these ladies we often talk about how our friendship has weathered SO much stuff, many of us have gotten married, had kids, went to school, got divorced, dealt with tragedy, etc… and I believe that friendships that have lasted 15+ years are the ones that will probably last forever because they have already been thru everything.

    I am a believer of the saying that people come into your life for a reason, or a season, or a lesson (or whatever that saying is!) and so I don’t let it bother me too much when people fade out of my life. I did recently spend some time thinking about existing friendships and other relationships and decided which ones I felt were worth the time and effort maintain, and some that are just not worth it. This helped me make a conscious effort to make sure I make the time to stay in touch with my friends that are important. And sometimes a short visit every month or two is all you need to stay connected.

    I loved this post!


    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Dayle, and appreciate you sharing your experiences. I hadn’t thought about those long-term friendships being the ones that’ll last forever, but you’re probably right. What I actually love most about some of my friendships that have lasted 10-15 years now is that we don’t NEED to see each other once/week or once/month even to know we will always love and support one another. We could talk today, tomorrow, in October, in 2015… it doesn’t matter. We’ll always be there for one another.

      • Dayle September 12, 2014 at 3:31 am


        That is exactly how it is with those few long-term friends… sometimes we don’t see each other for months and months, but we always pick up right where we left off. There are never hard feelings.

        It’s those friendships where the other person demands they must see you every so often in order to make it work….it makes the relationship feel like work, which I don’t really need any more of.

  • Shannon September 10, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Cait, I want to tell everyone I know to read this, rea-read it, and bookmark it. I spent so much time in my 20s nurturing relationships that ended up being toxic and codependent. I had NO CLUE. It took moving across the country and starting a whole new life (in other words, maturing, growing up) for me to see those relationships for what they were. I hold on tight to people so much because of loyalty – I don’t want to let anyone down, regardless of how they make me feel. I’m just now learning to be more intentional about relationships myself.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:12 pm

      YES to the point about moving across the country helping you see this. My continual moves definitely showed me which of my friendships would be able to survive. As a result, I would also guess that 90% of my friendships are long distance now… but that’s a whole ‘nother issue! Anyway, I’m happy to hear you are learning to be more intentional about your relationships. <3

  • Mackenzie September 10, 2014 at 9:34 am

    You find as you get older, that relationships change and sometimes the effort in maintaining it is just too exhausting. And people change and not necessarily for the better. The friends in my life are my TRUE friends and we make time for each other and build each other up. I just don’t have the energy to deal with negative or toxic people.

    Great post Cait!!! :)

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      Sounds like you have some great friends, Mackenzie!

  • Michelle September 10, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Love this post Cait. I have been debating this with a certain person in my life. I am constantly forgiving them for their mistakes and I’m at the point where I just feel bad for their life now, so I stay. However, it’s bringing me down and it’s not fair to me (or Wes).

    • Michelle September 10, 2014 at 9:47 am

      I should probably say that the person I’m talking about is not Wes. LOL. My comment made it sound like it’s him.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Ha, I did not think that – I know how one person’s unhappiness can/will affect their partner. Do you feel comfortable dissolving the relationship?

  • Alicia September 10, 2014 at 10:25 am

    I was very close with a friend for 6+ years and then we started drifting apart when we hit 25 and I started maturing whereas she didn’t. I couldn’t handle the immaturity, the competition and the snarky ness that always put me on guard.

    I think recognizing that we change and aren’t bad people for allowing friendships to drop away when they harm us is so important.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:16 pm

      Sounds like we were friends with the same person, lol. No, but in all seriousness, I went through something very similar. After being friends for most of our 20s, I realized one of my friends wasn’t maturing at all… and her childish antics and comments were so frustrating to hear about, let alone experience, that I finally had to walk away from it. Because of how she was, I knew I actually had to tell her that I wanted to end our friendship. You can imagine how that went. But I’ve never looked back.

  • Kelly September 10, 2014 at 11:30 am

    WOW!! A very good article/blog..sorry.. It needs to be sent to high schoolers EVERYWHERE!!! This is such a HUGE deal in high school!! My oldest is dealing with this similar situation & trying to step back & let her deal with it is HARD…& painful to watch. But she will only learn from doing it herself… Past experiences learned the hard way already… I LOVE the whole minimalist concept.. & attempting to do little things here & there…. In hopes the habit forms enough that I can do BIG time purges.. Without the family balking…

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      I think it’s tougher to understand at that age, because you’re physically surrounded by the same people for all those years. I always told Baby Bro and Sis to just remember that high school is only one small, tiny chapter of our lives… and things get MUCH better once you’re out of there. Hope your daughter finds some peace on the other side of this.

