Just what is minimalism? I believe minimalism is a throwback to the good ol days and the stories of old when times were simpler, times without smartphones or the internet, times when there was one outfit of clothes for work, one for after work and one for church. Of course, minimalism is much more than that, in fact for me personally, it is something that I believe I was born with. From an early age, I can remember loving spring cleaning, gleefully giving away clothes to the thrift store and enjoying the feeling of traveling with just one backpack full of stuff.
But it wasn’t just the joys of giving away that led me to feel minimal in nature, I also felt at odds with the consumer culture around me. At 9 years old I remember looking at all the gifts under the Christmas tree and feeling unhappy. I remember watching commercials about presents and feeling the greed of the season and feeling quite depressed. Like any good mom would do mine would ask me: “What’s wrong Luke?” I’m sure that I muttered I was fine but I wasn’t. At the time I didn’t have the language to explain what I was feeling, but looking back now I know exactly what it was that I was experiencing. I was resisting a philosophy based around collecting stuff called excessive consumerism.
What is Excessive Consumerism?
We are all consumers. We need food, shelter, clothes, and other essentials. There is no way to avoid the need to consume. Consuming becomes excessive when we start buying things that we don’t really need. Every day we are bombarded with commercials, billboards, audio and video telling us to buy; buy more stuff. We see happy couples on TV buying a new car, smiling real estate agents enticing us into a bigger and better home, a fancy restaurant with hot servers reinforcing in us the idea that a Friday night isn’t a Friday night without blowing a bunch of cash on an expensive meal and a night out on the town. We are constantly told that to truly live is to buy bigger and better. It isn’t enough to live in a nice apartment if you really had it together you’d live in a mansion on the water. A nice efficient honda civic isn’t enough, that pimped out truck with a jacked-up lift kit and huge chrome exhaust is where it’s at.
Excessive Consumerism prevents us from living in the moment. We end up working longer and harder to afford more and more stuff and pursue a lifestyle that won’t make us happy.
A 2010 study by Nobel Prize-Winner Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton found that happiness levels off after an income of $75,000 a year. In the report, they found that not being able to afford basic life essentials certainly caused stress and increased unhappiness, which makes logical sense as we all need to be able to afford food, shelter, clothing, and some entertainment. While that is not a shocking discovery what is interesting is this idea of a plateau of happiness at $75,000 (the estimated level of income an average American family needs to cover the basics + a little extra).
If happiness doesn’t increase after your basic needs are met then why are we all killing ourselves working towards that 6 figure income? Perhaps there is a way to live for more a way to live more consciously?
Why do we Try and Keep up with the Joneses?
When is enough, enough? Most of us in the Global North have our basic needs met, we can buy food, we have a roof over our heads and can afford the basics. So why do we work longer hours to make more money that won’t make us happier? Why do we keep buying excess and pursuing a lifestyle that won’t make us happy anyway?
One of my favorite cinematic quotes is from an old classic movie fight club where Brad Pitt’s character is giving a motivational speech:
“An entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
This movie was made before the smartphone, before Instagram, Facebook, Snap chat and reality tv stars. We get to see how everyone else is living, and boy does it look flippin’ amazing. All it takes is 5 minutes of scrolling through the latest Insta stories for envy to set in. We see that guy with the Ferrari or that girl with the expensive clothes and we start saying to ourselves: “If I had what they have then I’ll be happy”
This, however, is just how we feel on the surface. The stats are starting to show us that money doesn’t buy us happiness. So if we decide to listen to our gut and listen to the stats then what are we to do?
What is Minimalism?
Perhaps we need to consider living more minimally and start adapting to minimalistic thinking. But just what is minimalism and what does it mean to be a minimalist? If I had to answer the question ‘what is minimalism?’ in one sentence I would say that:
Minimalism is a counterculture movement centered around living consciously with only the things we really need.”
Just what is minimalism? It is a way of life that cuts out all the excess from our lives. This could be the stuff you own, the hobbies you pursue and the friends you possess, nothing is off limits. Minimalism is carefully analyzing what matters in your life and making a conscious choice to pursue those things with all your heart and cut out everything that does not matter.
3 Ways to Start Living more Minimally
In order to start the journey towards a more minimal life I’ve put together 3 basic principles to begin:
1| Thoroughly Analyze your Possessions
How many clothes do you own? | Is your kitchen full of barely used appliances? | Do you have a shed/garage full of old sports equipment or tools? | A good place to start your minimal journey is with your possessions.
2| Trim Down Your Goals
How many goals are you chasing? Setting too many goals can over-complicate your life. Simplify your goals by narrowing them down to just a couple at a time, studies show you’ll have a better chance of success this way.
3| Cut some Commitments
What are you committed to? Choose what you commit your time to wisely and look closely at where you give your time. Perhaps there are some commitments that you need to let go of for a more minimal week. Time is precious and a schedule that’s too busy is keeping you from living more simply.
If you want to learn a little more about the question ‘what is minimalism’ and want some help getting started with a more minimalistic lifestyle, then I’d recommend checking out our friend Olivia Youngs over at Simply Live & Co who has created a lovely starter e-course called: THE ART OF SIMPLE LIVING | It’s a Guide to Help Get You Into The Minimalist Mindset and Simplify Your Whole Life | The course is a step-by-step plan to help you minimalize 3 key areas in your life: Your Heart – Your Home – Your Wardrobe | If you want a little kick-start into a more minimal life then consider this course to help you start your journey.
Her e-course helps you focus first on your mindset which is what she believes is the starting place before any real lasting change can happen, and then walks you through step by step, room by room to minimalize your space and life.
Finally, I want to suggest browsing a few wonderful blogs fully dedicated to answering the question what is minimalism? If you’re serious about discovering more and starting your journey towards minimalism these blogs have a ton of valuable insight for you.