Historically minimalism has referred to movements and styles within the arts. Minimalist paintings composed of simplistic lines and large shapes became popular in the 1950’s, with individuals such as Andy Warhol and Frank Stella being some of the most influential artists of their time.
In our modern times, minimalism has become a movement defined by a way of thinking and a way of life. It is a movement that rejects mass consumption and emphasizes simplicity. Given the abundance that, more often than not, even the poorest among us within the U.S. enjoy, one has to wonder why? Why has this movement grown so steadily and why would so many eschew said abundance, choosing to live in tiny houses, out of backpacks, or with simplified budgets that do not include a McMansion (even if said individuals could afford them)? Those things are supposed to be what we strive for, right?
In more ways than one, this ability to choose a simple life is a privileged place to be. The ability to choose a different path and define life on your own terms encapsulates freedom. This idea, this freedom, was the original American Dream before being supplanted by a consumerist mentality where everyone deserves and should buy a house or own a smart phone (not that smart phones existed at the birth of our country). As a minimalist, and with all of this in mind, I have compiled a list to answer why, offering reasons and a range of benefits (or changes) that come from choosing a minimalist lifestyle.
1. LIFE IS SHORT
The ultimate reason for choosing a minimalist lifestyle is summed up by the phrase “life is short.” It is cliche but true that time goes by in a flash. Our lives and histories will continue to march forward whether we have fancy things or not. You cannot take those fancy things with you when you die. Because of this, many minimalists (including myself), want to spend our energies doing more than simply acquiring stuff and working to acquire said stuff. We want to connect with people, take risks, and take the road less traveled (to borrow another cliche) – even if those risks seem scary, stupid, or look like the opposite of what success is supposed to be.
2. WE WANT OUR LIVES TO HAVE MEANING
C.S. Lewis said it best when he observed the following:
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Minimalists realize that no amount of wealth, no set number of possessions, and no amount of material success will, in the end, bring fulfillment. In a society that is obsessed with celebrity, wealth, and image, minimalists seek to go deeper, shifting focus to things like creativity, quality relationships, and community.
3. WE ARE TIRED OF “NORMAL”
Stressed. Sick. Restless. Lonely. Depressed. These seem to be the new normal in society. And, in short, many of us are tired of it. Not only that, we want to do something tangible about it.
There is an argument to be made that our modern way of life is the root cause of the maladies listed above. We have become disconnected as a society – spiritually dead, malnourished, overfed, and constantly busy. I would compare our current reality to a giant Skinner box, one rife with constant stimulation and what the Bible refers to as “hope deferred” (Proverbs 13:12). We consume, hoping for more, but feeling all the more empty and hopeless. Minimalism is an equal and opposite reaction to this reality, seeking out the things listed in the first two points of this article.
Given that we have now that we have answered the why, behind the growing movement of minimalism, what are some of the benefits to living a minimalist lifestyle?
1. YOUR PRIORITIES SHIFT
First and foremost, choosing a minimalist lifestyle ultimately forces you to ask the questions, “What really matters?” – “What do I really need?” and “What do I really want?” thereby shifting your priorities toward more basic/existential concerns. To me, minimalism means coming to the conclusion that having a large wardrobe doesn’t matter, having expensive cars doesn’t matter, and even owning a home doesn’t matter. All too often people will spend their lives working toward these things, only to be working so much that they cannot enjoy them. Houses often sit dormant due to busy schedules and other priorities. Cars depreciate rapidly and will often be traded in for a newer, more expensive model (and car loan). Minimalism says that these things, while not bad in and of themselves, are not the priority, placing more value on relationships, freedom to go/do, and experiences. And while you may not immediately have the ability to shift gears and enter into a living situation or career that suits your minimalist lifestyle, the shift in your priorities will set you on a trajectory toward whatever priorities and goals that you have.
