What is Minimalism?

“Simplicity, clarity, singleness: These are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy as they are also the marks of great art.” -Richard Holloway

I am often asked the question, “So what is minimalism anyway?” It is a question that is received from all different angles – from people I have just met and from people I have known for many years. I typically answer with a short, simple explanation: “I am intentionally trying to live with only the things I really need.“ But I always desire to answer more in-depth. I always hope they will ask follow-up questions that allow me to explain the lifestyle further.

And when they do, I like to add:

MINIMALISM IS INTENTIONALITY.

It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. It is a life that forces intentionality. And as a result, it forces improvements in almost all aspects of your life.

MINIMALISM IS FREEDOM FROM THE PASSION TO POSSESS.

Modern culture has bought into the lie that the good life is found in accumulating things – in possessing as much as possible. They believe that more is better and have inadvertently subscribed to the idea that happiness can be purchased at a department store. But they are wrong. Minimalism brings freedom from the all-consuming passion to possess. It steps off the treadmill of consumerism and dares to seek happiness elsewhere. It values relationships, experiences, and soul-care. And in doing so, it finds life.

MINIMALISM IS FREEDOM FROM MODERN MANIA.

Our world lives at a feverish pace. We are too hurried, too rushed, and too stressed. We work long, passionate hours to pay the bills, but fall deeper into debt. We rush from one activity to another – even multitasking along the way - but never seem to get everything done. We remain in constant connection with others through our cell phones, but true life-changing relationships continue to elude us. Minimalism slows down life and frees us from this modern hysteria to live faster. It finds freedom to disengage. It seeks to keep only the essentials. It seeks to remove the frivolous and keep the significant. And in doing so, it values the intentional endeavors that add value to life.

MINIMALISM IS FREEDOM FROM DUPLICITY.

Although nobody intentionally chooses it, most people live in duplicity. They live one life around their family, one life around their co-workers, and another life around their neighbors. The lifestyle they have chosen requires them to portray a certain external image dependent upon their circumstances. They are tossed and turned by the most recent advertising campaign or the demands of their employer. On the other hand, a simple life is united and consistent. It has learned a lifestyle that is completely transferable no matter the situation. It is the same life on Friday evening as it is on Sunday morning… as it is on Monday morning. It is reliable, dependable and unfluctuating. It works in all circumstances.

MINIMALISM IS COUNTER-CULTURAL.

We live in a world that idolizes celebrities. They are photographed for magazines, interviewed on the radio, and recorded for television. Their lives are held up as the golden standard and are envied by many. People who live minimalist lives are not championed by the media in the same way. They don‘t fit into the consumerist culture that is promoted by corporations and politicians. Yet, they live a life that is attractive and inviting. While most people are chasing after success, glamour, and fame, minimalism calls out to us with a smaller, quieter, calmer voice. It invites us to slow down, consume less, but enjoy more. And when we meet someone living a simplified life, we often recognize that we have been chasing after the wrong things all along.

MINIMALISM IS NOT EXTERNAL, BUT INTERNAL.

In our first book, Simplify, we outline 7 guiding principles to help anyone declutter their home and life. The principles outlined in the book have helped thousands find freedom by removing much of the physical clutter in their home. But the book concentrates almost exclusively on the externals of life. And while it helps people find freedom from external clutter, it does not take the next step of helping people find freedom and unity in their heart and soul. But I have learned that minimalism is always a matter of the heart. After the external clutter has been removed, minimalism has the space to address the deepest heart issues that impact our relationships and life.

MINIMALISM IS COMPLETELY ACHIEVABLE.

A minimalist life is completely achievable. My family stands as living proof. We were just your typical family of four living in the suburbs accumulating as much stuff as our income and credit cards would allow. Then, we found minimalism. We have embraced an intentional lifestyle of living with less and will never go back to the way life was before. And we stand as living proof that minimalism is completely achievable (and unique) to anyone who seeks it.

Typically, I find that those who are generally interested in knowing “what minimalism is anyway” and take the time to ask the follow-up questions are drawn to the principles of the lifestyle. After all, it offers almost everything our heart has been asking for all along…

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Ooh, the duplicity one is tough to swallow, because you’re right. I need to pay attention to this one. We just moved to a new place and we’re trying to meet people and find our way…I’m now wondering if I change my demeanor every time I’m around a new group?

    Yikes.

    Thanks for giving me something to work toward in the near future!

  2. says

    Minimalism is completely achievable….. Love it! When I chat with people about minimalism they often seem intimidated by it. I think that’s because their definition of minimalism or their image of what a minimalist home and lifestyle is can be intimidating. I remind them there are no rules. Start small and do what feels right. Usually doing what feels right will lead you in that minimalist direction anyway. :-)

  3. says

    Thank you for the excellent information. I’m new around here but am looking forward to learning more about you and living a minimalist life.

  4. says

    I love how you give the simple definition, and then have a further breakdown for those who ask!
    For me, I think one of the biggest things has been freedom from modern mania coupled with the need to possess things. There is such a mad rush to do, go see, have, own, and it sucks the life right out of living. Having pared down our belongings, and our rate of consumption, I am enjoying the slower pace we are living at now!
    Great post, Joshua, as always!
    Bernice
    Putting your priorities where they belong

  5. says

    I’m new to the minimalism lifestyle (definitely a work-in-progress for a student at a highly competitive university), but I’ve definitely seen its appeal — which is why I’m pursuing these principles. In my short (so far!) journey, I’ve noticed that a lot of people have varying definitions of what minimalism is, but they share a lot of the same principles — a lot of which you outlined here.

