Minimalism Explained

Defining Minimalism

After my All 55 Things I Own post the other day, I want to take a second to go over Minimalism as a philosophy and a practice to make sure we’re all on the same page as to what it means and how it’s done.

So when you think of Minimalism, you likely think of getting rid of stuff, not buying anything new, and living in a small white room with no furniture or pictures on the wall.

This could be true, but in most cases it’s not.

It’s important to understand that the reduction of physical possessions is often a result of Minimalism, not Minimalism itself. Just giving away a bunch of things doesn’t make you a Minimalist, any more than buying a statue of Buddha makes you a Buddhist or doing yoga makes you healthy. It’s one aspect of the whole, for sure, but you needn’t partake if that’s not where your priorities happen to be. There are always other options.

And that’s what’s important to establish here: priorities.

What Minimalism is really all about is reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff — the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities — that don’t bring value to your life.

If you are able to say with absolute certainty, “This is important to me. My Little Ponies are my life and being involved with them is what makes me want to get up in the morning,” you should invest more time and effort in your collection.

When they really start to think about it, though, most people realize that the physical things they own are not the most important parts of their lives.

If you can take a day and really dedicate yourself to focusing on what’s important, you’ll likely identify a whole slew of things that are more important than accumulating physical goods, and if this is the case, it could be time to start slimming down your haul.

My Minimalistic Tendencies

When I started deep-diving into my real hopes and dreams, I realized that what I really craved and wasn’t getting living in LA was a sense of adventure and constant change. I thrive on the exhilaration of adventure and risk and building things, and mostly I was only doing the latter, and in a very limited fashion.

It was time to refocus and reposition myself so that I would be able to fully-invest in my passions.

For me, getting rid of all the crap I’d accumulated was as much a symbol of my transition as a part of it. As soon as I started slimming down the closets and wardrobe, I thought, “This is real. I’m really doing it.” This thought can be just as important as the realization that something needs to change, because it reinforces that you have the power to change your destiny.

Getting Rid of Stuff

If you want to get rid of a lot of stuff, I recommend taking time to figure out what you’re keeping first.

The number of possessions you have doesn’t matter, but being able to live a happy life does. I count and list my possessions to keep track of how much I actually need to travel comfortably, but having more or fewer than someone else is completely arbitrary.

Don’t get rid of stuff just because you can. If you do this, the most likely result is that you’ll be sad and lonely without your things and will just end up buying new versions of them, which supports conspicuous consumption, costs you a bunch of money, kills the rain forests, and wreaks havoc on the world in general. Don’t put yourself in the position to yo-yo when it comes to this many things.

What I would recommend is slowly testing out the waters and seeing what you can and cannot live without.

I thought for sure that I wouldn’t be able to make it without my nice wardrobe, iPhone, and tank-like desktop computer, but once they were gone, my heart kept beating and I had more time and money to spend on other things. I don’t miss them.

I have found, however, that I like to have a guitar, so I make it a point to buy a cheap, locally-made one whenever I’m going to be staying in one place for a few months or more. I also like to own well-constructed, simple clothing, and a high-performing, highly portable laptop.

What’s nice about being a Minimalist is that all those freed-up resources can be reapplied to the areas of your life that you care about. I don’t have to think twice about spending money on a nice laptop because I know I’ve got it to spend.

Remember that Minimalism is a tool like any other, and you shouldn’t become dogmatic about it any more than you would about a religion or other philosophy. Take the practices that work for you and which help you live a happier life, but leave the others for those who find value in them.

We don’t get bonus points when we die for owning more stuff than the other guy, nor do we get a trophy for owning less than someone else. We do get to smile on our deathbeds if we enjoyed the hell out of life, however, so that’s what I plan to focus on.

Update: January 26, 2017

It was around this point, writing this post, that I decided I wouldn’t do any more lists and photos of items to shock people. That kind of thing was great for pulling in audiences, but it really was giving folks the wrong impression about the philosophy of minimalism, and I felt bad about amplifying that misinterpretation.

I also remember that around this time a slew of new blogs were popping up by people who were banking on owning less and less than each other. This person’s got twenty things, this one has eleven, this person says they have nothing, but they’re wearing clothes in their photo, so we’re not sure about how much to trust them.

It’s been nice seeing the more serious approaches to the concept emerge in the years since. It’s a far more well-understood philosophy now, due in large part to the variety of representatives out there who are applying it in different ways for different priorities.