What is Minimalism?

2017 is upon us and there isn't a more appropriate time to talk about minimalism than now. These days, one in ten American households rents an off-site storage facility for their belongings, despite the fact that average house size has more than doubled since the 1950s. Smart phone users spend an average of 145 minutes a day on his or her phone, according to a June 2016 study. And 43% of working adults report that their job has a negative impact on their stress levels.

Translation? Americans are working stressful jobs, spending their income on living spaces and things they do not use, and wasting hours of the day mindlessly scrolling through social media.

Sound a little strange? Let's lean in.

Since you found your way to this article, I'll assume that you've at least heard of minimalism. Perhaps you've read Marie Kondo's book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Maybe you regularly follow Mr. Money Mustache and his Badass blog on financial freedom and engineering a smarter life. Heck, you could even be a digital nomad, accessing my blog from an internet cafe as you rest and plan which country to live in next.

Regardless of your situation, you have found yourself here because you are curious about this thing called minimalism and the value it could add to your life.

First things first: What is minimalism?

To quote The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus), "Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom" (source). Freedom from what, you ask? Each person has a different answer to this but let's start with freedom from things. For many, minimalism begins as a purely material pursuit. "Gosh, I never realized how much shit I have"  is a sentiment I have heard many times. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with having a lot of things; the issue is what it takes to afford them. There is more to affording things than just the money it takes to buy them; it also involves the upkeep, storage, and organization of those things. These additional "costs" can consume your time, money, and energy, which can cause stress if the things are mostly meaningless to you. Furthermore, this means you have less money, time, and energy to spend on the things that actually add value to your life.

Now we've got a problem, right? Perhaps. But if these things do have a distinct purpose and add joy to your life, then the costs mentioned above may be worth it. And that, is precisely the point: identifying and prioritizing those things that add value to your life.

You may have noticed, I used the word thing quite a bit in the previous paragraph. Yes, I do know how to use a thesaurus. I used this word repeatedly to make a point: a thing is not necessarily a tangible object. Think of one aspect of your life, such as the relationships you have, your diet and exercise, your job, miscellaneous hobbies, social media accounts, side projects, or trips and experiences. Mentally replace every use of the word thing in the paragraph above with this aspect of your life. Analyze how that aspect adds value - or adds stress - to your life. Does it have a purpose? Does it bring you joy? Can you afford to continue to have it in your life?

Minimalism is about finding more in less. It's about eschewing the "should-have's" and the "should-do's" and focusing your attention only on the things that add value to your life. For me, those things are:

  • Good relationships and frequent communications with friends and family, regardless of geographic proximity
  • A healthy body that I nourish with good food, outdoor activities, and plenty of sleep
  • Time to read, listen to podcasts, and write for this blog
  • Financial ability to drink great coffee and go on occasional excursions

This list is different for everyone, but the benefits of minimalism are universal:

Focus on the things that add value to your life and free yourself to live the life that makes you truly happy.

How can you start incorporating minimalism today?

P.S. The stats at the beginning of this post came from several places but this article from renowned minimalist Joshua Becker was a major inspiration. If you are interested in learning about how much shit we actually own, I'd recommend giving it a read.