A minimalist person is often described as someone who wants a simpler life. But I’d like to expand on that definition, because as a minimalist I actually prefer things to be easy over being simple. Either way, for me, minimalism is about letting go of anything that takes your time, space, energy, and money away from what’s really important. It allows you to focus down on the most important people, things, and ideas in your life.
Common characteristics among minimalists
Among people I know that are minimalist, there are a few things that I’ve noticed in common:
They make what’s most important to them a priority. They willingly give up things that don’t matter as much, and it makes them feel better to do it.
They enjoy having open, uncluttered space in their homes.
Living with less is not seen as restrictive; it’s empowering. It’s freedom.
Minimalists make choices that allow them to have more purpose in their lives.
If any of these things resonate with you, then you might be a little bit minimalist, too! But even so, minimalism looks different for everybody. In order for it to work for you, it has to change as you do. It must adapt to the different phases of your life.
The key is that it should make your life better. If minimalism makes you feel trapped, unhappy, or deprived, then one of two things are happening. Either you are not applying minimalism in a way that works for your life, or it simply isn’t a good fit for your personality. While I personally don’t believe that having a bunch of stuff or a crowded schedule is right for me, I also believe that trying to force someone to live like I do is not going to make anyone happy. So if you feel like minimalism is too restrictive for you, then maybe you should explore other options to make your life better.
How do I know if minimalism is right for me?
As you saw from my previous articles about different types of minimalism, there are a lot of ways to be minimalist. If you haven’t read these posts yet, I suggest you go back starting with the first one: What is an Aesthetic Minimalist? Work your way through them, and look for things about them that seem interesting and exciting.
My personal favorite, if you haven’t guessed, is what I call “gradual minimalism.” I’m big on planning, so huge decisions in my life usually do not happen quickly. Choices that I make happen over months or years. I’m nearly a decade into my minimalist journey and I know there will still be more changes. Also, as I mentioned before, I will choose easy over simple. For example, I recently bought an air fryer from Amazon because even though it’s big and bulky, it makes my life easier. I can bake things in there without having to turn on the oven and make the RV hot, which then requires me to use the air conditioner. We use it several times per week, so it’s been worth it even if I’m less than thrilled about how much space it takes up. I’m being true to myself and what I need to do to make my life better. Does that make me less minimalist? If it does, I don’t really care.
So if you’re trying to be more minimalist but it feels like it’s starting to chafe, take a break. Perhaps you’re just going too fast for your comfort. Try slowing down or even stopping for a bit. Look at the situation from different angles. Focus back on what you really want, and see how your current actions are aligning with your goals.
For me, possessions are just one aspect of minimalism. But it’s a good place to start. Owning and managing stuff tends to mess with how much time, money, and stress we have. Not to go all Marie Kondo on you, but is what you own making you happy? She says that as you hold each object, it should spark joy, like how you feel if you’re hugging a puppy. How much joy does your possessions create? How would your life be different if you didn’t own (fill in the blank)?
There’s a saying among minimalists: do you own your stuff, or does it own you? Is a life dictated by your possessions a life that will make you happy and fulfilled?
How would your life look different if you didn’t own the big house with the expensive mortgage? The car with the hefty monthly payments? That outfit you had to use your credit card to buy? The collectibles on your shelf that take you an hour to dust every week? The kitchen gadgets that you thought you needed, but just get shoved out of the way to get to the items you actually use?
No judgement here. Life is full of choices and nobody makes the best choice every time. I've made a bunch of decisions that I regretted later, and I bring those things examples up because I have personal experience with a lot of them. But if I look at them objectively, none of them worsened my life irreparably. They were just bumps in the road. So if you feel like something you decided was a bad idea, give yourself some compassion. Look at it as a learning experience, and do what you can to change how things are right now and in the future.
Do I have to get rid of everything I own to be a minimalist?
