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Everyone and their aunt is talking about minimalism nowadays, and so am I. Minimalism is one of those things that seems easy to define, and then you end up falling down Alice’s rabbit hole, only to find yourself confused and your marriage might be falling apart. For a lot of people, it’s easy to look to others for how to think about minimalism.
The use of the word “minimalism” has historically been to describe music, specifically like this:
a reductive style or school of modern music utilizing only simple sonorities, rhythms, and patterns, with minimal embellishment or orchestrational complexity, and characterized by protracted repetition of figurations, obsessive structural rigor, and often a pulsing, hypnotic effect.
It sounds interesting, but that’s probably not what people are looking for when they search for the definition of minimalism NOW.
When we think about minimalism as a lifestyle, we didn’t start to see that show up in books until the 1960s, peaking in 2002 or 2003, according to Google’s Ngram viewer. This “minimalism” had to do with art and music, not simple living.
If you look at the Google Trends chart for “minimalism,” you’ll see an interesting spike in January 2017:
So how are we describing it now?
Minimalism is about living with less—whether it’s less physical belongings, less financial burden, less stress, or less of whatever other negative things you don’t need.
There’s no measuring stick to live your minimal life by, regardless of what Marie Kondo would like you to think.
The real truth is that how you think about “minimalism” is 100% up to you, and you alone.
Minimalism is an Industry Now
An Amazon search for books on minimalism yields over 9,000 results. A Google search brings up 367,000,000 results. When I search for “minimalism” on a free photo site, the results are mostly white and many pictures have simple plants, usually succulents.
When many people think of minimalism, they think it’s about throwing out every material possession and living in such an extreme state that everyone thinks you’re crazy.
There’s nothing wrong with it becoming an industry. It’s just a good thing to recognize. The true value from minimalism is from how you feel about it—not how others perceive you.
My Favorite Minimalist Resources
I can’t leave this section without sharing the things I’ve read about minimalism that helped me on my journey to owning fewer things.
Unstuff Your Life, by Andrew Mellen
This book gives a step-by-step process for going through your things and deciding what you want to keep.
Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport
Introduces the idea that we need to declutter our digital lives too—and by doing so, we can gain a lot of space in our head and also in the real world.
Outer Order, Inner Calm, by Gretchen Rubin
A fast read that also helps you make decisions around what you want to keep and how to order your outer life so that you can achieve the maximum calm on the inside.
What Minimalism Means to Me
I did a major decluttering project in December 2018. Afterward, I started seeing just how much crap I had. We still have a lot leftover that could go to Goodwill.
I’ve stopped caring about bringing home souvenirs from trips. Instead, I’m more interested in spending money on experiences, whether it’s the Jacobite Train in Fort William, Scotland, or taking my sister to a Rage Room in Seattle to break things for 20 minutes.
I buy most of my clothes at Value Village now. I wore a $3 dress to my company’s last Christmas party.
When people offer things to us, whether family or friends, it’s a lot easier to say no.
I like having clean spaces. When my desk gets cluttered and busy, it’s worth it to me to take an hour to get everything in order so that I’m less distracted when I’m working. This goes for both at my day job and at home!
I stopped buying physical copies of DVDs and TV shows. With all the streaming options now, it makes less and less sense to buy a hard copy when I can see it on-demand or just buy a digital version on iTunes. This is how my husband and I have been watching through Stargate Atlantis. We just buy each season digitally instead of on DVD.
Minimalism also means having a “clean mind.” It means I’d rather not live with so many thoughts in my head. My preferred way to clean the mind is journaling. Right now I’m using a site called 750words.com, which encourages writing 750 words every day and rewards streaks with cute animal badges. This journaling practice has helped clarify thoughts and feelings that otherwise were drowned out by everything else.
What Does All This Mean For You?
It’s the best news ever: you get to decide!
Do you value ownership of things, or experiences that create memories?
Are you a hoarder (or living with a lot of clutter), or do you feel refreshed and energized when living in an open, uncluttered space?
How many “things” do you want in your life?
Can your budget handle a minimalistic lifestyle? Can your lifestyle handle a minimalistic budget?
Do you really need to get rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy?
(No. The answer to that is no.)
Are you married or do you live on your own? Joint minimalistic decisions are harder than doing it solo.
Take a look at MoneyUnder30’s guide to minimalist living to see their perspective on it. Again, it’s not and never will be one-size-fits-all.