When I was given a half’baked definition of minimalism for the first time, I…wasn’t convinced.
Are you telling me that if I want to minimize my life I need to own less than 15 pieces of clothing including shoes, get my books exclusively from the library, and get rid of my childhood knick-knacks?
Well, that’s a problem because I definitely own more than 15 pairs of shoes (shame on me), I absolutely love writing on books as I read them, and I would never in a million years get rid of my teddy bears and useless little trinkets.
Did you think that minimalism was about that, too?
Turns out minimalism it’s a lot deeper than that – and not even half as radical as I thought – so let’s chat about that.
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So what is minimalism exactly?
Minimalism essentially teaches us that we can live with less stuff, and that we don’t need an absurd amount of clutter around us to be fulfilled. And it’s also a way to live more intentionally, feel in control, and disconnect from the hustle and bustle around you.
So it’s about material clutter, but also about mental clutter – and you know we often forget about the latter. But for now, let’s focus on the material part.
For a long time (since c.a. the 50s), we’ve measured success according to white-picket-fence-esque standards, with our self-worth revolving around what we have and what we can afford. Having things feels great, I’m not going to be the one to deny that, but this idea is kinda messed up – but it’s not your fault, the system is broken.
In the global north, we’re extremely lucky even if we don’t always see it. We have levels of peace and prosperity that have never been seen before, but we’re constantly stressed about things that our great-grandparents would laugh at: we push ourselves to consume things we don’t need with the money we don’t have, and it feels like we’re constantly chasing after shiny unnecessary stuff.
Our fridge is full but we stress over the next restock of the newest lip gloss of this and that celebrity brand. Do you know what I mean?
We’re not living in 1959, so shouldn’t we change this rancid standard to measure success and happiness? Don’t you think we have other priorities?
But don’t get me wrong, minimalism isn’t just an anti-consumerist woo-woo strategy. Not everything needs to be practical or useful. We’re humans with human feelings and we like having things that bring back memories, we get attached to inanimate objects, and we sometimes need little toys to feel happy and that’s okay.
So minimalism is far from having 4 items to your name, becoming a hermit, and moving to a cave in the Carpathians. Rather, it’s about owning what you truly want / love / need in your life. These three categories of things (being critical and selective with the wants, of course) are the ones that serve a purpose in your life and recognizing them is key to minimize your life.
And just as a side note before we dive into the sustainability of it all, you can apply minimalism to the area(s) of your life you want. You can give capsule wardrobes a try, or try and simplify your kitchen, or declutter your WFH space. You set the rules.
Why is minimalism sustainable?
Long story short: consuming smarter and owning less is sustainable.
We just have to be careful when we decide to get rid of the things we don’t need anymore and avoid falling into the dreaded mindless decluttering.
What does this mean? Imagine that you start emptying your closet and just throw your old clothes away instead of trying to give them a second life, or even before learning how to properly dispose of them. Or that you start throwing away clothes that you might need later in life, which means that you´ll need to buy something similar again. This is a topic for another day, but this post on capsule wardrobes has some tips on how to make space in your wardrobe responsibly.
Even if you’re a 90s baby and you’re still in your 20s, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the way we consume has changed drastically in your lifetime. Back then we had busy malls and today we can have weekly hauls from the comfort of our sofa.
Overconsumption is obviously unsustainable from every perspective – the planet can’t keep up with each of us buying 2 pairs of jeans a week and our wallets would thank us if we stopped.
So, in short, minimalism is considered sustainable because if you simplify your life, you reduce your footprint (water, energy, CO2, plastic,…all the footprints).
Have you watched those TV shows about tiny homes? I’m addicted to them. If you own a tiny home, you need a tiny amount of energy for heating in the cold months and a tiny number of lamps and appliances. Now, compare that to a 4-bedroom suburban home. This example is kind of radical because not all of us would be able to live in a tiny home, but you get the point.
The amazing thing about minimalism is that, just as sustainable living, it comes in all beautiful shapes and sizes and there’s no one-size fits all. I say it in every single post and I’ll say it again: we all have different lifestyles, so the changes we are willing or able to make will for sure be different.
Maybe it’d be ideal to have 1 (or 0 cars) per household, but some people need them for work, or to take care of family members with reduced mobility, who knows. Maybe the minimalist dream is owning a maximum of 30 pieces of clothing but, as I told you at the beginning of this post, I like hoarding shoes I bought over 10 years ago. Or, coming back to the tiny home example, probably a family of 5 wouldn’t be as cozy and comfy in a tiny home as a young couple with a puppy would be.
Each of us has different needs and that’s okay as long as we’re aware of our actions and try to do our best in the areas of our lives we can change.
In a few words: the more mindful we are with what we own, the more critical we are about what we want, the better we’ll analyse our (un)sustainable lifestyle choices and the greener we’ll become.
More resources to help you minimize your life
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders
- The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker
- Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn
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