What is minimalism?

What is minimalism?
Minimalism (n):
- a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterised by extreme spareness and simplicity
- design using the bare essentials

What minimalism isn’t

Before we have a look at minimalism, let’s start with what minimalism is certainly not. It is not: getting rid of everything, living in a tiny house, eating 1 grain of rice for every meal, selling your car, middle-class, being an extreme environmentalist, boring, no fun, lonely or (self-) idolatry. For a more in-depth analysis of the misconceptions about minimalism look here.

Right now that’s out the way.

A philosophy of minimalism

Minimalism is intrinsically materialistic. “What?” You might say. “I thought minimalism was about getting rid of things, living with the essentials, not living in excess?” And you’re right. That is exactly why it is materialistic.

Contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton (the guy who started the School of Life, made popular on YouTube), would say that we don’t really “live in very materialistic times”. We don’t, in fact, desire material objects, but the rewards from acquiring those items: e.g. recognition of wealth or status, or, acknowledgement of taste in fashion. Yet, de Botton would argue that material items actually have another, purer purpose. A purpose to aid in self-development and knowledge, as well as to “play a positive psychological (or spiritual) role in our lives when higher more positive ideals are ‘materialised’ in them”.

Thus it comes to mean, good choices in our material possessions can change the way we live our lives, for the better. I believe this is the underlying purpose of minimalism: to make conscious decisions about what we own and dedicate time to in order to live a fuller, more purposeful life.

So what does this mean?

The first thing to understand about minimalism is that it is not a simple, thing you do. It’s much more than that. A way of life, built upon the aforementioned philosophy. In order to live a minimalist lifestyle, there is a lot of soul-searching that you must go through. Minimalism allows you to focus on what you love, and remove all the extra noise from your life. It is a way of living your life with intention and focus. By doing & having less, you create room for more (Makes sense right?).

The thing is, most of us don’t do this. Many of us are busy doing jobs we don’t like to buy things we don’t want. I spent most of my university life working part-time jobs in pursuit of a way to define myself as successful. Getting the newest phone, buying new shirts for work, travelling around London in taxis and paying for round after round of drinks. And it worked, others recognised me for it: I heard a ‘friend’ say once, “I love going out for drinks with Kevin, after a couple he just keeps buying rounds for everyone.” I was living a life focused on money & things because money & things make you happy. At least, that’s what I thought.

So when I found minimalism I wasn’t really sure I would get on with it. It didn’t really fit with my lifestyle. But when I gave it a chance and answered the questions posed to me honestly, I very quickly found that minimalist living was exactly what I was looking for all along. Minimalism has allowed me to: stop saying “yes” to everything, stop working in an industry that I didn’t enjoy and spend more time doing things I love, be closer to my family, have more money, get healthier, live moment to moment and travel.

“The more you know, the less you need” – Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia

Learn more … about yourself

The ultimate benefit of minimalism is discovering things about yourself that you don’t know. Self-discovery not only gives you a great buzz, but it allows us to make decisions more intelligently. By figuring out what you love doing, what your values are and where your life is failing you, you are able to take back control of your life and direct yourself onto the path you truly want to be on. So where do we start?

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What are my values in life?
  • What do I currently do, that I would rather not?
  • Which areas of life do I want to improve?
    • Split them up (e.g. Health / Relationships / Money / Work / etc.) and break these down further
  • What does my version of success look like?

Re-visit these a week later and then proceed to step 2 – Becoming a minimalist (link to follow).