Monday, October 5, 2020

5 Common Misconceptions About Minimalism

Lots of people seem to think of minimalism in one of two ways: it's either a cool trend or an affront to society. Neither is true. Today I'd like to talk about five common misconceptions about minimalism--and the true story behind each of them.

Misconception #1: Minimalism is a new trend or it's just a fad

Though the term is believed to have been coined by an artist named Robert Morris in 1966, traditional Buddhists have been practicing what we call minimalism since Siddhartha Guatama (the Buddha) was alive (about 2500 years ago).

Guatama started his life as a prince with an abundance of riches and possessions. Then he eschewed all his worldly goods while in search of enlightenment.

To this day, traditional Buddhists believe that clinging to worldly possessions, which are temporary and fleeting, causes suffering. Extreme forms of minimalism are often practiced by devoted modern Buddhists, so they can focus on their own paths to enlightenment.

This is a partial and highly abbreviated explanation of Buddhism, but you get the idea. Minimalism, in its practical application, is far from new.

Misconception #2: If you're a minimalist, you have to do things a certain way

A lot of the negative comments I see about minimalism talk about how minimalism hurt them--they gave away stuff that they now regret giving away or something to that effect.

First of all, this isn't a cult. Nobody is forcing you to follow a cookie-cutter protocol to becoming the perfect minimalist. The people out there who say you aren't minimalist enough or are too minimalist, are just judgy trolls. Ignore them and do your thing, however it works best for you.

Secondly, minimalism is just a concept. It can't hurt somebody. I'm going to be blunt; if you gave away something you regret, that's on you. If you got swept up and carried away, that was because of the choices you made. Minimalism isn't to blame. It isn't good or evil. It just is. Blaming or "hating" minimalism is an exercise in futility. 

Taking responsibility for your own actions is generally a healthy goal in life, in regards to any choice, including whether to participate in minimalist activities. Learn from your mistakes and find some way to get past them.

Misconception #3: You can't want money or possessions and be minimalist

Minimalists are humans, the same as everybody else. Someone may have 10 articles of clothing, but a 100-book collection that they will never give up. Some would say that's the definition of minimalism, because they don't care about the clothes, but they care about the books. So they've let go of what isn't important to focus on what is. There's nothing wrong with that.

In the same vein, you can do something minimalist and miss what you gave up. For example, a couple of years ago when we moved my mom from the east coast to the west coast, we brought her on a month-long road trip in our tiny, 150 square-foot RV. We needed to make space for her and her cats; even though she was only bringing a few things, the cats needed their own space for their food and litter box separate from our dog.

So I essentially gave away probably a thousand dollars' worth of arts and crafts supplies to make space for mom's cats. And now that we're in a house, I still have yet to replace them all, because we don't have the money (and I'm not really well enough to use them anyway). 

That doesn't mean it didn't hurt, though. It had taken me years to accumulate those supplies, and many of them had fond memories attached from when I was in art and design classes in college. 

But it was the right thing to do, and also a minimalist thing to do--letting go of less important things to make space in my life for more important things. Because helping my mom takes priority over material possessions anytime.

And until we get to the day where a currency isn't required in exchange for necessities, everyone is going to want at least enough money to survive. And probably more than just the minimum, because comfort is part of happiness. In my mind, happiness is a key goal for most everyone's minimalist journey.

I laughed and waved farewell as a few people have unsubscribed when I mentioned my involvement in The Ultimate Guide to More Joy and Less Stress (which, by the way, is on sale starting today through Friday 10/9). The same thing happens anytime I dare to overtly mention something I could make a commission on. I don't know whether it's because people believe it's wrong to ask for money as a minimalist, or they don't think that people who provide a wealth of information for free should ask for anything in return. 

But mama's gotta eat, people. It's not like I'm getting rich off what I'm doing, either. I lose money on this website every year, but I do it anyway because I feel I'm called to write about it and enjoy doing so. It would be great if the blog at least paid for its own expenses. If not, I'll keep doing it as long as I can afford to.

And factually, anyone who earns money in exchange for work is selling. Whether the work is in actual sales, like a car dealership, or the person who delivers the mail, the concept is the same. Everyone exchanges either products or services for money, which is, at its core, selling. It's how the world works.

Some minimalists claim they don't sell anything, while at the same time they mention books they've read and use affiliate links, or they offer to consult or teach classes, or they write books of their own. A lack of blatant advertisement on their websites does not exclude them from selling.

And of course, many minimalists (even traditional Buddhists) must go out into the world to regular jobs. They are all selling goods or services in order to get paid. I challenge you to find a single (paid) job where that is not true.

Misconception #4: Minimalism is about deprivation

The goal of minimalism is not to deprive people of things that are actually important to them.

The goal is to shed the weight of possessions, time-fillers, and people whom you don't care about (or care less about than others) to make more time, space, and energy for the people, things, and events that you care about the most. As for what those less important or more important things are, the answer is entirely individual. It's about what makes the person happy and fulfilled, not about what everyone else thinks it should be.

Using others' ideas of how one lives their lives could certainly lead to deprivation. For example, getting all amped up when you watch a video about someone who only owns 100 things could lead you to do your own frenzied cleansing, trying to reach that magic number. Once you do it, you may discover that you accidentally gave up things that you really wanted or needed. That kind of disgruntlement is, I suspect, usually what leads people to say they "hate" minimalism.

Using an intentional, measured process to declutter your life at your own pace is the way to go. It's fine to use suggestions from others to help guide you in the necessary direction, but it's critical that you think for yourself. If you do, the result should lead to more happiness and fulfillment, not less. Bottom line: adapt minimalism to you, rather than adapting yourself to minimalism.

Misconception #5: Minimalism is an end goal or a destination

Not only is there no "right" amount of minimalism for everybody, but there also isn't a static minimalist destination for each person. Minimalism is a journey that can carry on throughout your life. For me, it's been nearly 10 years, and it's changed as I have. It's part of my lifestyle, and I change it up as needed.

As you can imagine, the minimalism I practice now in a 1400 square-foot house is different from what I did in a 150 square-foot RV. It's also different from the 450 square-foot RV that we moved out of a few months ago, and again different from how I used minimalist practices when we lived in my mother's living room in her former house for four months while taking care of her.

But even if the size or location of my living space didn't change, how I use (or don't use) certain aspects of minimalism would still have changed over the years, because my needs changed. And even if I live in this house for the rest of my life, my version of minimalism will not be the same the whole time.

There are only two things that remain constant in my minimalist journey: 

1. I do my best to make decisions that involve focusing on what's most important to me, and
2. I don't let anyone else decide for me how to practice minimalism.

If you can adhere to these two tenets as much as possible, I think you'll find that everything else is superfluous.