What is Minimalism? And What’s Really Stopping You From Giving It a Chance

Inside: What is minimalism? Defining minimalism and unpacking all the misconceptions that are stopping you from giving minimalism a chance. 

When you hear the word “minimalism” or “minimalist”, what comes to mind?

I’d bet money that single white guys with cold, very white, sparsely furnished apartments, owning less than 100 physical belongings come to mind.

Another image that may float to the top is a wealthier woman in her designer capsule wardrobe, sharing her thoughtfully (read: expensively) curated, beautifully decorated rooms all over Instagram – probably gushing about all the stuff she decluttered and how Marie Kondo completely changed her life?

Visions of t-shirts arranged accordion-style in drawers, walls with nothing on them, couches without throw pillows or blankets, extremely few gifts under the Christmas tree, never buying anything?

Depending on your background, what might also come to mind are financial and generational stereotypes/labels/adjectives:

  • Upper Class
  • Entitled
  • Millenial
  • No Kids

And because of those images, because of those stereotypes, because of those adjectives, you might have chosen until now to stay far, far away from minimalism.

But what if minimalism could completely change your life?

Because minimalism has given me so much, I wanted to tackle the biggest question most people have about minimalism, and the wrong answers that stop them from giving minimalism a chance in the first place.

What is minimalism really about? Get all your questions answered - to what minimalism IS and what it's NOT, so you can stop letting misconceptions hold you back from experiencing all the minimalism has to offer.

What is Minimalism?

The best definition of minimalism I’ve ever heard is from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist:

“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value, and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”

The phrase to focus on is “things we most value.”

Everyone is different; therefore, what everyone values most will be different.

So, what you think is clutter in your own home is going to be different than what your friend thinks is clutter in hers. What you choose to keep will be different than what your friend chooses to keep.

Back to those images I mentioned earlier. I know they are a huge hang-up for a lot of people who are curious about minimalism.

Minimalism is probably just a trend anyway, you reason.

You don’t want to jump on the bandwagon, give away half your stuff, paint your walls white, and then regret it all when the fad goes away. Especially when the types of people who call themselves minimalists are so very different then you.

So different that you can’t relate at all.

Or so you think…

What Stops People from Choosing Minimalism?

While I can’t answer that question for everyone, here’s what I think is the single biggest issue for most people (besides the stereotypes).

Ready?

When they ask the question, “What is minimalism?”, most people believe that minimalism is following a set of very specific rules.

Rules like:

  • You can only own a specific number of things.
  • Your home needs to look a certain way.
  • You need to know (and follow) all the rules to be an official minimalist (and join the club, of course).
  • You cannot, under any circumstances, keep anything sentimental.
  • Collections? They’re out for sure.
  • You need to be a naturally organized person.
  • You can only give experience gifts.
  • You must get rid of all your fun clothes and reduce your wardrobe to a pathetic, dreary collection of clothes that, when you stand in front of your closet in the morning, your heart fills with dread.

Do any of those “rules” sound like something you’ve thought when you ask the question, “What is minimalism”?

Well, I have something to tell you, something you really need to know about minimalism. You need to know because minimalism has SO much to offer you, and these ideas are holding you back from something that could change your life.

Here it is.

You don’t need to do or be any of those things.

Yep.

There really is no “right” way to do minimalism.

If you’ve read or listened to any minimalist who tells you differently, he or she is dead wrong.

Why Are There So Many Misconceptions About Minimalism?

The easiest place to start living a minimalist lifestyle is with our physical stuff.

Minimalism starts with decluttering our things because it’s tangible, relatively easy to grasp, and requires deliberate action. Decluttering offers such amazing benefits that people can’t help but embrace the rest of what minimalism has to offer.

However, because decluttering stuff is so tangible, people are just starting out with minimalism want numbers and rules and guidelines.

They want to know just how many things they should declutter and conversely, how many things they should keep.

  • How many toys?
  • How many knick-knacks?
  • How many clothes?
  • How many shoes?
  • How many dishes?

They ask for numbers, and they might even think they need to match the numbers they are given. Minimalists sometimes cave and give numbers, which turn into rules and misconceptions, which leads to curious non-minimalists thinking minimalism is all about rules. Even more so, they think minimalism is just about physical stuff, and it’s so much more than that!

And so, the cycle goes.

Let’s break that cycle, shall we?

Because minimalism shouldn’t bind you up. It should free you up, free you to do what you truly love to do, what you were made to do.

Minimalism focuses on getting rid of unnecessary physical items first because often those items suck up our time, our energy, and our focus.

They prevent us from doing what we love, or even knowing what we love to do (because we don’t have the time or energy to figure it out).

Misconceptions About Minimalism Gave Me Pause, Too

Guess what? All of those stereotypes and “rules”?

They stopped me from calling myself a minimalist for a long time, too.

Sure, I was very interested in [read: obsessed with] minimalism. I loved reading about minimalism all the time and decluttering was my favorite activity.

But I really didn’t love the label “minimalist”. It rolled uncomfortably off my tongue – and keyboard – every time I used it.

So, I avoided it for a long time.

But finally I realized that I didn’t want to call myself a minimalist because I didn’t think I measured up. Was I really a minimalist? It didn’t look like it compared to this blogger’s minimalist home or that bIogger’s minimalist home.

I knew that technically minimalism should look different for everyone, but the temptation to compare and feel less than minimalist was strong.

