What is minimalism? Is it counting the number of items you possess, owning a house with no decorations, or living in a tiny home? Not for me. Sure, those are options, but I prefer to think of minimalism in the broad sense of removing all the distractions, clutter, and non-important commitments in our lives so we can focus our attention on the things that truly matter. Practical Minimalism is the notion of understanding the elements of minimalism that can be usefully applied to reduce stress, develop physical/mental clarity, and fundamentally to makes our lives better.
Conceptually, minimalism is about having less of something. The first thought is often about our stuff, but realistically, a minimalistic lifestyle often exhibits itself by helping an individual remove the detrimental distractions to life. Removing stress, bad habits, debt, addictions, and clutter pave the way for clarity and focus in life. By removing negative things in our life we actually add to our overall satisfaction.
My forray into minimalism actually started with my stuff. I’ve had a tendency to collect things dating back to when I was a small child. The first time I backpacked in Europe the seed was planted. I lived in a large house throughout college and always kept my closets and storage areas packed with things. However, just by living out of a backpack for a short period, it finally clicked that having only the necessary can actually be freeing and mentally relaxing. The idea of practical minimalism slowly began to creep into other areas of my life.
A Brief History of Time
The notion of minimalism has certainly been around as an intentional lifestyle choice for thousands and thousands of years. It seems each new age has a slight twist to the branding, but fundamentally, moving towards a simple lifestyle and minimizing distractions has found a place in every modern (and even pre-modern) society. Across every continent, individuals of all types have written volumes of work about the practical benefits of simplicity.
Practical minimalism has been entertained with religious thought from the beginning of written history. Buddha, Muhammad, Gandhi, Seneca, Teresa, Jesus and the Stoics have all spoken or written about the distractions that can compete for living a fulfilled life. Often, our possessions, wealth, commitments, and relationships can lead us down paths of dissatisfaction. Although necessary and useful, these items can be leveraged for good, or they can move us further away from our goal. I think the end goal of minimalism is really about prioritizing the most important things in our life and making time and room for them.
Practical Minimalism For Us
It is not necessary to only own one pair of underwear and live in a hut by the lake to be a minimalist. You don’t even have to simplify every part of your life. Practical minimalism is about choosing the parts of our life that are over capacity and removing the waste until we have time to fit in our true priorities.
I have a lot of stuff. After slowly pairing down my possessions over the years, I’ve added more junk to my life the last two years than in the last ten before. I know that seems pretty counterintuitive to a wannabe minimalist, but buying a house and adding a few babies to the fam has certainly added to the number of things we own. It has been a challenge, but also a useful exercise in determining which items are actually useful and which are just part of the life-change marking machine.
For us, practical minimalism means constantly paring down, selling, or giving away objects we are not using. When our kids outgrow something, we take the time to give it away or sell it. It means getting rid of clothing that does not fit our current style or body shape. For us, it also means living in a small house and utilizing all the space we have efficiently. It means saying no to commitments that do not bring us value, even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings in the short-term. Practical minimalism has also changed the way we think about gifts and stuff for our children. We have switched our focus to a greater emphasis on experiences and consumables than junk that is fun for a while but later turns to clutter. When we do make purchases, we try to buy quality items that will last or that can be used by someone else when we are finished with them.
The process of moving toward minimalism started with a vacation. Then a book. Then a few observations about life. I have found that personally I’m happier with less junk in my life. So I started with the physical. I got rid of almost anything I didn’t use consistently or anything that was of no immediate value. We moved into an apartment 1/3 the size of our first condo and I even got rid of my box for Justin Case and learned that cash is better than a big closet.
I sold a bunch of stuff. Next, I tackled my calendar and spent quite a bit of time looking at my relationships. I read a lot of books, tried a few things, and distilled what worked for me. Here is a list of resources for self-examination and different approaches to minimalism:
Blogs – Zen Habits – Take some time to pour through the archives. One of the most complete resources online.
The end goal of minimalism is actually quite practical. It is to simplify our lives. To get rid of the crap we don’t need and make time for the things that matter. Our tendency is to add more and more without ever stopping to take the time to get rid of the things that clutter our lives. So the process begins by taking inventory of where we are. Next, we must think about where we want to go and develop a plan to get there. Practical minimalism is often a gateway to helping get to the place where we want to be in life.
Are you a minimalist? Any areas where life and junk tend to accumulate? Do you like the idea of minimalism?