  • Michelle September 10, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Great post! It actually is a huge relief to get rid of those people who drain you. I have done some clean up already and along the way have been finding some that does it behind your back – which hurts more.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Sorry to hear that, Michelle. Stick close to those who matter most.

  • Travis @Debtchronicles September 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    I read this post with a bit of a heavy heart, because I too have recently re-evaluated some friendships in my life. It’s not that they were toxic, or that I felt bad after our interactions – it’s just that the relationship seemed imbalanced. I seemed much more interested in maintaining a strong friendship where we shared information thoughts, perspectives, joys, and disappointments, whereas I noticed particular people seemed much less happy with less – essentially the ‘facebook friendship.” You know, where you “like” each other’s posts, but that’s about it. For months and months this bothered me – but I finally came to the conclusion that I was expecting more than the other parties were willing to give. I just had to accept that the energy I expended was being wasted, and always would be. So, with a heavy heart I decided that I wasn’t going to expend the energy anymore, because it simply wasn’t worth it.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      Aww, that makes ME sad, Travis, because I know how big your heart is and how much you love the people you let into your life. Even though you’re sad now, I hope you’ll eventually end up in a place where you are only surrounded by people who will give back as much energy as you give to them. *Hug*

  • Bet Crooks September 10, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the reminder to nurture the friendships worth keeping. I needed that push to get going and respond to an invitation and send another of my own. It’s easy to push my own friendships to the end of the list and forget that its those people who I’ll have the most in common with when my family eventually fledges.


    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Definitely reply to that invitation, Bet. :)

  • Erica September 10, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Cait, Cait, Cait… what can I say but this post is really something and hit home with me. I’m not a minimalist by any definition, however I have to agree with you when you say this is what minimalism is really about- being intentional with friends, relationships and goods. Personally I am trying to move my life towards this type of thinking which includes being intentional and living with purpose.
    I think the older I get the more I understand this point. I think it’s worth putting your energy and all into things and people that bring you the greatest joy and re-evaluating everything else. Losing friends unfortunately and truthfully fortunately is also part of this process.
    Great read!

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Erica!

  • B. September 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Applying minimalism principles to social encounters has to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done for myself – congrats! And thank you for sharing; it’s always good to know there are others out there in a similar place ;)

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Nice to know you’re there with me, B. :)

  • Sarah September 10, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    It is so important to surround yourself with good people. Your message in this blog post is so timely for me, as I went though some similar thinking in the last couple of months. I work with a small team of staff at work and there are some really toxic personalities on the team. I decided that I needed to keep our contact to a minimum, as they were making me feel very negative and stressed. Since making that decision, I’m much happier. I do sometimes have to deal with comments from them, but I just ignore it as much as possible and I speak up when I have to stand up for myself. Good on you for looking after yourself!

    • Sarah September 10, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      Just realised…. the only thing I haven’t had the strength to do yet is remove them from my Facebook friends list. I don’t have the strength to deal with the fallout that will cause!

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      Interesting to look at it from the standpoint of relationships with coworkers! I’m extremely fortunate to work with a great team right now, but felt that way with a few people in my last job. Our interactions always brought me down in some way, but I didn’t see it until after I left.

      The Facebook dilemma… I don’t have an answer for you there! Maybe just make it so their stuff doesn’t show up in your feed, and you’ll never see them.

  • Clare September 10, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    I have a “friend” just like the one you describe. I’ve distanced myself from her throughout the years but she still makes me feel like poop when I do see her. I’m going to follow your lead here.

    Love you SO much.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      You are way too good to let anyone make you feel bad about yourself, or even just bad about your interactions. Fill your life with love and support, and happiness will follow. Love you right back, xoxo

  • weenie September 11, 2014 at 4:28 am

    Thanks for this post – very insightful.

    For a long time, I have realised that I have drifted poles apart from my school friend who I’ve known for over 30 years and that were it not for the fact that I am godmother to her oldest son (now 21), we would no longer be in contact.

