The Freedom of Minimalism

Person holding rainbow colored umbrella in front a snowy pond
Photo by Anastasiya Yilmaz on Unsplash

Several years ago, I began to take my first steps down the path of minimalism.  However, I did not just wake up one day and decide to become a minimalist, first I was led to the concept through a desire to become debt-free, and then the goal to go plastic-free and live a more sustainable lifestyle, as I wrote about in my article entitled How Dave Ramsey and Going Plastic-free led me to Minimalism. I discovered and reviewed The Minimalists’ first film,  and that led me to read several of their books including Everything That Remains, which I reviewed as well. From there, it blended into the countercultural concoction of plastic-free, zero-waste, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, protecting-the-earth-and-animals-lifestyle I am striving toward. I now follow quite a few minimalists, have read Marie Kondo’s books, participate in Project 333, and I’m even considering living in a tiny house someday.

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” -Democritus

What is Minimalism?

There’s not one single definition for minimalism and it’s often misunderstood. It’s about living with less physical items to free up space in your home, mind, and heart for the more important things in life.

“Minimalism is simply removing the things that remove you from your life.” Courtney Carver, bemorewithless.com and creator of Project 333

“Minimalism is not a numbers game…It’s about finding the perfect balance of enough. It’s learning to be content with what you have.” -Kathryn Kellogg, goingzerowaste.com

“It’s simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much.” -Leo Babauta, author and minimalist

“What Minimalism is really all about is reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff — the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities — that don’t bring value to your life.” -Colin Wright, minimalist and author

As all minimalists will point out, minimalism does not mean barren walls and living bored. It doesn’t mean not owning nice things, in fact, it often means owning fewer but higher quality items. It does not mean you can’t entertain, have children, or limit belongings that are essential to your life. Minimalism means living intentionally. It also aligns with environmentalism and sustainability.

Boy with blue sled in snow
Photo by me

Why minimalism?

“It’s a way to escape the excesses of the world around us — the excesses of consumerism, material possessions, clutter, having too much to do, too much debt, too many distractions, too much noise. But too little meaning.” -Leo Babauta, author and minimalist

All of the minimalists I’ve mentioned have websites, books, and podcasts dedicated to the why, and I encourage you to delve into those. Some of the reasons include having more time, eliminating debt, finding true purpose in life, living cleaner, and pursuing passions and hobbies. The Minimalists wrote, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

“minimalism is freedom from the modern rush…We are too hurried, too frenzied, and too stressed. We work long, passionate hours to pay the bills, but fall deeper into debt. We rush from one activity to another – multitasking along the way – but never seem to get everything done.” We can try to live within our means and we might find ourselves much more content.

Courtney Carver described in her book, Project 333, that after going minimalist and downsizing from a large house to a small apartment, she knew she “had made the right decision when my husband woke up one Saturday morning and said, ‘Guess what I’m not doing today? I’m not raking leaves, mowing the lawn, replacing the roof, or negotiating with neighbors to replace the fence.’ Instead, we went for a hike.” How lovely!

Couple walking in winter forest
Photo by Arina Krasnikova from Pexels

Consumer Culture

“We own too much stuff. And it is stealing our joy.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Why do we have so much stuff?

A great deal of our desire for excess possession comes from our culture, which pushes and praises consumerism. In fact, we are told that we are good citizens if we consume and spend. We grow up to get a job so that we can buy property, cars, trendy clothes, and all the things we’ve been told will make us happy. Ownership has typically been viewed as a sign of success. We are exposed to an average of 5,000 advertisements daily and told that we need more, to be more. Joshua Becker wrote, “Minimalism is countercultural. It is contrary to every advertisement we have ever seen because we live in a society that prides itself on the accumulation of possessions.”

“Living doesn’t cost much, but showing off does.” -Jeffrey D. Sachs, economist and author

This consumer culture leads us to compare our lives and our stuff to that of others, which causes consumer competition. This fills our homes with unnecessary belongings and creates discontent.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Child being pulled in sled in snow with rainbow winter hat
Photo by Marcel Walter on Unsplash

Organizing

I used to believe organizing was the key to having a clean home and an easy lifestyle. I’ve spent hours of my life organizing and reorganizing my belongings, believing I was doing something good and healthy. I would spend hours online learning organizing methods and ideas. I loved organizing so much that at one point I even wanted to become a certified professional organizer so I could do it for a living. Now I see the errors of my ways. The best organizing is not having excess amounts of items to organize. The Minimalists wrote an article entitled “Organizing is Well-Planned Hoarding,”3 and I completely agree.

“You don’t have an organization problem, you have a too-much-stuff problem…You don’t need to organize more, you need to own less.” -Erica Layne, author of The Minimalist Way

The excess stuff gets in our way and limits us as every possession must be cared for, cleaned, and maintained. “Each one will require time, energy, and effort once they enter your home,” Joshua Becker said. If you own less stuff, you don’t need to shop at stores like The Container Store (a former favorite of mine), and this saves time as well. I’ve gotten rid of so much that I was able to sell most of my storage containers at my last yard sale.

