How Minimalist Can You Really Be?


There are people out there writing about minimalism who seem to own a passport, a laptop, a toothbrush, and not much else. But that level of absolute minimalism isn't exactly possible for most people. While many of the specifics of minimalism come down to matters of personal preference, there are certain limits that are hard to go past for the average person. (See also: What is Simple Living and Why Should I Care?)

Lifestlye Over Life Lived

Different lifestyles put their own constraints on how minimalistic you can easily be. Of course, no matter what other factors are at play, you can find ways to reduce your number of possessions further and to live even more simply — but it won't be easy. For most people, there's a point where eliminating even more from your life just isn't enjoyable and your pride in not having "stuff" isn't going to balance it out.

Unsustainable Minimalism

There are certain practitioners of minimalism who have built fairly expensive lifestyles around owning very little. They take the approach that if they can buy, rent, or otherwise access whatever they need, as they need it, and then get rid of that item in some fashion, they're still living a very minimalist lifestyle. Similarly, some people will spend more money on more versatile products that can see them through more parts of their lifestyle.

These approaches to minimalism can be more expensive than one might expect. In her article, Is Minimalism Really Sustainable, Katy Waldman describes minimalism as too expensive to be sustainable — and this is the variety of minimalism she's discussing. For anyone hoping to take this approach to minimalism, it's very possible to find yourself reaching a point where you're living as simple a life as you can afford to. But, overall, your savings account shouldn't be the deciding factor on where your minimalism stops.

Getting to Almost Zero

As I was getting ready for a recent cross-country move, I reached the point where I wanted to get rid of everything I owned. I didn't actually do that, but I did manage to get rid of everything I didn't have an emotional attachment to or that we didn't absolutely need. My laptop and the family photos made the move; a large percentage of my wardrobe did not. I took a "give 'til it hurts" approach: everything I didn't even have a twinge of pain over getting rid of went to a new home. Everything that looked like it would hurt to move myself and that I didn't have a good reason for keeping also went to a new home. It was, essentially, a minimalistic approach to becoming a minimalist.

I keep finding more things that I know I won't worry about if I don't have, so I'm getting rid of more soon. I won't ever get down to just what I can carry in a knapsack, but I'll be as minimalistic as my own lifestyle allows for — and I won't be stressed out by the process. It seems better to focus on how minimalist I want to be, over how far I can take it if I push.

Have you embraced the minimalist lifestyle? How far have you taken it? What are your limits?

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Guest's picture

Everything I own is in a few boxes at my mom's house or in my backpack. The freedom to have gotten rid of nearly everything and hit the road is amazing.

Guest's picture

My biggest minimal rule is if I don't love it, I leave it. I did a large purge, and have continued to week through my possessions from there. I think minimalism is what you choose it to be for YOU, not owning a set number of things.
Great read! Thanks for sharing with us :)

Guest's picture

You're probably familiar with the concept of Inbox Zero -- clearing clutter out of your inbox so you can breathe easier, stay more organized, and remain "on top of your game." Keeping your home at "zero" (not literally) has many of the same benefits. There's a huge psychological relief to walking in the door and not seeing clutter and junk everywhere. Some people have a tough time throwing away items that they once spent money on, but the mental relief at purging things you no longer need is pretty great.

That said, I think it's fine to keep some supplies stocked, so you're not zooming to the store every time you finish a roll of toilet paper, but those supplies should ideally be reasonable and often-used. It's one thing to keep excess items on-hand to minimize the amount of time you spend running errands; it's another thing to hoard and stockpile.

Guest's picture

Moderation in all things--including minimalism.

Guest's picture

I'd rather have the right tool for the job than be a minimalist. Sure, there's extraneous clutter, but a lot of "stuff" is really, really useful!

Guest's picture

We live simply. Our lifestyle is sustainable as we buy very little other than food. I don't care for the "minimalist" who wanders the world and uses other people to support their lifestyle. Crashing on a friend or acquaintance's couch and using the bath/laundry/cooking facilities is not living on your own. It is merely using other people and I have never liked users. Live however you wish but please do not ask me for bed and board when you're in the area.

Guest's picture

I live a simple life. However, minimalists who claim to own next to nothing and travel the world, do so at the largess of other people. I consider them users. They use sofas of other people to sleep on; they use other people's bathrooms and laundry rooms. They use other people to help propel them from point A to point B, i.e., hitchhiking across country and sleeping on sofas of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Users, plain and simple. I may have a few more things, but my main purchases are foods and medicines, not stuff. I live a simple life and I do it on my own.

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