What is minimalist living?

A few weeks ago, Dawn at Frugal For Life talked about what minimalist living really is. Sure, it might include white, bare walls and a single tulip in the middle of the table, or owning only a few clothing outfits. But it is less than that. Just as Martha Stewart is an aspiration (for some people) instead of a realistic lifestyle, the white couches in architecture magazines are from a nonexistant utopian world without dirt. Minimalism seeks happiness and satisfaction with less. Yet we buy into unrealistic visions of being minimalist enough, as if there is a rule that we aren’t a real minimalist unless we live like the magazine pictures. Heaven forbid we set anything down on our pristine granite countertops!

Here are some random pokings at the question. Knowing that we’ll never meet the theoretical ideal, minimalist living strives toward:

  1. Skill rather than thing.
  2. Why must I buy this? instead of why not buy this?
  3. Realizing it probably won’t come in handy.
  4. Spare is beautiful.
  5. More kitchen gear rarely improves the meal.
  6. If you don’t have it, you don’t have to dust it. If you have to keep it, hide it, and you still don’t have to dust it.
  7. When making a drink coaster from a CD, just place CD on table and set a drink on it. This does does not require a knitted cover, no matter how frugal. 🙂

As Dawn mentions, there’s a difference between being a minimalist at heart and struggling to figure out ways to make it work, versus thinking that you ought to be a minimalist, and struggling to try and become one. The latter is destined for failure – fighting desire through denial is incredibly difficult. Remove or subdue the desire first, and the struggle largely dissipates. I am happier when I move toward minimalism, but still struggle with doing it in a way that makes sense. I fail all the time, but that’s OK.


29 Responses to “What is minimalist living?”

  1. Jim says:

    I agree. I have been thinking about a more compact/minimalist lifestyle for some time. While environmental and cost concerns are there, my main goal is simplicity. I assume that everything I possess will end up in a landfill (another issue) eventually. I also do not want to burden my children with the sorting out and disposing of my accumulated junk. We really can do without so much of what we believe, and are told, we must have (and is readily available).

  2. Boba Long says:

    It would seem to me, that those who are really minimalists are living independently on less than $600/month. I am aware of lots of people who are doing this and surviving. If you are spending more, I wouldn’t think that you are really a minimalist. You are just pretending.

  3. Stacy says:

    I think that a lot of people equate minimalism to frugality, but just because someone lives a minimalsist lifestyle doesn’t mean that they spend less money, it means they spend their money on less. If I own 1 pair of $100 jeans and my friend owns 5 pair of $20 jeans, who is more of a minimalsist? Being a minimalist doesn’t mean sacrificing quality, it means sacrificing quantity. You can’t put a dollar value on being a minimalsit. I live in a 1 room (not 1 bedroom, just one room) apartment in a major city and $600 doesn’t come close to paying my rent. Could I get by paying less? Yes, but I would have to move to an area where my personal safety was compromised. I want to live minimal because I choose to, not because someone breaks into my apartment and steals all of my stuff. I suppose I could be homeless and be able to fit all of my possessions in a grocery cart…would I be more of a minimalsist then? Minimalism is about practicality and simplicty, not about spending less.

  4. Isarian says:

    I’ve been starting to work towards a minimalist lifestyle. I actually find it very soothing to get rid of things I don’t really need – it’s even a bit addictive. At this point all I’ve got left are my clothes, books (a lot of those) and mementos (one big box). It feels fantastic, and I’m looking forward to building that into my daily life as well. ^_^ Also, thank you for those 6 suggestions!

  5. su'zette says:

    Stacy you hit right on the button. Practicality and simplicity. You go girl……..

  6. Alison says:

    I have gone through an incredible journey over the last decade -made money, blew it, moved so many times I have come to absolutely despise STUFF. I hate storing it, moving it, cleaning it. It is the clutter that weighs me down and( often can keep anyone stuck in the past). As a professional interior designer who has performed in home consultations since 1990 that empower not overpower my clients to make smart, sensible and inexpensive decorating decisions that improve their lives, all I can say is, less is so very much more. I will be satisfied with my kittys and my 1932 baby grand. I’ve found that blow up beds (used lately when I was moving) are a tremendous improvement in comfort over the $700 mattress and box I purchased just last year and just sold for near nothing. Ridiculous to think what I have spent and sold over 12 months time. If I could get everything I wanted and needed in a backpack (okay, a Suburu Forester) I would do it – with the exception of the piano. Minimalism is true freedom and I think it is where many Americans are headed – fed up with debt and clutter.

  7. Andrea says:

    I have gone on shopping tangents, redecorated, purged, and then started over. What a total waste of time and money, not to mention how much damage I alone have caused the environment. I am a repeat offender too. Yes, I feel guilty. I should have just adopted a homeless animal and allotted my extra time to giving it a better life. I get inspiration from reading blogs from those who have decluttered and gotten away from consumerism. Keep inspiring ladies and gentlemen. You have my ear.

  8. Great blog. Over the last month I’ve been “de-junking my life,” as Don Aslett puts it. It’s never felt so good to get rid of stuff.

    Killing old hobby stuff, things I never use, extra clothing… it amazing. And cleaning is a lot easier without all the knick-knacks to clean around.

    Minimalism is inspiring. Thanks for the thoughts.

  9. Simon says:

    I particularly point number one. Skill rather than thing.
    I moved country 2 years ago with only 17 kilogrammes of stuff and I have realised how much it has exploded. It would easily be 10 times that now.

    I have unrealistic dreams of living in a flat with no internal walls and little furniture – the granite topped future. I’ll never really get to that and even if I did I’m not sure I’d like it. But I love the idea and I really like your pragmatic finger-pokings at the what minimalism may really mean. I’m purging at the moment and loving it. I love the New Yorker, but I’m not sure if leaving the back-issues lying around the flat is really going to make me any happier. Thanks for a great blog.

  10. Londi says:

    During the last 4 years I have moved all of my furniture and stuff 6 times, all to different states, and each time I get rid of some stuff, not furniture. And each time, I still think I have too much stuff. For a while now, I’ve wondered what it would feel like to get rid of (give to Goodwill) of perfectly good, some very cool, things, just let go of it. I have a friend who lives where I have just moved to, Austin, TX, and she lives a minimalist lifestyle, she says. I haven’t been to her apt. yet, but am dying to see it. She says she has 2 plates, 2 forks…..you know the rest, and she says she has very few clothes. I knew her when she did have all the usual stuff we accumulate.

    I’m hoping that I’ll be so inspired seeing her place and how it’s possible to feel better about the possessions I do choose to keep and feel extraordinary about letting go of so much stuff. Right now, it’s still a bit of difficult concept for me to give away that great pair of slacks that fit me so well and my cute little carnival glass piggy bank that I scored when I worked on a photo shoot in Denver eons ago. My mind knows it’s all attachment……and that can’t be a good thing. So, guess I need to work on that idea. I am not served by being attached to things.

    Would love to hear from anyone who can offer support for letting go. Thanks.


  11. Kim says:

    “…fighting desire through denial is incredibly difficult. Remove or subdue the desire first, and the struggle largely dissipates…”

    This is such a true statement for many different aspects of our lives. Your might have categorized your post as Random but really, it’s so, so true!

    Great blog 🙂

  12. Aaron says:

    Minimalist living in my oppinion really improves everything about your life, the less things you have around the neater and more easy ones life is to deal with. Personally if I dont use something for a while I will toss it or give it away so that the lifestyle can remain clean simple and clear.

  13. Julie says:

    Minimalist living: what a breath of fresh air.
    This week I donated to the library over 100 books and gave two, six foot bookcases to a friend.
    We needed the room to move in our 1,000 foot house with six people and two dogs (one who is a huge 145lbs.).
    Yes, I felt attached to my books. Sometimes I felt crying, but really if I haven’t read it in 15 years, I doubt I will. Usually I read a book only once and then donate it.
    What is really funny is when the kids check out from the library the books I donated. At least I don’t have to store them any more.
    In case you were guessing, I only purged a third of our collection.

  14. Kayvan says:

    I had a great, well paying, well benefited job that allowed me to buy anything I wanted. I had a new car, new house, huge tv, 15 pairs of shoes, 20 jackets, 300 DVDs I didn’t watch and a house full of, plain and simply, stuff.