“It is better to own less than to organize more.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Girl making a snow angel
Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

Teaching Our Kids

If we have children it is imperative that we pass down the belief and understanding that relationships, love, giving, and contentment are far more important than any item they can ever buy. If we at least have what we need, the basic necessities, then everything else is a blessing.

“We must teach our kids how to handle envy and how to overcome it. It is important we help them learn how to focus on the positive, the shortsightedness of comparison, and the foolishness of jealousy. We should teach them to be generous and grateful, and to celebrate the success of others.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Man skiing with dog
Photo by Puneeth Shetty on Unsplash

Less Is More…

Sometimes, as the saying goes, less is more. Owning only the things that add value and joy to your life. Participating only in those events that bring fulfillment. Spending time with those we love. Learning to be content with all that we do have.

“Modern society has bought into the lie that the good life is found in accumulating things – in possessing as much as possible…Minimalism brings freedom from the all-consuming passion to possess…It values relationships, experiences, and soul-care. And in doing so, it finds life.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Less Is Now!

Though I’m not yet fully living the minimalist lifestyle I seek, I’m continually inspired by minimalism. It is a process and I’m working that process.

So I was very excited to learn The Minimalists are coming out with a new Netflix documentary, coming out today! What a great way to start the new year! The trailer alone inspired me to write this post, and I thought I’d dedicate my first post of this year to minimalism. Because minimalism has something positive to offer all of us, on some level.

Happy New Year! Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “What Is Minimalism?,” by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.

Article, “What is Minimalism? Maybe it’s not what you think,” by Courtney Carver.

Book, 101 Ways To Go Zero Waste, by Kathryn Kellogg, 2019.

FAQs, “Minimalist FAQs,” by Leo Babauta.

Article, “Minimalism Explained,” by Colin Wright, September 15, 2010.

 

Footnotes:

Film Review: “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things”

Minimalist space, dining room with living space and windows overlooking water in background.
Image by Jean van der Meulen from Pixabay

How might your life be better with less? Ponder that for a moment. And then please read on!

Have you seen this documentary? That’s the question Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus pose. It’s about more than just minimalism in relation to stuff. It’s about the over-consumptive, planned obsolescent, mass-marketed culture that we live in, and how dissatisfied we are in our culture. A “documentary about the important things” really means just that. It’s not the stuff in our lives that’s important. Check out the trailer:

It leaves an impression

I watched this about a year and a half ago, and I liked it. But I recently re-watched it, after having gone through all the changes our family has gone through since watching it the first time: eliminating many toxic products; reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; getting away from plastic products; reducing our household waste; etc. We got rid of stuff and had a big yard sale. We’ve been constantly reducing our material possessions, little by little, because it’s a process. So this time I viewed it with a new perspective!

And I was even more impressed by it. In the first few minutes, it featured video footage of the same Black Friday videos I had watched when I wrote my article on the consumer day of insanity! I was captured by the documentary for a second time.

These guys are really awesome and other than their book, they’re not selling anything. They are trying to spread the idea of minimalism and living life in the pursuit of happiness.

But what is minimalism?

I know it sounds like a trend, and it’s hard to define in one quick sentence. But it’s really just a way of living, and it can be different for everyone. It does not mean you give up all of your possessions, your house, your car, your boat. etc. It just means refocusing your life on what’s most important to you. It’s about becoming aware of your life and your behaviors.

The Minimalists, Millburn and Nicodemus, have a website where you can read about how they define minimalism. But here’s what they call an “elevator pitch” definition:

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

Define success and happiness for yourself

We live in a society that teaches us that success is defined by income and material possessions. Earn more, buy more, buy bigger. What if we all start defining success in a different way? Success can be measured in so many other ways than by career title, income, and how big your house is! Let’s decide for ourselves instead of letting society do it for us.

Maybe you want to spend more time with your children. Maybe that means you quit working 60 hours a week for a smaller salary. Perhaps you’re tired of working all the time to pay the big mortgage payment on the big house. That could mean moving into a smaller home, with a smaller mortgage, with fewer belongings; the trade-off might be having more cash for travel, spending less time cleaning the home, and less stress because your finances are less stretched. It could be any number of scenarios. Again, how might your life be better with less?

The Environmental impact of Minimalism

Consumerism is also ruining the environment through the sheer production of so much stuff! The less we consume, the less we waste. Watch The Story of Stuff for the environmental impacts of the cycle of production and consumption. You buying less means money for other things and less pollution – that’s a win-win!

The film is available on Netflix. If you don’t have Netflix, it’s available for rent or purchase on Amazon as well. Remember to always check your local library first. The Minimalists have two TED Talks as well, both worth watching. This one, entitled “The Art of Letting Go,” I found to be really moving:

I really like these guys. I don’t know if they’ll be touring again, but if they do, I hope to go see them. Their book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, is equally inspiring. I highly recommend reading this book and viewing the film as well. Also check out my review of their newest book, Everything That Remains.

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life book cover

We all have the power to make our lives better. And we all have the power to make great changes to the environment. I’m going to keep striving for less stress, less waste, and more happiness. What will you do? What improvements in your own life can you make?

Feel free to leave me a comment below. As always, thanks for reading!