Minimalism Isn't So Minimal
by Jerry Brito of Unclutterer
At Unclutterer we often get the same exasperated question from readers: "How little is little enough?" We offer advice on how to trim away every last ounce of clutter and redundancy and useless ornamentation, and I imagine that some readers think, "But I like my ornamentation!" It might seem sometimes that the "minimalism" our site and other sites advocate entails living a barefoot monastic life of want. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Wikipedia tells us that the term "minimalism" has very specific meanings as it describes movements in the arts, including music and literature. When people call themselves minimalists, however, they're probably not referring to how much they like Philip Glass. Instead, they mean they consciously choose to do with less things than they could otherwise have, usually because it brings them peace of mind. To this point, Wikipedia only has one sentence: "The term 'minimalist' is often applied colloquially to designate anything which is spare or stripped to its essentials." That colloquial meaning deserves exploration.
Being a minimalist is not about monasticism. If you are an audiophile and love your collection of hundreds of vinyl records, then an article about decluttering your space by digitizing all your music probably won't have much appeal to you. Much less will the suggestion that you really don't need all those LPs. Demurring that advice is fine because there is nothing incompatible between minimalism and consumerism. If you love your LPs, getting rid of them in the name of minimalism and simplicity would be wrong, and we would never ask you to do that.
To me, consumerism -- defined as consumption beyond one's basic needs -- is not an evil in and of itself. I don't need all the clothes I have, and I certainly don't need a DVD player and movie collection to live a satisfied life, but those things make me happy and give me enjoyment, so I think that they're fine to have. Living beyond one's basic needs becomes a problem only when the accumulation of property becomes a source of stress rather than enjoyment. Unfortunately, I think finding balance is difficult for many because purchasing and accumulating can be effortless, while planning ahead and organizing takes effort.
Choosing to live simply is trying to find balance in order to enjoy what one does have and to avoid becoming overwhelmed by clutter. It means consciously choosing to have fewer things, but knowing that what you do have will be of high quality and truly worth cherishing.
The minimalism we espouse, therefore, does not require monasticism, but rather advocates getting rid of (or preferably avoiding) distractions that prevent us from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It's about smart consumption, not no consumption.
Clutter happens when you have too much stuff. We're all guilty of acquiring more possessions than we need simply because we can. Sometimes a deal is just too good to pass up. Sometimes we buy something to make us feel better. And sometimes that new knick-knack just seemed like a very good idea at the time -- but in retrospect, what were we thinking?
Connie Cox and Cris Evatt in 30 Days to a Simpler Life share a simple maxim that was a revelation when I first read it. Never let anything cross the threshold of your home unless it's something that you know you need or that you know you will love and cherish for a long time to come. That bobble-head you got for free for filing up your gas tank doesn't count. Neither do pasta machines, breadmakers, or ice cream makers in most cases. Before you buy anything, ask yourself, do you really need it? Is it a replacement for something you're throwing out? Is it another black sweater? Or is it something you don't already have?
If you're just buying yourself a treat to reward yourself or cheer yourself up, consider a consumable, such as a nice meal. Or, if you're watching your figure, how about a movie or a concert? How about downloading some music or getting a massage or manicure? You get the picture. The idea is to not let anything into your home that won't serve a purpose while nonetheless avoiding a monastic life. It takes some conscious effort, but it's rewarding when you come home to a serene space.
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