Life has no rules except those we choose to follow. I'm talking about lifestyle rules of course, not the rules of physics. As we grow up our minds fill up with rules. Some of them are for our safety and some of them help us become better people and function well in society.
Other rules though are just people's perception as to how life is to be lived and get imposed on us - either intentionally or unintentionally - or those we collect from images around us. There are articles telling us what clothes we absolutely need in our wardrobe, photographs showing us what our appearance should be like and people calling us things like "boring" if we don't enjoy the same activities as them. Sometimes it's just that we're surrounded by people who enjoy something that we don't. If you don't fit in this box then you feel like the odd one out; there must be something wrong with you.
I've never fitted into the "cool" box - I'm 5ft 3 and I have curves so I'm neither tall and slender or pixie-like petite, I don't drink alcohol (no religious reasons; just don't like it), I don't like going out clubbing all night until the early hours (I'll sit up chatting with friends on the sofa or watching a movie late into the night but otherwise I just want to go to bed and sleep!), I've never had the money or the energy to follow the latest fashion trends (however hard I tried when I was younger), I don't like wearing excessive amounts of make-up so I have never had that perfect skin look that some women can achieve, I feel completely self-conscious and nervous in flashy restaurants (a good, down to earth restaurant with decent food portions and something with chocolate on the dessert menu is where I'm at) and I'm just not that into music (I'll take films and books over music pretty much every day of the week). For a really long time I thought that my bookish, country walks, curl up inside watching films in the evening, jeans and t-shirt, craft-loving self was odd; that I must be dull and boring for liking these things instead of music festivals and partying.
Whilst the intensity of those feelings faded in my twenties when I had friends who were more like me and then got a lot less when I met my husband (with whom I have always been able to be completely myself), it's actually taken me until my maternity leave to completely let go of thoughts like this. Childbirth and this period after it has stripped back all the layers of life that I'd accumulated. Whilst I won't go into details about my experience of childbirth (another post perhaps) after the event I had lost all inhibitions. Then in those first few months afterwards, in my experience, all of your focus turns inwards to you and your baby - it's selfish I guess but I think it's also a survival strategy. Recovery from pregnancy and childbirth takes a lot of time and you have this teeny tiny human to keep alive and they are so precious that so long as you've got the both of you to the end of the day then its been a success.
As I surfaced out of this bubble I started looking at what I wanted to add back into life, what I wanted to layer my mind and surroundings with. I think this is where I really started thinking about minimalism as more than just decluttering the physical space around me. I've only got so much time and energy to spare so all those things that cluttered it just aren't going to get a look in. I literally don't have the time or the energy to be anyone else, to wear clothes that I don't like, to be emotionally impacted by people who don't like my decisions or to do things that I have zero desire to do. I've given myself permission to be me and it feels pretty liberating!
It hasn't been any easy process and I certainly haven't perfected it - I'm sure I'll have dips and self-doubt but I'm feeling more confident about myself as a whole and I've got some tools now to keep me on the path that I want to be walking on. I thought I'd share some of these (and no they don't involve having a baby!):
- sit in your own skin for a while: take yourself off alone for a little while (it doesn't have to be for days, it could just be for half an hour here and there until you've had enough thinking time in total) and be completely honest with yourself as to what you like and dislike. Don't let any "should likes" or "should dislikes" or any comparisonitis creep in - just write down or think about all the things that you enjoy. When I made this list I even included the little things like crumbling old brick walls and the smell of freshly baked bread.
- create some boundaries; you can choose how much you let people into your headspace. Danielle LaPorte has a great saying: "open gentle heart, big fucking fence". Keep your heart open to feel everything but don't let anyone at it who isn't kind and gentle and someone you want to let in. So those people who don't like your life decisions because they don't chime with their way of living; ask yourself which side of your fence you want them.
- take a really good look at your wardrobe: do all of the items in it give you joy and make you feel like you? If not, then ask yourself if you really want them or if it's time to sell or donate them for someone else to enjoy.
- fill your diary with the things you enjoy and those people you like spending time with. This is a really hard one, especially if you like keeping people happy, as your decision is not just going to have an impact on you. I've started thinking of it this way though; do you want a relationship (in the broadest sense of the term) with someone where you are not turning up as your true self? Relationships are only as strong as what you can invest in them and sometimes they come to an end. That's ok; if you keep your heart open then new friendships can come along. Additionally, if you're surrounded by people who you can be totally yourself with then you're going to be a hundred percent present in those relationships and they'll be all the better for it.