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Am I A Minimalist?

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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.

Minimalism 2017

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?

Jing is currently a software engineer based in Oakland, CA. She left her job in New York, moved to San Francisco unemployed, and more than doubled her salary in 4 months.

20 thoughts on “Am I A Minimalist?

  1. I love this post and can relate a lot. I often use minimalist to describe my lifestyle, but to be honest only for a lack of a better word. I do see the negative connotations and how it can easily become a number game. But I also always say minimalism is very personal. What’s important to me, might be clutter for someone else. And I don’t care about others or numbers.
    I think I prefer something along the lines of smart living/choices – being mindful about what I spend money, time, or effort on and finding and focusing only on what I find important and valuable. Nicely written post!

    1. I think at the end of the day, it really isn’t the label that matters, but maybe it helps simplify what we value to others! And I totally agree that it’s all up to the person what does or doesn’t count as clutter in their life.

  2. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book but saw some of her videos, I definitely should read the book. I really liked the documentary by The Minimalists! I can totally relate to this post, I have been trying to get rid of 365 things from my home and I think I have about 60 days left (I check something I throw away on my calendar) but it’s getting a bit more difficult now. I was almost going to get rid of my patio table and chairs (because we don’t use it anymore) to make more room in the balcony (for my husband’s hockey equipment haha!) but then I realized, that I might need that if I decide to rent out my place in a few years, e.g. if I Airbnb it! I was thisclose to getting rid of it until I realized I might need it.

    1. I feel bad that watching her teach people in tv is sort of making the whole thing ridiculous, especially her clothes folding tutorials because usually the tv personality ends up totally exaggerating her process. I think we all suffer from worrying whether we’ll throw something away that we end up needing later, thankfully it hasn’t happened to me yet (throwaway regret), fingers crossed it’ll stay that way!

  3. Great post, Jing!

    At the risk of sounding like a total hipster, I’ve always been really choosy about my things. So I would only buy 1-2 things (if that) from a store, instead of filling up a shopping bag with stuff. And it’s not like I don’t have excess stuff, I do, but not to the level where I have to go on a decluttering spree all the time. For example, I don’t buy tchotchkes, like ever. Not having a lot of stuff is just part of my personality.

    I also agree that there shouldn’t be a prescription for how to define minimalism. I actually don’t even like to call myself one. I do things based on my own terms, and so the whole trendy capsule wardrobe thing seems really arbitrary. Why 33 things, why not 40? I think it’s fun to do an exercise in restraint, but doing it to join the “minimalist” club seems a little inauthentic to me.

    I also think part of the discussion is not having to declutter all the time, but picking the right stuff in the first place. I feel like that gets glossed over a lot and decluttering is all the rage. But how do you make sure you don’t end up overbuying again?

    Also, do you have a subscribe option?

    1. Thanks Luxe! You are one of the best examples of someone who knows exactly what they want, and I admire that so much. Every time I read your blog posts, I make *another* mental note to spend with even more intention because I definitely still get caught up in the high.

      I’m at the point where I’m still ramping down from having -so- much (throwing out 90% of my storage unit) that I don’t think I’ve returned to a baseline. Even while throwing out all that stuff in storage in one go, I was still unable to just ditch everything even though I think my rational self knows I’ve moved past the part of my life where I’ll be using some of things I kept. I’m still getting used to not acquiring strange souvenirs and mish-mash.

      I agree, the capsule wardrobe should be with however many pieces you need to feel it’s enough! It’s weird labeling everything like minimalist or even giving a simple wardrobe a name like “capsule” wardrobe because it’s in itself selling out to an idea.

      I think that’s where a lot of the discussion about minimalism is these days. But I mostly label myself a minimalist because I realized, well, the label really has no meaning. I ask myself what’s the true meaning of even going so far as identifying myself as a minimalist? I can identify as either a minimalist or not and it wouldn’t matter because I’m still going to live my life and try to improve my habits regardless of any label I choose for myself or others choose for me!

