Minimalism doesn’t need a dictionary definition. It may mean one thing one day and something entirely else on another day — or to another person. It should evolve with the individual and their life and be used as a guide to help make decisions that align with a broader vision or goal.
Minimalism should be a personally defined thing. When I began pruning extra possessions and finding higher-quality, multi-purpose things to replace some of mine, I read a lot about what other people were doing. I saw people reaching all ends of the spectrum, some going nearly as minimal as minimal can get and pruning down to a single backpack full of essentials.
Comparing my lifestyle to others can be a useful tool to show what paths are available — it lets me “try on” a different lifestyle and see how it might fit. But it can also be dangerous when it influences decisions in a way that doesn’t align with my longer-term life vision. I found this happening to me when I was planning my travels and figuring out what I wanted to bring with me.
I had started thinking about minimalism more seriously after about the fourth time I’d moved a whole bunch of boxes from one apartment to another without ever having opened them. I didn’t go all out into it and start purging everything Marie Kondo-style, although much of what she suggests was helpful regardless. Instead I slowly worked through things in short bursts over the next couple years.
Much of it was mundane and easy to part with — old t-shirts (was I really ever going to turn those into a t-shirt blanket?), childhood toys, old video games and movies, random electronics and on and on.
Then there are things that are much more difficult to part with, like keepsakes, that cool rock I found on vacation once, my childhood legos, and other things that inspire strong memories. I decided to limit myself to one box of keepsake-related things and that’s worked well for me — I can deal with carting around one extra box of stuff when I move. And I kept my legos, I still can’t summon the courage to donate those quite yet.
I found clothes, whether old or newer, fairly easy to part with. My strategy was generally to pretend that I’d already gotten rid of the clothes by putting them in a box and out of sight somewhere and then waiting awhile and seeing if I happened to remember or want to wear any of that stuff — most of the time the answer was no!
By the time I was ready to leave my apartment behind, I’d taken somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve boxes of clothes and random stuff to Goodwill and thrown out tons more of non-donatable things. I had my wardrobe to a place I was happy with, still with some room for improvement. I’d trimmed down possessions to a point where a small storage unit was enough for me.
When I was thinking about traveling I found this idea of “one-bagging” captivating and a bit romantic. How awesome would it be to travel the country with just a backpack, being ready to go anywhere with everything I owned at a moment’s notice?
This idea didn’t last though. As I thought more about how I wanted to travel and what I loved doing in my current life I realized it just didn’t make any sense to do that. I’m a rock climber — how would that work? I have an entire backpack full of just rock climbing stuff, not to mention a large crash pad that takes up half the room in my car. I also love to cook — it seems imprudent and wasteful to have to re-purchase staple pantry items all the time, and sometimes Airbnbs don’t have can openers for some unbeknownst reason.
As I was forming a better idea of the pieces of my life I wanted to bring with me (and the pieces that I was okay leaving behind), I realized I needed to define minimalism for myself, and it doesn’t much matter where on the spectrum that lands. There is no blanket one-size-fits-all “minimalist”. Each of us has to define what it means to be a minimalist. It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming there is an endpoint to minimalism eventually reaching the peek state of “minimalism” when really it is an ever-evolving journey like any other. It fluctuates as circumstances change, as hobbies evolve or dissipate, as people enter or leave our lives, and as life keeps turning.
My packed car, complete with climbing gear, various kitchen supplies, and two bags of clothes and such
Perhaps a minimalist is a one-bagging, couch-surfing youth. Or maybe it’s a mother of three, house filled with toys, carefully maintaining a living space for her family. For me, it’s somewhere in between that with a packed car filled with the things that help me live life the way I want and do the things I want.
I make non-consumable purchases much more carefully now. Virtually everything I buy I look at with the eye of having it in my possession for years and also having to carry it around with me in my travels. This reduces impulse purchases, helps separate wants from needs and aids me in making well-informed purchases on only things that I really want or really need.
Minimalism can be whatever we want it to be as long as we have a thoughtful approach to the possessions in our lives. A question I’ve found to be helpful when determining whether or not to bring something new into my environment or to purge something already there — does this align with my long-term vision of what I want my life to look like?
And one of my favorite quotes, that I think perfectly sums up the minimalism journey:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. - William Morris
Have you thought about minimalism and what it means to you? Let me know if the comments below!