Minimalism

Doing Less + A Lesson in Self-Worth

November 10, 2018

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At the end of the night, when you rest your head on your pillow, how do you feel?

Until a few months ago, my answer to this question would probably have been unsettled. Too often, I’d go to bed with a weight on my shoulders, a feeling of guilty heaviness about not getting enough done. It was slowly wearing away at my spirit; instead of the satisfaction and ease that I craved, there was an anxious voice in its place, steadily chanting “not enough”.

This is probably not what you were expecting from someone who regularly writes about simple and intentional living, and the truth is this anxiety surprised me too. As a minimalist, I thought I’d made peace a long time ago with needing “more” to be happy. After all, the person I am today is a far cry from the shopaholic and workaholic I once was.

But as I’m often reminding myself, how far you’ve come is not always a reflection of how far you have to go, and I realised I still had some inner work to do. I wanted to learn not only how to do less, but how to feel good about it too—because realistically, our to-do lists are never going away.

Here’s the story of what I’ve learned after a season of rest and reflection (I recently took a long break from blogging), as well as some resources that have helped me along the way.

Doing Less + A Lesson In Self-Worth: Learning to do less ... and feel good about it.

MOVING BEYOND THE TO-DO LIST

Years ago, when I was just starting to experiment with minimalism and owning less stuff, one of my first breakthroughs was realising that my problem of too many things was really a problem of priorities. My spending and consumption habits were out of alignment with my values and too often, I sacrificed the things that mattered most to me in exchange for the short-term thrill of buying something new.

With time, this idea grew and evolved into my core belief about simple and intentional living: that it all begins with knowing your values and then making intentional choices accordingly. It’s this belief that inspired me to create Simply + Fiercely and I return to it often, especially when I’m feeling out of balance.

So not surprisingly, as I struggled to find peace with doing less, this is where I turned my thoughts—and it’s not the first time. I actually wrote a blog post at the start of 2017 on how to minimise your to-do list and my advice back then mirrored this sentiment. I told my readers to accept that they have limited time and energy and then advised:

“Once you accept you have limited resources, it becomes a question of priorities—how do you want to spend your precious time and energy?”

I encouraged my readers (and in turn, myself) to cast a critical eye over their to-do lists and to question if the tasks they set out for themselves were truly in alignment with their values.

Rereading this old blog post now, I’m pleased with what I wrote and I feel like it’s a good starting point. We often clutter our to-do lists with seemingly important tasks but, when we take a second look and use our values as a measuring stick, many “must do” items suddenly seem less urgent.

Having said that, I’ve realised that decluttering my to-do list wasn’t enough for me, as evident by my continued struggles. It was one thing to physically do less, but another entirely to feel good about it. I couldn’t shake that anxious voice and I knew until I did, I’d always try and satisfy it by doing more.

There was still a missing piece to the puzzle.

LEARNING + UNLEARNING

When I was a shopaholic, I would use the many things I owned like a mask to hide behind. I thought that designer handbags and a whole closet of four-inch stilettos would make people think I was a beautiful and powerful woman and that my collection of vintage dresses would distract from my uncomfortable, unhappy marriage.

I shopped compulsively because it allowed me to live in a fantasy world where I didn’t have to face my fears and insecurities, and it also distracted me from the harsh reality of some of my choices.

But when I embraced minimalism and stopped shopping, it felt like pulling back the curtains to my soul. I felt raw, exposed and horribly uncomfortable but with nowhere to hide, I had to confront my problems head-on.

I found the courage to get divorced, I left a career that had made me miserable, and I slowly became more comfortable with what I saw staring back in the mirror each morning.

I couldn’t articulate it at the time but what I was doing was rebuilding my self-worth. Now that I was no longer defined by the things I owned, I could learn to appreciate my true self. It was a period of great personal growth during which I felt simultaneously empowered and horrified, but when the dust settled I felt like a new person—no, scratch that. I felt like me, like the person I always was but had been afraid to be.

