If there was one unexpected aspect of my personal choice to live a minimalist lifestyle, I would say that I am learning a multitude of ways to say “no”. Minimalism is far more than decluttering, downsizing, and changing shopping habits. There’s also an outside factor that involves relaying our lifestyle choices to generous friends and family members. By that, I mean becoming comfortable in turning down gifts and hand-me-down items. I’m still in the process of formulating ways to pass on free goodies without coming across as harsh or ungrateful.
Exercising our right to say no is difficult for two reasons, in my opinion. Reason one being that we all love free stuff. Getting something for nothing is easy on the wallet, and it feels like a treat. Unfortunately, and in my case, it is easy to become almost addicted to free stuff. During one of my pre-minimalism lows, I was so obsessed with free items that I spent hours searching the Internet for freebie deals and sample club sign ups. Sound crazy? That’s because it was. I had perfume samples that I never used taking up a drawer in my bathroom, and more often than not would simply throw away that which I didn’t like. I was creating waste and cluttering space all in the name of “free”.
The second reason I believe saying no is so difficult is that we are taught to be grateful for that which is given to us. It is rude to not accept a gift. This is perhaps my biggest struggle. How can a simple two letter word be such a powerful tool in creating a negative interaction? Because being on the receiving end of rejection is not an enjoyable experience, I truly believe that most people want to avoid hurting others, even if that means taking in something that does not add any value to their lives. I believe this is also why so many of us struggle with getting rid of gifted items.
So, what can we do? How can we say “no” to free items? In a word: honesty.
We need to get used to the discomfort that comes with saying no and learn to express ourselves in a way that conveys appreciation of the thought. When we are honest about our lifestyle and conscious decisions to live minimal, it opens up an important dialogue. My family is particularly generous, and offers items to my that they may view as helpful. At first, I could almost feel the strain between us after my initial rejection of these freebies. Then, I taught myself that saying no and standing up for my lifestyle can be constructive if done correctly. My parents are beginning to understand why we only own that which we love and use daily and why we no longer indulge ourselves in owning extra. In fact, my father is currently readying himself for a two day garage sale to minimize their belongings.
We need to have these conversations.
Instead of shrugging off any offers of gifts, I am slowly learning how to say, “I appreciate that you thought of me, but that’s not something I currently need. I’d hate for it to go to waste on me.” I’m sure this will become easier and feel more comfortable over time, but easing in with baby steps is a good way to begin.
My husband and I are already thinking of how to approach the holiday season in regards to gift receiving. Neither of us have the desire or need to take on new items. What to do then when we are asked what we would like for a holiday? Our approach is to stress that we are not seeking gifts. If a family member is adamant, we will default to asking them for the gift of an experience. Whether it’s a gift certificate for a massage, an AirBnB gift certificate, or a fully paid vacation, experiences from these types of gifts are the only things we can take with us when we leave this life. Why not ask for help creating wonderful memories? Even the promise of a dinner date sounds much more fulfilling to me than a piece of jewelry or perfume.
I’m not saying there’s anything at all wrong with accepting gifts. What I am trying to say is that if you have decided that it is more valuable to you to have less in your home, it is perfectly acceptable to express that to others while still sounding appreciative.
“No” is not a dirty word. It’s a tool that we should be using to help us maintain the lifestyles we’ve worked so hard to build.