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What is Minimalism?

Minimalism can be a good idea: but is it always good?

What is minimalism, and is it healthy and practical?
Jordan Spano |

6 min read

Minimalism is not new: in fact it’s only been recently revitalized, modernized, decorated, and publicized. Some of the chief figures of this neo-ideology are Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, and they, through clever domain registration and word-marketing, have become this generation’s centerfold on material denial.

Minimalism is the art or lifestyle of living only with things we need. It means deep, thoughtful self-reflection that gets us to look at our material clutter and realize, “I don’t need those things.” Minimalism, though, is more than just a restrictive tally on personal belongings: it’s a daily check on the way we live.

When it comes to “stuff,” not all Americans are experiencing surplus anymore; but for most people, there’s more than enough to go around compared elsewhere in the world. So when we sit down for Thanksgiving and recite what we’re thankful for, we can safely bet we’re barely scratching the surface of the litany of blessings we have that will go undeclared.

We’re going to look at some ways in which this new Minimalism is ripe for healthy living. But first, let’s see how it’s perceived in the undertow of culture.

Minimalism in the Media

There’s another word in the mix here, and it’s almost a synonym: abnegation, the denying of one’s own rights, conveniences, pleasures, etc. Abnegation, I imagine woefully brought to people’s attention by the hit series Divergent, has portrayed something more negative than it should be. I’ll highlight the difference by a quick allusion to a popular movie, Divergent.

In the series, protagonist Tris is born up in the Abnegation faction; and those ‘minimalist’ values are inculcated in her saliently. When getting her hair cut in front of the mirror, she is reminded of the faction’s exclusive restriction: that they may only look in the mirror four times per year. But in this faction, the adherents are not asked to remove their material possessions: they’re not really talking about possessions at all.

Abnegation is focused on something less visible: the matters related to heart and the appetite for things we want personally and socially, like fame, wealth, celebrity-contoured features, and more.

As you can tell, the emphases on these two ideals differ: Minimalism focuses on material things and abnegation on immaterial. Each has its place in a healthy lifestyle, but let’s focus on one here, and how to practically employ it.

What’s healthy about Minimalism?

As I mentioned, Thanksgiving is nearing its full-bellied arrival, and most in America will engage in a vital tradition: giving thanks for what we have. The weekend, too, is a double-whammy, with both Thanksgiving and its material-fascinated successor, Black Friday. When it comes to materials, Thanksgiving doesn’t come up, but Black Friday sure does, with an expected rise of 47% in sales from last year.

If now’s not a time to apply minimalist principles, when is? Here are some things Minimalism can be when you embrace it heartily.

It’s freeing

I don’t mean freeing in a 1960’s sense: I mean it’s literally decluttering. We have too much stuff, and as days go on we treat our attics and closets as industrial compactors. Stuff goes into a box, the box goes into storage, and our money goes out of our wallets.

*Consider all of your belongings that you haven’t touched or thought of this year: Can you do without them? You needn’t jettison all of your holiday decorations, but surely you have some spare DVDs or pieces of furniture whose eternal duties are to collect dust.

It’s economical

Garage sales are the clutter of the decluttering: filling your lawn or driveway with things archaic and random, broken and untouched, that a passerby who saw your makeshift sign might come and take them off your hands. You might think that lamp from ’97 that has an opulence only fitting 5% of homes is useless. Wrong. That lamp is money, as are many things in your storage that you might pass off as refuse.

*Consider the funds you can gather from stale placeholders in your house, and use that money for something more useful, like caring for yourself or caring for others–may that be gift, a day out for grub, a health treatment, or a cushioned bank account.

It’s humbling

Humility. There’s the kicker, eh? It’s a humbling process to live below your means, especially when this nation elevates our nations beyond recognition and offers us an modestly priced accessory for just about anything.

The next iPhone. The next 360-laptop/tablet. The next car, app, accessory, technology, ad infinitum.

Many people in the world don’t have access to any of this stuff (though, the number of mobile phone owners is forecasted to be 67% in 2019). While it’s not always wise to make comparisons–since it can often bereave us of joy more than we hope–it’s good to do it once in a while; and in the scope of Minimalism, it’s mandatory.

*Consider your daily activities: What do they involve materially, and what would happen if you used 25% fewer of those items? 50% fewer? Make a determined path toward a new status quo for your life, one that involves fewer things.

It’s challenging

Minimalism, when approached sincerely, is not a venture to try out for fun, blog about it, get black-and-white, stoic Instagram pictures from it, and go back to normal. It’s intended to leave a lasting impression on you. If opening your eyes to the bounty you have before you and then, by necessity, having to remove that bounty piece by piece isn’t challenging… You’re already a minimalist!

*Consider the last time you conquered something difficult: physical, vocational, emotional, etc. What was your denouement, your victory lap–what did you do to celebrate? Might have it been drinks with the friends, a feast of victors, an online purchase? Look to your victories as the end in themselves: the victory is the struggle.

Minimalism ends the material celebration at the victory line.

It’s inviting

A healthy bout with Minimalism is, at last, inviting in several ways. It invites you to don new lenses through which you see the world; to tackle challenges that require all of you but none of what you have; to love people and not things. Minimalism invites you to live below your means, not in line with them or with anyone else’s.

*Consider opportunities you’ve had in the past, or just this week, to make a difference in someone’s life by time spent or good deed done, when some thing interfered: a low battery, car problems, a shopping appointment, house cleaning, etc. If you have to abandon minor duties to make room for person, do it.

The most precious commodity is not your things, but your time.


Embracing life minimally is healthy, because it allows you to see yourself without the unnecessary things that pollute who you are inside.

So give it a try! What do you have to lose? Well… probably a lot of stuff.

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