Understanding the basics of minimalism


Minimalism is a new buzz word, isn’t it? It used to be about architecture and design, but recently it’s become a new fad in which privileged bachelors denounce their worldly goods- and in some cases, even their high paying jobs- and hit the road to do as they please.

I’ve come across quite a few camps of thinking on minimalism and what it means. There are those who count their possessions- 100 or less, and there are those who are not happy unless they live in a pristine white environment. But if one thing were constantly true about minimalism, it’s that it is personal.

I think we get hung up on the wrong values in minimalism. For example, instead of counting how many objects we own, shouldn’t we be counting how many hours we spend on Facebook instead of with our family? I always feel really sad when I happen across an ex-minimalist, professing their love of possessions and “freedom to relax”, but I’m also equally saddened when I read about someone ejecting a pen from their apartment to justify buying a new dress that they really loved.

dining room

Do you know what *I* think minimalism is?

Minimalism- love it or use it.

Minimalism is anti-consumerist. That is, minimalists are anti-consumers. They think objectively about what they purchase and why. Most also think about sourcing- the production of what they buy. This applies to their hard goods for the household, their food, and even their services. Some try to support small businesses, and some are locovores. But at the end of the day, minimalists are not impulse or leisure shoppers. They do not care about labels or brand names, or keeping up appearances. They don’t pay homage to commercials. They are not brand-loyal. Minimalists look The Man in the face, tell him to go F himself, and laugh at the threat of poverty. We say, “We don’t need your useless crap. I am good enough. I can be happy.”

Minimalism is a form of higher thinking. It is realizing that material gain is not what makes us happy- experience does. It is realizing that our attachment to this world is limited to this existence. It is having a higher consciousness of our carbon footprint. It is also about realizing and acting against global inequality. It is refusing to bow down to marketing that tells us we cannot live without something. It is excepting our unique selves and imperfections.

Minimalism is a form of freedom. Without excessive services or belongings, we no longer have to account for so much, spend weekends cleaning or decluttering, constantly clean our home, or worry about storage. Minimalists don’t pay for storage bins. They do not concern themselves with holiday shopping. Minimalists are self-assured- they make choices in the face of adversity that suit their needs. Minimalism is always being ready for company. Minimalism is release from a society that tells you that you are perpetually dissatisfied with what you have.

Minimalism is a world reality and first world privilege. People in other countries do not have the privilege of practicing minimalism- they are forced to practice it. It is practiced intentionally by people who have escaped consumerist culture. Minimalism can also mean buying higher quality goods because money is being funneled in a single direction instead of multiple directions. Minimalism often leads to emergency savings funds and leisure trips or vacations.

I do not know how many of each item I possess, but I have only been to the mall twice in five years. I do not buy new clothing unless it’s underwear or socks. I do not know what brand my shoes are. But I know they are vegan.

In short, my lifestyle is in line with my values. Instead of cleaning constantly, I can garden to make flowers for our dwindling bee populations and grow safe organic food. Instead of stockpiling supplies in my home, I think about where packaging goes once I’ve used a product. I make super meaningful and useful gifts. I frequent the library. I don’t overload my schedule because it means I would be compromising my personal care and happiness. I make choices that make me happy instead of what people say or think I should do.

Minimalizing simplifies your life in every area, not just material possessions.


Some hard questions that you might ask yourself while purging your crap that is ruining your happiness are these:

  • Are these books that I like my identity, or are my own thoughts and reflections of their material my identity?

Your books are not your identity. I’m a total Potter Head. I am not the Potter series. No one cares if I own the series. I am not less of a Potter head.

abes mess

Have some books.

  • Do I love this thing or do I feel afraid to live without it?

Are you afraid that living with a microwave will be too inconvenient? Have you TRIED to live without certain objects? One method to minimalism is to box up everything you own, and gradually pull it out as you need it over a set period of time. This obviously doesn’t apply to seasonal items.

  • Do I use this, or am I afraid I will need it?

