When you think of minimalism what images come to mind? A dreary empty room with concrete floors and three pieces of furniture? A fashion blogger’s apartment? An empty museum wing with canvases of a single color of paint? Wearing the same outfit over and over? With the exception of a fashionable apartment, minimalism doesn’t usually bring to mind excitement and happiness.
As someone who grew up in the United States, I have been told my entire life that shopping and consuming are the way to happiness. If I want to be cool, thin, sexy, desirable and beautiful I need to buy whatever that commercial is selling. After landing myself in a huge amount of credit card debt, I figured that wasn’t the answer and started looking into owning less stuff. If you looked at the room I now share with my boyfriend you probably would not consider it a minimalist room at all. But compared to the amount of things I owned before, it’s a huge leap for me.
Every person is different so every person adopts minimalism differently. Some people may be satisfied with owning only 100 items, some may own far more but still identify as minimalists. Minimalism started as a movement in art and architecture and has evolved to encompass all aspects of life. For many people it’s been a way to cut away physical and mental clutter leaving space for discovering what really makes them happy.
I wanted to share the misconceptions I hear all the time about minimalism and hopefully clear some of them up for any of you hesitant about it. Of course, some minimalists will be some of these things but none of them are a requirement!
1. A Political Statement
I think the first thing people assume about minimalists is that they have to be vegan/vegetarian/liberal/conservative/a hippie/anti-capitalist/whatever. Minimalists have all sorts of diets and political beliefs that are not influenced by their decision to live with less.
2. A Cult
I’ve seen many posts all over the internet by people who “quit” minimalism as if it’s some sort of cult. Minimalism is not a secret club of any kind, nor does it require any religious preference. Many minimalists are spiritual and practice mindfulness and meditation but it is not synonymous with “Buddhist” or even “religious.” People with no religious preference benefit from the absence of clutter in their lives because it allows them to focus on what they think is important. Minimalism can even be a part of your religious practice since all religions believe that too many things can distract us from our true nature and happiness. Don’t be turned off because you think it requires becoming a Buddhist monk; having less physical and mental clutter can greatly improve your life regardless of your beliefs.
3. The Absence of Color
Because minimalism began as a movement in art, architecture and interior design, it’s usually associated with uninspiring blank white and gray spaces. You do not have to live in a white box with only white furniture and wear only white clothes. Wear what you like! Decorate as you’d like! I love the color white but I would go nuts without the color green in my living space. I love having pops of green and bright yellow because they contrast with my neutral colors and make me feel happy. Decorate your space and your wardrobe with colors that feel calm and good to you. The only thing minimalism asks is that you don’t hold on to the things that cause clutter. Duplicates, things you don’t use, and things you don’t really like don’t need to be kept in your living space. You can be as colorful as you want!
4. The Absence of Fun
A huge mistake some people make when initially downsizing is throwing away things they actually like, regretting it, and later replacing it. Definitely don’t do this! If you really enjoy something, you don’t have to throw it out because it’s not totally practical. And definitely don’t deprive yourself of things you love just to appear more minimal.
It’s easy to be overzealous while purging your belongings. If you’re excited to get rid of a large amount of things initially to kickstart your minimizing, it’s OK to wait on items you’re not sure about. It doesn’t make sense to throw something out just to buy it again, so pay attention to the things you use and enjoy. Feel free to give yourself permission to keep them in your life.
5. Rejecting all Earthly Desires and Becoming a Monk
On a similar note, minimalists can still love their stuff. They can and do still want stuff. They just are more mindful of the stuff they own and make sure it’s useful or something they love. Getting rid of excess makes room for you to enjoy the things you really like.
6. Not Having Kids or a Family
Most minimalist bloggers I’ve seen have families. You do not have to be a bachelor who lives by themselves and owns only 100 things (or who travels around with only a backpack of belongings). I’ve seen parents adopt minimalism after having kids because they realized how quickly clutter can spiral out of control. One even has six children! This doesn’t mean denying your kids toys or forcing them to grow up in the white box void of stimulation, but that things should be chosen carefully. Most importantly, your relationships are what make your family life most satisfying, not your possessions.
7. Anti-Capitalism Yuppies
Minimalists are still consumers, they just try to avoid excess consumption. This means avoiding consumption of too many commercials, too much media, cheap, fast fashion, and unsustainable food and resources. Minimalists still live on planet Earth and must comsume sometimes. The important distinction is knowing that happiness won’t come from buying things. Instead, it’s better to focus on owing fewer, better things and be mindful of the effects of consumption on our happiness and the environment.
8. The Perfect Capsule Wardrobe
Oooooh boy. I read a blog post via Pinterest about “quitting minimalism” and it’s the perfect example of why NOT to become a minimalist. I’m not going to link it here, I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus because they’re entitled to their opinions. In this post, the author described how she tried for months to become a minimalist through building the perfect capsule wardrobe. She threw out everything in her closet and bought all the clothes on someone else’s essential shopping list. She did this multiple times and every single time found herself unhappy with the resulting clothes. After all, she was trying to build someone else’s closet instead of her own! Of course you will end up dissatisfied if you’re trying to copy someone else! If every chic Parisienne owns something or Vogue says it’s the hottest thing this season, or bloggers say it’s the best thing to happen to fashion–If you don’t like it or like how it looks on you, don’t buy it! Minimalism emphasizes knowing yourself and your likes. Your life doesn’t have to be a perfectly curated, aesthetic Instagram feed. If that’s your goal, then definitely keep it in mind and work to it, but if you’re not a fan of super minimal fashion you are not required to have a capsule wardrobe. (There are huge benefits to having fewer clothes, however. I’ll write about that another time!)
What do you think about when you hear the word “minimalism?” Also, check out my post on why you need to start meditating for advice on implementing mindfulness.