But that was many years ago now and since then, a lot has changed.

I remarried, I moved cities, I changed careers (again) and I became a mum. I’ve gone forwards, backwards, and sideways; I’ve learned new lessons and forgotten old ones, and with all the shapeshifting, I realised I’d again lost sight of myself.

Instead of my possessions, this time I hid behind my to-do list and defined my worth by my productivity. This is why I felt so unsettled at the end of each day; I never felt like I did enough because I was always questioning if I was enough.

Did I read to my daughter long enough to be a good mum?
Had I taken on enough freelance work to be a good provider for my family?
Did I post frequently enough on social media to be a good blogger?
Had I paid my husband enough attention to be a good wife?

I don’t know when I lost sight of myself or what exactly caused it—becoming a mum and leaving my “real” job probably contributed a lot—but whatever had happened, I no longer felt confident in myself so I was looking to my to-do list for validation.

Unsurprisingly, I never found it. With the clarity that comes with time and reflection, I can see now that nothing I did would ever be enough because I had no sense of what “enough” actually meant to me. It was a familiar feeling, reminiscent of my days as a shopaholic, and this reminded me to turn my attention again to my self-worth.

SELF-WORTH + DOING LESS

if you refuse to love yourself
the way you should be loved
you will always be searching
for something to flood your
emptiness.

bold by Alexandra Elle

I’ve been struggling the past few weeks to finish writing this post because it’s not easy to explain how or where self-worth comes from. It’s so personal and, even when I think about how my own life has evolved this year, I can’t put my finger on exact moments that changed me.

All I can say with certainty is that I have changed and, as I’ve become more comfortable in who I am again, I’ve also felt more comfortable letting go. Slowly, I’ve untangled my self-worth from my productivity and I’ve acknowledged my value as a person is more than what I check off my to-do list. At the end of the day, I can say to myself that I’ve done enough and actually believe it.

It’s been hard work; our cultural views about productivity were ingrained in my psyche, even deeper than the belief that owning more is always better, and sometimes it felt like I was physically wrestling with myself. Taking time to reflect, to read, to write, and to occasionally just sit quietly, has almost been a defiant act; I’ve had to confront a voice that told me I was being self-indulgent and learn to silence it by saying, “No, this matters, I matter.”

I learned to befriend myself and in turn, to talk to myself as I would to a friend. After a particularly difficult day, instead of beating myself up with thoughts of failure and ineptitude as I once would have, I instead reminded myself that it was just one day. I had done the best I could and tomorrow would be a fresh start, another chance to begin again. I started to trust and believe in this new kinder voice and the anxious one started to fade away.

Again, I can’t tell you exactly how I made this change other than to say it requires reflection and a dose of inner stubbornness—but I can share a few resources and actions that I believe helped me move forward. If this resonates with you, then I encourage you to find time to reconnect with your self-worth, even if you have to fight for it too.

RESOURCES + ACTIONS

Please note this section contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase I get a small commission at no additional cost to you. Click here for my full disclosure statement. Please note that I only recommend products I genuinely use and enjoy. Thank you for supporting my work!

Alex Elle, writer

I discovered Alex Elle on Instagram and I was instantly blown away by her honesty, vulnerability and commitment to honouring herself. I highly recommend following her inspiring account, as well as her book of poetry, Neon Soul. There is something about the way she writes that speaks to me deeply. I’m also really excited about her new journal, Today I Affirm: A Journal that Nurtures Self-Care (currently available for pre-order).

Adore Your Cycle eBook by Claire Baker

This book is about women’s menstrual cycles and I first read it a few years ago … and then promptly got pregnant and forgot about it. I picked it up again earlier this year and I was surprised by how valuable I found it.

I’ve always beaten myself up because my energy and emotions definitely fluctuate a LOT during the month and in the past, I’ve seen this as a sign of weakness (which didn’t help my feelings of self-worth). Claire has taught me to work with natural rhythms—instead of fighting against them—and I’ve noticed a huge change in how I feel.

