The minimalist movement celebrates experiences rather than things. We can all take part by decluttering and simplifying.
“The bigger your garage, the more you fill it with stuff.” A knowing observation from the guy on a neighbouring stool as the crowd around us watches sports on big-screen TVs. It may not be the usual scene for such a philosophical discussion. Or perhaps it’s the perfect indication that people from every slice of society, from barflies to celebrities, are aware of our cultural obsession with accumulation.
Quality over quantity
For those who want to do more than philosophize—reportedly including actor Robert Pattinson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg—there is minimalist living.
You may be more familiar with minimalism as an art and design movement with roots in the 1960s. Ever since, this concept of using simple elements (and fewer of them) for maximum effect has influenced music, visual arts, architecture, and literature.
As a way of life, minimalism is about owning less, and living more. When asked to define it, Joshua Becker, blogger and author of e-books Simplify and Inside-Out Simplicity, simply says, “I am intentionally trying to live with only the things I really need.”
Imagine a life where happiness is found in experience, not shopping. Where you enjoy the freedom to ignore commercials. Where, environmentally, you’re making a difference by not consuming unnecessarily.
“At its core, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it,” Becker writes on his blog. Sounds good in concept, but is it achievable? Absolutely, say converts.
Mother to minimalist
For Rachel Jonat, mother, wife, and writer from Vancouver, the final straw struck in September 2010 when she was on maternity leave. After 10 months at home, she was sick of the clutter that exploded as soon as her son arrived. “It was taking up a lot of my time and too much space,” she notes. “My sister had been sending me articles about minimalism, and I thought having fewer things could help keep my home tidier and make life easier.”
Five carloads of donated, recycled, or sold household goods later, Jonat and her husband had embraced the lure of a simpler lifestyle. Less housework. More time for family, personal passions, and sleeping. More space in reclaimed closets and shelves. And more money. Over the next two years, they got rid of $80,000 in consumer and student loan debt.
“It seemed insurmountable,” Jonat recalls. “But by using the tenets of minimalism with some luck added in, we paid if all off. It still shocks me that we did it!”
Grab a box and go
Now, living in the Isle of Man, Jonat has just two pairs of jeans—but no debt, and more time to maintain her website, the Minimalist Mom. What started as a personal journal has grown into a popular web resource, including a “getting started” series on streamlining your home, finances, and schedule. Do Less: A Minimalist Guide to a Simplified, Organized, and Happy Life (Adams Media, 2014), her new book, will also be available in stores and online this May.
In the meantime, the first step can be as easy as de-cluttering. “Don’t overthink it,” Jonat advises. “Put a box in each room of your home and when you come across something you aren’t using, put it in. Donate, recycle, or sell whatever is in the boxes at the end of each month.”
For motivation, she suggests finding a de-clutter buddy. “It doesn’t have to be under the guise of minimalism, either. It could be that they, or you, want to sell things to generate cash to pay off debt or go on a trip, or it could just be that you want to de-clutter the guest bedroom so you can have family stay over. Find the reason that resonates most and go with it.”
Embracing the journey
So if you aren’t quite ready to part with Grandma’s china yet, that’s okay. There’s a happy personal medium between living like a nomad and a hoarder.
Looking back, Jonat does have one thing she would’ve changed. “My start was a whirlwind few months of purging loads of things from our home. It was actually a very stressful and emotional time. I wish I’d paced myself a bit more and seen that it would all get done in due time.”
Blogger Joshua Becker’s advice would be to try to fill the physical space that’s left with internal meaning. For him, minimalism is not actually external, but internal.
“I have learned that minimalism is always a matter of the heart,” he writes. “After the external clutter has been removed, minimalism has the space to address the deepest heart issues that impact our relationships and life.”
And like any meaningful change, be prepared for obstacles in your path. For Jonat and her husband, it’s a matter of staying clutter-free now that their family has grown to two children; they stay on track by regularly reviewing their possessions. For other people, the bigger challenge may be ignoring cravings and leaving the newest gizmos for the Joneses.
Still, given the energy consumption and disposal issues associated with many goods, there’s something appealing about the thought of being less of a drain on the world’s finite resources by buying out of excess consumerism.
“The interesting thing about minimalism is that you can apply it to whatever area you need help with most and to whatever degree you are comfortable with it,” Jonat says. “This tailored approach makes the idea of living with less accessible to everyone.”
For the sage barfly beside me who doesn’t seem quite willing to give up the big-screen TV, perhaps his first step will be cleaning out that overflowing garage.