There are a few questions about minimalism that I have fielded, both from friends and family and from myself.
I thought I’d take a moment before the upcoming posts on my Minimalist Challenge to answer three of those questions. Just the term minimalist tends to carry with it a particular image, but let’s make something clear right now:
Minimalism is not asceticism.
Minimalism: the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. (definition courtesy of Joshua Becker, linked)
Asceticism: severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.
Q: Does minimalism mean you get rid of all your stuff?
Simple answer? No.
Minimalism looks different to each person who undertakes it.
I, personally, have already pared down about 30% of my belongings, with more to go. But this is not a competition. I don’t plan on counting everything I own or keeping meticulous records on how many pens or pairs of pants I have. That’s not what this is about.
Minimalism means that you keep the essentials. What you use, and what you receive value out of.
As most of us know by now, the average American household is near twice the square footage as one built in the 1950’s, and the personal storage business is booming. Most people who have 2 or 3-car garages can’t even fit their cars within because of all the clutter, and some of those people still have a storage unit outside of their home.
Some of the most successful reality TV in the last decade has revolved around either hoarding or organizing. Hoarding being an excess of stuff that is sloppily kept, and organizing being an excess of stuff that is neatly kept.
But! What brings you joy, and what is essential to you, is unique to your situation. I know, for example, that I don’t find as much joy in my collection of books as I used to. It took a moment to come to that realization but, once I did, I let go of nearly 90% of my collection without even a twinge of regret.
That won’t work for everyone, but it worked for me. Minimalism is taking a really good, hard look at your life and asking the tough questions—why do I have this? Do I use it often enough to pay ‘rent’ (or a mortgage) on it? Could I borrow this when I have need of it? Is all this stuff to add value to my life? Are my belongings keeping me from what I’m actually passionate about?
What happens to a lot of folks who ask those hard questions is remarkable: they realize that excess stuff isn’t making them truly happy. What makes us happy are our family, friends, experiences, and passions.
Once you come to this realization and start to downsize, you may find yourself taking a hard look at other portions of your life. For example—would you really work that job you hate if you didn’t have to pay the mortgage/rent on your big house and your storage unit? What if you spent less, had less, and were able to do more? What would your life look like if you had the freedom, the money, to do as you pleased? It’s not just an “if I win the lottery” scenario at that point. It’s a “what will I do with the extra $xxx a month I just saved?”
Q: Does this mean you’re no longer going to buy things?
Of course not, I still need toilet paper.
All kidding aside, some items need to be kept up. Dish soap, shampoo, deodorant, and all of those others things that need to be refilled at times. Aside from those necessities, I’m still going to buy stuff on occasion.
What I’m not going to do is buy poorly made items that will break down and create waste within a short time frame.
My clothing, my furniture, linens, essential kitchen supplies, etc., will be carefully curated. I want to ensure that everything I bring into my life has a function and that it is built or crafted well enough to serve that purpose for many years.
This means leaning away from fast fashion—poorly made, thin clothing that breaks down within months—and instead buy quality clothing that will last for, hopefully, more than two years at a time.
Minimalism is turning your back on rampant consumerism and being a careful consumer. You’ll still buy things, but you’re going to be very careful about what you buy, from where, and from whom.
Let’s also note that if you refer to your belongings as “my crap,” you may want to pause and take a moment to consider what it is, exactly, that you’re referring to. Maybe get rid of that stuff?
Additionally, when things break you may find yourself asking the question—how long can I go without this? The answer may surprise you.
Q: Minimalism can’t be for me. I have kids/pets, and they take up too much space. It’s not just me, it’s them.
Okay, isn’t precisely a question, but it does have an answer.
For one, a simple Google search for “how to be minimalist with children/pets” will pull up some great articles and resources. It is possible.
As someone who used to have a step-son, and who currently lives with four animals and a somewhat-not-really minimalist boyfriend, the struggle is real. I know it and so do you.
But here’s where I’m going to get all Gandhi on your ass:
Be the change.
You want to embark upon minimalism? Then do it.
But don’t make up excuses for why you can’t. If you’re reaching for excuse after excuse, it may just be because minimalism isn’t for you—and that’s fine! This is a judgement-free zone. You do you, babe.
However, if you have decided that this is a path that you want to go down, then go ahead and do it. Start small if you can—with a closet, a bathroom, maybe even the kitchen if you’re feeling up to it—but do it for you. If you have children, the best way you can lead is by example. Don’t make a blanket “We’re all doing this and shut up about it because I’m your mom/dad/parent,” until you’ve proven that it’s a path to joy, to more, and not depriving yourself of less.
Because when it comes down to it—why do we have all this stuff? We can’t take it with us when we go. We can’t imprint memories upon it to serve as a touchstone for our descendants because that’s magic and we don’t live in a fantasy novel.
Make the most of your life, create beautiful memories with those you love, and you will be remembered for you, not for your possessions.