July 30, 2020

I tell my friends that I’m minimalist, but seemingly contradictory, I own a ridiculous amount of scrunchies and earrings, I collect socks with unique patterns, and my nightstand has a tendency to accumulate grocery receipts. In fact, I probably own only slightly less than my friends who don’t label themselves as minimalist. How could this be? Why am I not travelling the world with 50 possessions? The media often depicts minimalism as some sort of bizarre, exclusive cult for people who starve themselves of physical belongings. In reality, minimalism is a lifestyle shift that’s achievable by anyone (and it’s not really about what objects you own). Let me introduce my definition of minimalism: Minimalism is the deliberate and continual simplification of your life to let you focus on what’s truly important to you.

Simplification of Life

At its core, minimalism is about simplifying one’s life.

Simple is Better

Central to any self-improvement technique is the idea that life is a balancing act. When we add more to our lives, we’re spreading out our resources more (whether it’s time, money, effort, etc). No one has access to infinite resources, so we can’t have everything.

The traditional approach to creating a fulfilling life involves curation, or filtered deletions, of an already-complex life – bad parts of life get removed if they’re bad enough. Minimalism differs by letting the default be living with less, making filtered additions atop – good parts of life are added if they’re good enough.

Filtering additions rather than deletions tends to leave fewer, higher quality components. We allow ourselves to construct a life without obligations we wish we didn’t have, but (most often incorrectly) feel like we can’t cut out. More resources are left free, which can be used for future high quality things. Some call this “freedom from distractions/excess,” and this liquidity of time/effort/money/etc is fulfilling all on its own.

Being OK With Enough

In today’s consumer culture, advertisements purposefully encourage us to focus on what we lack, creating a void which they falsely promise can be satisfied if we can just have that new thing or experience. Purchasing and constantly seeking better, more novel things becomes a crutch to feel whole again.

Minimalism is the stark opposite, promoting an appreciation for what we already have. It advances the idea that we should be satisfied with just “having enough,” and finding fulfillment from the imperfect things that we already have in our lives. If it ain't broke, don’t fix it.

Providing Value/Meaning

Minimalism lets people focus on what’s truly important to them.

Humans are always making choices about what to fill their lives with, even if they’re not consciously deciding – not paying attention is a choice in itself. Minimalism is about making those choices consciously, so that we can fill our lives with only the best things.

Each person needs to ask themselves “what’s important to me?” in order to reflect on what kinds of things provide value and meaning to them specifically.

This decision-making process also includes balancing the marginal benefit/detraction for every addition to life. The novel thing needs to be of net benefit to the person even after taking into account the cost (in terms of effort, monetary value, etc) of acquiring it, maintenance and upkeep (which includes the general cost that comes from balancing more in general), as well as opportunity cost of how those resources can be otherwise used.

A result of minimalism focusing on making intentional and uniquely personal choices is that it’s very flexible. There’s no one-size-fits-all, since what’s important to one person isn’t the same as what’s important to others. If certain material possessions provide a lot of value and enrichment to your life, by all means keep them. Minimalism can be for anyone!

Deliberate and Continual

Minimalism is a mindset and lifestyle.

Wanting to simplify one’s life so that it can be filled with things one values is a mindset/philosophy/way of thinking. It continues forever, affecting the decisions we make. It makes us more intentional about each and every one of our choices, affecting every aspect of life.