But then I heard several minimalists openly share about the ways they don’t follow classic minimalism teachings.

And I realized that they are people just like me, just like you. They come from a variety of backgrounds – different finances, educations, experiences.

Some are very influential in the minimalist world. Others are getting there, but for now are just minimalists sharing their stories about how minimalism has changed their lives with people like you.

I think their confessions will help you see that minimalism can be for you, too.

What is minimalism, anyways? There are SO many misconceptions out there about minimalism. Don't let these misconceptions hold you back from experiencing minimalism's benefits!

Minimalists Challenging Minimalist Stereotypes

Allie Cassazza

Allie Cassazza, creator of the world-renowned decluttering course for moms “Your Uncluttered Home”, shared on her podcast that she doesn’t have a capsule wardrobe.

Seriously, a capsule wardrobe! I was honestly surprised.

Capsule wardrobes seem to be something that most minimalist authors and bloggers consider a core minimalist lifestyle choice.

But guess what? She tried it for a year, and it did NOT bring her joy. It just didn’t work for her. So, she expanded her wardrobe, and finally loved getting dressed again.

Spending more than a few minutes getting dressed in the morning brings her joy. It’s worth it to her: the extra stuff and the extra time.

Is her wardrobe still intentional? Yes. But you can be a minimalist and ignore the extremely small capsule wardrobe suggestion.

Danaye Barahona, Ph.D.

Danaye Barahona, who writes at Simple Families, shared this photo on her Instagram feed this week:

That’s what her drawers look like. Her clothes aren’t folded the KonMari way.

They are literally dropped into her drawer.

She says it beautifully, “Minimalism allows me to be messy.”

Anonymous Minimalist Bloggers

Another minimalist blogger (wish I could remember who!) has a collection of elephant figurines. Yes, I said elephants.

She makes room for them because they bring her joy.

I read about another minimalist who has a collection of shot glasses. She and her dad built the collection together, and when he passed away, she decided to keep them, despite her minimalist lifestyle.

She keeps them because for now, they are special and help her remember her dad.

Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker, along with many of the minimalists I know and have already mentioned, became a minimalist because of his kids.

His story started with a choice of cleaning and reorganizing his garage versus playing with his son. A neighbor’s passing comment about minimalism woke him up to what his stuff was stealing from himself and his family.

Minimalism with kids is not only doable, but it’s a huge motivation for pursuing minimalism in the first place.

June Doran (me)

When I started my minimalist journey, we were living on a relatively low income for the city we lived in and a family our size. We were barely making ends meet.

But I figured out how to let go of my fear of getting rid of stuff and how to declutter on a low income (because it has it’s own unique set of challenges) with kids. There weren’t a lot of minimalism how-to guides that fit people on the other end of the income spectrum, and to be quite honest, most well-known minimalists weren’t coming from a place of less financially.

But I chose to pursue minimalism – and stick with – anyways.

Related: 8 Tips for Decluttering on a Low Income (from a mom who knows)

As you can see, if you based your answer to the question “What is minimalism?” on the lifestyle choices of various minimalists, you might end up very confused about what minimalism really is.

So, What Does It Really Mean to Be a Minimalist?

Minimalists intentionally live with less: less stuff, less excess, less busyness.

You don’t need to follow all the “rules” or even commonly shared minimalism ideas to be a minimalist.

How much less and what gets cut from your life in order to live with less will vary from person to person, depending on differences in interests, lifestyles, family size and housing.

You can be a minimalist with kids.

You can be a minimalist and have collections.

You can be a minimalist without a strict capsule wardrobe.

You can be a minimalist with a big house.

You can be a cozy minimalist (see this book).

You can be a minimalist who is naturally messy.

Minimalists are constantly questioning. They ask questions like:

  • “Why do I have this thing in my house? Is it really serving me and my family?”
  • “Why am I spending my time this way? Do I really need to participate in this activity?”
  • “Why am I spending my money this way? Do I really need this thing as much as I think I do?”
  • “How much time will it take to maintain this thing I want? Is my time worth the joy/value it will add to my life?”

We guard our homes and our calendars and our lives from excess stuff that doesn’t add value. We do our very best to make room for only the most valuable, the things most worthy of our time and attention.

But we don’t always do it perfectly. We are all a work in progress.

Minimalism is a journey, not a destination.

Give Minimalism a Chance

The more minimalists are honest about their differences, the more “rules” they break (and share how they’re breaking them), the things that set them apart from the minimalist next door, the more minimalism will feel accessible to others.

And that’s what we want!

That’s why minimalist bloggers and authors and course creators do what they do.

Because minimalism has helped us SO much that we want to share it with others. And we want to make it as accessible as possible.

I hope that after reading this, you give minimalism a chance.

You don’t need to call yourself a minimalist right away; I certainly didn’t.

But I’m urging you to just give minimalism a try! Don’t let the misconceptions, the “rules”, stop you.

Try decluttering a drawer, a closet, a room. Throw away stuff that’s broken and expired. Give away or sell stuff that you don’t use anymore, but someone else might need or want.

If throwing away stuff freaks you out (because you might need it/want it later), box it up for a few months. See if you even miss it.

See what living intentionally with less can do for you.

Minimalism just might change your life.

What do you think? How do you answer the question, “What is minimalism?” I’d love to hear your definition!

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