Minimalism- A Minimal Introduction

I've avoided this topic until now, not because I don't love it, but because I DO love it so much that's it's difficult to evangelize adequately about the benefits without sounding like a gushing weirdo. So I'll just come right out and say it: I'm a committed minimalist, it's changed my life only for the better, it's helped make me a happier person, my life is more focused than ever before, and I can't imagine not only going back, but why the whole world doesn't do it. OK, there. Now to backtrack a bit.

To be fair, I've never been a “maximalist,” of any real sort, but I have done my fair share of collecting “stuff” and I had to go through an honest ritual of cleansing myself of those very "stuffs" in order to live the kind of life that I wanted. When I discuss this life adjustment with others, I'm always greeted with one of two responses. One is a look of abject horror that I would even THINK of giving up the so called “good things” in life. The second and more common response is, “Yes, that's a good idea. I wish I could do that.” I always let them know anyone can do it and once it's done it's easy to continue doing it. And that's where the blank stares come in. So first, lets talk about what minimalism is and isn't so we all have the same concept in our heads.

What It Isn't

Deprivation. It is NOT about deprivation in any way. The point is not to live like a woodsman with nothing but a fire and hole for a toilet. It isn't about having one pair of underwear drying and one on ya.  It isn't about cooking with only one pan for the rest of your life. It isn't about getting rid of all your books. It isn't about living with a lack of anything in fact. That part is easy, it's not about deprivation. Got it?

What It Is

So “isn'ts” out of the way, what the hell IS minimalism? Well, I think it's probably a little different for everyone, but for me it is the cleansing of all extraneous “stuff” so that I have everything I need to live comfortably but am free from clutter, weight, and extra baggage to pursue what I really want in life. Or for some, to figure out what that is.

More specifically, it means that I need the clothes that I need to live without wearing dirty clothes. But I don't actually need much more than that. On the road for example, I wear one outfit (shirt, underwear, trousers, socks, shoes) and I have two extra of each, except shoes, of which I only have one extra pair. They are all neutral enough colours that I can mix and match as I want and most importantly, I don't have to think too hard about what I wear on any given day. That saves me time, it saves me frustration, and it saves me worry about how I look; I look pretty much the same as I did yesterday. I do more laundry but I do laundry with more care because I'm truly taking care of the stuff I have to make them last. Now for some, that's just anathema and unthinkable. That's fine, the point is not to be uncomfortable but only have what you need. My clothes closet, toiletries, and all summer and winter gear have to fit on my back 365 days of the year, so 3 is my magic number. You'll have your own. I don't currently have my own walls but when I did, I realized didn't need much on them but a few memories or photos. Again, I know folks who have just fainted; a bare spot on the wall is just unimaginable. I'll wait for them to come round to continue...

We probably like, but don't need 4 bedrooms if we rarely have guests and only sleep in one. When we have 4 bedrooms and only use 1 or 2, the tendency is to fill up the remaining bedrooms- heaven forbid there be empty space- and that is where the ugly accumulation begins. Soon we're drowning in stuff everywhere and can't imagine downsizing (I mean, what would we get rid of? That stuff fills those rooms!) when really we only needed 2 bedrooms in the first place. That's what minimalism is: only buying what you need, only having what you need, only using what you need. And no more.

So What REALLY Are the Benefits?

This is not so easy to convey, not because it's hard to find one but because there are so many. They may be slightly different for everyone, but benefits I personally experience daily and that I've heard shared by other committed minimalists are:

  • More money in your account and more time to make wiser purchases. Impulse purchases are a thing of the past with no buyer's remorse!

  • Freedom to pursue travel or experiences that take you out of your home for extended periods of time. You don't have stuff to guard!

  • Genuine clarity of mind. There is no need to worry about stuff, about how to care for the stuff, about how to clean the stuff or dust round the stuff or find a box for the stuff or remember where the stuff is. That's exhausting just saying it, let alone thinking about it!

  • Better health. When you don't have to worry about the stuff, constantly caring for the stuff or finding a use for the stuff, stepping around the stuff, or clearing the stuff from your workspace, you strangely have a lot more time for meditation, exercise, and leisure activities that truly please you. Without pantries and refrigerators full of food, some of which you will have to throw out beyond its expiration date, you can think about what you want that day, purchase fresh items for the next few days at a time, and eat good, healthy, freshly prepared food because you have more time to cook it.

  • More time. See above, you really do have more time on your hands when you're not spending it worrying about your stuff.

  • Greater self-confidence. When you don't have to worry about keeping up with the Jones', you don't have to keep up with them! You are free to pursue being you, fully self-actualized, unburdened by what the world thinks of you. And your stuff.

5 Questions

Before I moved to the UK I had a large one-bedroom flat in Chicago. It was not packed wall to wall with stuff, it really wasn't, but when it came time to move to the UK I had two choices: pay out the nose for all that crap to move with me, or give up the ghost, whittle it down, and take only what I really needed or valued. I left with 5 suitcases, and now that I am fully committed to this lifestyle, I can say I left with 3 too many suitcases.

I asked myself these 5 questions as I plowed through each item in my house- Every. Single. Item- and I ask myself these same 5 questions before any purchase I make. You can adopt your own 5, but here might be a decent start:

  1. Why do I need this? In other words, is this solving a long term problem I have in my life or scratching an itch I've had for a brief time?

  2. Can I afford this? As in, do I really have the money for this right now or am I credit carding my way into this or, even worse, robbing from my own current account that could go to useful items or savings, just so it doesn't burn a hole in my pocket?

  3. Is it useful to me? My dad owns 3 drill presses. He uses none. Drill presses are very useful. For people who work with drill presses. Get it?

  4. Does it add value to my life? OK, so it's a nice heart-shaped something or other. Is that heart-shaped something or other the thing that will add value to your life? Perhaps I simply underestimate the power of heart-shaped something or others.

  5. Where will I put this? I know lots of people who buy souvenirs as fond remembrances of their trips and eventually, like all souvenirs, they end up in a box. A box that is stored in bedroom 3. Or bedroom 4. What is sentimental to us at one time will not always be, and when they cease to be, they will go in that box. And to answer your next question, no, I do not buy souvenirs at all. I carry international stamps and send one postcard to my nephew, one to my cousin, and Chelsea sends one to her friend Cody from each new location. I also take pictures and they're always with me on my phone.

In the coming months I will be talking more in depth on specific areas of minimalism, specific steps I took to embrace the lifestyle, and more specific benefits of being a minimalist that I can bear witness to. If you're a minimalist, I'd love to hear from you in the comments about what prompted the change, how you went about it, and how you feel about having done it. If you're not and are either interested or think it is the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard, I'd love to hear from you too! In the meantime, I'm off to spend my extra time....