So…you want to be a minimalist?

So…you want to be a minimalist?

Decluttering. Minimalism. They seem to be the new buzz words right now. There’s definitely a shift towards people being more interested in owning less stuff. At the Less is More Festival last week, the Decluttering workshop was full to capacity and there was standing room only. Even with the doors closed, a “workshop full” sign and a volunteer on the door telling people there was no room, people were still fighting to get in!

There’s nothing fun about clutter. It drains our energy, and research has shown that it increases stress and even causes depression. It also takes up time – in cleaning, moving it all around, and searching for the stuff you’re sure you have but can’t quite remember where you put it. Plus there is a monetary cost – in paying higher rent or mortgage repayments for a bigger house, or renting extra storage, just to house that stuff we don’t really need.

So the idea of decluttering seems pretty appealing. So does the idea of getting organised so our houses are no longer boxes with roofs that exist to hold our stuff, but sanctuaries of calm and zen. And minimalism, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

googlesearchminimlaismIf you search for “minimalism” under Google images, this is what comes up. Spacious apartments with clear surfaces, clean lines, neutral tones. Minimalism is also a design style, which helps confuse things a little. But when people talk about being minimalist, they’re not talking about what furniture they buy.

If you really want to be a minimalist, if you really want to have less clutter, there are a few things you need to know.

Things to know about being a Minimalist

1. Minimalism doesn’t mean having amazing storage so all you see is a sea of clear bench tops and surfaces. Minimalism does not mean you have an incredible capacity to organise. It means having less stuff. Don’t think you can organise your way to minimalism.

2. Minimalism means letting go. We are natural hoarders. We keep things because we think they might come in useful. We keep things because they remind us of things that happened in our lives. We keep things because we attach emotions to them – we feel guilty about disposing of things that others have given us, even if we don’t actually like or want or need them; or shame at having spent too much money on something we never use. Maybe we worry about the cost the environment. But if we really want to live with less stuff, we need to look at our relationships with our stuff. We hold memories in our hearts and in our minds, not in boxes stored in the garage. If things no longer serve us, we need to let them go.

3. Becoming minimalist doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t just decide to declutter and that’s that. It takes time. Some things are easy to let go of, and others are much harder. Even as we let go of things and give them away, more things come into our life. It is something we need to work on. Maybe it is something we never stop working on. It’s definitely not something we complete over the weekend, and then go back to “normal”.

4. To truly embrace minimalism, we need to look within ourselves. That may sound a bit new-age, but decluttering and getting rid of stuff doesn’t automatically stop us from desiring things. We are constantly bombarded with adverts telling us our lives will be better if we buy this or that; that we’ll feel happier or more content if only we spend our money with these companies. As long as we believe this, we’ll continue to buy more. Think about your happiest memories. Do they involve spending time with friends and family? Do they involve holidays, special occasions, exploring nature, being outdoors? Or do they involve buying the latest gadgets? We don’t need stuff to make us happy.

5. It’s not a competition. It’s not about who can have the least amount of stuff, it’s about what is the right amount of stuff for each of us at the point of our lives we are in right now. It’s easy to feel like giving up because we know we’ll never be as good as x. If you’re feeling like you have too much stuff, if you know there’s things in your house that you don’t really need, if the piles of clutter are stressing you out, then you will benefit from letting some of it go. That doesn’t mean you can’t stop until you only have two outfits left in your wardrobe, and two bowls in the kitchen cupboard. That might work for some people. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t matter. Do what feels right for you.

Reap the Rewards

No-one said it was going to be easy. It’s so much more than just taking a couple of boxes of old junk to the Good Sammy’s. But the rewards are so much more than just having a couple less boxes of stuff, too. Try it and see!

10 Responses to So…you want to be a minimalist?

    • It’s easy to think that making the decision to have less stuff is the hard part. But oh no! We really have to put in the hard work – wanting it to happen doesn’t make it happen! But it is liberating. Even when I found it hard to let go of something, once I did I never gave it another thought. It’s amazing how freeing it feels to get rid of stuff. And the process actually makes me even less keen to accumulate more, because I see how attached I am to things – things I don’t necessarily like or use or want! It’s amazing how many negative emotions we attach to stuff – guilt, resentment, shame, embarrassment – and getting rid of the stuff clears those thoughts too.

  1. I don’t want to be a minimalist. Trying to live on less, trying to make do, buy less, consume less, all means saving stuff – okay, hoarding – that may come in handy sometime. The kind of minimalism described above just doesn’t do it for me: though it looks lovely, it seems to me that it would be a high consumerism way of living. Or am I missing the point?

    • I think you’re so right – it’s easy to mistake minimalism for buying better storage and having the right furniture. Or maintaining a clutter-free space by living in a cycle of tossing stuff away only to purchase and consume more. But that doesn’t fit with the idea of simple living – of wanting less, needing less, and making do. And until we can embrace these ideas, we’re locked into consuming. We can’t buy our way into minimalism.

      As for hoarding, I hate wasting stuff, and I can’t bear to throw things away. But I also appreciate that I don’t have space for everything, and some things I’ve been holding on to for ever, and they are yet to come in useful. I have to learn to let them go. Giving things away to others, be it friends and family, or the charity shops, or selling on eBay or Gumtree is a good way to ensure that things you don’t really have a use for can go to someone who actually needs them. Which is better than them being piled up in storage where nobody benefits!

      • I’m not really a fan of minimalism as an aesthetic. Looks more like a hospital room to me…blegh, no soul. But. I am a proponent of knowing why you own something. Of getting rid of things that have little value or use to you. Of finding something used before buying something new. And in having the ability to reflect upon our consumership and ownership of things. Personally, I prefer simplicity to minimalism–more stuff, but only when it serves a purpose…even if that purpose only speaks to the heart.

        • Perfectly put! I was thinking about what the difference is between minimalism and simple living, and it seems to me the first one sounds trendy and something you can label yourself as, whereas the other sounds like living on a farm or going without (which obviously isn’t true). Actually I think they are both very similar on a values level, and true minimalists embrace all that simple living has to offer. But it’s easy with the “minimalist” label to think we’re just talking about stuff, when it actually goes much deeper.

    • Gabrielle still hasn’t given me that other part (it’s still at their office)! Don’t panic, it is on my list of things to do : ) I just had to get Less is More finished before I moved on the next thing!

  2. Your article inspires me to look at where I am and determine where to begin minimizing an area at a time. Thank you your article was thought out and written well.

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