We’ve all heard the adage that hindsight is 20/20, but that’s no consolation for poor decisions made. We can easily become so wrapped up in self-punishment for the past that we experience very little life in the present.
While all of us have regrets– large and small– we also have the agency to choose what to do with them. And specifically, there are lifestyle choices we can make to minimize the likelihood to regret our present decisions in the future.
Minimalism doesn’t solve everything
After I wrote 5 Minimalist Secrets to Saving Money, I quickly realized that I did not intend for it to be a catch-all solution to better financial management. There are just a few philosophical aspects of the minimalism movement that are particularly helpful for those trying to spend responsibly.
It’s the same, in my opinion, with regret. If we consider ourselves minimalists (in one or many areas of our lives), then we are forced to approach our decisions with useful principles.
Ultimately, I don’t think that minimalism– or simple living of any variety– should be about the financial bottom line. It should help our daily lives reflect more what our deepest desires and core values are. And when that happens, it’s very likely that our list of regrets will shorten, if not disappear altogether.
10 Minimalist Secrets to Minimizing Regret
1) We are forced to decide what matters most.
Simplicity can’t happen until priorities are set. When we’re forced to set aside all things that hinder us in pursuit of what we love most, we need to know what that core pursuit is.
And when we’ve identified one thing (or few things), and are willing to live our lives oriented towards them, we’re much less likely to regret the choices we make.
2) We learn to own less.
The more we are attached to material things, the more likely we’re to regret decisions surrounding them. From unhealthy spending habits to unproductive organizing and “cleaning,” our things have a way of entangling us in cycles that lead to regret.
3) We share more readily with others and are able to make an impact.
When my shopping bag is empty, I find myself more generous. When my wish list is blank, I’m more enthusiastic about meeting the needs of others. And when we do these things, we make a real, tangible difference.
What I love about service and generosity is that it provides us with an anchor for difficult circumstances. Even if we find ourselves in less-than-ideal situations, making an impact means that we’re not going to let this season go to waste.
4) We’re more content with what we have, how we look, and what we’ve accomplished.
Living by conviction (as stated in #1) leads to contentment in more areas of our lives. We might compare ourselves to others, but are less likely to fall prey to envy.
5) We’re more likely to experience rest.
Choosing to rest can be difficult when our culture has come to celebrate busy. But busy-ness is not the same as productivity; meanwhile, rest can lead to richer experiences. I love what this New York Times op-ed has to say about busy-ness– if you struggle with this, you’re not alone.
6) We’re less likely to run a rat race.
The definition of rat race: a way of life in which people are caught up in a fiercely competitive struggle for wealth or power. While most of us would never admit to running this race, it’s easy to fall back in line if we’re not committed to something better. Minimalism helps us to focus on our own goals, rather than the goals of others.
7) We spend more time with people and less time with stuff.
Many of the regrets people have right before they die are connected to their relationships. Even though we know that we should value people over things, our actions don’t always demonstrate that commitment.
Choosing to live simply means that we’re putting a cap on the amount of time, emotional energy and money we’re willing to pour into our stuff. If we can really commit to building thriving relationships, then we will pour those things into people first– and then use what’s left over for our stuff.
8) We will perceive abundance rather than scarcity.
Many of us, despite our relative stability and fortune compared to the rest of the world, still live in the land of not enough. But if we choose to simplify our lives in the direction of what matters, we often realize that we have much more than we thought.
Furthermore, a well-developed community can multiply resources. We share our skills, our time, and our possessions, and everyone benefits. Wouldn’t we all love to live in that space, rather than in an endless pit of want?
9) We are more focused on tasks that matter.
Another regret that people have on their deathbeds is that they didn’t accomplish as much as they would have liked. Part of that could be due to our inability to recognize our own influence– and another could be because we didn’t identify our top priorities soon enough.
10) We cherish the present because we know what to do with it.
When we choose to live simply, we recognize that the past is in the past. We may need some help recovering from the regrets we carry– and it’s worth recovering well– but we also know that the present can be made new. We can choose to walk forward in courage towards our commitments everyday.
The best we can do is our best
Whether you have a few regrets or too many to count, remember to give yourself the grace that you’re also learning to offer others. Most of us make the best of what we have– and if we were once plagued by ignorance, then we can at least be grateful that we’ve become more conscientious.
Walking away from regret is not easy. But choosing to move forward in a manner that limits regrets is perhaps even more important. Let’s cultivate lives of impact, integrity, and courage. Let’s celebrate what matters most to us– every single day.