1. a trend in sculpture and painting that arose in the 1950s and used simple, typically massive, forms
2. an avant-garde movement in music characterized by the repetition of very short phrases that change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect
Minimalism. What first comes to mind when you think of the word ‘minimal’? Do the words simple and few come to mind? They should. Let’s take it a step further from a psychological perspective on consumer behavior. If you were to buy a car or a new product and the headlining adjective used to describe this particular product or item was “minimal”, would you have reservations about the quality, effectiveness, reliability, or bang for your buck of the product? Most technologically savvy people I have asked this question to have answered yes.
Modern day minimalism is not a definition, or a simple act, or even a feeling; it is a lifestyle rooted in the act of simplifying life by virtue of eliminating most of life’s clutter, distractions, toxic influences, and developing an appreciation for the sacrifices and benefits that come with being a minimalist. These benefits include less stress, more free time, more freedom, and less impact on the world. Minimalism is about being conscious about necessities, finances, time allocation, efficiency, and freedom. It is not a far-fetched new age principle but one that can change YOUR life.
Stick with me for a minute. Imagine this. You receive a call on your cell phone. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to star on a new reality television show airing next Fall, all filmed in Bora Bora. One little problem, you were not an original selection, but rather an injured reserve candidate who got called up to the big leagues at the very last-minute. The plane leaves in three hours…
– How many of you could move half way across the world with only three hours notice?
– Could you manage to sift through your belongings and remember to pack everything that you would need?
– Is the thought of your new shoes and what would happen to your collection of 18th century literature scaring you right now?
– Have you complicated your life so much in the past few years that this seems impossible?
Guess what ladies and gents, as crazy as this sounds, a minimalist would get the call and be sitting at the airport one hour early eating JFK’s finest chili cheese dog and reading the latest issue of National Geographic with time to kill. THIS is the beauty of minimalism.
As a practicing minimalist, with admittedly semi-frequent lapses in judgment and urges that lead to purchases of completely useless materialistic items every once in a while (most recently a damn good looking leather passport case for $20 that I fell in love with for no apparent reason), I have limited my possessions when being abroad to two medium-sized suitcases when situated for longer periods and a 50 liter backpack for journeys in the one to three-month range.
* * *
So how can you get started? Let’s take a look at the important elements and see how you can start to adapt a minimalist mindset and lifestyle:
1) Quality Over Quantity
Sounds simple enough, but often minimalism is confused as a lifestyle for the broke or incapable. Not true one bit. Minimalists are not your average consumer. They think about what is really needed down to the most minute analysis to determine if they should purchase something. Most minimalists vow for a few quality products versus a slew of items that end up taking over your life.
I once met the perfect minimalist when on a vacation in Lyon, France. A traveler, designer, and handyman, he was studying abroad in France for six months during quite possibly one of the coldest winters I have experienced in Europe. He owned literally two pairs of pants. You read that right. Two. Here is the kicker: each were about $150, fit him to perfection, and were made with some of the best micro fibers available. They could not fade, stretch, rip, or shrink, and they looked like designer trousers.
Shoes, once again two. Shirts, about ten total, all perfectly fitting and of top quality. With this approach, he could move fast, hassle-free, always looked sharp, and was able to keep a wardrobe that lasted years rather than months. He obviously was on the extreme end and was confident enough with himself not to give a shit if people questioned why he always wore the same clothes (an important aura to bring to the table as a minimalist).
Next time you are at a store, buy fewer items of better quality. This can be applied to food, beauty products, accessories, etc. Obviously be smart because minimalism is also about being rational. Most minimalists would not vow for a $150 pair of sunglasses knowing that they are often lost of broken. You can be stylish, trendy, and up to date with fashion without having suitcases filled with stuff that slowly takes over your life.
