What Minimalism Is, What It Isn't, and Why It Can Benefit Your Life

Author Joshua Becker describes minimalism as "... the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it."

I like this definition because it's personal and open-ended.  Minimalism becomes what you want it to be.  You choose what's important, what you will place front and center.  You choose what to remove from your life in order to leave you with more space, time, money, attention, and energy for what matters.  

In this way minimalism helps you define your goals and purpose in life, and makes it more likely that you'll be able to pursue and achieve them.

By this definition, my minimalism won't look exactly like yours, and your minimalism will be distinct from anyone else's.  Yet we're all minimalists.


8 myths about minimalism that keep people away

I believe that everyone would benefit from a minimalist lifestyle, but obviously not everyone makes that choice.  

Maybe it's because there are a lot of mistaken ideas about minimalism.  These wrong ideas aren't attractive – in fact, some of them are downright scary.  I wouldn't want to live by those "minimalist rules" either.

1.  Minimalism means you get rid of everything.

This implies that minimalism is a narrow life of deprivation and need.  There are people who live that way, but it's not usually their choice.  That's called poverty, and I guarantee that if you're longing for a life with less busyness and clutter, you're not living in poverty.  Rather the opposite, in fact.

Minimalism isn't about deprivation.  It's about choosing to live with less so you can have exactly what you need, with more time and space for what really matters to you.

2.  Minimalist homes are stark white boxes with no personality.

Yes, some minimalist design is characterized by a lot of white and very little d├ęcor, but a minimalist doesn't have to choose that aesthetic.

I have a navy couch and green-painted end tables.  My books are colorful and so is the art on my walls.  Family photos and house plants add personality and life.

A minimalist home can have plenty of color, texture, and comfort.  It can display personal items that are meaningful to you.  What it won't have is stuff that simply gathers dust or random items that have nowhere to belong.  Again, the key is to keep what adds value to your life and remove the rest.

I've written an entire book about this particular subject:  Comfortable Minimalism: Create a Home with Plenty of Style and a Lot Less Stuff. *

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you purchase through my links, I may earn a small commission.

3.  Minimalism is inconvenient.

This idea also assumes that a minimalist lives with less than necessary, so that every task is more difficult because of a lack of tools and supplies.

Instead, minimalism makes life easier in several ways.  You spend less time cleaning, organizing, maintaining, and searching for your belongings.  When people minimize, they often discover that some things they thought made life easier or more convenient were actually stealing a lot of their time and attention.

Minimalism also avoids the problem of duplication.  For example, instead of having an apple slicer, an avocado slicer, an egg slicer, and a cheese slicer, you simply keep one good knife.  You have one thing to clean, store, and keep sharp, yet you can still do all those tasks.  You find a better solution to your problem than simply buying a new gadget.

As you start to remove excess belongings, ask yourself, "Do I need this?" "Why do I have it?" and one more question:  "What would I use if I didn't have this?"  Unlock your creativity and skill.

Related article: How Limits Help You Become More Creative

4.  A minimalist doesn't have hobbies or collections.

This misunderstanding implies that minimalists can't keep things they love and enjoy.  It misses the point of "promoting the things that are most valuable."

Sure, a minimalist may keep only one or two collections rather than letting eight gather dust.  By removing what is less loved (or paring a very large collection down to your favorites), you're able to highlight those items and enjoy them more often, since they're not lost in a jumble.

The same concept would apply to hobbies.  You might have tools and supplies for ten hobbies, but how many do you really have time and energy to pursue?  A minimalist acknowledges that a couple of hobbies are favorites, and the rest are aspirational or part of the past.  By pruning away the neglected pastimes, more money and effort can be devoted to the ones that bring the most satisfaction.

Once again – minimalism isn't about deprivation.  That would be the exact opposite of what a minimalist is trying to achieve.

5.  Minimalism has a lot of rules.

Some people do experiment with certain limits.  I usually find a 16 piece capsule wardrobe to be plenty.  I've tried undecorating, and have observed some "fasts" from shopping, social media, TV, Starbucks, and other experiments.

These were all interesting and challenging experiences that let me live differently for a specific period of time.  One of the benefits of minimalism is how much you learn about yourself and what really matters to you, and these tests helped me with my investigations.

Minimalism lets you create your own set of rules, and those rules can change as your life changes.

Want to try some minimalist experiments of your own?  My book, The Minimalist Experiment: Fun and Easy Ways to Unlock Change, is full of inspiration and encouragement.

6.  Minimalism only works for young single people.

Funnily enough, I wasn't a minimalist when I was young and single.  I was busy buying stuff I couldn't afford and creating a bunch of credit card debt.

I had several reasons to start practicing minimalism when my children were young:  we wanted to live on one salary, we were overrun by toys, and I needed to break a bad habit of binge shopping and purging.

I would say that the more people who live in your house, the more benefits you'll notice from minimalism.  And there are certain ways in which minimalism is really important for children.

But anyone can be a minimalist – the young, single, location-independent person, the parent with young children or teenagers, and the soon-to-retire downsizer.  The minimalist choices for each won't look the same, because what they each value at that point in life is different.

7.  Minimalism means being cheap.

First of all, being cheap is not the same as being frugal.  Frugality is about spending carefully and without waste.  It's intentional, but a life of stinginess and deprivation would be missing the point (the Latin root of the word "frugal" means "fruit" or "value").

There is some overlap between minimalism and frugality, as both promote buying less and being thoughtful about how you use your money.  Some people might turn to minimalism in order to be more frugal.

But the two ideas are not the same.  Minimalism isn't only about saving money – it's about living with less in order to have time and space for what is most important to you.  A minimalist may own fewer things, but might spend just as much as before by choosing higher quality items, purchasing more experiences, or being more generous toward others.

Related article: How to Live Well

8.  Minimalism is only about your belongings.

Decluttering is often the gateway into minimalism.  But minimalism goes far beyond what you own.  As you learn what you most value and remove the things that don't align with that, you realize that minimalism can also be applied to how you spend your time, money, and skills.

Author Rachelle Crawford says it well:  "It doesn't matter how much stuff you get rid of if you don't have time to enjoy the things that matter."  

A "crazy busy" schedule can keep you from focusing on what's really important to you.  So can the burden of debt or a habit of spending too much time online.  Having less in all these areas leaves room for more of what matters.

One last thing...  

Minimalism isn't about owning or doing less for the sake of less.  Minimalism is a tool that helps you live intentionally to create the life you want and the freedom to live that life.  

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