2. YOU SPEND LESS
To some, shopping is an event or a social outing. Between access to late night big box stores, Amazon Prime, and monthly subscriptions, it is easier than ever to spend on a whim. I mean, we’ve all seen the memes about overspending at Target …
And while the urge to buy new things didn’t miraculously go away after I adopted the minimalist lifestyle, adopting a minimalist mindset not only shifted my priorities, it armed me with a set of principles that help to dictate the flow of possessions both into and out of my life.
For example, many within the minimalist community (including myself) have adopted what is known as the one-in-one-out rule, especially for things like shoes, clothes, and the like. The rules are simple – if you buy a new pair of shoes, a pair currently residing in your closet must be sold, donated, or tossed. Since many minimalists only have a set number of shoes within their wardrobe, it stands to reason that bringing in a new pair may very well require getting rid of your favorite pair – especially if the new shoes serve the same or a similar purpose.
Another principle made popular by Marie Kondo, is only owning things that add value to your life. Decorative accessories, multiple mugs with varying degrees of humor written on the side, and seventeen sweatshirts with your alma mater’s logo stamped on them generally do not make the cut when the goal is to live simply. The very act of living with and acquiring less will simplify both your possessions and your budget dramatically.
3. YOU LOOK FOR QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Related to the act of spending less is the need or desire to look for quality over quantity. Because I own fewer possessions as a minimalist, it stands to reason that the possessions I keep will be used more often, meaning that they need to stand up to normal wear and tear. Things like fast fashion have become proscribed, not only for their tendency to wear out after only a couple of washes, but also due to how they are produced. Owning classic, staple items (that may cost more upfront but less over time) guarantee that my wardrobe will not be out of style any time soon, and that the items in my closet can be mixed-and-matched for a wider variety of outfits.
4. LIVING WITH LESS REDUCES STRESS AND ANXIETY
My great grandfather used to say, “He who’s gots gots problems.” And while there is nothing wrong with owning nice things (as stated above), owning too much can lead to possessions owning you, leaving you trapped in a vicious cycle of discontent and spending.
Owning expensive cars means worrying about doors getting dinged, floors getting dirty, or the vehicle being stolen. Owning a large home requires more time, money, and energy to keep it clean, cared for, and furnished. Owning all the latest technology requires maintenance and often leads to virtual clutter which can prevent us from unplugging and connecting with world immediately around us. In the end, everything listed above requires a larger monthly budget to maintain, leading to more work and more time spent to keep up with your lifestyle. Therefore, the real cost not only includes the purchase price and the maintenance cost, it also includes that which you are giving up in terms of time and the ability to choose other things, something called opportunity cost in the financial world.
Since simplifying my life and reducing the amount of things that I own I have become less stressed, more productive, and more able to care for myself/others in a healthy way. In turn, I have more mental and emotional energy to pursue meaningful endeavors, all the while still working full time.
5. BUSY BECOMES A DIRTY WORD
In our modern society, the word busy is worn as a badge of honor. No longer do people say, “I’m well,” when asked how they are doing. It is now more common to hear, “Ugh, I’m so busy.”
Since choosing the minimalist lifestyle, one of the things most difficult for me to overcome has been the guilt I feel when I do nothing – literally nothing. Turning off all of my podcasts, setting aside my phone, and simply sitting in silence is something I have to be intentional about on a regular basis. As I have crept into my thirties, I find that this time is necessary for my mental and physical health. Being constantly bombarded by stress and busyness wears me down and leaves me feeling despondent. Taking even 30 minutes to one hour out of my day to close my eyes, rest my mind, pray, and unplug from the world reduces anxiety and prepares me for anything that may lie ahead. In the end, while I enjoy hard work, managing my time, and doing well, I do not like being busy longterm, and do not see it as a virtue. We would all do well to slow down, take a breath, and reevaluate our lives on a regular basis, not only for ourselves, but for society as a whole.
After reading this article, I would encourage you to take a moment and really think about where you are at in life – financially, physically, personally, relationally. Take inventory, being honest with where you are at – especially if you are feeling worn out, depressed, or lonely. While life is hard, it doesn’t have to be hopeless.
Figure out what you want and edit your life to make it happen.