2) Eliminate Unnecessary Clutter
“You sell off the kingdom piece by piece and trade it for a horse that will take you anywhere.” ― Colin Wright, My Exile Lifestyle
I am proud to announce that half of my Summer 2013 Euro trip was funded by the selling of my Air Jordan shoe collection on Ebay. As much as I loved collecting the shoes, tooth-brushing the soles, vacuum sealing the boxes, they were of little or no use to me in the real world. I managed to kill the internal pack rat that plagued my childhood bedroom and become a free-spirited traveler instead.
Think about this: A 2012 study done by UCLA found that the United States has 3.1% of the world’s children and purchases 40% of the world’s toys. The average American household: 85 photos on display, over 2,000 non-paper items in a home office, 50-700 objects per garage and 52 magnets on the refrigerator. Garages: 50 to 700 objects..that is just visible objects.
Look, I get it, some things are hard to throw out. I cross the line at sentimental items passed down from family members and really thoughtful gifts. These I make room for and usually store at a home-base so they are not included with my mobile possessions. Thankfully, for everything else there are a few good mental tricks that will help you overcome the fear of giving something away.
– For every item that you sell or give away, you will be making someone’s life a little happier. Those old books could be read by a child in need, those shoes worn by a high school basketball player, etc.
– Remind yourself that if you really find yourself needing something in three months, you can always buy it again. Chances are, you will never even think about it again after a few weeks, but it helps to know you have the power to do so if needed.
– Go through your possessions and ask when the last time you used something was. If not within the last few months, place it in a stack. Come back to that stack in a week after your mind has wandered off of the idea of throwing it out. Ask yourself if you really need it and if not, donate it or sell it.
I guarantee you after adopting this into your routine and lifestyle, you will find yourself at peace more at home, less stressed in general, and with a new-found appreciation for what you do own and use often.
3) Experience Over Material Possessions
“Capitalism tries for a delicate balance: It attempts to work things out so that everyone gets just enough stuff to keep them from getting violent and trying to take other people’s stuff.” – George Carlin
You know the saying: You can’t take any of it with you when you are dead. Simple, accurate, and utterly grim, but an important thing to remember. There is a delicate balance between happiness and materialism in the sense that each person derives happiness from various sources that may or may not align with the sources that make someone else happy. Minimalism values experiences over possessions. Take a trip, immerse yourself in a new language, learn how to cook in the Tuscan hills, learn an instrument, etc.
If I gave you $5,000 today what would you spend it on, considering you have no outstanding debts or obligations? A minimalists answer would be to save, invest, or gain an experience with it in the form of an activity that will not add clutter to your life, but rather add to your vault of experience.
Growing up in the household of car enthusiasts, I have seen family members and friends spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on upgrades to their cars, ranging from $2,000 wheels to paint jobs and stereo systems. I could never wrap my head around it, but I never questioned it because it made them happy.
A minimalist would seek a city with reliable public transportation, ride a bike (or even better join a bike sharing program like the Citi Bike system in New York), carpool, or try anyway possible to eliminate the hassle that comes with owning a vehicle which includes constant maintenance, gas, insurance payments, car note payments, etc.
Here we are as minimalists trying everyday to avoid having a car in general and streamline transportation while there are thousands of people on the other end of the spectrum who actually invest, stress, and strive for the most minute details like the material of the floor mats in their cars. Different perspectives, neither being right or wrong, but one being distinctly minimal.
4) A Conscious Approach to Life
When you start to train your mind to be minimal you will notice an acute awareness on things that never seemed to matter before. You will be in the moment, consciously analyzing things around you, noticing the extremes amounts of waste, and reaping the benefits of the compounding effect when your money, time, and mental resources grow larger and larger with every practical decision that you make. The best part? You will know that your minimalist lifestyle is contributing to something bigger and that you are part of a niche group of people who have control of their life, rather than being controlled by their possessions!
I will give you a warning now, it is addicting as hell. My computer desktop boasts a total of four icons, five highly organized folders, and minimal applications on deck (see screenshot below). A wallpaper of Barcelona reminds me of the things I hold important. My IPhone homepage is limited to one screen, all organized into folders. No loose applications.