    7 months ago I quit that job, for certain reasons, and purchased a pizzeria with two of my friends. I rented out my house, sold the car and bought a used truck (more practical for me) and am now in the process of selling 90% of what I own…or at least that is the hope. Over those past months I have been on some kind of spiritual journey that found me living in a tent for over two months, couch surfing for the other 5, and not once in that time did I use 90% of that STUFF. Why would I use it now?

  15. Edith Gammad says:

    One can choose a minimilist life only after experiencing a life filled with excess, when one comes into his senses and makes a commitment not to complicate it anymore.

  16. Liz says:

    I know this post is quite old but I just stumbled across it and found it (and also the comments) quite inspiring. Moving towards minimalism is my major goal for this year. I have been trying to move away from my materialistic existence and participation in mindless conserism for the past seven months. I do have one question though… I have a lot of stuff- books, CDs, DVDs, nick knacks and clothing to remove from my life. If I bothered I could probably make quite a bit if cash if I sold it but pschologically I feel I just want to give it away so that it is gone now. Has anyone else experienced this and what would you recommend?

  17. Paul Overton says:

    I am always reminded when I am on the road, that I actually have everything I need and want stuffed into a carry-on bag. Coming home sometimes depresses me because there is a “weight” that comes with ownership of stuff. Great article.

  18. Minimalist J says:

    Liz – I have this problem with computer gear. I use stuff until it is pretty much completely obsolete, then put it in the basement “just in case” I need a spare of something (unlikely since it is obsolete) or want to run an extra server (unlikely). Trying to sell it is a hassle, and much of it won’t sell at all since it is quite old. But yet it lingers here. Sometimes stuff only leaves when I have a fit of “I can’t stand this old junk being here” and just freecycle it… You can try selling stuff in large lots for a cheap price – this reduces hassle somewhat, and although you don’t get as much as perhaps selling it separately, at least you get something. And, I feel that people are more likely to really use something they pay a bit for rather than get for free, so the is more likely to remain in use. I could go on and on about the things I’ve tried, but I certainly haven’t found an easy answer!

  19. Don Harros says:

    I love minimilistic living…it’s freedom from what society paint for you to believe what life should be::”The more the merrier” Yeah right!!!!…I believe that modern simplicity and minimilism is the way of life for me and it save people from a lot of strees….

  20. Lisa says:

    i think this is something i will always continue to work towards in my life. The less you have helps you then to realize that you can live with even less than that!!! It is a huge lie this world/life has told us that we need more to be happy and the truth is that more only steals our time to truly enjoy the real gifts in life, ie. time with those we love, enjoying the beauty of the day…..rather than spending it caring for things, maintaining our things. It is crazy. Minimalism is something that I will always strive to achieve and hope to influence others to let the burden of our material things go and enjoy life with so much less. I do agree that it doesn’t mean to have things of little worth…..just a few things that we can truly have the time to enjoy.

  21. Cindy says:

    I think a minimalist is the exact opposite of a hoarder. I get rid of things I’m not using on a monthly basis. My cousin has clothing from the 60’s. I have empty cupboards, drawers and closets. My cousin has everything stuffed beyond their capacity. I can travel in Egypt for a month with a carry-on suitcase/backpack. She needs two large check-in and a carry-on. Same with people. She surrounds herself with people (and often chaos) and I have nine life-long friends and avoid chaos like the plague. I sell my homes furnished, if possible — moving with nothing but my clothes. She needs two moving vans. 🙂

  22. Kim says:

    I agree. We strive to have more and more things…..which do not make us happier. I believe that having less requires less worry; can’t fret over that which you don’t have(or don’t have to dust). Everyone who responded has valid points and I am inspired to adopt and embrace this style of living.

  23. Duchess says:

    I have been a minimalist since the early 70s. Before everyone was writing and blogging about it.
    Back then I often said “all I really need is a suitcase with wheels with everything I own in it.” (that was way before suitcases had wheels)

    You only “Need” what you truly NEED and actually use!!!

    Which If you really think about it. Is not much

    We have 3 catergories… DAILY use, SEASONAL use, and EMERGENCY use.
    DAILY: ……. ……is obvious
    SEASONAL: ….. NO holiday decorations. It is coats, gloves,etc.Which can be expanded to include gardening tools and canning supplys….

