What Minimalism Means to Me

Minimalism is all about adding value to your life. When people first consider minimalism, they tend to look at it as taking away parts of their life.

“I have to give up my possessions.” “I have to give up my time.” “Those damn minimalists think there’s too much in my life… Apparently I need to clear things out.”

Minimalism seems awful from this point of view. You worked hard for your possessions. You have a full calendar because you’re important and time is money!

I was lucky enough to be slyly dragged into minimalism, or at least the pursuit of it (refer to my wedding vows if you want proof – PURSUIT is all I promised). It was an idea that came into my world more than 5 years ago. I occasionally acknowledged it, especially when I was feeling overwhelmed by clutter or major time constraints that seemed insurmountable.

Minimalism was more of a go-to in times of cleaning crisis, like when I felt like I needed to complete some spring cleaning. Now, I can see that minimalism isn’t about spring cleaning – it’s about maintaining a level of clarity in every season.

In order for this to be an achievable change, it needs to be viewed as a lifestyle full of value. Rather than getting rid of something just because (or holding onto it just because), you have to ask yourself if it adds value – to your schedule, your home, your office, your attitude, your life.

If you can honestly and thoughtfully consider this, it is likely you will realize that many of the things you strive for are not adding true value. You’re going after them because they give off some kind of appearance of value – whether to your status, wealth, health or importance.

Minimalism is really about focusing on what you truly value, and then adjusting facets of your life until they line up. Yes, the result is usually less stuff and fewer obligations. But, that’s just a natural flow from focusing on what’s genuinely important to you.

There are a bunch of ways you can start this process, but I like this one: start with one room (bathroom), one drawer (that one full of random kitchen utensils), or one category (clothes).

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I use this item for?
  2. How much do I use it?
  3. Could something else do the same job?
  4. Do I move this to find another?

A basic example of this is a kitchen cabinet full of coffee mugs and cups. It could go something like this: I have this coffee mug. I don’t actually use it for anything, since the Starbucks mug is my favorite. I liked it before, but not so much anymore. Now I just push it away to find the Starbucks one. I would get rid of it, but I’m afraid my Starbucks mug might break and I will be without one… Maybe I should keep it, just in case.

That’s how my first conversations with myself went. Just in case is a fear based reaction. Even if your Starbucks mug breaks, you probably live less than 10 minutes from a Starbucks. You could purchase a new mug and would likely continue to push this one aside. It may seem like a bummer that you spent the money on the one you don’t like as much, but if it isn’t adding value to your life, don’t keep working around it. Just get rid of it. If, at one point, this was your favorite mug, great! It added value to your life for a season. But now that the season has passed, let it go. It can go add value to someone else’s life! (Donate your items – if it’s not trash, don’t put it in the trash!)

While this is a simple example, it holds true for everything you own and everything you schedule into your life. There are levels of sentiment attached to everything, but this can still apply pretty much everywhere.

Once you’ve allowed the question of value to become your knee-jerk reaction – instead of fear or apathy – you can apply it to un-purchased and unscheduled things. Then, there’s less of that “but I already bought it…” mentality. It will get easier for some things (cute dollar store junk) and stay hard for others (that purse at Target), but will be worth it for all.

There’s so much more I could say on this, and about 1,000 examples from my own life, but this is the overall idea, at least for what minimalism means to me. It’s not about taking something away. It’s about maximizing what you have and adding a deep appreciation of value. Once you get going, it can be so freeing!

*I wrote this more than a year ago, but it still mainly holds true. It’s a good reminder for our Buy Nothing challenge. Note that my obsession with Target purses has not diminished.

Also note that we own an apartment-ful of things and could definitely get rid of more. I still have to remind myself sometimes that it’s not about owning or not owning things – but that doesn’t make me a bad minimalist. I’m just a human working on recognizing and adding value to my little life.

As the official Minimalists say, “Love people, use things. The opposite never works.”

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