How long have I been a minimalist? Longer than some of you but definitely shorter than Joshua Becker! Does this kind of answer satisfy you? Probably not. And yet, we use it all the time.
How’s the weather? It’s colder than yesterday. Do you like the soup? It’s better than the last batch. Wasn’t that a great movie? I guess, but I didn’t like it as much as the first two in the series.
Why then, with these kind of answers failing to satisfy us, do we insist on comparing?
It begins very early in our lives; as children we are taught how to compare. We learn to differentiate between a frown and a smile in order to react properly to our parents. We use comparison to classify things such as animals and as we learn how to count, we compare our age. As time passes, we begin to use comparison as a way to evaluate ourselves and others.
Sometimes, comparing can be quite useful. When it comes to categorizing, prioritizing, making decisions or planning, it is an essential skill. Other times, though, the word “than” can leave us feeling unsatisfied, sad and empty and so it should be banned. Next time you are about to use the word “than”, think first if it will be helpful to you and others, and if it will leave you with a feeling of joy.
5 realizations that will help you ban the than
1. Comparing that doesn’t end in action isn’t useful. How often have you been caught weighing your kids against each other, “She’s so much calmer than her brother” or “He’s a lot more social than his sister”. These statements by themselves don’t lead to any planning or decisions. It would be more beneficial to look at each fact on its own and let that information lead you to a solution. “He is agitated, let’s engage him with calming activities” and “She needs more friends, we’ll go to more playgroups with her”.
2. Comparing doesn’t give you new external information. External information refers to the facts about something, aside from how we feel about them. When we were in the process of buying our house we visited many before making a decision. In doing so, we gathered a lot of facts but we quickly realized that comparing the fact-sheets did not add any information to those pieces of paper. Comparing a two car garage to a one car didn’t change anything about each of those houses on their own. It is important to remember that comparing two things doesn’t change the facts about each of them. If I compare a dog to a cow, I can see differences between them but it doesn’t change the simple fact that one is a dog and the other is a cow.
3. Comparing amplifies the existing information. When we make comparisons we are able to see priorities and values more clearly. Comparing the houses didn’t give us more facts about each of them individually, but it did highlight their qualities. This helped us to see what was most important to us. Comparing them this way was very useful since we needed to eliminate some houses in order to buy one. This is where it gets tricky. The act of comparing two objects or subjects will always change our perception, one will be raised and the other lowered. When we compare two things, we will typically conclude that one is better than the other — three bathrooms are better than two, or a calm child is better than a rambunctious one. That’s precisely why we should be cautious when we’re about to compare people, such as our children, against one another.
4. Comparing creates new internal information. While external information refers to the facts on their own, internal information is how we feel about those facts. Making comparisons tends to create thoughts and feelings that we wish were not there. We’ve all experienced it. We think our house is tidy and screams minimalism but one day, as we enter a neighbour’s house, we think differently. “His kitchen is way better organized and he doesn’t even claim to be minimalist” and so on. The same thing happens after comparing kids, dogs, or even recipes. Before the comparison, that knowledge wasn’t there and we felt better about ourselves and our circumstances. But in fact, the external information did not change: your house is still tidy, your kids and dogs are still great and you haven’t died of food poisoning (yet).
5. Self-worth derived from comparisons doesn’t last. This is something that is difficult for me to accept and avoid. I need to constantly remind myself that my self-worth is not dependent on what or how others are doing but on my own honest assessment of myself. It boils down to this: you don’t have to be the best. Once we can let go of trying to out-perform everyone around us (in our real lives and our virtual ones), we can finally start to work towards appreciating and being comfortable in our own skin.
Our comparisons have been around since we were young, so purging them will take time, practice and self-compassion. Developing a solid self-esteem and confidence in our abilities will improve not only our own lives but the lives of those around us too.
Minimalism can be defined as holding on to the things that are useful to you or bring you a sense of beauty. Let’s continue to cut the clutter from our lives by eliminating unnecessary things and words. Our lives will be better with less than.