My Life as Minimalist in UAE- 5 Tips to Begin the Thought Process as a Minimalist

I happened to watch a wonderful, thought provoking video on the concept of Minimalism a year ago and I've been trying to adapt to the concept ever since. Being a minimalist in the UAE fits to be the perfect example of a paradoxical situation, where a person will easily be ostracized for choosing to be one! I would like to share my journey towards adapting to a minimalist lifestyle, and how I realized that clutter attracted so much negativity and left a serious impact on my emotional well-being.

When I first came to the UAE, we lived in a small studio apartment in Dubai and we didn't have many things. We moved to a one bedroom apartment in Sharjah after my first child was born and even then, we just had the basics. A sofa, a TV cabinet, a computer desk, a king size bed and two wardrobes were all that we had in our new home. It was easy to clean and our son had ample amount of space to move around and explore, which was important for me, as unfortunately the kind of lifestyle we live here in this part of the world doesn't allow our children to have much outdoor time. However, as time passed, we started buying many things we perceived we needed, like a dining table, a big shoe cupboard, a seven-seater sofa that came really cheap on a classifieds site, an extra shelf, an extra single bed along with a lot of toys which added to the clutter. Though there were a few items that we really needed, like the shoe storage and a single bed for my son, there were many in the list that we could have easily avoided. It was only after my daughter was born I realized how stressful it was to manage a house with so many things. I noticed that my allergies started spiking up. I had to battle with an endless amount of dust that would get accumulated in the curtains, bookshelves, under sofa and all over the house and of course, a UAE resident's worst nightmare-cockroaches.

Thankfully, alhamdhulillah, it was at the time of moving to another apartment in June last year that  I started learning more about becoming a minimalist and I made a firm decision that we will not buy anything that we don't need. We discarded many things we didn't need and we just have the basics now. It has been a year and a half, and Alhamdhulillah we have been successful in sticking to this principle. I have resisted the temptation to visit the department stores that run promotions every now and then, and we almost never buy anything on an impulse.

Here are some of the tips to follow for not just decluttering, but to adapt to a lifestyle that will make you less of a consumer and more of a person:

1. Think of the Bigger Picture

Every time you purchase something, remember that YOU are  making yourself responsible for what you have bought. Think of the bigger circle you belong to-yourself, your family, your extended family, your neighborhood, your city, your state, your country, your region, your continent and the whole wide world! You belong to this world, and you are responsible for your actions. In Islam, we believe in the Day of Judgement when every soul is resurrected and brought back to life, questioned for our deeds where no leaf will be left unturned. Thinking of the environmental impact of your purchasing decisions will make you more conscious. Every time I pass by the huge landfill area at the Dubai-Sharjah border, my heart just sinks. I keep telling my kids all the garbage we through end up in a place like that and they never get decomposed. Every unwanted toy, every unwanted bag, clothing, furniture all end up as a burden to this delicate planet and we can't just pass our burden to the earth.

2. Don't Make Shopping a form of Entertainment

I know this is hard. To make some confessions, I love shopping. I really do. Especially in Chennai (somehow a small bit of nostalgia creeps in everywhere!) where I used to just enjoy shopping with my mom. My mom and myself were like two girlfriends buying things together and almost all of you know much we shop for weddings. I bought way too many clothes, all expensive and beautiful, dreaming of wearing them all after getting married as a new bride. What I didn't realize was the fact that those dresses didn't fit me well after I got pregnant and I somehow started becoming averse to any material that is not cotton. The result-piles and piles of nice clothes looking sad and miserable in the closet. They were to good to give away but too uncomfortable to wear. It was eating my mind so much and I decided to just pack them all up and give away. I made a firm decision that I will only buy what is comfortable for me to wear and that I will not buy too many party clothes. The last time when I went home for vacation, I just bought one nice salwar suit for Eid. The rest are all were regular clothes that I am comfortable wearing everyday.. The  I am glad I am sticking to it. Alhamdhulillah.

"Eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess." Quran: 7:31

3. For Parents-STOP Buying Toys 

I know this might sound a little exaggerated, but this is not anything that is far from reality in this part of the world where mall visits are a must during weekends. We did fall into this trap with our first child, and buying some toy for 10 or 20 dhs didn't seem like a big deal initially. I also was of the opinion that buying toys are better than making the kids sit idle in front of a gadget. But I realized it was not either. I would feel like banging my head on the walls as soon as the toy gets opened up and lying in some corner of the house. I would sometimes wonder if my house has some ability to accumulate toys like dust. If cleaning was such a big affair, sorting toys was another. I used to seriously I must have taken up a course on Toy Management. It was so stressful and one fine day, I had to get rid of most of them. We almost stopped buying toys for our kids. As the famous adage goes, Kids need our Presence and not our Presents. We try to avoid mall visits as much as possible and give them books instead of plastic toys. It is difficult, but it is worth.

4. Free Yourself from the Peer Pressure

This is yet another cause of the great depression caused by the excessive accumulation of the unnecessary possessions (forgive me for my TR English-I just can't help it). I am reminded of a very old Tamil movie Bhama Vijayam (1967) where  as simple family spends ways beyond it's means to impress an actress who is visiting their home and end up becoming indebted. Our lives are no different than what was portrayed in the movie even after 50 years! We end up buying stuffs we don't need after a visit to a friend's home, seeing that beautiful pieces of crockery neatly arranged in that cupboard. We may want to buy more hair accessories for the girl child after seeing our relative's girl all decked up in matching hairbands and clips while our girl wanders around in her jeans and t shirt, imitating her elder brother. You might suddenly want all things new for that high profile relative who is visiting you from a foreign country. Basically, we are living a life for impressing others and not our own self. You will notice that freedom when you stop paying attention to what others think of your lives and focus only on what you truly need. This is just so liberating, and I am telling this from my personal experience.

5. Be Empathetic

When I was a kid, I obviously didn't have access to many luxuries that my kids have today. I come from a very simple, middle class family and every time myself and my brother get something, we will be reminded that this was the fruit of my father's hard labour. India is a country of the rich and the poor and you might end up meeting a destitute person as soon as you walk out of a jewelry shop. You can't escape that guilty feeling of having an ice cream while walking past a hungry child. That extra ice cream you are going to eat might be just enough for the full family to have a meal. The phrase in Tamil "ovvoruthar saappatuke kashtapadranga, namaku idhellam thevaya" (people are suffering to find a meal, do we really need this luxury) used to be heard from our elders often. However, as time passes, materialism became something that is not seen as bad, but as an essential. We live in an imaginary land of milk and honey and we are only competing to be better than each other. But thinking of the workers condition in Bangladesh who make our fast fashion clothing or the amount of pollution the plastic toys cause to our marine life will surely make a difference. Teaching our children the same is even more important. Be conscious. Be empathetic.

"Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.  Quran 17: 27

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