When I mention to people that we’re minimalists the responses tend to fall into one of two categories. The first category involves people giving me looks like I just told them I habitually stomp on kittens and wondering aloud how can I live without item X, usually television.
The second group involves haughty scoffing and being told that we’ll never be True Minimalists ™ until we can fit all our worldly possessions into a single carry-on bag.
Both of these groups suffer from the same problem. They just don’t know what minimalism really is – at least not to us. I’d like to fix that.
Minimalism as a Tool
Minimalism is not a doctrine, or a club. You can’t apply for a minimalist card and there aren’t rules you have to follow to call yourself a minimalist. Minimalism is a tool.
Sometimes minimalism is a razor that you use to carefully cut the excess things from your life, other times it’s a lens through which to view the world in order to better make decisions, other times still it may be a fire hose to blast away the grime and muck years spent in a materialist culture have caked onto your lifestyle.
I already know this is going to surprise some people and anger others, but it’s a misconception to believe that you have to own very few things to be minimalist. For reasons we’ll touch on shortly most people do go down that road, but it’s not in any way a requirement. It’s entirely possible to own a car, a house, a TV and lots of other stuff and still be a minimalist.
So if getting rid of all of your stuff isn’t necessarily a requirement for minimalism, how do we define it?
Minimalism to us is an attitude. In a society that tries its hardest to make us define ourselves by our possessions minimalism makes us take a step back and ask if the things we own are genuinely necessary to leading a fulfilled life.
At its core minimalism is a way of focusing on quality over quantity and objectively determining priorities.
That means that it’s not a competition. You’re not getting any points for being ‘more minimalist’ than someone else, and being minimalist for minimalism’s sake completely defeats the purpose. If you’re doing it for any reason other than to improve your own life, you’re doing it wrong.
That also means minimalist living for me is going to look different from minimalist living for you which will look different from minimalist living for someone else.
How to Apply Minimalism to Your Life
The easiest area of life to improve – and consequently the area most people get hung up on when talking about minimalism – is that of your possessions.
In most developed countries and particularly in the United States there is an enormous amount of societal pressure to acquire more and better things. We’re encourage to rank and judge each other by what kind of car we drive, how big our house is and whether or not we’ve got the latest clothes and gadgets.
For a lot of people this system doesn’t exactly lead to a fulfilled, meaningful life. In fact for all the cool stuff we have nowadays one of the complaints most people have is a general feeling of purposelessness.
Minimalism can help you find your purpose by removing all the things that aren’t adding any real value to your life so you can focus more on the things that are.
A good way to start is to look at each thing you own individually and ask yourself if you really need it. You have to really be honest with yourself here, particularly since the fear of losing something is a lot stronger psychologically than any pain of its absence and it will be easy to convince yourself you might die if you throw out that CD collection you haven’t touched in ten years.
Once you get used to looking at everything you own and asking, “Do I really need this?” You can start applying the same principles to other areas of your life.
That minimalist razor isn’t just for use on your possessions. You can apply the same attitude to your habits, your goals, your work and just about every other aspect of your life.
We’ll start with your habits. Look at your daily routine and ask yourself with each thing you do, “Is that really something that will make me happier?”
It’s easy to spend hours and hours each day watching TV, paying video games or aimlessly poking around the Internet but is there something else you could be doing that would add more overall enjoyment to your life?
What about your goals?
I know one of my personal faults is I tend to be overly ambitious. There are so many things that I want to accomplish I frequently get tied up in knots trying to work toward all of them all at once. By going down your list of goals and ruthlessly paring away the ones that won’t have the biggest impact on your life you leave substantially more time to focus on the ones that will make the most difference.
Some Pitfalls to Avoid
The biggest problem I see is a lack of self-honesty.
The many faces of minimalism means that, even though I may not see the value in it, if you honestly would lead a less fulfilled life without your extensive collection of My Little Pony memorabilia than so be it – you are free to continue your Brony ways.
We get into trouble though when people delude themselves into thinking that way around things that aren’t really making them happier. Distinguishing between the genuine personal necessity of an item and the extreme fear of losing something can be very difficult.
Another problem I see a lot is people pursuing minimalism for the wrong reasons. Sometimes these people are well-meaning, other times they’re pompous jerks who just want another reason to assert moral superiority or compete with others.
Regardless of the motivations if you get into minimalism for the wrong reasons it can easily make you more miserable instead of more happy. While I think applying minimalist principles can make most people happy, I recognize it’s not for everyone. Some people are really happier surrounded by stuff they don’t need.
The key again (this should seem like a recurring theme by now) is to take the time to consider what would really make you happy and then follow that path – minimalist or not.
Do you agree with our definition? Do you think we completely missed the mark? Let us know in the comments!