    Our paths started to drift when I left our home town to go to university, never to return as my family to the city – she still lives in the same little home town we grew up in. When we meet up, it’s mostly to reminisce about the old days at school when we were kids – she doesn’t know much about my life, in fact, doesn’t know what I do, or what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years, yet I know a lot about hers because she tells me and it’s not always great, particularly her money or family problems.

    Often, I leave our meetings wondering why I bothered to make the 100 mile round trip to see her because I’m always relieved to just go home! However, I don’t want to break off all contact because I just feel that at some point, she may need to talk to someone about her issues/problems and I would like to be able to be there to help if she needs me.

    I have minimised contact to just once a year now (Christmas), that much I think I can put up with.

    My friends from uni on the other hand (6 of them), who I’ve known for 25 years, I make huge efforts to meet up with them when I can – these are the people I think I grew up with and who I can totally be myself with.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:51 pm

      Sounds like your heart is in the right place, with your friend. In that situation, I think it makes sense to see her once/year… although it makes me sad she doesn’t know anything about your life. Does she not ask, or do you just not tell?

      • weenie September 17, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        She doesn’t really ask and I guess I don’t insist on telling. Hmm…maybe I’ll try next time, see what happens!

  • Rob September 11, 2014 at 10:34 am

    This relationship situation seems to affect a lot of people, even the rich and famous. I was just watching a tv show where they were discussing the “frenemies” syndrome – people pretending to be one’s friend but deep down were not really – shades of Taylor Swift vs Katy Perry (as the gossip tabloids are reporting on these days).

    That said, it’s one thing to cut off toxic relationships in one’s life but it gets trickier in the workplace where “office politics” rears it’s ugly head – two faced, back stabbing among team mates and/or competitors for career advancement. Here it’s hard to avoid and so coping mechanisms are required when you can’t just totally avoid such people (short of quitting one’s job of course, which isn’t always the best approach). Being now retired, I don’t miss those types these days.

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      I feel so fortunate that, in my current position, I would never find myself in that situation. We have 1 editor, 1 marketer, 1 product manager, etc. so there’s no competition amongst us. But I know my career won’t always be this way… can I retire early? lol

  • Savannah September 11, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    This was such a great post and a reminder to listen to your gut to rid emotional baggage in your life. Side note: I finally made it through all your archives and am all caught up. I love reading your blog, its definitely inspirational and your new minimalist lifestyle is a great reminder when I want to buy “stuff”

    • Cait Flanders September 11, 2014 at 9:54 pm

      You went through everything!? That takes some dedication, hehe. Thanks for the kind words, Savannah, and I’m so glad the minimalist challenge has helped you too!

      • Savannah September 12, 2014 at 7:08 am

        Ha, yes I did! I stumbled across your blog and LOVED it!

  • Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans September 15, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I think I can deal with material minimalism. Relationship minimalism would be much harder. There are just friendships I hold on to “just because” or “they’re fun under certain circumstances”. There’s always a reason for me to “hold on” to people. I do see the value of letting go, though, and I hope to be able to do so one day…

  • Broke Millennial September 16, 2014 at 10:29 am

    You undoubtedly made the right move cutting out a person who wasn’t really worth your time and energy. Why spend time with people we don’t really like (unless you have to for work purposes) when our time is precious?

    I’d never really thought about the connection between minimalism and relationships, but now that you bring it up — that’s probably where I’m the minimalist the most in my life! That sounds strange, but I grew up moving around and in environments where everyone else moved a lot, so I learned at a young age when a relationship would work (long-distance or not) and the type of people I wanted to hang on to. As a result, I don’t have tons and tons of friends, but the ones I have are family to me. To a fault though, I don’t put a lot of energy into nurturing new ones if I feel they don’t have a lot of potential.

  • Michelle September 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    The relationships that I have had before graduation college to the present have changed. I only spend time with people who value my time as much as mine.

  • Jessica September 22, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I can totally relate!! I have had some really close friends, but as I get older and grow up, I feel as those around me aren’t growing up at the same pace. It makes it hard to maintains a relationship when they just want to party and I want to focus on a career. Moving to BC has really showed me who will always be there for me. I have been here for a month and my “best friend” has already stopped talking to me. I guess it isn’t convenient anymore.