“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 I receive from people I have just met and from people I have known for many years.
I typically answer them with a short, simple explanation:
MINIMALISM IS OWNING FEWER POSSESSIONS.
Like I mentioned before, minimalism is intentionally living with only the things I really need—those items that support my purpose. I am removing the distraction of excess possessions so I can focus more on those things that matter most.
That is my short, elevator-pitch answer.
But oftentimes I desire to answer more in-depth. When people ask follow-up questions that allow me to explain simple living further, I like to add:
IT IS INTENTIONALITY.
It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.
It is a life that forces intentionality upon us. As a result, it forces improvements in almost all aspects of your life.
Intentionality looks different for everybody, as no two individuals are the same, but it requires each of us to dive deeper and become more introspective about our values and passions.
IT 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. Embracing 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. It lets us see all that we already have and reminds us to be grateful.
In doing so, we find a more abundant life.
IT IS FREEDOM FROM MODERN MANIA.
Our world runs 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 every day. We rush from one activity to another—even multitasking along the way—but never seem to get anything done. We remain in constant connection with others through our cell phones, but true life-changing relationships continue to elude us.
Becoming a minimalist slows down life and frees us from this modern hysteria to live faster. It offers freedom to disengage. It seeks to keep only the essentials. It aims to remove the frivolous and keep
IT 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. It is honest and transparent.
IT 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 simple 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.
IT IS NOT EXTERNAL, BUT INTERNAL.
In my first book, Simplify, I outline 7 guiding principles to help anyone declutter their home and life. The principles outlined in the book have helped hundreds of thousands find freedom by removing much of the physical clutter in their homes. 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.
I have learned embracing this lifestyle is always a matter of the heart. After the external clutter has been removed, we create the space to address the deepest heart issues that impact our relationships and life.
IT IS COMPLETELY ACHIEVABLE.
Becoming a minimalist 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 minimalist living and will never go back to the way life was before. We stand as living proof that simple living is completely achievable (and unique) to anyone who seeks it.
Typically, I find that those who are generally interested in knowing more and take the time to ask the follow-up questions are drawn to the principles of a minimalist lifestyle. After all, it offers almost everything our heart has been asking for all along.
If this perspective is completely foreign and you need more guidance on how to become a minimalist, you can find a list of our most popular posts here.
General FAQ About Minimalism
Will minimalism automatically make me content?
Although it is a great start, it isn’t an instant cure. It is a pathway, not the end goal.
Becoming a minimalist will give you more time and will free up more of your money than ever before. But we must focus on gratitude every single day in order to see the results.
It’s that journey of intentional self-improvement, and appreciating what we already have, that will bring us contentment.
What is a minimalist lifestyle?
It means living with things you really need. It means removing anything that distracts us from living with intentionality and freedom.
Is minimalist living boring?
Minimalist living is the opposite of boring. It removes mundane activities that take away from spending time with our loved ones. Once we rid ourselves of the unnecessary, we’re able to decide what will define our lives.
Some travel the world full-time. Others will find themselves more involved in their families’ lives than ever before. Becoming minimalist frees us to live a bigger life with a more passionate pursuit of our greatest purpose and goals.
Does this mean I can’t be sentimental?
Remember, less is not the same as “none.” There are no specific rules to simple living and nobody is required to get rid of things that bring value to their life. Most minimalists keep some sentimental items in their life… they just keep less than others. And instead of stuffing our sentimental belongings in a storage unit or a garage, we proudly display them in our own home.
For more reasons why you should switch to minimalist living, consider these stats:
- Adult Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing every year (US National Library of Medicine cites the EPA Office of Solid Waste)
- 20-21% of working Americans say they aren’t saving any money for retirement. Many of the ones who are saving put away no more than 10% of their income. (Bankrate.com)
- The average American household has 300,000 items (Los Angeles Times)
- The average family in America spends $1,700 on clothes each year (Forbes)
To get started with making your home clutter-free, I recommend this helpful Declutter Your Home Checklist.
