Let’s discuss the concept of home from a minimalist perspective. Is it different for a non-minimalist? Does a minimalist home feel different? What does home mean to you?
The definition of home
According to dictionary.com, these are the definitions of “home.”
- a house, apartment, or another shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.
- the place in which one's domestic affections are centered.
- an institution for the homeless, sick, etc.: a nursing home.
Which one (or more) of these phrases define what you think of as your home? Is it just a shelter that is your “usual residence” or is the center of your “domestic affections?”
As a nomad, my shelter moved with me, so for three years, there was not a geographical location that was my permanent home. In 2018, even my shelter changed--three times. We started off in our small motorhome, then moved into my mom's house for a few months to take care of her. Then back into our motorhome, and now we live in a larger RV, and my mom lives with us.
Let's talk about how your definition of a home affects the rest of your life, and how minimalism can improve upon that.
Home as a physical structure
Let's dream a little and imagine that there is a new, comprehensive government program out there that helps people who lose their homes due to natural disasters.
Bear with me here, this is going to be a little out there. But it's a good exercise to determine where your values lie concerning housing.
OK, so let's say that this program has come in and photographed your home and cataloged every single possession within it. Then disaster strikes--thankfully, your family made it out safely, but your house and everything in it is destroyed.
Through this magical program, you now have access to a replacement house. Everything in it that you lost is there. Your car, your clothes, your toothbrush. Everything is how you left it. And money is not a factor, because you get to have your exact job, at a pay level that is scaled appropriately for your new community.
That's right--there's the catch. Your house has been replicated, but not where it used to be. It's 100 miles away, or 1000. Or in a different country or hemisphere.
Or, there's an alternative available: you've still lost all your earthly possessions, but the government will put you up in a new place in your old community. It isn't the same as your old house, but you get to stay in the same geographic location.
Which would you choose?
The answer says a lot about how attached you are to your house and its contents versus your desire for close proximity to things that are familiar to you: family, friends, stores in your neighborhood, etc.
Home as a feeling
Putting aside the emotional repercussions of surviving a natural disaster, think about why you would make a choice to stay in one place or move to a new one. Here are some factors to consider:
- Familiar people: would you leave behind family, friends, and coworkers that you care about? Does the idea of meeting new people making you cringe? How badly would you miss your loved ones?
- Geography: do you love the climate and landscape of your hometown so much that you don't want to go somewhere that looks different or has different weather?
- Culture shock: are you concerned that a new place will feel uncomfortable because there are different customs?
- Familiar places: do you love local restaurants, county fairs, the grocery store down the street? You would lose all of these in a new location. How fearful are you of having to explore new businesses or events?
- Possessions: conversely, if you stayed in your hometown but lost everything, would your heart hurt for the stuff now destroyed? Even if everything was replaced, you would know these items aren't the ones that are now gone forever. What would you miss? Just the sentimental items, or would you long for every piece of furniture, clothing, etc. as well?
For most people, "home" is both shelter and feelings. Sometimes these two concepts are so entangled that it's difficult to separate them.
A minimalist home
Just like everyone else, a minimalist wants to be comfortable at home. It should be a place that feels safe and soothing as well. When one wants to shut out the stress of the outside world, the home should be somewhere you can do that.
But if a home is a source of stress as well, then that stress may become chronic. A study from the UK's Office of National Statistics evaluated feelings of loneliness. Among those surveyed, it was found that renters (as opposed to homeowners) and those who didn't feel comfortable in their neighborhood reported more feelings of loneliness.
So the sense of having a "home" that is your own is essential to well-being. Feeling safe walking the streets where you live is definitely important.
But do you have to be a homeowner to be happy?
I've heard from both stationary and nomadic minimalists, and I think the answer is not necessarily. Many stationary minimalists choose to give up their large homes (and mortgages). Not all of them downsize to a smaller house; some decide to rent, and they are perfectly comfortable and happy.
For those who travel full-time, most RVers own their RV (or have a loan on it). The focus of their happiness is the ability to travel; the RV is a vessel to do so, but often these minimalists have very little attachment to the structure that is their RV. Whether they camp off-grid or stay in parks, it's just a means to an end. If having to choose between keeping one RV or losing travel, they would choose to travel. It’s the same thing with people who travel on a boat for all or half the year; they are not going to be living on private property while they travel.
Then there are travelers who don't RV. They may house-sit, stay in hotels, live on cruise ships, etc. No matter what, they are frequently sheltering in a space that is clearly not theirs permanently, and never will be. They are renting a space in a very impermanent way. Yet some people thrive in this situation.
So I don't believe it's necessary to own a house (whether on wheels or not) to be happy and have a sense of home. I also don't think a dwelling must be free of all sentimental items to be a minimalist home.
As with all things, I believe there is a happy medium and people can create a minimally stressful home that suits individual needs.
How can I make my home more minimalist?
There are many advantages to perceiving your dwelling in a more minimalist way. The less you are attached to a structure and the contents, the more freedom you have. Money, time and energy can be focused elsewhere. Your home shouldn’t own you; if working to pay to keep your house is how you spend the majority of your life, then your possessions are in charge of your decisions.
“But that’s normal!” You respond. “Everybody who isn’t a trust fund baby has to work to pay their bills.”
Yes, that’s correct. But many minimalists don’t have to work as much, because their financial needs are smaller. That’s the benefit of having less stuff to pay for; you can work part-time and choose what you want to do with the rest of your life. Or you can work just as much, save up a bunch of money, and then take off part of the year (or retire early).
Consider your answers to my questions above. Did you care more about staying in the location you were familiar with, possibly with people you care about? Or was your concern more about being able to have every physical possession you lost?
If you were torn between the two, here are some thoughts that may tip you in a more minimalist direction:
If you "love" things, know those things will never love you back. You are giving away emotions to inanimate objects. Just as in relationships between two humans where one loves and the other doesn't, unreturned feelings will always leave the giver feeling empty and unfulfilled. That affection would be better used for yourself, other people, or pets.
If you worry about the financial cost of physical possessions, remember that you have already paid for them. Selling or giving them away does not equate to wasting money if you are paying for them emotionally. Mental health should take precedence over tallying up dollars and cents when it comes to owning things.
For tips to get you started with focusing on the items that are most important, consider reading my post about my minimalist closet. I have several more articles coming up about minimalism in other areas of the home as well.