What is Minimalism? Plus 8 Things it’s NOT

What is Minimalism? Plus 8 Things it's NOT

Minimalism is a concept that has been gaining popularity lately. And for good reason! There are many benefits of living with less. But there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what a minimalist lifestyle is exactly, and what it’s not. In today’s post, I want to address what is minimalism, plus 8 things a simple minimalist lifestyle is not as well.

Minimalism is one of those concepts, much like simple living where it can mean different things to different people. And that’s ok.

Minimalism is something that should be personal and unique to the person living it. There is no single set of rules or standards that you must follow and meet to be a minimalist.

But much like simple living, it’s important to have a clear vision of what a simple, minimalist lifestyle means to you. Although minimalism is as much about the journey as it is the end goal, without having a clear goal of what you want minimalism to look like in your life, it’s hard to stay focused and on track.

What is Minimalism - plus 8 things its NOT.
Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

What is Minimalism?

When asked what is minimalism, Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist says:
“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”

This perfectly describes minimalism. It is about having a clear understanding of what you value most in your life. This can mean things that take up your space AND time. Then intentionally removing anything in your life that gets in the way of what you value most.

At its core, minimalism is being intentional with the way you live your life. Only allowing what aligns with your most important values to take up your space and your time.

Finding your own version of a minimalist lifestyle

Using this definition, minimalism will look different for everyone. If you ask 100 different people to show you what is minimalism using this definition, you will end up with 100 different pictures of minimalism.

What we each value is personal and unique to us. That’s one of the things I love about minimalism, you can create whatever version of minimalism works for you. The only key is that you decide what is most important to you, and then remove anything that doesn’t line up with and support those values.

What Minimalism Isn’t

There is no one single answer to the question “what is minimalism?” The concept of minimalism is very open to interpretation. Rather than trying to include everything that minimalism IS, it is more helpful to figure out what minimalism is NOT.

There are a lot of common misconceptions about minimalism. Ideas that make minimalism seem hard to relate to it, undesirable or out of reach for the average person. By addressing these common misconceptions, I hope to show you that minimalism is attainable for and can benefit anyone.

8 common misconceptions about minimalism:

1. Minimalism is about getting rid of everything you own

It’s true that a big part of minimalism is removing things from your life. But the focus of minimalism shouldn’t be on what you are getting rid of. The focus should be on what you GAIN by letting go of the things that don’t bring value to your life.

Instead of focusing on what you’re getting rid of, focus on what minimalism gives you more of. More time, more space, more peace, more freedom.

Minimalism is not about deprivation. It is about intentionally choosing to live with less in order to have more time and space for what is most important in your life.

What is Minimalism? Plus 8 things it's NOT

2. Minimalism is so restrictive it makes life harder

A common misconception is that minimalism makes life harder because you live with so little. That being a minimalist means getting rid of everything but the bare essentials, including things that make life more convenient.

Life as a minimalist is actually easier in many ways. You spend less time cleaning, picking up, looking for things, maintaining your stuff, organizing your stuff, etc. After adopting a minimalist mindset, many people see that things they thought made life easier, are actually stealing their time and their space.

Minimalism is not about getting rid of something if you actually use it often and it makes your life easier. It’s about getting rid of the things that aren’t used or needed and are just cluttering your home.

3. Minimalism and being frugal are the same things

Frugality is about spending carefully and looking for opportunities to save money. A minimalist lifestyle can lead you to spend more carefully and save money, as you buy less and shop more intentionally. But being frugal is not necessarily the primary intention of minimalism.

There is some overlap between minimalism and frugality, as both promote being intentional about how you spend your money. Some people may even turn towards minimalism in an effort to be more frugal.

But minimalism and frugality are not the same. Minimalism goes beyond having less solely for the purpose of saving money. Minimalism is about living with less in order to have the time and space for what matters most in your life.