Nicholas Gonzales says
I believe that in order to be a happy person and live a carefree life, you need to put things in order within yourself. You need to discard all unnecessary things, and pay attention only to the really important things.
Kobe Cook says
For me, a minimalist is someone who focuses on what really matters. Minimalism is a conscious choice to live with less. Let’s say there is a position that will allow you to earn more, but you will have new responsibilities, but the minimalist will remain working in the same place.
Vanessa Tarcak says
There is no rule book to how to do minimalism and to each their own way
As long as you are able to find happiness/peace from within, and not caving into the never ending search of happiness through materialistic things and constant consumption culture, you are winning ??
Dinah Danby says
I have only just come across this movement called minimalism. I’m curious. Although I’m no longer religious, I used to be, and I took a vow of poverty at 18, which I have kept as best I can for 42 years, even after leaving religion behind. My concern is this. Everyone is speaking of minimalism as benefiting ourselves, as in freedom and so on. I took my vow because I saw a world full of people without enough food, clothing and shelter, while I had more than enough; my goal has always been to simplify my life and consumption so that I had resources to share with people in need. I see no mention of this idea in the minimalist movement. Living simply is certainly wonderful for the person doing it; I think we should also do it because we have an obligation to our fellow humans who are deprived of the basics for survival. People doing minimalism seem all to have a choice in the matter. I see it as no choice. People all over the world are suffering and in need; those of us with more than enough have an obligation to help, and that includes living with just enough so that we have as much as possible to share. It is nice to have good feelings when we live simply, but it is much nicer to help someone survive and thrive who yesterday didn’t have enough to do either. To me that is a far more important and powerful goal. I would love to see a movement based on this idea.
joshua becker says
You’ll find lots of people who pursue minimalism to free up resources for others. You’ll also find lots of people who pursue minimalism for other reasons. Minimalism frees up time, money, energy, and focus for other pursuits than physical possessions. Where those resources get directed will always depend on the individual.
F Gilly says
Kind of trying to wriggle out of a tough question. Danby’s statement deserves better.
Less stuff is a fine idea, but one that only Americans and those in a few other rich nations can ever consider.
For the bulk of humanity, there is little to spare.
A little more wokeness would be nice.
Even if minimalism is unique to those in high-income nations, is that alone a reason NOT to pursue it? Our consumerist, bargain-obsessed culture (I can only speak for the United States) relies heavily on the exploitation of people, animals, and the environment almost every step of the way.
Buying and owning less frees up money and time that you can instead use to make the world a slightly better place (and yes, I realize that no one can single-handedly solve world hunger). You also aren’t contributing to these exploitative systems.
Maria Pinto says
I like what you are saying and sadly in this Country and I believe many other developed Countries “Ego” can also play into the picture. This false sense of identity of who a person really is based on someone else’s expectations. and then it spills over into trying to keep up with the Jones’ etc etc etc.
I think a big part of minimalism/simplicity is to be happy with what you have, trying your best not to be wasteful with anything, especially food, and that by living lighter on the planet hope that other people will pick up on it by example, knowing that more stuff just further destroys Mother Earth, and the clock is ticking.
Wow this is really serious?
You really believe if you consume less people will have more, how naive!!
Anyway people all over the world are not in need of our/your hypocritical morale. Did you know that clothes donations to Africa ruined the local clothes market? The donared clothes were cheaper than the locally produced ones! A factory closing down somewhere leaves a whole family without money since often one person supports the family with factory work. Your view is too simple and religiously coloured. You cannot save the world and you not eating will not feed Africa! Minimalism is for you, for your personal development and financial indipendance from this stinking system thats what its about.
Maria Pinto says
I’m not quite sure where you are coming from, but I sense your frustration, one that I feel as well. I don’t pretend to have all (or even a few of the answers) as world hunger and deprivation goes so deep. I think many people are well intentioned and trying to live a life devoid of excess which does not equal happiness or even contentment.
This is a global problem which requires global solutions and not just lip service by the politicians. I would suggest to anyone here to read the book/documentary “Affluenza” which clearly talks about how we her in the United States consume 1/4 of the worlds resources and last time I checked it is not slowing down any time soon.