    This is a great reference post for me to come back to when I lose sight of my goals, and to share with others who are like-minded. Thanks a ton!

  6. J B says

    “After all, it offers almost everything our heart has been asking for all along…”

    Just curious, what is our heart longing for that it doesn’t offer?

  7. says

    JB,

    Thanks for asking… nice catch on the wording of that last sentence. My original word-choice was indeed, “everything that our heart has been longing for,” but I changed it in the final edit. As a man who values his spirituality, I live my life with a belief that there are longings in my heart that can only be filled by the supernatural. And that is why I chose the words, “almost everything,” for that final sentence. I appreciate the question.

  8. says

    I never really gave a lot of thought to duplicity (or, for many people, multiplicity would be more accurate) of being as being anti-minimalistic. I suppose the added complexity of keeping track of one’s various personas would definitely be counter-minimalistic.

  9. Kathleen Moscato says

    I love love love this post. I am somewhere along my path of minimalism finding my way, slowly but ever so surely. Your blog is somewhere I go for inspiration. I think it would be a good thing talk about at my UU Fellowship and these points are great. do you ever do speaking engagements?

  10. says

    I think minimalism is often misunderstood as having nothing, spending nothing and being nothing (sorry, I may have gone too far in that last bit but you know what I am trying to say :)
    To me minimalism is, as you explain in your post, something above that, a state of mind where you are content with yourself and the things that surround you.

  11. says

    Simplicity and minimalism are often mistaken for poverty and desperation. I think Thomas makes a good point about that misconception. That stigma may be the thing that stops people from taking their dreams and goals to the next level. A life quite contrary to the perception, one that offers no boundaries.

    I too, never thought of the multiplicity angle, but at some point in all of our lives, we want to be accepted. We all equivocate. Our ego and fears get in the way, but once we slowly accept the truth and beauty of life, we can embrace it.

  12. says

    I absolutely loved this post!!! So hit home with me in so many ways…I am working on becoming a minimalist…I am in heart, now I need the rest of my life to reflect this. Thanks for this encouragement!!!

  13. says

    I really like the first point you made: “At its core, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”

    That’s how I think of minimalism too – never as less for the sake of less, but as less for the sake of more (that is, more ultimate value and pleasure in life). I’m not focusing on getting to the least amoung possible, but to the optimal amount, and that happens to require cutting back on many things.

  14. says

    Joshua,

    Glad to connect via J Millburn. You’ve both articulated something my wife and I have done over the past two years, quite elegantly. We live in Brazil, and the massive poverty and “conspicuous consumption” is harrying. This is a very important message for the future of America. I’m a husband (and aspiring dad), and will continue to drop by.

    Thanks,
    M

  15. says

    Relief from Modern Mania. Stay on the internet too long and everything and everyone starts to look manic. (Though not you Mr. Minimalist.) Great thoughts.

  16. says

    I love the duplicity part! It’s especially noticeable here in Tokyo where I’m studying at the moment, where you really have different ways and words of speaking depending on whom you’re speaking with.

    I think I’m doing pretty good at that part though, and though many people think at first it’s embarrassing when I speak to people I’ve never met before with enthusiasm and lose but polite language, but it almost unfailingly turns out well. I mostly speak the same way with people who are “above” me (although I don’t really believe in people being over and under) as I do with my friends, and it doesn’t seem to bother many people after all :)

    Good post!

  17. Nikoya says

    I’m so glad that I stumbled across your blog. I was thinking hard about minimalism the other day when someone called me “you minimalist!” with a negative connotation. It got me thinking. What exactly is “a minimalist”? I believe it is something I must be naturally. I own no bed, no TV – and I repeat the same outfits every week. But this is just me, I naturally feel heavy burdened with too much of anything, period.

    Thanks for your insightful message!

  18. Safian says

    I’m new here and I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog. Most of the issues you talked about resonate with me. Thanks for the education.

  19. Jack says

    Found this article interesting. In-fact it portrays my life in the best light, I thought I was the only one.. :)

  20. Lindsay says

    I love the idea of becoming a minimalist….but, I have a question (this probably sounds dumb), what do you do with your time on a daily basis now that you don’t have to, pick up, organize, dust, organize, buy, store, organize, etc, etc, etc? I feel like it’s almost an addiction now that I have 3 young kids and am a stay at home mom….I honestly can’t visualize my daily routines beyond what I do now.

  21. julie says

    OK, I looked at that photo and though, gee, where’s the stuff? A companion object would create negative space. Wouldn’t that wall look great in chartreuse? It’s a regular Rorschach test.

    No, I’m not a minimalist, and just might as well embrace that moment when an office friend remarked, “you’re one of the happy slobs, aren’t you?” Yeah, that I am.

  22. Kimberly says

    Loved this post! My minimalist journey began a couple of years ago when I happened upon one of your posts on the same day that I also happened to catch an episode of “Hoarders”. Those two things together, on the same day, made me look at my home, my life, in a different way. I immediately began “the great purge”…an ongoing process. Initially, I was just removing items from my home…but it has grown… I am purging not only possessions,but people and situations that are not essential to my well being. The freedom this brings is remarkable…freedom from the distraction of things…freedom from the toxicity of some people. So…thank you for the inspiration and advice.

  23. Josh says

    Great Article :) Thank you so much for posting. Very well articulated, and I believe that it really gets to the ‘heart’ of the issue.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Giving up 25% | June 25, 2011
  2. A Year In Review « My Still Life | December 31, 2011
  3. What is minimalism? | May 18, 2012
  4. My Impossible List. | April 30, 2013

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