Dare to Non-Conform

Like any normal teenager, I often argued with my mother, usually ending with a comment like, "You just don't get me, Mom.  I have to be myself!"  Which is funny in retrospect, because I was always desperately trying to conform to what my peers were doing.

Even as adults, we continue to try to fit in.  Look at a typical group of friends, and you'll often see similar hair styles and colors, similar clothes, similar manicures, similar phone cases, even similar gestures and vocal inflections.

If we're the one person in a group that doesn't conform, we tend to think that the others are "normal" and we aren't.  We think there may be something wrong with us if we're too different from everyone else, and we worry that others will ignore or reject us if we aren't like them.  That can feel scary.

be different

Minimalists aren't "normal."

We don't conform to our society, which pressures us to buy more, do more, hurry more, and work more.  Our culture expects us to be mere consumers, but we know that fulfillment actually comes from being creative, kind, and useful.  We know that when we're too busy chasing trivial things, we sacrifice our opportunity to find the things that really matter.

Being "normal" is overrated.  We don't have to do what everyone else is doing.  Being unique, finding our own passions, remaining true to ourselves – that's the way to find happiness.

5 ways to non-conform

1.  Control the message.  

The messages about what's "normal" enter through our eyes and ears and take root in our minds if we don't choose to limit their impact.  We can watch less television, flip through fewer ads, and scroll through less social media.  We can idolize fewer celebrities.  As we begin to reduce the noise from outside, we're able to tune in to our own priorities, thoughts, and feelings.

2.  Say no.

Agreeing to do things you don't want to do, and that you don't have time for, in order to please someone else and keep from missing out is "normal."  It also creates stress and resentment, and keeps you from doing things you actually want to do.  Next time your heart says no, don't let your mouth say yes.  You don't need an elaborate excuse or apology.  Simply say, "No thanks!"

3.  Don't keep it.

It's "normal" to keep everything because it was expensive, or because someone gave it to you, or because you might need it someday.  (Or maybe the kids will want it!)  Minimalists clear out non-essentials to make room for the things that add value to their lives.  By getting rid of the stuff that doesn't matter, we're left with just what we use and love.

  • If you're keeping something "just in case," realize that you're living with fear.  Dig out some of that things that are buried in the back of your closet or in boxes in the garage, and admit that "just in case" means never.  When you free yourself of these items, you'll let go of some insecurity as well.
  • If you're keeping something because it was expensive, realize that you're feeling guilt.  You spent a lot of money on something that wound up not meaning very much to you.  But continuing to clean, store, maintain, and insure this item costs even more money, time, and attention.  Let it go.  You've paid enough.
  • If you're keeping something because it was a gift, you don't have to.  It has already served its purpose as a token from your loved one.  And she probably didn't intend to burden you with something you don't like or can't use.  Going forward, if you prefer not to receive physical gifts, have conversations with your near and dear about a different way of giving.  Suggest getting together for a meal or a shared experience, or donating to a charity you both care about.
  • If you're keeping something because your kids might want it, they don't.  Just ask them!  They don't want your clothes or most of your furniture or china or knickknacks, so go ahead and donate or sell them if you aren't using them.  And if your adult children want their childhood memorabilia, give them a pickup deadline.  It's not your responsibility to store it for them.

4.  Stop competing and comparing.

This is the "normal" way of our world, and it's destructive.  If you're caught in this, ask yourself why you're so busy trying to impress everyone else that you're ignoring what makes you happy.  If you're living at an unsustainable pace, ask yourself if abusing your body, brain, heart, and soul is worth it.  If time spent on social media leaves you feeling jealous or lacking, switch off your device.

Related article:  Comparison, the Thief of Joy

5.  Think differently for greater rewards.

It's "normal" to complain about a situation without doing anything to change it.  Most people don't change.  But as the saying goes, "Reality doesn't change until we do."

Minimalism will lead you down a path that most people don't choose.  They think it means lack and scarcity and deprivation.  They question the choices of someone who might live with just one car or only six pairs of shoes, who keeps their current phone rather than upgrading, or who doesn't say yes to every available activity.  It takes some determination and out-of-the-box thinking to be a non-conformist.

But minimalism is a tool that can help us find happiness by steering us in the direction of what we truly value.  Minimalism lets us fill our lives with what is most important to us while forcing us to let go of what adds clutter and stress and steals our time, money, and attention.  Living a minimalist life, a life of essentials, can help us find lasting rewards.

Why would you ever want to settle for "normal"?

Updated February 2023


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