I want to get something off my chest—this might be wildly unpopular, but here goes: minimalism is not about stuff. Not your stuff, or not my stuff.
Decluttering stuff—getting rid of things we no longer use, don’t need, or simply have too much of—is part of the process, but does not define the process.
Here’s what I mean: “minimalism” for the sake of “minimalism” is only a temporary solution to a problem I feel is much bigger than what we own. I love what Lisa Avellan of Simple & Soul says here:
“Minimalism isn’t about your stuff; it’s about your soul—the ‘you’ underneath all of the stuff.”
One of the biggest mistakes we make is that we think there is a concrete definition of what minimalism really is. Is there really a quantitative method of establishing if a person is—or isn’t— a minimalist?
Here’s how The Minimalists define minimalism:
“Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”
Their definition classifies minimalism as a noun, rather than a verb. They consider it a thing, rather than an action. Minimalism isn’t a destination, it’s the vehicle that takes us to the destination: a simpler, happier life.
The Truth About Minimalism
I believe there is no right or wrong way to do minimalism. There’s no right or wrong way to be a minimalist, either. I realize there’s a whole lot more to the conversation than that, so I want to share what I think minimalism is.
Based on my experiences, here are five truths about minimalism:
1. Minimalism is a tool.
“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” — The Minimalists
In my opinion, this one is pretty self-explanatory. The image some people have of a minimalist lifestyle is giving up all of the modern conveniences of the world. They imagine living in a cabin in the woods without electricity, a wood burning stove and a bathroom you have to go outside to use.
Being a minimalist means you value yourself more than material things. It means making decisions based on what you need instead of getting everything you want. It does not mean the things you buy are cheap. It means they are something you need, regardless of how much they cost.
Minimalism can be the bridge which helps span the gap of where you might be in your journey, and the place you want to be.
2. Minimalism is a mindset.
“Owning less is great. Wanting less is better.” — Joshua Becker
This is a tough one for me, and I suspect for countless others. I think it’s easy to think that if someone gets rid of X amount of things, or removes X amount of things from a calendar, they’ve achieved “minimalist” status.
The truth is, minimalism is about the desire for less, rather than having less.
There have been a few times that I have thrown something out, given something away, or gone without—only to realize that my heart wasn’t in that choice.
I want to set my sight on a life of wanting less, rather than owning less.
3. Minimalism is an accountability partner.
“Here is the secret to subtraction. It doesn’t matter what you remove. What matters is that you stop adding it back.” — Erin Loechner
How many times have you given away a bunch of clothing, only to go back out and buy some more? I don’t know that it happens immediately, I suspect I am not the only one who’s chosen to give away five pairs of jeans, only to replace them with more pairs of jeans.
It’s been a while since that has happened to me, but these days I am trying my best to really be intentional about the things I declutter. I’ll ask myself:
“Why are you putting this item in a bag?”
“Are you sure you don’t need this, and will you miss it if it is gone?”
“Can someone else use this more than you can?”
When I spend time to actually think through what I am doing, it allows me to process the feelings I have (or don’t have) about a particular item of clothing or something in the house. And when I do make the decision to part with it, I make myself a promise that I won’t go out and replace it.
4. Minimalism is a metric.
“Abundance is a full heart, not a full house.” — Courtney Carver
I’ve been really fortunate over the past couple of years to realize just how much this is true. After building a 4,000 square foot home and coming to terms that I’d be just as happy (or even happier) in a smaller one, I knew I had started to figure this “minimalism” thing out.
My heart is so full these days, and it has nothing to do with what I own or don’t own. It has nothing to do with where I live, what car I drive, or the types of clothing in my closet. It has everything to do with being intentional with the time that I have, and experiencing the joys of living a quiet life.
I love what Katrina Kenison shares in her essay, Why You Must Have Time Alone:
“In solitude, we see more clearly. Alone—in moments of prayer or meditation, or simply in stillness—we breathe more deeply, see more fully, hear more keenly. We notice more, and in the process, we return to what is sacred.”
5. Minimalism is freedom.
“White space is where the magic happens.” — Brian Gardner
I am a huge fan of white space, it’s really that simple. As a creative, I find myself drawn to less: whether it be fewer words on a page or less clutter on a website, I just enjoy the comfort in not feeling overwhelmed.
It allows us to grow, to see things we have missed, and it gives us the chance to prioritize our life. When we prioritize our life, we begin to really experience an understanding of the things that do matter—and the things that don’t.