How would you define minimalism?

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A college student doing an ethnography project dropped me a line this week with some great questions. I enjoyed answering them, so thought you might be interested to see our Q&A. Here it is!

How would you define minimalism?

I define minimalism as the intentional removal of anything that no longer adds value to your life. It’s the modern day version of William Morris’ assertion, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

How long have you considered yourself a minimalist?

I’ve considered myself to be a minimalist since 2016, when I really started to unclutter my life in earnest (not only removing stuff, but also reducing obligations and commitments).

Why do you think minimalism has been picking up so much steam in the last decade?

Well, they say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. Prominent people in the minimalism movement, such as Joshua Becker, have been champions of simple living for many years. What may have given it more prominence is the advent of social media and podcasts, which have enabled the message to reach a wider audience. Joshua’s Uncluttered course, for example, has seen over 30,000 people take part.

Others including Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness, habit and human behaviour, have also legitimised decluttering, making it more mainstream by showing how it can impact positively on people’s lives. There’s also some crossover into other areas of wellbeing such as personal finance, where we have seen the boys from The Minimalists join Dave Ramsey for a segment on his popular podcast. David Sawyer, in his book Reset, also talks about the significant benefits of decluttering.

What are some advantages of living a minimalist lifestyle?

Oh, so many! One’s home is easier to maintain and keep clean; you’ll save money by not buying stuff you don’t need; you can improve your wellbeing by getting out into nature rather than spending your leisure time shopping  and you no longer feel weighted down by stuff you don’t need.

Would you say TV shows like tiny house living/hunters and popular minimalists like Marie Kondo have attracted more people to this lifestyle?

I haven’t seen the TV shows you mention, but I think that Marie Kondo’s quirky ‘spark joy’ mantra is memorable, fun and appealing. Her approach, along with that of The Minimalists, Courtney Carver, Joshua Becker and others, has definitely brought minimalism to the masses.

What are some of the most popular misconceptions about minimalism?
Minimalism isn’t necessarily about living in bare, white spaces. Equally, it’s not about living with ‘X’ number of items or being able to pack all of your stuff into a single holdall. At least, that’s true for most of us.

Living with less – or ‘right-sizing’ your belongings is more the way people I know enjoy minimalism; I call it ‘moderate minimalism’ (especially when you have a family and it’s neither fair nor proper to declutter other people’s stuff).

Why do you think the US has the highest standard of living yet people living here are still unhappy?

Governments – and public policy in general – have been slow to recognise the importance of wellbeing in people’s lives of which I believe minimalism plays a part.

You’ll be familiar with Robert Kennedy’s 1968 speech in which he addressed an election rally, commenting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of success: “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.”

I’m certainly not an expert on US culture, but a high standard of living has to be paid for and I’m aware through listening to American podcasts that there’s also a high prevalence of debt in society. That’s a negative when it comes to people’s subjective sense of life satisfaction and happiness.

Do you think Tiny Homes/minimalism in general is a solution to a problem America hasn’t figured out yet?

The Tiny House movement is so interesting, partly because it’s the polar opposite to the growth in the average size of homes seen over the last 4 decades. Tiny Houses may form part of the solution when it comes to providing more affordable housing. They may also help providing social housing, such as the Social Bite Village project in Scotland whose aim is to provide homes to residents who are currently living in temporary accommodation for long periods of time.

Minimalism can support this (and other societal objectives). By seeking to live with less, we naturally consume less (good for the environment), potentially enabling us to live happier, healthier and wealthier lives.

People are starting to rethink what it means to be happy and successful in life, it used to be having a big house and cars and a high paying job even if it wasn’t one you loved…So, how do you think the minimalist movement has changed or altered the idea of what it means to be successful?

Many modern-day movements, such as the FIRE movement, are redefining what success looks like. In some ways, minimalism has brought us back to what our grandparents knew: living simpler, valuing people over stuff, not worrying about what others thinking of us and being grateful for what we have. That said, I’m not sure the same message has reached the youth of today. It worries me that some of the idealised images promulgated on social media are influencing our teenagers and young adults in a negative way. The fast fashion, make-up and styling trends to which they aspire are costing more than just the pounds and pence they spend to keep up.

Do you think minimalism is a radical lifestyle?

Minimalism could be radical; it’s certainly a countercultural lifestyle. But I suggest it’s for everyone. Being more intentional about what we own and what we buy can bring positive benefits for anyone. It’s also a more sustainable way to live.

How can minimalism positively impact families?

Minimalism helps families in so many ways. Family life is simpler when everything has its place; it’s easier to locate the things you need; you have more space in your home and you may even experience what Gretchen Rubin calls ‘outer order, inner calm’. This is particularly true for kids with special needs for whom an uncluttered environment can be especially beneficial.

Discover more

If you’re curious about how living with less can make a difference to your life, the autumn session of the popular Uncluttered course ends this weekend, so don’t miss out! The course begins on Tuesday, so click here to find out more.


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