This right here is a loaded question. I say that it’s a loaded question for two reasons.
The first reason being that it’s an inevitable yet personal question. Because of the way society has programmed itself, anytime we as individuals attach a label to our identity, those around us respond reflexively with a barrage of questions. The questions may come out of a place of genuine curiosity, politeness, judgement, or plain old nosiness. In regards to minimalism, I have experienced all four of these. In any situation, we must be prepared to explain, define, or even defend the minimalist lifestyle. Because I am an awkward human being, my default setting is to either retreat by avoiding the question or go the opposite route, which tends to result in me sounding like an overly confident, pretentious ass.
The other reason the big “What’s that?” is such a loaded question, is the same as with any other label we give ourselves. Our reasons are very personal. Hence, the essence of minimalism is entirely subjective. What I consider to be a minimalist lifestyle might still seem noisy and cluttered to someone else. I drive a car, own supplies for my business, and my husband has a small collection of books. Then again, to the statistically “average” American, our home might seem barren. Our kitchen holds only that which we know we will consume, we only have one vehicle, and the square footage of our home is smaller than some apartments. On the surface, the answer seems simple. We own fewer things because we live in a small house. That must be minimalism. Not necessarily.
So what, then is minimalism? If you’ve read my previous post, Minimalism: It’s Not A Four Letter Word, I touch on some misconceptions surrounding minimalism.
Here’s my long answer:
Like most Americans, I was primed into adulthood with the misconception that everyone follows a basic formula for success. Get education, get career, buy house, fill house with nice things, assume debt (but, it’s the good kind…right?!), have kids, assume more debt. Of course, the cycle doesn’t always include every aspect of this list, but this is more or less “The American Dream”.
I had the education, house, job, stuff, and the debt. Aside from children, I could have been on the cover of a brochure for what adulthood in America should look like. There was only one problem. This is not my dream. The debt from our loans led to stress and poor habits. The long commute to work in traffic to a job I didn’t like led to more stress. The dust piling up around all the once shiny things I owned but never used or cleaned because I didn’t have the time led to, you guessed it, stress.
So, we packed up, sold our house, and remedied the issue by trading the big city for a small town. Problem solved, right? Wrong. We made the fatal error by only examining one aspect of our discontent. The commute was shorter, but all of the unused stuff was still filling the corners of our home, waiting for dust to gather on them. We moved into a bigger house, had more money, and bought more stuff we didn’t even want.
After long deliberations, we began to recognize that we needed to simplify our lives to cut out the static. Again, we moved. This time, into a roughly 1,200 square foot house with two less bedrooms, no basement, and limited closet space. We successfully parted ways with over half of our belongings and began to settle in nicely to our smaller lifestyle. Still, after a year of living as minimalists, we were consuming too much.
To me, minimalism is less about the physical things and more about the mindset when obtaining and retaining those things. Our house is very tiny. When used responsibly, it can become a place to welcome only that which serves a specific purpose and holds a high value in regards to happiness. If not careful, that same home can become a fancy, overpriced dumpster. Merely a receptacle for hoarding static and junk, no matter how high-end, well organized, and or hidden it is.
My version of minimalism is the opposite of that. It means taking in only that which I need and love . The rest is shut out as static. Purchases are now mindfully chosen, I value quality over quantity, and I waste less. We have enough waste, dirt, and unhappiness filling the world. Minimalism is my responsible way of not contributing to that problem. I am happier, healthier, and a little wealthier for it.
So you see, minimalism really is about living more with less. It has no set rules, and how it is practiced is completely up to the individual.
Are you a minimalist? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!
What questions do you have about minimalism? Pop them in the comments, or send them to me in an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org