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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What is minimalism?

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My favourite kind of ‘tiny house’ – English beach huts

In July, I celebrated a year of blogging on Midlands Minimalist. With just over 100 blog posts on the site, I have covered a range of topics, answered a number of readers’ questions and connected with some awesome people (both in person and virtually)!

The ‘what of minimalism’

This post brings together a number of insights around the ‘what’ of minimalism for anyone seeking to find out more.

I explore some of the ingredients of a minimalist lifestyle and the ways in which it can be of benefit. I discuss what minimalism is (and highlight some different types) and talk about what it isn’t. I also explain that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’, inviting you to evaluate how minimalism could be of benefit in your own life.

I’ll also point to some great resources for further reading before my next post: Tools and Techniques of Minimalism.

This is a long post so if you would like to download it as a free PDF, join my Minimalist community where you’ll have access to my resources page on which a copy of this article can be found.

So, let’s get started!

Minimalism 101

Minimalism is the intentional removal of anything that no longer adds value to your life. This can mean the elimination of ‘stuff’ (which may be physical, digital and even personal) to allow in new experiences, people, opportunities and possibilities. Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists capture it well: “it’s about “living a meaningful life with less.”

The word ‘minimalism’ was initially associated with the visual arts; it was synonymous with an art movement that originated in the middle part of the 20th Century. Stripping away the embellishments seen in some earlier art forms, minimalism offered a more simple, literal form of artistic expression.

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The minimalist design aesthetic remains popular today

As art echoes life, when you embrace minimalism, what follows is a sense of lightness and freedom and the ability to focus on the things that truly matter.

Clutter is not just stuff on the floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living – Peter Walsh

Types of minimalism

Approaches to minimalism

Writing for No Sidebar, Melissa Carmara Wilkins writes beautifully about different types of minimalism. You can read the full article here, but she simply sets out some of the different approaches espoused by those who call themselves minimalists:

  • Essentialists – fewer but better; quality over quantity (less but better)
  • Experientialists – experiences over stuff (but have the stuff if you need it for the experiences)
  • Enoughists – have just what you need but no more
  • Eco-minimalists – less consumption means less impact on the environment
  • Soul-minimalists – simple-living advocates for whom mental and spiritual clutter are minimised

You may identify with one or a combination of these, but you can see that there are a number of approaches that might resonate with you.

Voluntary simplicity

Another take on minimalism is described by Juliet Schor in her book, The Overspent American: Why we Buy What we Dont’ Need. Voluntary simplicity (or simple living) is the idea of down-shifting to reduce pressure on budgets, live more clearly and straightforwardly and may involve spending time to ‘give back’ and make a contribution to the community.

Schor describes how there’s no ‘one size fits all’ with this approach. She notes that simple livers are rich in both “cultural capital” and “human capital”. That is, they are often well-educated and well-networked, which means they can tap into networks of like minded people and benefit from a strong sense of community. Perhaps you can relate to this?

Frugal Minimalism

In her own words, Cait Flanders paid off $30k of debt, tossed 75% of her belongings, and did a two-year shopping ban. Enter the frugal minimalist. Living a frugal life with less stuff and paying off her debt has led to a happier life for Cait, without the weight of personal debt or unnecessary clutter.

This approach can also extend to Tiny House living, which, again, enables advocates to live a life that is not only clutter-free, but which is also debt free. Read about Tammy Strobel’s experience in her book: You Can Buy Happiness – and It’s Cheap: How One Woman Radically Simplified her Life and How You Can Too.

The Minimalist Foodie

The problem of a full closet and overflowing fridge have the same core issue – too many options. Once you pare back to the essentials…it becomes easier to identify what you want to eat. – Brittany, Tiny Ambitions

Dana Schulz, of Minimalist Baker has the answer. With a website devoted to simple cooking, Dana’s delicious recipes require “10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl or 1 pot, or 30 minutes or less to prepare.”

Jennifer from Simply Fiercely takes a similar approach; her simple eating has brought her a number of benefits, not least reducing food waste, as well as time and effort spent on meal preparation.

Moderate Minimalism, the Midlands Minimalist way

For me, I take the middle ground. Of course I would! I’m a ‘middle Minimalist’!

Seriously, though, my approach one of moderation. Moderate minimalism, if you like.

Because I am married and a mum, I have my non-minimalist family members to consider. Decluttering our home has taken a few years, but we’re pretty much there. Our shared living areas are clutter free, easy to clean and have a light and airy feel. For certain, there are some areas on which I’d like to spend more time, but there comes a point when you’ve done enough. After all, we do this to maximise the time we have.

On a day-to-day basis, I make a point of cooking from scratch; we shop only when we need something (not for recreation) and we keep a close eye on our family budget. With a teenager in the house, there’s the inevitable deluge of school books, paperwork, sports kit and uniform. But this phase will pass all too soon, when we will be empty-nesters, so I can take a pragmatic view now.

Is decluttering minimalism?

Decluttering is often associated with minimalism and rightly so; it’s an essential ingredient of a transition towards a minimalist lifestyle. By intentionally removing the excess items that have accumulated in our lives, it’s possible to cast off the clutter of the past to embrace newer and richer experiences.

I’ll touch on the ‘how’ of decluttering in my next article (Tools and Techniques of Minimalism), but (as I wrote in one of my earliest posts here), it’s only when you take a step back that you can truly see what adds value, what’s worth holding onto and what’s important.

Tiny Wardrobes

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Vestis virum facit‘ or ‘Clothes makes the man‘ said Erasmus (later echoed by eminent writers such as Shakespeare, Homer and Twain.

It’s true that dressing for the job you want, not the job you have, can make all the difference to our confidence. Psychologically, our performance may be enhanced when we’re dressing right for the occasion (see the first Reference, below).

Indeed, international charity, Dress for Success, understands that looking the part is a vital ingredient in building women’s confidence to help them secure a new job.

However, it is said that the opposite of every profound truth is also true. In this case, clothes ‘maketh the [wo]man’, but they matter less than you think.

Courtney Carver’s phenomenal success with Project 333 is proof that you need fewer clothes than you think you need. Project 333 invites you to dress with 33 items (or less) over a period of 3 months. Underwear and workout gear doesn’t count, but everything else does. If you haven’t yet tried it, I urge you to take part. It’s a wonderful way to help identify your absolute favourites and wear them every day.

Think you won’t have enough clothing combinations? One of Joshua Becker’s correspondents worked out that just 33 items could generate as many as 25,176 unique outfit combinations. With jewellery, accessories and shoes included, that might be pushing the envelope somewhat, but the point is nonetheless well-made. As Joshua writes, there are very good reasons why successful people are choosing to wear the same thing every day.

If you want to slim down your closet, then you might appreciate some help. Join my community and you’ll get access to my wardrobe edit checklist that will help provide a structured way to start your journey into minimalism. Since your wardrobe is like a ‘room within a room’, you can gain a confidence boost by starting there.

Tidying up

Marie Kondo put the magic into tidying up, but is tidying minimalism?

Well, not entirely. Tidying isn’t really minimalism unless you truly adopt the KonMari method as your preferred approach to decluttering.

I am well-known amongst friends for being tidy, but it was only when I began to unclutter with true intention that I was able to let go of clutter that I’d been holding onto for over 20 years.

Here’s the thing about tidying. Tidying is a daily activity but it’s deliberately a ‘light touch, non intrusive’ kind of domestic intervention. Tidying is putting away the items you have (and which you need, because they are beautiful or have a purpose). Tidying is about ensuring that you can go about your business with grace and ease. By keeping things tidy, you can clean your home quickly, find what you need and get on with your day-to-day life.

Decluttering is more in-depth. It’s like peeling the stubborn layers of an onion; as you remove one layer, you go deeper. You unearth artefacts from your personal history that remind you of places, people or past phases in your life. Letting go is part of the process, but, as I wrote here, we shouldn’t confuse yesterday’s relics with treasured memories.

And decluttering is just one of the ingredients in the ‘minimalism mix’ that supports the idea of ‘less being more’. Decluttering is a process, which may take many months if not years. Tidying up is what you do regularly to keep on top of daily life.

Intentional living

If you don’t have time to do what matters, stop doing things that don’t. – Courtney Carver

Often, the trigger that causes us to adopt a ‘more meaningful life with less’ is that moment where ‘enough is enough’. Overwhelm is a key facet here. Sometimes, you just wish you could make everything and everyone go away. This is where you know that you need to make some significant changes in your life.

Intentionality is key to this. If you align your everyday actions to your long-term goals, things are going to change for the positive.

Want to get out of debt? Don’t go shopping. Take steps to pay down your debt. Ask if what you bought was worth the ‘life energy’ (work effort) devoted to get it.

Want to spend more time with your family? Resolve to eliminate the commitments, obligations and non-essential activities that are preventing you from achieving your goal.

Slow living

Slow living is – in many ways – very similar to simple living. Slow living emphasizes mindfulness and the notion of ‘being present’ in whatever we’re doing. Its connection to minimalism is that it emphasizes intentionality.

The slow movement has a number of strands, one of which is slow food. If you’re in touch with the origins of your food, the seasonality of ingredients and the pleasure of cooking from scratch, then this idea will chime with you. Other strands are slow travel, slow books and even slow cities.

Slow living is about purpose, intention and focus. It’s about awareness and being present, rather than dashing from one thing to the next at 90 miles per hour. One of its more well-known advocates is Brooke McAlary who, along with husband Ben, is host of The Slow Home Podcast and author of Destination Simple.

Conclusion

As you can see, minimalism comes in many forms and it’s a flexible concept. Advocates adopt those aspects of minimalism and simple living that appeal to them. A mix and match approach works well, depending on what adds value to your life now.

What’s meaningful when you’re a 20-something single will undoubtedly differ from that of a couple in their 30s, or a mid-life mom with family and work commitments in her 40s.

