Your Unique Minimalism: What Kind is Just Right for You?

Contrary to popular belief, minimalism isn't a numbers game.  It's not about owning fewer than 100 things, or a 33-piece wardrobe, or one set of dishes and silverware per person in your household.

Minimalism is not a game you win or lose.

Those types of numbers turn minimalism into a competition, which is all wrong.  That comparison trap is what we fall into when we try to keep up with the proverbial Joneses.  It's what pushes us to buy the latest and greatest, even if we don't need it, even if we can't afford it, simply so we'll fit in and gain respect.

The comparison trap is the last place we want to end up.

Minimalism is about figuring out what matters to you and then getting rid of things that steal your money, time, and talents away from that.  Each of us will have different answers to what's most important, so our versions of minimalism will look different.  In fact, my minimalism today, as half of a long-married couple nearing retirement, looks different from what it did 15 years ago, when I was homeschooling two teens, working part-time, directing a choir, and performing as a classical singer.

Minimalism is not about rules – it's about you.

Minimalism is for everyone – location-independent entrepreneurs, families with little kids, seniors looking to downsize, and everyone in between.  Minimalism is for everyone, but it's not one-size-fits-all.  It's not about rules, it's about you.

Your version of minimalism will be unique to you.  It depends on what you value, what your goals are, and what your family, job, and lifestyle are like.

The only "requirement" to minimalism is that you identify what's important to you and what you care about most.  Then remove the things that aren't necessary or valuable to you, and the things that distract you or prevent you from having or being what you most desire.  You can't get minimalism "wrong" if you've done that.

And as life and circumstances change, your priorities and values may change too, which means your minimalism may look different.  You might want to minimize even more, you might enter a season of life where you need a few more things, or you might need to accommodate the activities of partners and kids as well as your own.

It's still minimalism.  There are no minimalist police to punish you for owning "too much," or minimalist award ceremonies for owning the least.

It can be helpful to read about what other minimalists are doing or have done, what they've learned, what their stumbling blocks and their successes have been, and what tips they have to share.  I hope this blog and my books* can be resources like that, full of encouragement and the occasional insight or inspiration to try something you haven't thought of before.  You won't copy me, but you might learn about or even disagree with something that helps you craft your own version of a minimalist life. 

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

How do you get started?

What if you're new to the idea of minimalism, and feeling a bit overwhelmed without a set of hard-and-fast rules to follow?  Or what if you've been decluttering and getting less busy for a while, but aren't sure you'll recognize when you've reached enough?

It helps to spend some time thinking, asking yourself some questions, and getting clear about what kind of minimalist you want to be, and what you'll need to do to achieve that.

We're all on a road to somewhere.  We're motivated by sticks, carrots, and the vision of a place of satisfaction called enough.

3 questions to uncover your unique brand of minimalism

1.  What's your stick?

What brought you to minimalism in the first place?  What's your motivation for seeking a simpler life?  What needs fixing?

  • Maybe you're tired of cleaning and organizing and never seeing much difference for long.
  • Maybe you're overwhelmed by your schedule and responsibilities.
  • Maybe you're sick of spending most of your free time dealing with your possessions, and want more time and energy for family, friends, hobbies, your career, or something else.
  • Maybe you're moving and need to streamline before you start packing everything up.
  • Maybe you're facing a major life change – marriage, divorce, a new baby, a new career or business, retirement – and you need freedom and focus to move ahead.
  • Maybe you're appalled at the waste generated by the typical consumerist lifestyle.
  • Maybe you're feeling trapped by debt.
  • Maybe you've felt stressed, anxious, even depressed, and want something better than just gritting your teeth and getting through each day.

There are many reasons you might be attracted to minimalism, and understanding yours helps you figure out what you want to accomplish by paring down.  You can get clear about your minimalist goals.

I had several reasons to learn about minimalism more than 25 years ago: my husband and I wanted to get a handle on finances so we could live on one salary while I homeschooled our young children, we were feeling overrun by toys, and I needed to break a bad habit of binge shopping and purging.

Reminding yourself of your "why" can help you when you get bogged down with decluttering, feel conflicted about getting rid of something, or struggle to say no.

2.  What's your carrot?

Author Joshua Becker has defined minimalism as "the intentional promotion of the things we most value, and the removal of anything that distracts us from it."  That's a great open-ended definition, but it means that to become minimalist, we must understand what we value most.  What do you hope to gain from minimalism?

Take time to think and get very clear about this.  Maybe you value:

  • quality time with your family
  • attention and focus for your career
  • finances and freedom to travel
  • leisure for a favorite hobby
  • energy to devote to an important cause

... or something else.

For me, 25 years ago, I wanted to give my best talents and ideas to raising and educating my children.  When they got a bit older, I concentrated on my career in music, particularly operatic performance.  Today I want to focus on writing the best content I can offer for my readers, while still having plenty of time for my grandsons.  With all of that, I still want a neat, clean, comfortable home and healthy meals – but I don't want to spend a large portion of my time struggling to manage that.  Minimalism makes it possible.

What are you trying to make more time and space for by embracing minimalism?  What do you care most about that a simpler life can make possible?  Write it down so you can remind yourself when old habits try to creep back.

3.  What does comfort look like to you?

As you go through the process of decluttering and simplifying, you need to figure out what enough looks and feels like for you.  How will you know you've arrived at the sweet spot – that satisfying place the carrot and stick were guiding and goading you toward?  This destination is important, because you need to let go of everything beyond it.

Only you will know what enough is for you.  Some people decide that enough is owning less than 100 possessions.  Others decide their place of enough is much more than that.

Enough means:

  • keeping only the things that add value to your life because you use them regularly and/or they make you happy
  • getting rid of the excess

This is a personal decision, but it won't be set in stone.  It's a good idea to challenge and reevaluate your ideas every so often.  For one thing, it keeps life interesting to make experiments and learn about yourself.  For another, it reminds you to keep resisting the loud and demanding voices of our culture, the ones that say more is always better.

Minimalism isn't a numbers game, but there's a number that's just right for you.  Whether that Goldilocks situation requires just two set of sheets for each bed, one television in your home, or something else, finding it is going to give your life the freedom and focus you've been looking for.

Want to try some easy minimalist projects?  
Check out my book The Minimalist Experiment: Fun and Easy Ways to Unlock Change.  It details 27 thirty-minute activities and 9 try-it-for-a-day experiments, with plenty of ideas to help you simplify in six areas:

  • physical clutter
  • digital clutter
  • your mindset
  • your schedule
  • your finances
  • your personal well-being


Popular posts from this blog

The Easy "Multiply Your Savings" Plan

Why You Should Make "Less is More" Your Mantra for Life

10 Ways to Declutter: A Step-by-Step Guide

10 Minimalist Habits No One Talks Enough About

How My "Little House" Fantasies Helped Me Downsize