If you think about it, there are a lot of things we own simply because almost everyone we know owns those things, or because someone gave them to us or convinced us we needed them.
Unless you live in a large city, you probably own at least one car. You might own a set of fancy dinnerware that only comes out at Thanksgiving and Christmas. You might own knickknacks or books or sporting goods that simply gather dust. Maybe you have chairs that no one ever sits in, or heirloom silverware that you have no time to polish.
Even though we're all constantly bombarded with the message to buy, buy, buy, it's hardly ever suggested that we might find greater satisfaction in not owning something. But as a minimalist, I've learned that some of those "must have" items aren't, at least not for me.
When my husband happens to mention to his 6th grade students that we don't watch TV, the response is always, "What do you DO at night?" It's that lack of imagination we wanted to overcome when we decided to experiment with giving up television.
In 1996, our TV broke and we didn't replace it. Five years later, we had read countless books aloud, played board games on hundreds of evenings, taken a lot of after-dinner walks, and pursued various hobbies. In 2001, we bought a TV with a DVD player so we could occasionally watch movies.
I find that our home is more peaceful without constant voices, news, and commercials. We read our news, remain focused on creative and learning pursuits and each other, and have more time than the average American who watches TV. This is what works for us.
I used to have a desk, but spent more time working at the dining table, which has a view of trees and grass. My husband and I set up our laptops there, and put them and any other materials we're working with away before dinner every evening. Since my desk used to stay covered with stuff, this new situation is much less cluttered.
If you want some instant decluttering gratification, I recommend ditching a piece or two of furniture, especially if, like my desk, the piece has simply become a place to pile clutter.
When I was a kid, I collected coins and Holly Hobbie items (figurines, plates, pictures, dolls, a lunch box). Later I collected antique quilts. I don't remember what happened to the coins, I gave the Holly Hobbie collection to the Goodwill, and I eventually sold the quilts.
There are entire books dedicated to how to decorate your home with collectibles, but aside from the large amounts of money it is possible to spend acquiring them, there's also the cost of insuring and displaying these items. They're no fun to pack up and move, and you're going to be dusting them forever.
I prefer the freedom of not owning. I enjoy visiting museums, but I don't want to live in one.
4. Hobby supplies
I'd rather not have a closetful (or roomful, or garageful) of hobby and/or sports equipment. Therefore, I try to focus on minimalist hobbies – leisure and creative pursuits that don't involve the acquisition or storage of a lot of stuff.
I take walks. I read books from the library and on my phone using Kindle Unlimited. I write on my laptop. I buy consumable books of extra-hard crossword puzzles. I enjoy crochet and counted cross-stitch, and since I only buy what I need for each project I want to do, I only need to store a few essential tools.
My husband rides a bicycle, plays chess online, enjoys birding with binoculars and a field guide, and in non-COVID years listens to sports on the radio.
We both enjoy going to plays and musicals when possible.
Other minimalist hobbies could include:
- container gardening
- digital scrapbooking
- visiting museums
- going to movies
- martial arts
- going to the gym
- pick-up basketball at the park
5. Specialty kitchenware
I admit it – I'm not a fan of multi-step cooking. The most involved dish I make is lasagna, maybe once a month. I use fresh vegetables, so all I need is a cutting board, knife, and a large skillet to cook the veggies in. A 9x13 baking dish, a mixing bowl, a cheese grater, a measuring cup and spoons, a slotted cooking spoon, and a spatula complete the equipment list (I use no-boil noodles). The same equipment lets me bake a fruit crisp, tamale pie, and many other dishes.
I use my slow cooker often for chili, stew, spicy chicken with rice, even banana cake. I have a large saucepan, a colander, a two-slice toaster, a teakettle, and a few other tools and utensils. I've pared my dishware, glassware, and silverware to six place settings (which means we can host our family for a meal), plus a couple of sets of plastic dishes for our grandsons.
These few versatile pieces wouldn't be enough for a true chef (but then again, they might be). Of course, if you love to bake, do your own canning, or regularly host more people for multi-course dinners, you'll need more equipment. In that sense, having a minimalist kitchen requires some minor adjustments based on priorities, lifestyle, and family size.
6. Perfume, nail polish, and makeup
I always thought I was allergic to perfume until I read that my headaches and asthma-like reactions were actually signs of chemical injury. Fragrances are made with synthetic substances largely derived from petroleum products. Many contain known carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors. I no longer use scented body products or detergents, except for Dr. Bronner's lavender bar soap. Scented candles, too, are loaded with chemicals. If I burn a candle, I prefer natural beeswax.
The chemical issues are also true of nail polish, remover, and makeup; and makeup is often tested on animals who endure appalling conditions. I file and buff my nails and leave them naturally pale pink.
When I used to perform in operas and musicals I wore stage makeup – under bright stage lights you need makeup. But most of us aren't onstage, and we really can do without makeup! (Note: I sometimes use Burt's Bees tinted lip balm.) If you have a good haircut and clean hair, dress simply in clothes that suit your body type and coloring, and most importantly smile and radiate friendliness, practically no one will notice that you're not wearing makeup. I'm almost 60, and I often get compliments on my good skin.
7. Large wardrobe
I used to have a large walk-in closet packed full of clothing, and eventually pared down to about 12-15 pieces per season, plus sleepwear and a couple of winter coats. Last year, as part of my ABCs of Minimalism series, I wrote about capsule wardrobes.
Incidentally, it's a great a idea to go through your closet and remove items you don't love or wear regularly right after returning from a trip. When you live for a week with a small selection of clothes, you're reminded of how little you actually need. You probably traveled with your favorite, most flattering, most comfortable and easy-care mix-and-match items – a perfect capsule wardrobe.
So tell me – what are you happier without?
Photo by Alla Hetman on Unsplash