    EMERGENCY:… is flashlights, battery cables, shovels etc. Which can be expanded to include several months worth of emergency food and water supplys.

    We both have hobbys, those supplys are kept to a minimum.
    We very quickly go through everything every 3-4 months.

    I like the saying. If it was stolen would you replace it…

    Honestly Importance in our life is each other and our dogs…. …LIFE..
    the rest is Stuff and replaceable……

    Food, clothing, shelter are needs.

    People have more or less expensive: variations of food, clothing and shelter.
    I prefer a couple of better made outfits , to a closet full of ..cheaply made ones.
    You can only wear one outfit at a time.

    You only need the amount of space you are in. Be it standing, sitting or sleeping.

  24. Caty says:

    I have been intoducing the minimalist lifestyle for a few month now, and have to say……wow! We have a huge house in the city, and seeking for innerp peace, I decided to go fewer and smaller. I am moving into a Wild Resort now, and my new house is a third from the house I have been living in. Perhaps I will be able toe move with 20 or less boxes, because I gave everything to the poor. I have a new life, that is not centered around what I have or want, but who I am! I just love it! xxx

  25. Leo says:

    Minimalist: A dream will come true!

    I agree that simplicity and practicality is key.

    I have a two car garage 3500 sq. ft house. This is the only big item that I will get rid of (sell) when I get some profit on it. So it’s the last item to be dealt with on my to-do list.

    For the moment, I have NOT owned a lot to start with. My house is pretty empty at this moment, no decoration or extra furnitures etc. For the last two years, I have gotten down to the very basic things that I need. I mean every single thing from toothbrush to clothes to untensils to furnitures is used on a daily/weekly or monthly basis. The furnitures are foldable and stackable by the way. If anything I have not used for more than a year, that means it’s got to go.

    So when I will finally sell my house sometime in the future, a Minimalist dream will come true!

    Other than owning very simple/less material things, being a minimalist to me is also incorporated to the mind and body spiritually (i.e Zen/buddhist thoughts. . . .)

    Everyday, I don’t just live a simple life, I also live a very fullfill and happy life of what I have. I am satisfied with my job/pay etc. I am also a vegetarian. I always apprepriate that I have a healthy body and a good life. I always think about the horrible things that happen to the unfortunate people in our world, and I hope all those poor souls will find peace some way some how. . . .

    just a thought on what it means to be minimalist for me. . . . 🙂

  26. […] If you don’t have it you don’t have to dust it.  If you do have to have it, hide it and you still don’t have to dust it.”  http://theminimalist.net/2006/01/24/what-is-minimalist-living/ […]

  27. Gypsy says:

    I have been reading a few of the responses and had to smile about the issue of 1 pair of $100 jeans as opposed to 5 pairs of $20 jeans.
    My life is minimalism. I agree that it isn’t about the amount you spend on one item or on a specific room but about clutter.
    There have been times I have attended markets or sales and bought items or been given items which will be useful but within a short period of time I come across someone in need, it’s all given away.
    I too live in one room and only today I gave all of my lounge room furniture to a person who was recently allocated a house but had nothing. I don’t believe I am a generous person but one who does not feel comfortable having things which are rarely used – if ever-
    Happiness is not things… but you know that!
    A confession: I have more clothes than I need. That will be dealt with before long too.
    Kindest regards to all

  28. Rae says:

    When I told my architect friend I want a minimalist house, he told me that a minimalist house is high maintainance.

    I didn’t quite get it at first. I now realized what he meant–pristine white walls that you have to keep white, etc. That’s not minimalist to me. It’s being imprisoned with “stuff” again. Being obsessed with keeping everything pristine to the point that it gets in the way of doing the more important stuff.

    Minimalism is about the principle of removing/ lessening the distractions that keep you from doing your passions. Minimalism is not about who has the barest apartment, the most pristine white walls, or fewer stuff.

  29. Wsmuffi says:

    Donate one item a day. How many days?
    Spend less than you bring in. How many days?
    Save 10 percent in retirement. How many days?
    Become debt free. How many days?

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