      Your point about doing it right is so relevant and important in the discussion, I do think that gets glossed over, and I’ve touched a bit on it, but I love the pieces you’ve written so far on the topic 🙂 I definitely try to be mindful that things I’m donating/selling are pieces I can part with, instead of getting rid of them with the mindset that I’ll replace it with an upgraded version.

      And yes! I FINALLY added a subscribe form on the side bar after all this time! I have no excuses for why that took so long.

  4. We are on the edge of being minimalists!! We have so much stuff and clutter at our apartment but we plan to throw a lot of it out once we buy a house. By the time that happens we hope to keep things simple and have more space at our new home.

    1. I think moving, though stressful, is the biggest helper in really letting go of stuff you no longer need. There are so many times I held onto things the whole time I lived at an apartment and then when it came time to move, it was asking myself, do I even care enough about this thing to even move it across the city? The answer was usually no. Even so, I think I have a harder time than most letting things go, so thinking about minimalism has really helped with that 🙂

  5. I dislike the labeling, although I would definitely consider myself minimalist. I think I am just very picky with things and I don’t like to spend effort to maintain them. I am never big fan of capsule wardrobe because clothing is probably my weak spot. I do like different outfits and have fun thinking about what to wear tomorrow/ to a vacation, etc.

    My parents are great examples of living a “minimal lifestyle” and being content with life without too much physical desires. They do it without even knowing there is this thing called “minimalism”.

    1. I was frustrated with the labeling too, but now that I’ve labeled myself, I realize I can just as easily unlabel myself. Labeling myself doesn’t mean I have to hold myself to anyone else’s standard of what “being a minimalist” means. Clothes are my weakness too (I used to have a fashion blog!), but who’s going to stop me from owning 100, 200, 300 clothing items if I truly have a purpose for all of them? Certainly not the internet’s label for “minimalist”!

      That’s great your parents are such good examples of living simply! Though my parents aren’t super consumers since they’re pretty frugal, they definitely have way too much stuff that isn’t thrown out mostly because of the “what if we need it one day” (when it’s been untouched for 10 years) mentality. Growing up experiencing that, I find that I do the same, but I don’t want to! I realize it’s a bit different with my situation though because my parents move every 15 years (if that) while I still move apartments every 1-2 years!

  6. We are not minimalist at all. Mrs. RB40 hates throwing stuff out. She still have her stuff animals from 40 years ago. She is very sentimental.
    Nowaday, we rarely buy new stuff because our condo is full. I don’t have anymore storage space. That’s a good deterrence to buying stuff.
    I’ve been wanting the Instant Pot, but there is just no space. Maybe when we move to a bigger place…

    1. I’m super sentimental too, and I’d probably be unable to throw out most sentimental items. I notice that at least having time and space from the items that are most sentimental helps, though I still have a box of cards + letters people have written to me, and at this point in my life, I’m unable to bring myself to throw them out.

      Using the space as a constraint for accruing more is a great way to do it! My old apartments used to be crammed at the seams with things, and that was definitely the wrong way to go about it. I’m happy to see plenty of empty space in my closet and below my bed, so I can rest easy 🙂

  7. Even big time bloggers get the definition of minimalist wrong. I’m not a minimalist though, I’m a hoarder like the former-you except I haven’t come up the courage to fix it yet. I’m still hoarding but at least I’m not spending money on any of it – or contributing to the new creation of waste. I like to pick and pack stuff from other people..and onto to it for too long…like trash panda 🙂

    1. I think it’s hard to blog about these things that people feel should have a strict definition when really it’s up to the person who labels themselves to decide what that means for them.

      Even for me “declaring” that I’m a minimalist…it just seems like it could be misinterpreted because if I say I’m a minimalist to someone, I have my own definition in my head, and the person who’s hearing that I’m a minimalist could have a total other definition of it. Even so, I do think sometimes labels are useful for getting the general gist of things.

      Hahaha, well at least it doesn’t cost any money! With me moving so frequently in the last few years, it has seriously weighed me down and cost me a lot of money to move, ship, and store! And recycling is definitely a good thing…it’s actually the thing that really kills me is donating something and feeling like no one’s ever going to use it again, so I hope there’s a trash panda out in the world who will love my used goodies!

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