Is a minimalist lifestyle for you? That depends on your goals. In order to properly answer the question we have to first define minimalism in reference to lifestyle design.
To some, applying minimalism may be having a plain coffee with cream and sugar instead of a half-skim, half -mocha triple espresso-macchiato-caramel beverage. Other minimalists may feel smug if you happen to mention to them that you have more than 3 pairs of socks. In a sense, it is relative. Being a minimalist requires an appreciation for simplicity and its beauty. Minimalism is NOT a competition to see who can make do with the least amount of conveniences in life.
It is removing that in life which takes the place of that which brings us happiness in the purest sense. This definition may have many meanings, as what makes a person happy varies from person to person. The point is, what may be indispensable for one, may not be necessary for others. In that context, I offer that minimalism is the least amount of possessions that YOU would deem necessary to have, to be happy, at that particular time in your life.
For example, one may own books, but unless they are treasured, rare, or one-off copies, I’d venture to guess you may borrow from friends or obtain at your local library, or better yet, have digital copies you can store in a single device. If you do laundry every week, do you really need as many socks as you need to get you through a whole month without washing? Are five hats really needed? You see, the difference is in what we have, versus what we need. If you wish to live a location independent lifestyle, it is a whole lot easier to relocate once you’ve determined what absolutely most go with you and what must be left behind abandoned or with someone else.
Living as a Minimalist
Someone very wise once said “I do not wish to have everything in the world because…. where would I put it?” You need to ask yourself the same question. We have been bombarded, thanks to brilliant marketing, that we need everything that is peddled to us. Owning this “thing” or “that” will solve all our problems, and we will be -happier, younger looking, cooler, etc.
Breaking out of the cycle of “every want is a need” will be somewhat hard for some, due to all that external conditioning. I speak of experience. Having moved from country to country all throughout life has taught me that the lighter I traveled, the smoother the relocation process went. Believe me, NOBODY looks cool carrying through the airport that decorative Mexican sombrero that was way too big to fit in any luggage.
The same mindset applies to planning for any extended vacation. The tendency for most of us is to over-pack for any trip, rather than to take what is absolutely needed. Our life becomes needlessly burdened by the shuffling of possessions and the upkeep of such possessions.
It is very easy to acquire material possessions and much, much harder to get rid of them. There’s an emotional attachment to things that makes us almost incapable of letting go of things. But if you truly want to pursue a minimalist lifestyle, I recommend adopting the principles even if you don’t, it is a good exercise to begin de-cluttering your life. Start, not by taking inventory of your possessions, but by figuring out WHAT makes you truly happy. What is it that brings joy to your life? What activities cause excitement and bring enthusiasm to your life? I’ll be willing to guess that some, if not most, are possible to enjoy WITHOUT the aid of any material possessions.
Action Item: To start weaning yourself of possessions, make a list of the 10 most important things you’d absolutely must take with you if, let’s say someone offered you a one way ticket to live at the destination of your choice for a year. Don’t do it for more than one family member, only for your personal possessions. Jot it down, then come back. I’ll wait here. I promise…
Once you’ve identified your most prized possessions, add the 10 that you thought you couldn’t live without one minute ago :-) After that, add 10 more others you left out. Then 10 more. And another 10, until you get to 50. That should give you a baseline of possessions and a very minimalist lifestyle. Congratulations, you can live out of a suitcase now.
For reference, here’s my list :
1 ) 17′ Laptop (has DVD player, so doubles as entertainment center and media-creation platform.)
2 ) 10′ Netbook (redundant you might say, but this is the device I can take outside and sit to work at a café with and attract less unwanted attention.
3 ) Cell phone (Skype enable, Wi-fi capable, goes wherever the Netbook can’t go. Hey, if you want to work online, redundancy is not to be discounted).
4 ) My waterproof, cold-weather hooded jacket.
5 ) Pair of jeans (Yes, this counts as one item)
6 ) Pair of sneakers (Ditto as above)
7 ) Dress shirt
8 ) Pair of underwear
9 ) Dress shoes
10 ) T-shirt
Granted, you noticed I didn’t include toiletries (toothbrush, comb, etc), and other simple items. The truth is, you can get most of these items at whatever destination you’re headed, once you arrive. It’s a lot easier to find deodorant that it would be to find, for example, noise-canceling headphones (a must if you’re a jet-setter and want to listen to music or an audio-book wherever you may be).
I must caution that the list above is an extreme example, as I’d rather prefer to hold on to a few t-shirts and not buy a new set every time I move. The point is that there are lots of things in our life that we have put in the NEEDS column when they should really be on the WANTS side of the page. Some are very nice to have indeed, but ultimately we can do without.
Go through your closet and give away to charity organizations those clothes and other possessions you haven’t used in a long time. You’ll be doing someone else a favor and making yourself leaner and far more adaptable to changing your surroundings.
Start pruning possessions and you’ll notice how your mind becomes uncluttered and you develop a clearer focus as you start to simplify your life. For every item you bring in to your life, propose to get rid of two at first, then one for one, as your life achieves a possession equilibrium. Be unconventional and unwire yourself from a consumer mentality.
The earth will thank you and so will your wallet.