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?
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.
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.