Additionally, minimalists may choose to buy fewer items but purchase higher quality items. But they are still intentional about how they spend, by buying less. But are not focused on being frugal because they are willing to spend more on a higher quality item.

4. You can’t have collections or hobbies if you are a minimalist

A common misconception is that minimalism means you can’t keep the things you love. Or you can’t have a collection that brings you joy. Or even that you can’t have a hobby that involves physical supplies.

Again, minimalism doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything you own. Minimalism means being intentional about what you keep. Editing your possessions down to only the things you love and use. Getting rid of the excess allows you to use and enjoy the things you love more.

The key to minimalism is moderation. Rather than having 14 collections, decide to keep one or two that you truly use or love. It might mean editing your collection to only the best pieces so you can highlight those pieces and not lose them in an overgrown collection.

If you have a hobby that requires physical supplies, designate a space to keep your supplies and be intentional about limiting what you keep to that space. It’s about intentionally curating what you keep. Keeping only the supplies you will actually use, rather than stockpiling supplies that are never used.

Minimalism is not about depriving yourself of the things you love. That is exactly the opposite of what minimalism really is. The whole point of minimalism is to remove all the excess so you can truly value, see and use the things you love. You get rid of the things you don’t use or love in order to make more room for what you do.

5. Minimalism means stark, all-white rooms that look cold and uninviting

While there is a minimalist design aesthetic, often characterized by all-white rooms with little furniture or décor, that doesn’t mean that’s the ONLY way minimalism can look.

In fact, minimalism as a lifestyle doesn’t have to look a certain way at all. A minimalist room can also be colorful with books, candles, throw blankets, pillows, etc. Minimalism is when the only things you keep in your space are those that you use often and/or love. It should be personal and unique to you, so everyone’s version of it will look different.

Minimalism is finding the right amount of stuff for you.

What is enough will be different for everyone. The key is keeping only what adds value to your life and removing the rest. As long as everything in your space is something you either use often or absolutely love – that’s minimalism!

Get specific about how you want minimalism to look and feel in your home. For example, the term “cozy minimalism” describes a space that is minimal and uncluttered, but still cozy.

It can help to use terms like this to get specific and clear about your vision of minimalism. Use this vision to create a minimalist home that works for you. Don’t worry about following someone else’s aesthetic.

6. You have to follow a certain set of rules or standards to be a true minimalist

Some people do experiment with following a certain set of rules, like living with less than 100 things or having less than 37 pieces in their wardrobe. But that is not the only way to be a minimalist.

The great thing about minimalism is that you can create your own set of rules. And those rules can change as your life changes.

Experimenting with a set of rules can be an interesting and challenging experience. It can open your mind to new ideas. But don’t let yourself be turned off or restricted by these rules. Figure out what works for you and don’t worry about anything that doesn’t.

Just remember that minimalism is identifying what you value most and removing anything that doesn’t align with those values.

7. You can’t be a minimalist if you have kids. Minimalism only works for young, single people

Anyone can be a minimalist. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do for work. It doesn’t matter if you are single, or have a large family.

In fact, I would say that the larger your family, the more benefits you’ll notice from minimalism. The more people in your house, the more stuff you tend to have. Removing the excess and adopting a minimalist lifestyle could be even more important for families.

A minimalist family will look different than a young, single minimalist. But neither is more or less minimalist than the other.

In each case, minimalism is about identifying what they value most and removing the excess to make more room for what they value. Their values will most likely differ, so what they keep and get rid of will also differ.

But minimalism can work for any person or family willing to put in the time and effort to get rid of the excess in their lives and make room for what matters most.

8. Minimalism only applies to your stuff

Getting rid of the excess stuff in your life is a big part of minimalism in the beginning. But “stuff” is actually only one part of minimalism. In fact, a big part of embracing a minimalist lifestyle is shifting your mindset about “stuff” altogether. Learning to challenge and change your relationship with what you own and why you own it.

As Brian Gardner, founder of No Sidebar says:|
“I’ve learned that minimalism is not about what you own, it’s about why you own it.”

