What is Minimalism?

“Minimalism” is something of a buzzword at the moment.  There are swathes of blogs, podcasts and Instagram accounts dedicated to it.  In a lot of cases, people use the word “minimalist” to describe a design or fashion aesthetic that is very clean and bare-bones.  It brings to mind images of women in monochromatic sack-dresses with blunt haircuts and bright lipstick.  For the last couple of years I’ve been exploring minimalism not as a fashion statement, but rather as a lifestyle.

Photo credit: “Letting Go” by Syamir

In my world, minimalism is less about how you look and more about your approach to life.  It’s keeping what you need and jettisoning anything unnecessary.  It’s pruning your life to just the bare bones, and letting go of items, ideas and practices that aren’t serving you.

I came to minimalism about two and a half years ago.  At the time I was feeling overwhelmed in many aspects of my life.  I was overworked and struggling to find time to myself.  When I did have time to myself, I was stifled by the number of personal projects that I was working on.  My flat was overflowing with clutter and I couldn’t open a cupboard without ten things falling out to meet me.  I felt like my life was a massive tangled ball of yarn, and I didn’t even know where to begin untangling it.

I starting thinking about how I could pare down my life to make things a bit simpler and smoother for myself.  That’s when I started exploring minimalism.  I found bloggers like The Minimalists, Jenny Mustard and Madeleine Olivia and was inspired by their journeys.  I realised that I was never going to be able to find more hours in the day to do all the things I wanted.  If I kept trying to cram as much as possible in I was going to be perpetually frustrated and tired.  I decided that what I needed was have fewer things to divide my focus and time between.

The easiest thing to tackle was the physical “stuff”.  I spent six months slowly and methodically clearing out my home.  I emptied every drawer, every cupboard, ever shelf and ruthlessly disposed of anything that didn’t belong.  I have always enjoyed cleaning out my stuff, but I’ve never done it with such a cutthroat attitude before.  I donated bags of clothes that didn’t fit me (and never will) which were making me feel terrible.  I gave away at least a hundred books that I will never read again.  I binned bags of kitchen gadgets that I never touched.  I thew away gifts from exes and stacks of birthday cards and all the sentimental items I had been clinging to.  And I felt amazing.

To balance the purge of physical stuff I had to address my spending habits.  I put myself on a strict financial diet.  I scrutinised my spending habits and realised that I often used shopping as a hobby, seeing it as a fun way to spend an afternoon.  I’d go to the mall without a specific thing in mind. I’d browse and buy a stack of things I didn’t even feel connected to, usually because they were on sale.  Coming home with bags full of stuff gave me a feeling of abundance.  It made me feel like I’d accomplished something.  I needed to find ways to stem my shopping habits without feeling deprived.  I focused on spending my weekends writing, crafting, reading and doing the things that made me feel happy.  I stopped shopping with no agenda and buying things just because they were cheap.  I became much more selective about what I’d bring into my home.

Recognising the role that shopping played in my emotional world was a big step.  Once I dealt with those feelings, I was ready to start looking at the other areas of my life that needed attention.  I began tidying up my social calendar, giving myself permission to say “no” to invitations, to classes, to new hobbies that didn’t excite me.  I allowed myself to let go of the things I felt I “should” be doing rather than the things I truly wanted to be spending my time on.  I stopped following people online that made me feel shitty about myself.  I went through my to-read list and struck off all the books that I felt I was “supposed” to read.  I looked at my grooming habits and identified the ones that made me feel good, and the ones that were fuelled only by self-consciousness.  I started making deliberate choices about the way I presented myself, the things I spent my money on and the way I spent my time.

To me, minimalism is about distilling all the things in your life down to the things that feel essential to you.  It’s about identifying what’s most fulfilling and jettisoning the things that you do because you feel you “should”.  It’s about being purposeful and deliberate.

This definition highlights the fact that minimalism looks different to everyone.  What’s “essential” is vastly different from person to person.  For example, there are minimalists who are perfectly happy with a capsule wardrobe.  I tried this last year and absolutely hated it.  I love having a wardrobe of beautiful clothes that make me happy to dress up in.  Capsule wardrobes don’t work for me, but making more careful choices about the clothes I buy and the things I keep does.  Minimalism isn’t about sticking to a set of structured “rules”, it’s about deciding what makes sense for you to let go of in order to have more time, space and energy to focus on the things you need.

Minimalism also isn’t a quick fix.  It’s a long, sometimes painful, process of cleaning, examining, experimenting, negotiating and pruning.  Everyone’s path is a little different, and it’s entirely up to you how you manage it if you choose to try minimalism.

I’ve personally found minimalism works well for me.  I feel happier and more self-aware.  I’m more focused and I feel that I’m a more “me” version of myself than I was before I started on this path.   I’m more satisfied with what I have and my anxiety has died down.  To me, minimalism is about figuring out who you are, what matters to you, and letting go of all the “shoulds” and “supposed-tos”.  It’s strange to say it, but sometimes fewer is freer than more.

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