Minimalism has some baggage. People associate it with all kinds of things. Some believe that to be a minimalist you have to be a single, white, rich guy with only a backpack and a penchant for world travel. These assumptions make it pretty easy to write off minimalism as something that is unattainable and therefore not worth pursuing.
Even the assumption that minimalism is the goal and not the process or lens casts minimalism in the light of perfectionism – some distant goal that only the most righteous (or whatever) can achieve. Those who claim to be “a minimalist” are therefore under suspicion because, as we all know, no one is perfect.
Pointing fingers at other minimalists and telling them how they are not quite there because of x, y, or z totally sidesteps the value of minimalism.
Minimalism is actually quite accessible, beneficial, and personal and for the following six reasons, I hope that those who wish to pursue a more curated life won’t write minimalism off as an elitist hobby.
#1: You Get to Make Your Own Rules
There is no magic number of items that fulfills everyone’s needs and heartfelt desires. What is crucial to have for some would simply be extravagance or clutter for others. We all have our own interests, talents, and life’s work. Almost everything we do requires appropriate props.
For example, as a writer, I need a computer, Internet connection, and books. Musical instruments and art supplies, however, are wasted on me. I wouldn’t want a musician or visual artist to take my list of necessities to heart and deprive themselves of something that brings them joy and makes the world a more beautiful place.
Minimalism is about finding out what makes you tick and it allows you to focus on those things by pruning away those possessions, activities and thought patterns that you’ve collected over the years but only get in your way.
A concrete example is the rule I’ve adopted regarding kids’ books: if I don’t enjoy reading it, it gets donated (or immediately returned) to the library. Life is too short for multiple readings of unpleasant works. A minimalist who is not also a parent may never consider adopting such a rule. To each their own.
#2: Minimalism Can Help You Reach Your Goals
It is easy to spend our time spinning our wheels on useless or repetitive tasks and either lose focus or not recognize what our meaningful goals actually are. Even if we know what our goals are, we may find ourselves blocked from working toward them. Minimalism can help in both of these areas.
For example, I could easily follow my kids around and tidy All. Day. Long. Then, wake up and do the very same thing again. Not very productive or fulfilling. Instead, I’ve imposed strict limits on the amount of cleaning I’ll do each day so that I can focus on other things. This allows me to raise my children, not just to look after their messes. It also allows me to work and study and write and film and so on so that, at the end of the day, I’ve achieved something valuable to me that is far more lasting than a tidy room.
#3: Minimalism Isn’t Just for the Elite
I’ve heard the critique that minimalism is only for people with a lot of privilege. You know, those rich folks that can spend their free time decorating their mansions with white paint, green plants, and maybe one framed piece of artwork per room.
I believe this to be nothing more than a distancing mechanism. What does it matter if some people who practice minimalism are rich? Or poor? Snooty? Or down to Earth? It doesn’t bar the rest of us from benefiting from minimalism. We can all still examine our own situations in order to achieve more contentment and connection to what matters to us.
I realize that I have a lot of privilege and that describing my passion for minimalism to struggling families in emerging countries might just come off as ridiculous. That said, I’m not about to throw my privilege away by leading an unexamined life that helps no one.
#4: Minimalism Can Make You Happier
“Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” – Rabbi Hyman Schachtel (1954)
I’ve seen an immediate change in perspective, from feelings of lack to feelings of abundance, through practicing minimalism. Take my jeans, for example.
Yes, my jeans. I was culling my wardrobe when this insight first struck me. I was looking at all my bottoms (slacks, jeans, shorts, skirts) and noticing how few jeans I had. I had maybe 6 pairs, so I wasn’t running around naked, but I also wasn’t wearing many of them for one reason or another. (Like those jeans I was waiting to lose at least 5 pounds to fit into.)
I was putting together a capsule wardrobe and my somewhat arbitrary target was 33 items of clothes for the next three months. I had decided that in order to have a good balance, I needed about 4 bottoms. Already, this meant my 6 pairs were in excess of what I needed. I was no longer feeling lack. I needed to weed out two (or more if I wanted to wear something other than jeans) so those jeans that made me feel badly when I stepped on the bathroom scale? Out the door! How freeing!
I know this may seem a little shallow, talking about clothes and weight, but this was just the start of the insights that began to flow in. I realized that the media I consumed could help or hinder my feelings of contentment. That comparing myself to others instead of learning what was best for me could immediately affect my happiness. The list goes on. What a wonderful gift this change in perspective has been.
#5: Minimalism Can Save You Money
Minimalists still buy things, but we tend to focus our money in areas that really matter to us. This means buying a lot less on impulse.
It also means a greater awareness of where our money is going and re-evaluating our regular expenditures. For example, we might decide that by moving to a smaller home, we can save money to travel, if that is more important to us.
Another avenue for saving is that with fewer purchases overall being made, minimalists can spend a little extra money on quality things that last longer. When items last longer, replacements aren’t as big a drain on resources.
Finally, when minimalists cull their extra clutter, they can sell those things that no longer bring happiness and make some money at the same time.
#6: Minimalism Can Help Save the World
I’m an ambitious person. One of my life’s goals is literally to: “help save the world”. Why is a sustainability writer and environmentalist so interested in minimalism?
I believe that the adoption of minimalism is the simplest way to reduce our overall impact on the planet.
Minimalists are more likely to use less electricity, less fuel, less water, less natural resources, and so on.
No matter what choices a person faces, by becoming more conscious of our life’s direction and decisions, and by consuming less overall, we can’t fail to reduce our negative impacts and to support our positive impact.
Until next time, keep living lightly!