Ironically, I would rate myself at a maybe a 6/10 on the scale of how extreme I am, but even at this level it greatly helps me organize my life and be more stress free. I know where everything is at all times, rarely lose things (unless you count my post drunken rager when I woke up asleep at a metro stop in Paris at 8am with my headphones on and nothing attached to it), and can pick out an outfit in the matter of seconds.
When I worked for the government there was a running joke that no one in the office knew if I was dead, alive, retired, quit, or just lost since my desk literally was spotless during all working hours. I never left a paper on it, threw away documents immediately after use, and kept it clean beyond belief all with relatively little effort. It becomes easy the more you do it and the more conscious you are about the lifestyle you are living.
5) Simplification is the Goal
The American Dream. Nice house in the suburbs, lawn, swimming pool, a dog, two car garage, and five bedrooms. Sounds great…unless you are a minimalist, in which case it becomes your worst nightmare. Let me morph into famed comedian Larry David for a moment and point out ever negative in that scenario.
First, the house. Five plus rooms, all needing painting, furnishing, dusting, cleaning, and maintenance. The lawn: requires bi-weekly lawn-care, a close eye for any pesky insects, and crispy green blades so you can beat your asshole neighbor in the next Yard of the Month contest. The dog: assuming it is of average proportions, will require the care of a baby: food, water, and cleaning, automatically creating a giant hassle if you want to flee for a month (not to mention the dog needs a place to “let loose” which adds another level of inconvenience to your award-winning lawn). Swimming pool- don’t get me started. Two car garage, means you will probably evolve into owning two cars and or use half of the garage as a place to store stuff you never even knew you owned. Now comes house insurance, general upgrading and care, and the overall depreciation of utilities.
The thought makes me tired. A minimalist would opt for a nice studio, perhaps a one bedroom, in a flat or traditional apartment building located in a sprawling city center, equipped with modern appliances, minimal designs, great sunlight and colors, and requiring only the normal cleaning, which will take a tenth of the time it would take for a large house. You could walk outside, have a grocery store nearby and any other shop, ride you bike or walk to the nearest metro or bus stop to get anywhere in the city, have services automatically provided such as recycling and trash, ideally a pool or gym included in the building, and no need for mindless activities like mowing grass. Sadly, the dog still gets the shit end of the stick on this scenario (as much as I want one). Have kids? Add a simple bedroom to the equation.
The idea is this: considering both places have the same market value and you are in the same stage in your life, the minimalist way is to choose the option that will be more simple in regards to time, upkeep, and convenience to a minimal lifestyle. If we really want to talk minimal, we could discuss tent beach living but that is typically an extreme.
Practical Tips to Minimalism
– Go digital: books, music, and photos can be digitized, placed on a computer, or smart phone and organized, eliminating physical clutter in the form of Cd’s, DVDs, photos, and books. I use my IPhone as my centralized gadget for all of the above.
– Start with clothes: donate all clothes that do not fit you or you have not worn in over two months (not including seasonal gear).
– Computer Organization: keep folders, clean the desktop, utilize bookmarks, and for the love of every minimalist that came before you, filter your emails to the point where the only emails you are receiving are personalized.
– Cancel out anything that is a distraction in your life and limit inputs. Check email only twice a day, re-evaluate toxic friendships and relationships, limit media input from both television and the internet, etc. The goal is to free up the maximum amount of time possible so you can utilize your time doing things that you love and dream of.
– Trash Papers: old documents, papers, reports, contracts, and any other paper material. If it is truly important, scan it and add it to a cloud service like Dropbox, and throw out the hard copy.
– Have more than one phone, computer, camera, or any other electronic device? Sell the extras. Nuff’ said. Garage sales, Craigslist, and Ebay will work wonders in your favor.
* * *
If you want to dig deeper into the subject of minimalism, here are some great resources to facilitate your learning: