Minimalism. I’m not sure how that word makes me feel. It’s true that since I’ve started purging clutter, my life has become more manageable and less stressful. But, sheesh! I want to pull my hair out when I hear someone call themselves a minimalist when they take 25 minutes to explain their perfect system for organizing a sock drawer.
I’ve written about decluttering before, but I avoid calling myself a minimalist. I reject using a simplistic label to describe a complex set of philosophies and behaviors. I’m more of a cafeteria minimalist. I adopt certain actions to help me be happy with less, but I haven’t incorporated minimalism into every single aspect of my life. I can take what I want and use it to reduce stress and live with more intention.
What is Minimalism?
If you’ve spent just five minutes Googling minimalism, you’ll probably run across Joshua Becker, a quotable notable in this area. He says minimalism is “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”
That sounds pretty abstract. To some folks, minimalism is getting rid of almost everything you own and clearing your mental and physical space of clutter and distractions. To others, it’s just focusing on what you love and what matters most in your life. I know . . still pretty abstract. To illustrate, living minimally might be:
- Moving out of a substantial home and into a smaller one
- Jumping on the tiny home bandwagon
- Limiting all your possessions to one or two duffel bags and traveling the world while living off friends’ couches
- Living out of an RV or camper van
- Getting rid of all the belongings you no longer use
- Leaving a job that causes you stress and instead doing something you love (Most closely fits me)
Some people call themselves minimalists when all they’re doing is common sense decluttering. Getting rid of useless junk doesn’t necessarily mean you’re simplifying your life. In a less superficial way, minimalism refers to the way you spend your free time, earn a living, handle your finances, or manage your relationships.
How Minimalism Can Be Annoying
If you talk about being a minimalist with enough people, you’ll eventually annoy someone. I get irritated when I hear people describe minimalism in superficial ways or try to push it on others. What’s worse, some of them act self-righteous about it. While the movement has its virtues, there’s a lot about it that chafes me.
Minimalism Can Reek of Privilege
For some fortunate folks, minimalism is a privilege; for others, it’s what you have to do to meet basic needs. Some households can’t afford to declutter because they have to hang onto what they already have. On the contrary, throwing out or donating excess belongings suggests you already had too much stuff to begin with. Some would consider that a nice problem to have.
Other self-proclaimed minimalists talk about how they’ve given up excess obligations to have more time for personal reflection, hobbies, travel, or volunteering. This sounds nice if you don’t have to work every waking moment to afford groceries and pay for prescription drugs. Some people don’t have the spare time to volunteer at a soup kitchen or go couch-surfing for six months. Some folks are too busy working multiple jobs just to live.
Some Minimalists Get too Braggy
I’m usually skeptical of people who go out of their way to convince me that they’re smart, kind, religious, environmentally conscious, or not racist. The same thing goes for those who boast about how much of a minimalist they are. If you walk the talk, you don’t have to brag about it.
I don’t mind anyone who says they’re “working on a more minimalist lifestyle” or “trying to be happy with less.” The braggy ones who say, “I’m a minimalist, and you should be one, too” might take a lesson from shamanic practitioners. Real shamans don’t proclaim themselves to be shamans; it’s the community that confers that title on them. True practitioners of anything usually let their actions and reputations speak for themselves.
It Looks Like Just Another Fad
Movements that appear trendy usually repel me. The worst reason to take up a cause is that it’s massively popular. Also, when something looks like a fad, it often hints at “conspicuous consumption.” If a lifestyle change requires a considerable portion of my disposable income, then it’s not a worthy cause. Moreover, some so-called minimalist websites tout the benefits of not buying things and then advertise merchandise that helps people be better minimalists!
The Non-Annoying Way to Practice Minimalism
Given all the irksome things about minimalism, the movement still has its merits. I’m happy with my cafeteria approach, and I don’t feel the need to proselytize about it. But I understand those who believe in it so much that they want to spread the good news. If this is you, here’s how you might go about it without alienating others.
Know Your “Why”
Why do you want to purge your possessions? What’s the main reason you want to buy less? It all begins with your underlying motivation. Unless you know precisely why you’re adopting minimalism, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes another washed-up fad you eventually abandon. Knowing your “why” also helps when you explain your cause to others; they’ll be less suspicious if you give them a solid reason.
Don’t Brag About It—Just Do It
You’re not necessarily living a minimalist lifestyle if you only go around preaching about it to others. In Texas, they call that “all hat and no cattle.” If you really want to promote minimalism, show others what minimalist living is about—whether or not you think they’re paying attention. For example, don’t humble-brag that you own only one coat; just wear the crap out of it and just be content.
Perhaps the best way to walk the walk is to do what Becker suggests: Find a rational form of minimalism that is realistic enough to meet your needs. I have far fewer clothes than I used to, and I might only shop for a new item once a year. Clothing is one aspect of my life that I can easily minimize. However, there are other things I’m not yet willing to do, such as give up my car. One step at a time.
Don’t Go Looking for Converts
I only make minimalist decisions that affect me. I don’t impose my views on others, including my boyfriend, with whom I share a home. He’s free to own as many t-shirts as he wants. I’ll stick to one t-shirt for each day of the week. Moreover, I won’t take any minimalist action that infringes on the ability of others to live how they see fit.
Make It About You, Not Them
When you talk about your minimalism efforts, don’t give unsolicited advice. People will get turned off if you start preaching to them about how they ought to sell their house and move into an apartment, or how much happier they’ll be if they donate all the shoes they haven’t worn in six months.
Instead, keep the focus on you: “I’m trying to adopt a minimalist lifestyle because it’s making me less stressed and more organized.” If others hear how beneficial minimalism has been to you, it might get them thinking about making their own lifestyle changes. Then they’ll think it was their idea.
A good friend of mine moved out of her house and into a much bigger one. A big place would be a nightmare to me—all that extra space to clean, heat, cool, repair, and insure. However, I shouldn’t expect everyone else to desire what I want. Besides, my friend has two sons and does much more entertaining than I do. Minimalists have the right to make their own decisions and live life on their terms. So does everyone else.
Ignore the Haters
Not everyone will understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. That’s okay. No matter how nonjudgmental or subtle you are about minimalism, people might criticize you anyway. So what? As a mentor once told me, “What others think of you is none of your damn business.” It’s not your job to justify your personal choices to others.
Minimalism is a broad concept that encompasses many behaviors, attitudes, and values. It might still be a fad, but it’s worth exploring. Regardless of how intensely you adopt minimalism, you should do it to improve your life and increase your happiness, however that might unfold.