How many sewing machines do you own in case one breaks? Cell phones? If you’re afraid you’ll need a replacement of something, consider putting money in a savings account.

  • How many hobbies do I think I need?

Go through your hobby supplies and make a list of the projects that each supply demands. You might be surprised to see yourself pulled in so many directions that you couldn’t possibly choose one. Choose a few, and let the rest go. Be realistic about your time restraints.

art supplies

  • Is it realistic that I’m going to sell this, and will the money be worth my time?

The other name for Ebay is “Pain In The Ass”. The other name for Freecycle is “I left this on my doorstep for you.”

  • Is this object something I appreciate it, or am I equating it with the person who gave it to me?

Your great aunt’s china is not your great aunt. If you hate it, get rid of it or offer it back.

  • Will someone else use or love this? Need it?

Are you seriously going to wear those maternity clothes again, or will a teen mother’s shelter use them with gratitude? Who is going without shoes so you can have 12 pair?

  • Who can I benefit by passing this into the community?

Animal shelters need a surprising variety of weird things. They recently got all of my mascara stained washcloths.

abe's clothes

  • If I suddenly need one of these, how much will it cost to replace it, or who can I borrow/trade from?

My mom got rid of all her drills. Then I needed one. It didn’t cost much to replace. Yet all of those drills took up an entire box in her storage space.

  • When was the last time I needed this?

Also known as, “Why do I still own a breast pump and art supplies from a class I took in 2004?”

  • If I get rid of these baby items or art work, will I retain their memories?

Yes. Especially if you take pictures of them and/or get a digital picture frame. Unless your child has passed on, consider appreciating them at their current life stage instead of living for the days that you had no sleep and they kept pooping. Oh ya, those memories, right?

  • Do I even like to use this item?

Do you like those generic candle holders? Probably not. Most decorations have zero meaning. So get rid of them and either do without (re: no dusting) or replace them with something meaningful that inspires you.

  • Can I replace this item I use everyday with a quality item that better suits my needs?

I assure you that it is probably time to replace your socks and towels. And maybe even your sheets. And teflon cookware. You get the idea.

  • Am I going to actually fix this?

That answer usually depends on how long it’s been broken. If it’s been awhile, you probably don’t even need it.

  • Is this organized in a way that is functional?

Is your kitchen organized in a way that makes it easy to cook? Is your family area designed for people to gather together?

abe's clothes 2

  • Does this furniture work for my body?

Also known as, “Why am I sleeping on a bed frame when I’m 4’10”?”

  • Do I have this because society tells me I should?

Like holiday decorations, curtains, picture frames, coffee tables, etc.

  • What will people think if I….”

“…..only get my kids 2 presents for the holidays, stop shaving my armpits, get rid of the sofa, and trade in my car for a bike?” Who cares? Do they pay your bills? No. When they pay your bills, you can care what they think. Or not.

  • Will I wear this again?

Does it fit? Is it flattering? Does it need mending? Is it in style? Is it functional? Take out the items from your closet that you can remember wearing recently OR that you absolutely LOVE. If you hesitate, you don’t love it. Then put things with them that are mix and match or that compliment them. If you don’t have anything, put it back or get something that will compliment it and other outfits. Then get rid of the rest of that stuff in your closet. It’s mocking you. If you lose weight, you’ll want new clothes. If you gain weight, you’ll need something more flattering. Don’t let it stare you in the face every morning, telling you that you’re imperfect and dissatisfied. Love your body TODAY.

So now that you’ve got all this crap out of your house, what are you going to do, right? You’re going to sit down and write down real life goals that have nothing to do with acquiring “things” and you’re going to find a way to go after them. You’re going to go do things that make you happy instead of getting “things” to fill that void. That’s how it works.




6 thoughts on “Understanding the basics of minimalism

  1. Just what I was looking for. I am in the process of purging, and the thought came to me the other day…so easy to accumulate and consume-not so easy to purge.
    Great blog Kate…very inspiring!

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