What is Minimalism?

I have written a lot about Minimalism, but it occurred to me recently I have never offered you all a definition. The more I read and discover about Minimalism the more I realise it means a lot of different things to different people. And the more I talk to people in my daily life about Minimalism the more I realise that a lot of people in my life seem to have misunderstood it somewhere along the way.

So let's set things straight shall we.

I personally like "The Minimalists" definition, which is that Minimalism is about letting go of anything that doesn't add value. This is such an objective way to view things, and unlike other approaches emphasising feelings, this approach recognises the practicality of things, and not just the enjoyment element. 

So when people tell me they couldn't be a Minimalist because they could never git rid of a certain object, I realise that they have misunderstood minimalism. The idea is not to rid yourself of any and all possessions, and undertake some extreme survival experiment whereby you see how little you can live with. But instead to ensure that all those things in your home, in your life, that you devote so much time to, whether it's cleaning them, maintaining them, storing them, tidying them etc. are all actually things you derive some sort of value from having.

This is why Minimalism will look different for every single person. What you find value in may not be something I have any use for. I personally do not own any (physical) books. I used to have a lot of books but when I questioned why I owned them I had to get very honest with myself. There were many reasons, some more ridiculous than others. For instance, part of me was holding on to a strange, no doubt Disney induced, notion that one day we would have a library in our home (I know, crazy!) so we would need a lot of books to fill it with. This may seem ludicrous but growing up there was a small space in our home (a large corridor really) that we called "The Library", so I'm inclined to blame my parents! I also wanted any guests to our home to know I could read, and not just that I could read, but how well read I was, and I liked how intelligent my books made me look. Now whilst I'll accept I'm probably on my own with the library idea, I bet this last one niggles at a few of you at least. If I were to ask you to turn all of your books round so you could not see the titles (I wouldn't ever actually ask this, I know it looks ridiculous!) how would that make you feel? How many would you still want to keep if no one would ever know you owned them? 

For me the question that got me to zero books was "am I ever going to read this again?" and whilst I enjoy reading a lot, I just about have time for the new books I want to read, I definitely don't have time to re-read books. And more importantly if I did want to re-read any of my books, since none of them were rare or collectible, I could very easily purchase a digital copy to read (I do own quite a few digital copies of books) or head to my local library and borrow it.

I use this example to make a point, not to convince you to ditch all your books, (but you can if you want.) The point is this; I believed books added value to my life, but in my pursuit of minimalism discovered this was in fact no longer true. If you are having palpitations at the thought of "no books" then there is a very good chance that books add a lot of value to your life. So please keep them, minimalism demands you keep them in fact. Getting rid for getting rids sake is not minimalism. I often see amongst minimalists I follow online an almost zero tolerance policy to stuff, and it feels quite competitive, or just for appearances sake. The minimalist with the least things is not the "Winner" so lets quit the numbers game already ok?

People's gut reaction to the word "Minimalist" is always to name the thing they can't part with, and for some reason seem to assume I want them to get rid of. Something you value, but you know the world does not. People often say to me "but I love my clutter," I think what they mean by "clutter" is the visible items that fill their homes, that they enjoy being surrounded by. These are not the things Minimalism wants you to let go of. It is simply the excess, the things you neither want or need. Simply, the things that do not add value. If it makes you smile, then it is adding value, please, keep it.

I can honestly tell you I have never given away or let go of anything that I love. That is not minimalism. When you say "but I could never part with..." you miss the point.

Sure there have been things I have gotten rid of that I once believed I could never part with. But here's the thing, the art of letting go is something we learn, a skill to be honed. The first round of decluttering is the stuff you have been meaning to ditch for ages. The second round the questions get asked and it starts to get harder, but each time you approach your stuff you will find you can part with more.

It took me years to get boxes upon boxes of sentimental items down to one small shoe box (you can read about that process here). I had to have a fresh realisation each time I tackled it as to what was really adding value. 

It isn't always glaringly obvious what isn't adding value, which is why our homes are overwhelming us with how much stuff they contain, how much cleaning they need, and how much time is spent doing laundry for all the clothes we just have to have. However, once you start to look at your stuff more objectively and question why you own it and whether it adds value, I think you will be surprised by how much you can actually live without.

The main objective for me of a Minimalist life style is not to see how little I can survive on, but in fact to live a life of contentment. I often quote Mary Ellen Edmonds, who said "Wanting less is a far better blessing than having more." That for me is what being a Minimalist is all about. Taking a step back from a society that will convince you daily that you need more, you have not got enough and that you indeed are not enough. It is trying to sell you a happy ever after, and trying it's hardest to stop you from seeing you are already living one. As soon as you stop the pursuit of more, of newer, of bigger, of better, and the sooner you realise happiness is not a destination, the sooner you can start to fully enjoy the life you are living right now, not the one you've been coveting on Instagram.

I am not convinced that any random person could walk into my house and leave knowing I am a minimalist, but I do know that everything in my house is adding value, either to me or my children. If not then it belongs to my Husband ;)

Often the misconception with Minimalism is that it is a form of deprivation. However, the more you understand minimalism the clearer it becomes that you are in fact enriching your life, not depriving it. The letting go of the excess actually brings with it freedom, and for me it has brought a much fuller and more content life than I have ever known before.




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