I’m often accused of being a minimalist. Thanks for that vote of confidence, I guess? Though I do try to minimise unnecessary stuff, I’m not quite a minimalist on that front.
But, what exactly is minimalism anyway?
Minimalism is a hard thing to define. Each person will look at it in a different way. And it’s not about owning a certain small number of things, or living without clutter, it’s not even really about stuff exactly. Well, it is and it isn’t.
There is an idea going around that becoming a minimalist will suddenly make you happier. It will free up your wallet and house and allow all of this other great shit to happen. Obviously, many people in our stuff obsessed western society are not exactly happy, so maybe if they get rid of the stuff they will be happier. That’s sound logic on the surface. The problem with this line of thought is that happiness doesn’t come from stuff. It doesn’t come from not having stuff either. Happiness has nothing to do with stuff.
Ok, so sometimes stuff does make us happy, but only for a short while. Look at what happens when you make a significant purchase.
Stuff has nothing to do with long term happiness, but I’m still a proponent of owning less
There are all kinds of other benefits to having less stuff. The gains I realise by actively seeking less clutter in my life are significant.
Minimal stuff out of necessity while traveling
When I’m on the road I can’t be bothered to haul a bunch of stuff around. It’s just too much work. So I basically have the bare minimum of clothes required for about a week, a toothbrush, a laptop, a camera and a kindle. All of that fits in a small backpack, which I can carry on an airplane without having to bother checking it.
More stuff would literally just slow me down, and I don’t usually need it anyway. And should I happen to need anything else while traveling I’ll borrow, or just buy it. It’s about having everything I need, and nothing that I don’t.
Minimal is cheaper
This one is pretty simple – the less shit you buy, the more money you have left over. Less stuff requires less space, so you can live in a smaller house, again, cheaper. It’s less work to clean as well.
Owning less stuff is also easier. I’ve lived in seven houses in the past ten years, every time I moved I had to drag all of my stuff with me.
On top of purchase price and storage costs, stuff also has a cost to maintain. Things break, wear out over time, become obsolete as technology evolves. You even have to pay to throw stuff away at the end. I tend to gravitate towards a few well made but expensive things, it’s usually cheaper in the long run.
Stuff actually takes up brain space
Your brain automatically catalogues all of your possessions. You memorise where you left things, what part goes with what, when you acquired something and how much it cost. I can tell you right now that my green climbing shoes are in the black duffel bag on the second shelf in the downstairs closet, I paid $89 plus tax for them at a local shop in the summer of 2004, and when I use them again I also need to remember to bring my chalk bag which is in an old wine box on the top shelf in the same closet, behind a heavy box that has speakers in it. Now that I think about it, it’s probably about time to resole those shoes.
It’s a lot of expelled brain space for something I just don’t care about. I’d rather think about more interesting things.
Minimalism is better for the environment
Another no-brainer here. The production of stuff requires materials and energy – neither of which we have an infinite supply of. This planet can not continue to support the current level of American consumerism, everyone is eventually going to need to waste less.
Most of the environmental costs of stuff are externalized. You don’t directly see them or pay for them, but they are huge. We are racking up a massive debt in the form of climate change. We will all eventually have to pay for that one way or another.
Minimal is creative
With a minimalists mindset you think instead of reaching for the wallet to solve problems. You create something out of what you already have instead of buying something new off the shelf. It’s more satisfying when you come up with your own solutions.
Minimalism isn’t just about the stuff
It’s also about increasing happiness by examining the activities and the people in your life.
Skip activities that don’t bring joy
It’s about shedding the extra activities in your life that don’t bring you happiness. Like that commute for example. Or perhaps that job. Or maybe it’s housecleaning that you abhore. Whatever it is that you dislike, you can take steps to minimise the amount of time spent doing those things.
Minimise scheduled activities
Over the last couple of years I’ve had a lot of time to think about this since I’m no longer stuck behind a stove. The conclusion I’ve come to thus far is that less scheduled activity does bring a slight boost to baseline happiness.
Too much planned in my day, even activities I enjoy, leads to higher stress. I’d rather my day have flow naturally as I follow my interests and desires. Too much planned activity cuts short the time in flow. Higher stress makes me less happy.
Limit the total number of activities
Is it better to do as many things as possible, or do a few things impactfully? Clear out all of the extra and focus on doing the things that truly matter to you. By minimising the total number of activities you free up more time and energy to do what really counts.
Figure out who you want in your life
You don’t need 2000 facebook friends. You do need a handful of good real life friends. Decide who you want in your life and surround yourself with people who bring joy and have meaning to you. Free up more time for impactful interactions with your real friends. Minimise the rest.
Minimalism is about other things too
It’s about looking at what’s important to you on all fronts, not just stuff, activities and interactions. It’s about asking what you really want to spend your limited time and energy doing. Everyone is going to come up with a different definition of minimalism, the important thing is that you are thinking about this at all.
So am I guilty of being a minimalist as accused? Sure. By my definition there are lots of compelling reasons to minimise. I think of it as a logical criteria to approach everything in life. Minimalism is a filter that helps me sort the things that truly matter from those that don’t.
Just because venn diagrams are so much fun.