You can get a copy of Adore Your Cycle here.

Aggressive Self-Care

I’ve written a lot about self-care before but the way I’ve practised it has changed a lot this year. In the past, I’ve tried to practice it daily but it was something I would fit in when I could—maybe a long shower at the end of the day to unwind while burning a nice candle.

While I still think that sounds lovely, self-care has evolved for me. It’s less about doing something that’s “nice” and more about what I need. Some days, this means reading a book during nap time instead of washing the breakfast dishes because my brain needs stimulation. Other days, it’s doing a yoga video (my favourites website) while she throws blocks at my head because my body needs to move.

Most importantly, it’s about aggressively protecting these acts for myself, because self-care is the action that backs up the words “I know my self-worth”. When I make myself a priority, it reinforces my belief that I’m valuable.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

This is technically “A Course in Discovering and Rediscovering Your Artistic Self” but from what I’ve read so far (full disclosure, I’m only halfway through) I think it’s an incredibly useful guide for self-discovery whether you have any interest in art or not. I think it’s the closest thing to a “how to” guide for self-worth that I’ve found. You can get a copy here.

Emotional Agility by Susan David

This is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. I first listened to the audiobook* and then loved it so much that I had to order a physical copy so that I could highlight and bookmark all the gems of wisdom inside.

It taught me, among many other things, how to face negative feelings and then, not to ignore them, but (to borrow a term from the author) to “step out” and find more appropriate ways of reacting. I’ve learned to look objectively and critically at the stories I tell myself, which has been crucial in connecting with my self-worth.

I highly recommend reading the book or at a minimum, check out her inspiring TED talk.

*I signed up for an Audible account before my daughter was born and it has been a game changer, I read so many more books now, even with a toddler in the house! Click here for a free trial and you get 2 free audiobooks.

Mindful Social Media Consumption

I took a five-month blogging break earlier this year and during that period, I was really selective with how I used social media. I don’t think that social media is inherently bad for you—after all, I’ve used it to make a lot of friends, both online and in real life.

Having said that, I think if you’re struggling with your self-worth, you need to be especially careful with what you consume online. I realised I was following a lot of people who made me feel inadequate (often through no fault of their own) so I needed to take a break for my own wellbeing. If you’re struggling to be mindful with your social media consumption, this blog post might be able to help you.

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

This is a book about self-control, which on the surface might not seem relevant to self-worth, but I found understanding the science behind why we sometimes struggle to act in our own self-interest helped me immensely. The lessons about how to improve self-control were an added bonus (and this would be a fantastic book for anyone who is struggling with minimalism and/or compulsive shopping). You can get a copy here (also available on audiobook).

FINAL THOUGHTS

On a final note, I feel like it’s worth mentioning that for a long time, I thought that focusing on self-love or self-worth was a bit too “woo-woo” for me. Despite writing about personal development and being an advocate of self-care, I just couldn’t get my head around self-worth. It seemed so vague—and to actually invest time and energy into cultivating it … seemed so needy.

And then, even after I did start investing that time and energy into myself, I was scared to write about it. There is so much New Age, wellness “guru” stuff out there and I was worried I’d be adding to the noise with a fluffy post about loving myself.

But ultimately, I had to put my thoughts down because Simply + Fiercely is about me sharing my stories and this change has been a big part of my life. Just this morning, I was writing in my journal about how surprised I am at how things have changed in such a short period of time. There are, of course, some days that are better than others but I feel more at ease than I have in years and I felt compelled to share this. I hope if you’re feeling “unsettled” at the end of your day, that this post inspires you to look for another way.

