At first glance, abundant minimalism seems a contradiction in terms. The truth is, it’s anything but.
When it comes to our mindset, abundance and minimalism work in tandem. In fact, such is the power of this partnership, we’re unlikely to embrace minimalism at all without an abundance mindset.
Before I explain why, it’s worth recapping what is meant by an abundance mindset. To do that effectively, we must also introduce its opposite: the scarcity mindset.
Scarcity Mindset vs. Abundance Mindset
Stephen Covey introduced the idea of the scarcity mindset and abundance mindset in his global bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (UK, US).
A scarcity mindset, Covey argues, is a zero-sum paradigm of life. In other words, where one person’s gain is another person’s loss. It’s a mindset that has us thinking there isn’t enough out there. Not enough time, money, love, opportunities, happiness, etc. In short, it has us thinking from a position of scarcity.
Of course, sometimes thinking from a scarcity standpoint can be a valuable exercise. But in most cases, it’s a mindset that leads to fear-based decisions. Because we fear missing out, we rush to join the masses. Because we fear losing what we have, we cling to it for too long. And because we believe things are scarce, we get bogged down in envy and anxiety.
If-only sentiments become rife with a scarcity mindset at the expense of long-term optimism. “If only I had more money.” “If only I had a bigger house.” “If only I had time.”
An abundance mindset, on the other hand, has us thinking that there’s more than enough to go around. Enough time, money, love, opportunities, happiness. From the perspective of an abundance mindset, these things aren’t capped.
As Covey puts it:
“It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”
As you might imagine, this mindset leads to a more optimistic outlook. Decisions are less founded in fear. The bigger picture becomes more important. We recognise what we have and what we’d like to have, but we do so while knowing there is plenty for everyone.
The Abundance Mindset and Minimalism
You can quickly see how a scarcity mindset can work against minimalism. Our fear rises from a position of lack, which can ironically leave us surrounded by unnecessary physical and mental clutter due to our fears of missing out or letting go. Clearly this can also come at a heavy financial cost, too.
Conversely, approaching life from an abundance mindset can drive the opposite effect. An abundance mindset means we appreciate enough. It means instead of letting fear dictate our accumulation of stuff, we see the bigger picture. We might focus instead on those experiences that bring us the most, permitting ourselves to wriggle free from the clutter that buried us before.
An abundance mindset works with minimalism, not against it. We don’t chase more stuff because we fear it will run out. We don’t hold onto stuff because we’re terrified of letting go. Recognition of abundance helps us experience the fully-fledged benefits of minimalism.
How to Foster an Abundance Mindset
That’s all well and good, but if you’re reading this and fitting decidedly well into the scarcity mindset definition, how can you move from scarcity to abundance?
Here are 4 key ideas, backed by scientific research, that can help us foster an abundance mindset.
#1: Show gratitude
Abundance begins with gratitude. When we are grateful for what we have, we begin to conquer the fears that dominate the scarcity mindset. We don’t need to chase more for fear of missing out.
Research suggests gratitude also has a remarkable impact on wellbeing and happiness. Studies have shown that simple exercises like writing a weekly list of things we are grateful for may elevate life satisfaction and even reduce symptoms of physical illness and increase rates of exercise.
What’s more, research now suggests gratitude could be linked to greater financial patience. Because we recognise both the importance of what we have and the abundance of opportunities beyond that, we make better long-term decisions – and not just financially.
But abundant thinkers extend their gratitude beyond weekly journals. To really shift from scarcity to abundant thinking, we must celebrate the successes of others.
#2: Stop unhealthy comparisons
Envy is a symptom of a scarcity mindset. When we head down the road of “if only”, limited by the idea that we’re playing a zero-sum game, others’ displays of success are seen to hinder the chances of our own. The inevitable result is envy.
Such envy is demonstrably harmful to our mental state. Research has shown that envy can flare up the nodes associated with physical pain in the brain.
We can foster an abundance mindset by steering our attention away from unhealthy comparisons towards what we have, had and can have. In other words, by turning our attention to ourselves.
As I argued a few months back, the most relevant comparison we can make is to our past selves. But an abundance mindset also requires comparison to our future selves. By recognising that our future as limited as we thought, we can begin to address a scarcity mindset and shift away from harmful comparisons.
#3: Surround yourself with abundant thinkers
Our social circles and relationships have a potent impact on our mindset. Spend years with someone approaching life as a zero-sum game, and you’ll find yourself inhibited by similar scarcity thought patterns. Spend more time with people who recognise the boundless opportunities for everyone, and you’ll train your mind to think more abundantly – and more positively.
Our relationships should not be immune to the scrutiny of minimalism. In fact, they are perhaps the most important starting point. More is not necessarily tantamount to more. If our networks are having a toxic effect on our mindset, sometimes we need to be ruthless and reduce the drainers.
#4: Shake off the instant gratification bug
When we are driven by a scarcity mindset, our fear of missing out – that things will run out or end – can drive a need for instant gratification. Abundant thinkers recognise that instant gratification is not always the most gratifying option. Decisions can be made without the need for instant gratification because, put simply, they conclude things are not about to run out.
The Stanford Marshmallow Experiments famously showed that deferred gratification in children was a solid predictor of better life outcomes in adult life. There are lessons we can all take from those children about the abundance mindset.
Scarce Stuff, Abundant Mindset
By now I hope to have convinced you that the ideas of abundance and minimalism are not incompatible. On the contrary, minimalism requires abundant thinking. Without it, a sense of scarcity can drive decisions at odds with the principles of minimalism.
Less tangible and intangible clutter is not a sign of scarcity; it’s a sign of control. Control over the fear that drives accumulation and envy, control over choices, control over impulse. It’s a recognition that the world is abundant, but that abundance grants us a choice to make space for the meaningful.
And remember: If we are fortunate enough to view our physical stuff as a burden, that is recognition enough that the world has proven more abundant than scarce to us so far.