Absolutely not! I know that there are several minimalists out there who proudly say they don’t own a TV, and maybe even sleep on a mattress on the floor, because owning a bed frame is not minimalist enough for their tastes. If they are happy living that way, that’s what works for them. But that doesn’t work for everyone, and I don’t believe in condemning people because they choose to watch television or own some furniture. I watch TV. In fact, our current RV has three TVs in it. All three of them get used regularly. Shrug.
I’m betting that just about everyone out there thinks they have more than they need, no matter how minimally they live. Life is cyclical, and people often go through times of abundance and scarcity. As we get comfortable with routines, some clutter will build up and need to be dispersed once again.
Also, what you have now may be just right for this moment, but too much or too little for a future version of yourself. I don’t recommend using this as an excuse to hang on to things you don’t need right now, though.
How can I be minimalist if my family isn’t?
This is a common problem, and a situation that I have myself. Out of the three people in my household, I am the most minimalist. It can be a challenge to be more minimalist than the people you live with, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what’s right for you.
However, as I mentioned before, trying to force someone to do it with you isn’t likely to work. Even if those close to you agree to become minimalist, it’s likely you still will disagree on the level of minimalism you want in your life.
Here are some suggestions on being minimalist when those around you aren’t:
Focus on your personal possessions rather than joint possessions when it comes to decluttering. You can still be minimalist with your own clothing, books, electronics, etc.
Try to carve out a space that is a clutter-free zone. Even if it’s just half of your bedroom, ask the people you live with to respect how you have arranged this space, and not dump their stuff into your area.
If other people’s opinions or actions distract you, keep going back to what’s important to you. Maybe it’s consuming less so you can be debt-free, or spending less time on chores so you can take better care of yourself. If it helps, put an inspirational quote or picture up where you can see it to remind you.
Sadly, I have seen people divorce because one wanted to make changes and the other didn’t. The objective in minimalism is to make more room in your life for what’s most important to you. So if you find yourself fighting with your loved ones over how much stuff you have, ask yourself: is it more important to you to lose the stuff, or keep your loved one?
Lead by example rather than trying to convince. As you become more minimalist, you will have more free time. You’ll have more focus. You’ll feel lighter and happier. Seeing these changes happen in your life may be enough to at least make others curious about how they can be that way, too. Be open and free of judgement when answering any questions they have.
Talk to your partner about you working alone on a common area. They may not want to participate, but are willing to let you do your minimalist makeover by yourself. Ask if they have any reservations, or if there’s anything in there they really want to keep. Let the results of a cleaner, more efficient space speak for themselves.
Be supportive if your family gets irritable, hurt, or accusatory as you work on your own minimalism. There may be a strong emotional component in their attachment to their stuff that makes them feel threatened by the changes you make. Read my post about why it’s so hard to get rid of your stuff for more information about this.
Employ patience, and look for support elsewhere if you can’t find it at home. Try connecting with other minimalists, or maybe seeking counseling, either by yourself or with your partner. If this is something important to you, then your feelings should be valued just as much as other people’s. Find a way to have your needs respected without treading on other’s feelings.
Being a minimalist person is a journey, not a destination
I’m not aware of anyone who got rid of that one last thing and said, “I’m done now. I’m exactly the perfect amount of minimalist and this is how it’ll be forever.” I think the key to enjoying a minimalist lifestyle is appreciating what you have and how it serves you, while being open to change.
Meanwhile, a person who consumes heavily will always be reaching for more. No matter what they buy, it will never bring lasting satisfaction. But I think everyone has at least a little of that pull to consume inside of them.
We all have those moments—the ones where we come across an artfully marketed something or another in an ad, a store, or demonstrated convincingly by someone whose opinion carries weight with us. Our mind starts fantasizing about having what the product promises. Or maybe having the life that the actor or salesperson says we can have, if we just owned this one thing.
Sometimes we give in, sometimes we don’t. Which decision is correct? That’s something only you can say for yourself.