Note: This is a guest post from Jenny Lee of Hello Brio.
Since I started sharing my journey with minimalism, I noticed peoples’ definitions of minimalism can be quite extreme. This is tough to accept, because ever since I began working toward a more minimal lifestyle, I’ve only experienced more joy and fulfillment.
Let me burst your bubble here: minimalism is not a person wearing a plain t-shirt sitting in a white-walled room on one chair with one side table, reading a tattered self-development book from the library by the light of the window. Maybe with one healthy plant on said table.
This extreme image is what manifests for many when they hear the word “minimalism.” This representation screams lack, deprivation, and doing without… which, understandably, can be a big deterrent.
But minimalism is not deprivation. In fact, here’s my uncommon definition of minimalism: minimalism brings abundance.
But how can a practice that by definition means “simplicity of life” come to be misunderstood as extreme deprivation, not abundance?
Why People Think Minimalism is So Extreme
People often think that minimalism is crazy strict and scant. When I tell new friends that my family and I are minimalists, they probably look at my two young sons and think, “Poor kids, why won’t they buy you loads of toys?”
Or maybe they think that because we don’t have a lot of stuff in our house, that we must just sit around staring at one another in silence.
Our minimalist lifestyle is far from that… but I understand the confusion.
This has to do with the fact that minimalism is—honestly—poorly named.
Minimalism literally means “a person who favors a simple style or approach,” where the adjective minimalistic means “something that is stripped down to its most essential elements.”
The thought of being “stripped down” does not inspire positivity for most. In fact, “minimalism” often brings a rush of cortisol and nervousness. Usually, folks who are new to the term get very defensive right away:
“Oh, I saw a minimalist interviewed on TV once and he only owned 44 things that fit into his backpack. I could never do that.” Or…
“I just love my clothes and shoes too much. I could never get rid of 95% of my closet.” Or…
“I’ve seen people do those no-buy years on YouTube and I could never do that. Shopping is my way to de-stress and treat myself.” Or…
“My home is already mostly clear of visual clutter. Why would I need to minimize further?”
These extreme takes are in no way what minimalism actually looks like for most people who are in pursuit of a simpler life.
Here are some different ways that minimalism can show up.
Minimalism Looks Different for Everyone
Wherever you are in your journey, whether you’re in the research phase or are years deep into your minimal lifestyle, you’ll notice that every single minimalist’s life looks different.
Once you dig deeper into what minimalism means for most, you end up with a definition similar to this: “Minimalism is removing excess so that you can make more room for what matters to you.”
Since everyone’s priorities are different, the end results will vary.
For us, as a family of four?
- I have a smaller wardrobe that allows me to grab anything so that I can be showered, made up, and dressed in 15 minutes flat so that I can get started on my next writing project (and still be presentable for those intermittent Zoom client calls).
- We donate our broken or mismatched toys and have a curated collection of things the boys cherish and can use their imaginations to build upon.
- We have a smaller (though not tiny) house where we usually assemble in the family area so that we can prioritize togetherness.
While observing other minimalists, you might even start to group them into archetypes, whether they’re:
- Frugal minimalists, challenging themselves to do with less in order to save money
- Environmental minimalists, making low-waste choices to reduce their carbon footprint, sometimes in the form of a tiny house
- Luxury minimalists, only buying the highest quality, longest-lasting items, or
- Traveling minimalists, prioritizing portability and fitting their worldly possessions into a backpack
But here’s the thing: any given minimalist may be a blend of these or other archetypes, or may even wax and wane between types depending on what’s going on in their lives at the moment.
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits moved his family, including his wife and their six children, from Guam to the US with each family member carrying one backpack of belongings. Leo’s family’s life looks much different now in California in their home complete with furniture, but that just goes to show you how the outward appearance of minimalism can change for people over time.
No matter how someone may self-identify in these archetypes or as a blend of categories, minimalists tend to have a key value in common.
The Value All Minimalists Have in Common
I hesitate in saying this, but I believe it to be true. All minimalists are somewhat counter-cultural, in that they live an anti-consumerism lifestyle.
But not in an extreme way. Us minimalists still shop for things we need and want… and we buy necessities like toilet paper… so don’t think we’re picketing in front of Target.
In the US, the bulk of the population is driven by consumerism. We are compelled to purchase the latest gadget, shop for clothes on the regular, and fill our homes with tchotchkes from Home Goods.
It is a very consumerism-driven economy.
Minimalists, on the other hand, tend to be very picky about what they bring into their lives and keep in their lives and by nature will shop and consume less in order to be free of the vicious cycle.
Every minimalist will have a very specific set of reasons why they began and are continuing on in their minimalism journey, and they are very clear on their passions and impact.
They remove varying forms of clutter from their lives: physical, mental, spiritual, social, technological, etc, in order to make room for what really matters to them. By going against the grain and choosing to live a “less is more” lifestyle, minimalists can live a life full of purpose.
Minimalism Brings Abundance
Let me repeat: minimalism is not an extreme lifestyle that strips people down to the very essentials.
It is not deprivation.
By removing visual and mental excess, you waste less time and energy buying, organizing, and maintaining your stuff so that you can focus on your mission, whatever that may be.
Since I’ve progressed upon my minimalism journey, I have a clearer mind that isn’t clouded by drama or anxiety, I have a strong cohort of friends and family that feed my soul instead of drain it, and I am able to focus more on my passion for writing and creating content. I feel true to myself and have an inner sense of peace, both of which I searched for desperately during my teens and 20’s.
Because minimalism clears clutter, it allows room for abundance: abundance of time, energy, thought, ideas, and connection. These all bring depth of existence, peace of mind, and contentment, which are all keys to living a life full of joy.
Jenny Lee blogs at Hello Brio where she uses minimalist principles to help the motivated discover wholeness and true identity by changing their inner narrative to transform their outer world into one of abundance. You can also find her promoting minimalism on YouTube.