Writing this post was definitely a step outside my comfort zone so I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you battle with your to-do list? And if so, do you think self-worth plays a part in your struggles? Let me know in the comments! xx

PS: If you want to learn more about my struggles with minimalism and owning less stuff, check out this post or my free, 18-page guide and workbook Mindful Decluttering. In it, I share the lessons that helped me finally clear the clutter for good. If you’d like a copy, don’t forget to subscribe below or click here!

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  • Marci

    Love your honesty! I had to physically stop writing ” to do ” lists because I realized I needed to focus on being present in this moment rather than looking to the next. But then somewhere along the way, self care was added to my mental ” to do ” list and leaving me feeling less than/ unaccomplished if I couldn’t check that box. This post reaffirms the power of our cultural belief that productivity is necessary for value. I believe we are worthy, valuable and precious beings. Period. Time for me to work on this in my life. Thank you for the encouragement to do so.

    • Ah yes, I know what you mean about self-care being a to-do list item! I’ve really had to change the way I approach self-care–and I’m still looking for the right words to explain it–but one thing I can say with certainty is I’ve become more flexible with it. It changes as my needs change 🙂 Thanks for reading Marci and I appreciate your support, it’s always nice to know I’m not alone with my challenges. x

  • Barbara @ Simplify Days

    Jennifer – I love this post. Thank you for writing it. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that you went through this discovery period after becoming a mom. Motherhood is a lot of work …. but you never really feel like you’re getting anything done. As a strong type-A, natural over-achiever myself, this was a difficult shift for me when I entered motherhood. (To put it mildly).

    I’ve had to make some huge mental shifts and honestly, I’m still not great at this one. I FEEL good when I get a lot done. I have to mentally re-align all the time … every day. If I’m not careful, even self-care can be a list. Yoga can be a task to check off. Part of this for me is learning to embrace the rhythms of life, to shift … to be flexible for what I need (or those close to me need) on that given day, in that moment … no matter what’s on “the list.” What do we need to do to LIVE? To enjoy today? Do we need to dance, do we need to go on a walk, read books … I’m learning to just leave space, open space and try to feel for what’s right. Otherwise, all of those “good” self-care and mommy things become tasks and it’s just the same as a to-do list that’s never complete.

    That was a long one! 😉 Sending you love. It’s a journey for all of us.

    • Hi Barbara, thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts! It’s funny, when I sat down to write this post, I didn’t actually realise how much motherhood had impacted me this past year (as hard as that might be to believe!). It was only when I started writing that it started to become clear.

      I think–to a certain extent–it snuck up on me because I’m not a strong type-A person (at least not anymore). I was when I was younger but I *thought* that I’d redefined how I thought about success years ago. But it turns out I really underestimated how strongly my self-worth was tied to my productivity.

      One thing I’ve had to do is redefining what “a lot” means to me, across the board. Sometimes answering a few emails is getting “a lot” done or enjoying a nice (but short) lunch with my husband is “a lot” of fun. It’s all definitely a learning process!

      Anyway, that was a long one from me too 😛 Much love to you too and thanks again for chiming in x

  • Cathi Nicholson

    Hi, Jennifer. Thank you for sharing this. I, too, have found this to be a struggle. It is sometimes at the back of my mind and sometimes at the forefront. Lately, it has been more often and more strongly at the front. I’ve realised, while re-reading some of my journal entries, that many of them centre around how much or how little I get done, how a lot makes me feel successful and a little feels unaccomplished, and how I define a “productive” weekend. I even wrote about this realisation and ways to be more mindful and intentional…in list form. Guess where my thoughts went when I didn’t get those boxes checked. It’s helpful to know others feel the same and have found (or are finding) their way. I’m still not clear about what does fill my cup. I only know it isn’t my to-do lists.

    • Hello and thank you for sharing your story! It really is hard and, as I’ve written, there’s no one way to move through it. You’ve mentioned that you write in your journal and honestly, I think this is one of the best ways forward. All the best x

  • Hi Jennifer, so glad to hear from you. What a lovely article, I appreciate your honesty! Thanks for sharing 🙂