Minimalism actually goes far beyond just what you own. It can be applied to all areas of your life. Minimalism is about figuring out what you value most in your life and removing anything that doesn’t align with that.

Once you have started living with this idea, you will see that a minimalist lifestyle goes far beyond just decluttering your house. It can be applied to how you spend your time, what kind of consumer you become, what you eat, your finances, etc.

The benefits of minimalism extend to all areas of your life. And minimalist ideas can be applied to many areas of your life other than just your stuff.

Minimalism is a tool, not the end goal

Minimalism isn’t about owning less for the sake of less.

Instead, minimalism is a tool that can help you create the life you want and give yourself the freedom to live that life. It’s a tool to help you live intentionally, so you can focus your time, space, energy and attention on what matters most to you.

Now that I’ve shared what minimalism is and isn’t to me, I’d love to hear what minimalism means to you. Leave me a comment below and tell me your answer to the question “what is minimalism?”

This post was originally published in February 2017. Updated August 2019.

What is Minimalism? Plus 8 things it's NOT
Photo by Eduard Militaru on Unsplash

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    1. Thanks for sharing your post Katerina. I agree that “minimalism” as a trend can easily seem artificial and hard to relate to. That’s why I love reminding myself that minimalism doesn’t have to look a certain way. It can look however makes sense for your life. I enjoyed reading your perspective on minimalism and good luck with the changes you are hoping to make. Thanks for reading!

  1. I loved this! I’ve always wanted to really give minimalism a try. I loved how you said it wasn’t for people with kids… lol. I have a puppy so idk if that counts for me.

    1. The great thing about minimalism is that it can work for anyone, no matter what their life looks like. As long as you are choosing to only keep what you use often and love, that’s minimalism. I hope you give it a try, there’s a lot of freedom in living with less! And puppies totally count! If he’s a pup that likes to chew on things, maybe he’ll do some involuntary decluttering for you 😉 Thanks for reading!

  2. I love this. I still have a collection of books I don’t plan on getting rid of. I also plan to raise my daughter on a minimalist lifestyle. This post is great!

    1. Thanks Akialah! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. That’s the great thing about minimalism – if you love your book collection, you can keep it and appreciate it even more once anything you don’t use or love as much is gone! I agree, minimalism is such a great lifestyle for kids. Less stuff and fewer distractions can really help them thrive. Thanks for reading! 🙂

      1. I think this will make my life easier. Definitely. Great idea minimalist. If you keep one thing in mind to buy and keep only things you love, and buy if you love it and really need it, very helpful. I like the wardrobe capsule concept as well. Great idea.

  3. This was such a wonderful post, so full of great advice! I found you through a Pinterest pin, and I am so thankful I did. God bless you. I am so sorry about the loss of your precious baby. May the dear Lord comfort your heart in every moment of grief. I will be following your blog now and look forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you so much Cheryl! I’m glad you found me too 🙂 Thank you for your kind words and condolences, I really appreciate it <3 Thanks for reading, I look forward to staying in touch with you!

  4. Great post! It’s true it does seem to mean something different to everyone. I agree with you though, it’s about making room for what matters.

    1. Thanks Bobbi. Yes, I agree that it’s really not about how much you get rid of or how little you keep. The most important thing is that you keep what you value and get rid of what you don’t. Thanks for reading!

  5. Nice! Minimalism has a lot to do with a) effeciency of life b) conscious living. It inplies buying only what you actually require or what makes your life better.

  6. I’m so glad I stopped by to read this post. I just discovered your blog, but I’m going to be dropping by again. I’ve been wanting to really understand what minimalism is, and these 8 things have really helped me kinda start understanding. I’ve been wanting to do a great purge in my home to get rid of a number of things that are just not making me happy. I think this sounds like something I could really start in my home to make things a bit less…cluttered and overstuffed. At least in theory, maybe. 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you found me! And it’s so good to hear the post was helpful for you. I hope you are able to do some decluttering and purging in your house. It’s so freeing to let go of the excess stuff! My latest post has tips to start decluttering even if you don’t have a lot of time. So even if you can’t start a big purge right now, there are lots of little ways to start decluttering. You can read it here. Keep me posted on how you’re doing and thanks for reading!

