I call myself a minimalist a bit reluctantly.
Sure, from 2017 to 2019, I went on weeks-long backpacking trips with nothing but a carry-on… but back then, I had an entire house to come home to. Now, nomadic since 2020, I travel with a few bins of clothes, quite a few outfits and shoes to choose from: flats, boots, wedges, sneakers, AND sandals. I don’t have a shopping ban, and I do appreciate fashion. That’s not that minimal, is it?
What makes the minimalist term challenging is that it’s not officially defined, at least not in terms of the lifestyle. Merriam-Webster defines minimalism only as it relates to music and design “characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.”
So to those who practice the minimalist movement, it’s subjective; there are no defined thresholds. But because there are no defined thresholds, I sometimes question whether I’m doing it wrong — if I’m “enough” of a minimalist. Perhaps I’m not a mini-minimalist, but a midi-minimalist? (Skirt lengths, anyone?)
I define minimalism as owning less, buying less, and being appreciative of the things you do have instead of searching for more, but also; having no great attachment to things; and the absence of collecting and using objects to fill a void.
When I downsized over a year ago, I culled at least 95% of my earthly possessions, mostly because I had to. There was nowhere for it all to go. I was closing on the sale of my 1,600 square foot home, I wasn’t moving anywhere else permanently, and I didn’t want to pay an exorbitant amount for storage. I put the essentials for my cross-country trip in my standard SUV and a few other things in an $80 a month storage unit, and I looked at the things left over in my closets and drawers in contempt of my frivolity. I didn’t set out to become a minimalist, but shedding the choices of my past and keeping only the most useful and most loved items lifted me up.
In these 15 months on the road, I now believe I’ve finally earned the minimalist title (ok, midi-minimalist, if we’re making that a thing), at least by American standards.
The evidence: in this time frame, I didn’t buy any purses, jackets, or casual shoes. I did throw away two pairs of shoes on their last legs (pun intended) and bought one pair of hiking boots and one pair of trail runners. I replaced a ripped computer backpack I’d had for six years with a new one. I threw away one swimsuit that had unraveled and bought two. I bought two dresses for events, two pairs of workout shorts, one pair of jeans, one pair of leggings, a sweatshirt, and half a dozen tops. I lost a handful of shirts to unfortunate stains or over-wear, gave away a few articles of clothing that I no longer wore, and repaired a couple items with stitches or buttons. I bought one bracelet in Newport and one pair of earrings in Nashville, and had a few items go missing along the way. So, to tally it all up? It’s nearly a wash. I barely collected anything new!
THIS. IS. A. FEAT. This is a reformation!
I used to be a girl who once had a walk-in closet, a dresser, a chest, and an armoire full of clothes, shoes and accessories. But I never thought of myself as a hoarder or a shopaholic. This was just… normal. I would buy a few things every month. I’d treat myself to a new outfit, a new pair of shoes, a new bauble to adorn myself with, a few hundred dollars’ worth a month. Why? Because I could and because it’s what people did.
In the last 15 months, I bought things that I later returned. If it didn’t flatter me, if it seemed to be not worth what I paid for it, if I realized I didn’t actually need it… I took it back. In the past, returning items seemed like such a chore, so sometimes I kept them (retailers bank on shoppers’ laziness!) — not so anymore. If there’s a shred of doubt whether it suits me, whether I’ll love it, whether I’ll regularly wear it — I return it.
I don’t hate shopping or fashion. I’m just content with what I have, and objects don’t bring me happiness. Experiences > possessions, and I truly take THAT to heart.
My rules for becoming a minimalist:
- Divide anything you think of buying into “needs” and “wants” — and “wants” should really be upgraded to something stronger, like “whole-hearted desires and loves.”
- Buy only to replace a missing/damaged thing you need or love.
- Keep only what you actually need or love.
- If after a year, you haven’t used it, and you don’t need it or love it anymore, get rid of it.
- Once in a while, break the rules. If heart and logic tell you to hold onto something, do it (I do!). There’s really no harm in reassessing a little bit later. (I’ve kept and stored semi-formal dresses that I haven’t had an occasion for within the year, but are classic, well-made, and complimentary to my body. I’m very conscientious!)
Minimalism, according to @juliebrose: “Owning less, buying less, and being appreciative of the things you do have instead of searching for more, also; having no great attachment to things, and; the absence of collecting and using objects to fill a void”Tweet
Do you call yourself a minimalist or an anti-consumerist? What’s been your driving force? What “rules” do you follow?