I’ve been on a minimalism kick this past month. In the month of August and beginning of September, I’ve devoured all types of media related to minimalism and have been cherry picking my favorite aspects of all of them. My boyfriend and his bug for minimizing was probably the main culprit for this. As I’ve been synthesizing everyone else’s thoughts on minimalism, a small more concrete vision has been forming of what minimalism means to me.
My Relationship with (Un)Minimalism
I have never been a minimalist. In fact, I’ve always been an un-minimalist. I think when I first heard of the new age-y movement called minimalism, it didn’t even make me look or think twice. Because who I was at the time was so far removed from minimalism that I couldn’t even conceive of possibly living with such a limited number of things. All I knew and valued was staying within a budget, which made every thing purchase-able game if I wanted it.
I wasn’t a maximalist. I didn’t buy stuff to flaunt the fact that I was making money or to fool anyone into thinking I lived a life of luxury. I was an un-minimalist, hoarder, collector, whatever you’d like to call that brand of deriving-too-much-identity-in-the-stuff-I-own. I needed to be everything. I needed to own clothes that made me the girl next door, but I also needed to own clothes that made me edgy, and I needed to own clothes that made me classy. Add on sporty, “cool” (whatever that meant), and eclectic.
That’s why I had a storage unit. When I had to move across the country, I got rid of SO much stuff, yet there was still so much more I “needed” to keep. Why did I need to keep it? Because all of that individually harmless stuff defined who I was. Actually, paying for that storage unit was the first step towards opening my mind to the idea of minimalism.
The Point My Brain Was Able Process Minimalism
So when I moved to San Francisco in 2015, it was like an extended version of a packing party (where you pack all of your things away then return in 6 months and realize you didn’t need any of it). I moved to SF with 3 suitcases, which I’m sure to many, still seems like a lot of things. But for me, this was the least number of things I’d owned since my first cross country move to college! And yes, I quickly came to the realization that I didn’t really need much.
While living with less, I became more aware of minimalism, particularly through the context of a capsule wardrobe. I even subscribed to a couple minimalists on Youtube who could literally move out of their apartment in an hour because they owned so little.
While I admired their lack of stuff, I definitely didn’t feel like I was part of the movement if there even was such a movement. I still loved stuff, but I was just acquiring less of it because I was finally at a point of owning minimal clutter. I still enjoyed window shopping and envisioning my ideal life with all the things that would make me happy. I still do because it’s a damn journey!
The False Attack By Minimalists
It felt like minimalists had made a choice. It seemed like those who donned the label of the movement and made The Choice were given some rule book to follow, blindly. The whole movement felt too religious. It’s definitely a little more on the fluffy spiritual side of living with less. All the minimalists you see on
tv the internet all own enough to pack into a single suitcase. A few years ago, 100 item challenges were trending all over the web in a battle of who could own less.
It felt like the sentiment minimalists were conveying was you aren’t living a meaningful or intentional life if you don’t own fewer than 100 items. And when anyone tries to give me a rule book, I have my own little mini rebellion aka rejecting the minimalist label.
After my boyfriend’s love of minimizing and his desire to listen to The Minimalists on road trips, I actually realized minimalism and the “movement” have long since shed the rule book. In Colin Wright’s post All 51 Things I Own, he notes at the bottom
I stopped posting photos of all the things I own several years ago when I discovered that it seemed to reinforce the idea that “minimalism” means owning as few things as possible.
That’s not the case. We’re not any better or more moral when we own less. The idea is to own exactly the right number of things for you and your priorities, and that will mean something different for everyone.
And then I realized like all movements, there’s never a prescriptive way to get to The Thing the movement is promoting. The movement is laying foundations, sharing guiding principles, building a framework, and storytelling in hopes of influencing positive change. Minimalism is a movement trying to teach the importance of living with intention, questioning our values, and finding a way to make our life more meaningful. It really can’t avoid being, ultimately, a spiritual journey, since self improvement always is in some form or another.
The Mr. Money Mustache FIRE movement is similar. It asks you to re-evaluate what matters, it asks what do you really need to live a good life in your eyes. But to an outsider, the FIRE movement can easily be seen as a bunch of judgmental penny pinchers prescribing “you need a budget/you need to save/you need to invest”, but in the end, we’re touting the same end goals as minimalists–that’s why so much of the seemingly formulaic parts of both minimalism and personal finance are saying the same thing.
And like FIRE, we need to pick and choose what works for us. Veronika over at Debts To Riches has a great post on Keeping Up With The Mustachians, and why it’s useless to blindly follow an aspirational model.
What have I been digesting on the topic of minimalism?
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Takeaways: In depth review to come later. Organization systems are the enemy. Accept the waste you’ve already created. Take lessons on sunk costs with gratitude. A clean home requires a place for every thing.
Minimalism Documentary on Netflix by The Minimalists
Takeaways: Blindly spending money isn’t the answer to happiness! We all know this already, but this was a great compilation of the general message.
Enoughism, Essentialism, and Other Names for Minimalism by The Minimalists
Takeaways: Minimalism is just simplification. That’s it. It’s not living with 100 things. It’s not coming home to an echo-ing apartment. It’s not living with only 1 plate or 1 pair of underwear.
Declutter Your Fantasy Self by Francine Jay
Takeaways: Sometimes the stuff we own or want to buy doesn’t embody us at all. It embodies our fantasy self. The one who doesn’t mind spending money on dry cleaning when in reality all nice clothes just end up unworn once dirty. The one who can actually look classy in heels AND walk in them when in reality those heels collect dust in the closet because they’re impossible to stay comfortable in. The one who reads 50 books a year when in reality only 5 books in a collection of 200 ever get read per year.
Takeaways: It costs a lot in [potential child] labor and environmental resources to make a single item we can buy in a store. There’s more impact in a purchase than the dollar hit on our wallet, or the hour impact on the time we spent earning the money that’s buying it. Let’s not turn more of our impulse purchases into garbage.
Am I a Minimalist?
Well, I’ve been donating and selling a lot of the clutter in my life. Since moving to SF, I had already pared down quite a bit. I still managed to come up with 5 books I wasn’t ever going to read again and 3 bags of clothes as well as a couple bags of other miscellaneous clutter. There’s more to do, but I realize simply throwing things away isn’t going to suddenly bring more meaning into my life.
With that said, our space is much nicer, cleaner, and easier to take care of. I’m happy about the time saved in the mornings getting ready since my closet is simplified, and it also takes way less time to pick up our small messes too since most things have more of an established place in our home!
Am I a minimalist? Yes, I am.
Are you a minimalist, and if you are, what’s your definition of minimalism? Were you ever reluctant to label yourself as one?