  7. I loved this post. I recently adopted a minimal lifestyle. It all began with me wanting to rearrange our bedroom. Something inside told me to HARDCORE declutter, so that’s what I did. I took every item I had in my room and asked myself if I really needed it or wanted it. About 75% was thrown away or donated. I never expected it to turn my life into a minimal living life, but it did. I have several auto immune diseases. Stress is really bad for me, it can kill me. Living minimally has given me peace and less stress. I am the most tidiest I have ever been. Everything I own has its place and is hidden away from plain view. I sometimes question if I live a minimal life because I still own quite a lot of items, even after donating most of it. But I have come to realize there is no one way to live a minimal lifestyle. I even went so far as to reorganize and declutter every room in my apartment. It feels so great to be able to go into every room and feel at peace and be able to relax in.

    Before deciding to donate or throw away any items, we naively put all the items we did not want in our bedroom into our guest bedroom to store it. After seeing how beautiful our bedroom looked and how peaceful it felt, we decided to do the same to each room. When it came to the guest bedroom, boy was it frustrating. This was the moment we really had to decide what we wanted and what we wanted to donate. It was at that point our apartment really made me feel peaceful and stress free.

    1. Wow, what a great minimalism success story Zelda! I’m so glad living with less has been so amazing for your life and your health. Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I love hearing about how life changing minimalism can be! Thanks for reading and sharing 🙂

  8. Thank you for your concise explanation I have recently seen the light & have been giving away excise items& it very good .I had three piles,one was rubbish,one to our favourite charity,the other family &friends Not finished yet your explanation has spurred me on.Looking foreword to hearing more from you.

    1. Thank you Debbie, I’m so glad to hear my post inspired your to continue with your decluttering work! It sounds like you’re making excellent progress. That’s awesome! Thanks for reading and good luck as you continue decluttering your home!

      1. I love your description of minimalist. This calls to mind the items we keep out of guilt, gifts given we have no desire for.The freedom to change our mind completely about these items is so freeing!
        Thank you we all need less guilt and more peace!

        1. Yes! I couldn’t agree more Laura! When we give ourselves permission to let go of things we don’t use, need or love, it really is so freeing! And yes – less guilt and more peace is a wonderful thing!! Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!

  9. Melissa, I love your post.
    Minimalism can be so flexible and no certain set of rules to follow. We can create our own set of rules and have our own minimalism. For me, minimalism is more freedom, more time,more focus and more value, towards more quality of life.
    I started learn minimalism on 4 Oct 2017. Your post inspired me a lot. Thank you very much.

    1. That’s wonderful to hear Kelvin, I’m so glad you found the post helpful! Minimalism really is something that can be completely personal to each of us. It sounds like you know exactly what minimalism means to you and how you want it to look in your life. That’s so great! Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!

  10. I’m new to “minimalism”, but I️ am SO loving it so far. My husband and I️ are moving and I️ figured it would be the perfect time to start decluttering. It feels like a fresh start. 🙂 Thsnks for the post! I️ had a couple of these misconceptions, and you cleared them up 🙂

    1. I’m so glad to hear you found the post helpful Kayla! I agree, getting rid of the excess stuff from you life really does feel like a fresh start! Glad you are loving minimalism so far! Thanks for reading and good luck as you continue your minimalist journey 🙂

  11. The fact that minimalism/right sizing, whatever you wish to call it, looks different for each one cannot be over-emphasized. It also cannot be stressed sufficiently that it is not something that can be done for someone else, except, to some extent, for small children.

