What is Minimalism Anyway?

“Am I a minimalist?”

“What is a minimalist?”

“How did you know you were a minimalist?”

“Minimalism is so hip right now.”

Truth is, there are so many different thoughts and opinions about what a minimalist is, and few of us probably think we’re “extreme” enough to even qualify. My definition may not be the same as everyone else’s, but I’m here to start a discussion and hopefully clear up some common misconceptions. (Maybe you’re already a minimalist and you didn’t even know it!)

More Than a Fad

Minimalism takes on different meanings for different people.

It took me a long time to even own up to the title “minimalist.” What I discovered was that there are all different branches of minimalism and they are all valid.

  • Some minimalists live on refurbished buses with very few possessions on board.
  • Some minimalists build tiny houses and live among nature on only the essentials.
  • Some minimalists have thousands of square footage but choose to live as if they have less space, opening up their spare rooms to travelers and those needing a place to sleep.
  • Some minimalists sell everything and live out of a backpack, trailblazing and couch-surfing.
  • Some minimalists choose to be missionaries or live in third-world countries among “the least of these.” Mother Teresa is a great example of a real-life minimalist with a mission to help others.

We aren’t all necessarily called to the most extreme level of minimalism. If we all have up our couches, there would be no couches to couch-surf! We all need each other.

Minimalism is meant to exist in several different expressions. 

Minimalism is not just a style.

I don’t think many true minimalists have stark homes full of sleek minimally-styled decor. That is a love of a minimal style but lived out in a materialist way of shopping for the latest modern style. Anyway, most of us aren’t drawn to the cold stark futuristic look. If you think your home has to look like that to be called a minimalist, you’re missing the point. My home certainly doesn’t look like a spaceship and I don’t want it to!

When I realized that minimalism is a lifestyle, not just a style of decor, I was won over.

I’m not interested in fads and short-lived style trends. My home isn’t something I want to redecorate every year or two. (That would be wasteful in addition to expensive!) The true minimalist lifestyle realizes the opposite. Minimalists realize that regardless of styles and regardless of decor, one doesn’t need much in order to live and thrive. For example, I’ve hardly bought any home decor since I got married in 2010. I’ve worn many of the same clothes for nearly a decade – even before my clothes shopping ban.

Minimalism isn’t merely an exercise in personal discipline.

Minimalism is a lifestyle of consuming less and funneling our resources into more important things.

Minimalism isn’t a fad because at it’s heart it is anti-fad.

Minimalism is saying no to the trends and yes to real-life goals and dreams.

Minimalism is saying “how little can I live on?” and “how can I save resources?” and “how much can I share as a result?” 

What Does Minimalism Mean to Me?

Here’s what it boils down to for me personally:

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Generally minimalism means everything serves a purpose or “sparks joy” as Marie Kondo would say. There is no fluff. If we don’t need it, we don’t get it. Minimalists don’t usually shop for fun (unless something breaks that needs replaced or we’re looking for one item that can do the job of two items.)

My definition of minimalism is the opposite of materialism.

I try to remember that I have so much compared to much of the rest of the world, and live in such a way that I’m willing to give it up at any time.

Minimalism doesn’t compete or try to impress.

Minimalists see things as tools and not status symbols. Yes, Josh and I have a car and computers and phones. But we don’t crave the latest and the greatest. We value them as tools for how they make our life easier. We try to take care of them and get them to last as long as possible so we can do more meaningful things with our money than update whenever a new model or software update is released…we’re embarrassingly far behind by Apple Store standards but embarrassingly privileged by global standards. It’s a back-and-forth that we constantly wrestle with.

There are many different kinds of materialism out there.

I thought I wasn’t materialist since I don’t crave the latest gadgets and I have no appetite for impressing or outdoing anyone…however when my computer recently crashed and needed to be restored I lost a few months worth of photos.

“Family photos are off-limits!” “Those data files are mine!”

I was unaware of my greed relating to these “off-limits” things. I realized that even being overly attached to those photos was materialist at heart. Will any of that matter when I’m gone? Did people survive before it was normal to have 1,000 photos at a time on your phone? I think they did and they thought nothing of it.

Minimalism is a life-long process of learning and re-learning.

Oftentimes the things we think are necessary are truly luxuries that we take for granted.

Life-Long Implications

Minimalism makes you more grateful and appreciative for every little thing.

If I have just one pair of shoes, I’m more grateful for them. I will appreciate their versatility to take me so many different places. I’ll take better care of them and I’ll wear them until they fall apart and need replaced, not just when they go out of fashion.

Maybe this is an oversimplification. But it’s supposed to be simple.

Minimalism is the opposite of complicated.

If I’m making it complicated or stressful, I’m doing it wrong.

Minimalism is meant to be freeing.

It is meant to take away the burden of possessions.

It is meant to completely remove the stress of getting ahead.

Minimalism reminds me that the most important things in life aren’t things.

And here’s the bottom line: people over possessions. No matter what.

If my minimalism alienates me from other people, I’m doing it wrong.

That’s exactly why Josh and I have our family mission statement: Simplicity. Generosity. Hospitality. Community.

It reminds us not just how we live, but why.

Minimalism gives us margins. In our home. In our resources. In our time. 

We do this in part to build relationships, not to build a perfect life for ourselves in isolation. That’s why we have spare bedrooms. That’s why we give out of our excess. That’s why there’s always room at our dinner table for guests.

Minimalism by itself is empty and void. It’s what you fill the space with that matters.

When you fill the space with people rather than possessions, you reap huge benefits. You see the world slowly changed.

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What about you? What is your definition of minimalism and why? How have you lived it out in your life so far, and what are your dreams (if any) for pursuing minimalism and simplicity in the future? How do you “fill the space” that minimalism gives you in your home and in your life?

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3 Comments

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  1. That was an insightful article. I’m doing my best to limit my spending on material things. At the same time, I might go overboard, so it’s good to find that balance. Very good point about not trying to alienate people by trying to be a minimalist.

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