I think rather than attacking someone here I would like to hear what if any solutions you may have to offer. The reason I keep coming back to these chats is to share and also learn from other people. I am in my 60’s and still have a lot to learn myself.
Nachwera Richard says
Shannon Macri says
It’s so funny how society in general actually considers a person a loser in life, if that person doesn’t walk around with an expensive phone,high priced clothing,new car and a huge house. I’ve never needed material things like the above in my life.
I guess I’ve been a minimalist so much of my life. Having alot always gave me anxiety any way. I’ve lived such a simple life the past 20 yrs. I’ve always stayed away from anything or anybody that was complicated.
Being a minimalist comes natural to some I guess. Sure wish society could judge a person on their personality and not what that person owns. Maybe one day.
Kamwaro Dickson says
Thanks alot I have understand what I have been seeking for some decades.you are a philosopher.
The basic components of being a minimalist is something I have been leaning towards for a long period of time, without me even realizing I was moving in that direction. I give away my possessions that other people see as being valuable. I tell people that experience is more important to me then accumulating possessions and being driven by making money. I also tend to believe that I am not being manipulated by the media telling me what I should do or own.
With certain “Distractions” removed from your life I feel, that I am more capable of handling stress than I was before. Consolidate and Simplify is a catch phrase I have been using for a long period of time.
I am constantly trying to repurpose things instead of throwing them away I will use them until it is no longer feasible. Other people tend to simplify my actions by saying that it only costs a dollar so I can throw it out, or you are being cheap. Problem here is that if more people had the same philosophy and attitude as myself, world would be a better place. And I am sure you realize what I am saying without delving deeper.
But on the other hand, I am not totally idealistic about having to live in contemporary society. I realize I need money to pay bills and buy food, I cant see a way around that. I am self employed for the last 20 years, and I have eliminated being beholding to someone else for my existence, or whatever it takes to maintain when you have to answer to someone.
Addis, (Ardie) Ilene Barnes says
I have recently decided to becoming a minimalist because I am 78, not in spirit, but because of my arthritis. I still have a social life, cleaning house and keeping closets in order is a bit too demanding and cuts into my ability to stay active in my community, and my time out with friends. My priorities are in the order to live like I want. Minimalism is very liberating.
Joshua, I believe this is your best article yet for defining Minimalism! Great article.
Ardis Barnes says
Thanks Wally, I am planning to enjoy my older years in similar ways that I have most of my life. Being a minimalist instills youth in us and gets us out into the community. There is less to do at home and more to.look forward to as we keep in the mainstream of our social interests.
Ardie in Washington state.
Maya Saint Jacques says
This is a really great article, Joshua. I am so glad I began to pursue minimalism, it really helped me in my life overall! And my stress is not as crazy as it used to be, from owning so much stuff.
David Brian says
Reading your article on minimalist , I find interesting,let me ask you a question do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and is he your savior? And if tonight would be your last night you lay your head on your pillow do you know for certain you would go to heaven for Eternal life, now I see this to be the most important factor in one’s life. It sounds like you are just forming another cultural group,and is it backed Up by our relationship with the Almighty God that controls this universe and planet earth? Real peace comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ and the only one that can give real healing of mine, body and soul is Jesus. I looked at your editorial and it just looks like you’re looking for something to try to be something and try to do something that will help you find peace ,very interesting
Rose Bruton says
You are so right!
It won’t profit anyone to gain the whole world, yet lose their soul.
People can de- clutter all day- and still be on their way to an eternity in Hell- Unless they humbly come to the cross and find Salvation and new life In Christ! Let’s hope some People will find their Bible amidst the clutter ~ and see what a Treasure was there all along!
– For the wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ Romans 6:23
I’m currently working towards a more minimilast lifestyle, I have a few sentimental items stored in a small bin though. I have very simple decoration and not a lot of clothing or items, and if I moved out I’m sure all of my stuff would fit in 2 or 3 boxes. I really like being a minimalist, it’s freeing to not have to keep track of tons of items constantly spilling out of drawers and closets.