    My 90 year old mother lives in 3,000 square feet of finished space with a detached 3 car garage and shop. She is a child of the Depression, an original minimalist. However, she delights in being able to have friends and family under her roof and does so at least weekly. You would find most of the cupboards and closets empty.

    She has been criticized, even harassed, for the big house. I don’t necessarily agree with it myself. Our daughter lives in such a small space that no one can visit. I’m a bit unhappy with that, too. However, for each of them, it is a mindful choice, something you have emphasized beautifully with this post.

    1. Yes!! I absolutely agree with you, Marianne. It definitely is something that looks different for each of us, and as you said, we may not always agree with another person’s choices. I like the two quite opposite examples you provided, and how each person made the choice mindfully, based on what their preferences are. Thanks for reading and sharing your insights with us!

    2. Great article! Have you ever read the book “Cozy Minimalist Home” by Myquillin Smith? Some of what you said sounded very similar to what she writes in her book! 🙂

  12. Great Article that explains minimalism so clearly and without judgement. This is a great journey to be on and has so many benefits outside of just ‘stuff’. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Rachel! I’m so happy to hear you found it helpful and judgement-free. That was definitely my goal! You’re absolutely right, it’s a wonderful journey with so many benefits to be found. And can look different for each of us! Thanks for reading and sharing your feedback 🙂

  13. I have a friend who calls herself a minimalist. She owns several houses, two vehicles and an RV. She is always rushing around busy busy busy. She also moves every few years. She is about 66

    I have accumulated stuff during the 23 years I’ve lived in my home. I have no debt (home and car paid for). I like to buy shoes. My car has 245k miles on it. I’ve had the same furniture for 15+ years. I live a quiet lifestyle (I’m single). I am not particularly frugal — actually don’t think too much about money. I have money invested. I rarely buy anything but I do go out to eat a lot, and hang out with friends. As long as my car is reliable, I won’t replace it. I am 72

    I think I can call myself a minimalist even if I haven’t bothered to declutter my home. I am focused on what I like to do and do it.
    What do you think?

    1. I think minimalism can mean a lot of different things to different people. But the only person who’s opinion matters when deciding if you’re a minimalist or not is your own! Minimalism can look very different depending on who’s living it. To me, it’s about figuring out what “enough” looks and feels like for you, so you can spend less time managing the stuff you own and more time living and enjoying your life. It sounds like you have found your place of “enough” so that you can lead a fulfilling life focused on what matters most to you. So that is your version of minimalism! Thanks for reading and leaving this comment, I think you’re sharing a great point that minimalism isn’t a one size fits all kind of thing!

  14. In my opinion I share your idea and concept that live a minimalist life is not about suffering not to buying something but the opossite buy only the things that you value the most and will allow you to live happy when you use, wear o see them. Congrats, nice and useful article to introduce a modern concept.

  15. Thank you Mellisa for sharing this piece. I also love that you mentioned having children will be hard on a Minimalist. I try my best to reduce expenses to the barest minimum but sometimes unforeseen life-threatening issues and family pressure affects this decision. As you mentioned, “Minimalism is not about deprivation. It is about intentionally choosing to live with less in order to have more time and space for what is most important in your life.” Finally, I believe that being a minimalist should be part of the plan of every young fellow that wish to be financially free in the future. I will be publishing a piece on my blog on “How to Invest in Your Future and Become Financially Free” and will definitely be mentioning your article. All the best.

    1. Thanks, Francis, I’m so happy to hear you found it helpful. As you said, the version of minimalism that works for you and your lifestyle/family can be important for so many different reasons. Thanks for reading and linking to my post in your article!

  16. What an interesting article! I have been trying to “declutter” my home and life so that I can have a less worrisome life and more time for the things that are most important to me. I haven’t been too successful at it though. I didn’t know exactly what “minimalistic” meant and I goggled it. I found this and love the concept. You have given me a better idea of why and how to declutter and to focus on, like you said, on the things that are most important to me. I want more time and space to be able to do the things I love most. Thank you!! Very inspiring!

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