The point is that minimalism is really – actually – about maximalism: optimising the time we have on this earth to live the best life we can, sharing that with the best people we love.

I’ll take that!

Further reading

Check out quarterly new digital publication, Simplify Magazine
Also, discover a round-up of useful articles via: http://simplicityvoices.com/

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Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers. Get your free PDF via my resources page here too.

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Can you call yourself a minimalist?

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I chatted with a new friend over lunch earlier this week. It was lovely to share our experiences and to reflect on what had brought us to our particular version of minimalism.

Are we minimalists?

Would we both call ourselves ‘minimalists’ in the sense that so many people understand? Do we live in clean, white spaces, with shiny, clear surfaces? Well, not exactly, but there were some similarities in how we chose to live our lives:
– seeking to focus on what’s important
– reducing or eliminating the things that no longer added value (yes, we declutter)
– taking time out to be less ‘busy’

We both have tiny wardrobes

Plus, we both had ‘tiny wardrobes’ and had been inspired by the wonderful Courtney Carver from bemorewithless.com

In our discussion, we considered the many and varied writers, bloggers, podcasts and other forms of communication that influenced our thinking. Each of us had come to simplicity via different means; each was following her own path. We didn’t put a label on our respective approaches but it can helpful to read about different types of minimalism if you’re curious to find out more.

Different types of minimalists

Melissa Carmara Wilkins writes beautifully about different types of minimalism, setting out the aspects that differentiate – say – ‘Experientialists’ from ‘Essentialists’ or ‘Enoughists’ from ‘Eco-Minimalists’. Read her fabulous article here:
http://nosidebar.com/types-of-minimalist/

Can you call yourself a minimalist?

So, can you call yourself a minimalist? You may not identify specifically with any of the types Wilkins describes, but let me tell you this:

  • If you want to carve out a life of authenticity, where you live your values (and not follow the path of others) you might be a minimalist.
  • If you’re freeing yourself of unwanted clutter to enable you to focus on what matters to you, you might be a minimalist
  • If you are seeking to embrace a life of simplicity or wish to be debt-free, you might be a minimalist
  • If you’ve given up ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, you might be a minimalist.
  • If you’ve said goodbye to your ‘fantasy self’, you might be a minimalist.

Maybe we are maximalists

So, you can call yourself a minimalist. Of course you can! You’re minimising the aspects of your life that no longer add value to maximise the things that matter. So, maybe that makes us maximalists….?


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Clear the clutter with 10 top tips

Need some ideas to get started?

1. Sweep through your main living space, gathering up the clutter that doesn’t belong there. Result? Instant ‘clear-of-clutter’ boost!

2. Box up things you’re wavering over. Close and label the box. Let its contents go if you haven’t touched the box in 6 months.

3. Create a “swishing” bag of clothes that you can pass onto others who’ll benefit from them.

4. Fill the plastic charity bag that drops through your letterbox – it’s a time-limited opportunity to clear out that clutter!

5. Choose one category e.g. Everyday kitchen items. Pack away everything then bring out only the things you use in the next month.

6. Sort items into perfect piles e.g. Hand towels, bath sheets, bath mats. Prune worn-out and un-needed items.

7. Create drawer dividers with shoe boxes or gift boxes. Use one box per set of small items e.g. socks.

8. Remove duplicates, especially those items that you’d already upgraded but where you were keeping the original ‘just in case’ or ‘as a spare’.

9. Use up what you have before buying more. Don’t stockpile.

10. Declutter something, however small, every day until it’s done.


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Releasing the relics of yesterday’s you

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I begin this post by googling the word in its title:
relic

ˈrɛlɪk/

An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical interest.

I muse on this: ‘an object surving from an earlier time’. Oh, I have had a few of those in my home!

Personal relics

As I go further on my Minimalist journey, I realise just how many of these relics I have held onto over the years.

Since we moved into our current home, just over 4 years ago, here are some examples of things I had kept but which I have since released:

  • Riding hat, boots, body protector and crop
  • Music from a choral event I had been a part of over 15 years ago
  • Satchel from my teaching days, bought in 1997 (yes, really)
  • Cookery books from when I was just starting out
  • Toys ‘for visitors’ in the toy cupboard
  • Craft equipment from a day course I had attended

Letting go

In her book, ‘The Joy of Less’, Francine Jay encourages the reader to, “…release the relics of yesterday’s you.” All those items listed above represented who I was before. They were physical echoes of ‘yesterday’s me’. They were reminders – in solid form – of an earlier time. Why did I hold onto them?

Quite honestly, I’d not really put any thought into it. When we moved, I bet my removals company wished I had put some thought into it! I was moving to a more spacious home, so everything had somewhere to go. Why, though, did I fill my new home with carefully stored relics? What was I thinking of?

Now, four years on, I have shifted the backlog. I didn’t need the items to remind me of the experiences they had enabled me to enjoy. I didn’t need the relics of yesteryear. The only time we have is now. So, I surround myself with only those things that mean something today. The past can be released into history. That’s where it belongs.


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