What is Minimalism? pt 1

If you’ve only just heard about minimalism, you’re probably wondering what exactly it is, how to define minimalism, and what it means to those who practice it.

I think to understand what minimalism is, you must first understand what it is not.

What isn’t minimalism?

Some think minimalism is all about blank white walls, blonde wood furniture, clear surfaces, and maybe a little color. Kind of like this:

minimalist office
A Minimalist Office

To others, minimalism is about owning as little as possible. They believe minimalists can fit their entire lives into a backpack so they can pick up and go anywhere at a moment’s notice.

They also believe minimalists have nothing to do, that their lives are empty, blank slates with nothing to do because they’ve purged everything. Or that minimalists practice extreme frugality. Or that there are strict rules that must be followed to be considered a “true” a minimalist. Oh, and forget about having kids. Having children will kick you out of the minimalist club.

I admit, my thoughts went along similar lines.

But in order to understand something, you need to educate yourself. So in order to understand and potentially become a minimalist, I needed to find what minimalism really meant and how I could apply it to my life.

Quickly, I discovered that I’m not forging a path through the wilderness. Others have come before me, and the path is clear. Maybe a little overgrown in places, but there is a definite, defined path.

Two of the best-known forgers of the path are Joshua Fields and Ryan Nicodemus. On their website, The Minimalists, they define minimalism as:

…a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom


By incorporating minimalism into our lives, [you may be] able to find lasting happiness … Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself

Another explorer, Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist, describes it like this:

I am intentionally trying to live with only the things I really need.

As a follow-up, he adds that minimalism is living with intention, living free from the passion to possess, free from modern mania, free from duplicity. It’s counter-cultural, it’s internal rather than external, and it is entirely achievable.

Armed with this knowledge, I developed my definition.

Minimalism is a way of living free from clutter, both physical and mental, so that you can live the life you were meant to live.

Got baggage?

We all have issues, we all have problems, we all have enough baggage to fill the luggage hold of a 747. Some of us may be able to fill up two or more of those bad boys. Where did all that baggage come from? Why is it ours? And why do we persist in moving it from place to place, home to home, relationship to relationship?

Minimalists work to release themselves from that baggage.

In our consumerist society, we are inundated with messages that more is better, that we have to have the latest and newest version of a thing in order to be better than others, in order to live a fulfilled life, in order to be happy. But who are “they” to decide what makes us happy? Shouldn’t we, as individuals, be the ones to make that choice?

Shoppers waiting to buy the latest iPhone

Did you wait in line to buy the newest iPhone on the day it was released? Did buying it make you happy? Are you as happy today as you were when you first bought it? Will you do it again the day they release the next one? How long will that new phone make you happy? Apple wants you to buy their products—and I’m not knocking them or their products—but do you always need the latest release the moment it comes out just because the screen is a few millimeters wider? Because the Home button will now be virtual? Oh, I know…because it will come in more colors. Yes, those are reasons to wait in line for hours and will make you happy for the rest of your life.

Or at least until the next iPhone comes out.

(For the record, I own a two-year old LG G4 and a six-year-old iPad 2. I don’t know how old my laptop is, but it’s a Compaq and it came with Windows 7. It used to be my mother’s…I started using it when my four-year-old laptop decided to become a doorstop. I’ll buy new when the absolute need arises.)

What do you really want?

In our desire to please others, we do what they want rather than follow our own wishes and dreams. Did you attend Harvard Law like Daddy did so you can one day become a partner in his firm as he wanted instead of following your dream of backpacking around Europe before attending the Culinary Institute of America and opening a restaurant? Daddy may be happy you went to Harvard Law, but are you happy following his dream instead of yours?

Minimalists release themselves from the expectations of others so they can find out what truly makes them happy. We only have this one life. There are no do-overs—though we may dearly wish we could do it all over. But we can’t, so let’s make the most of what time we have left. Don’t be so bogged down in possessions that you spend all your time taking care of them instead of taking care of yourself. Don’t get trapped in the mental tug-of-war that others force you to participate. Be your authentic, true self, set your boundaries, and enjoy your life your way.

So do you understand what minimalism is?

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