That, in and of itself, should tell you that there is no firm, one-off definition that is used universally. In a general sense, minimalism could be defined as “Choosing to include in your life only those things that we value most, and removing everything that distracts us from them.” Or it could be defined simply as “Not being attached to material things.” There are plenty of other definitions that could be used, but that first definition is my favorite so far.
For me, minimalism involves cutting out the things in my life that don’t contribute to my purpose or my happiness. I can ask – does this make my life more meaningful? If not, that’s a good indication that I will probably want to pass it by. However, when it comes to the question “Will this make me happier?” we might be tempted to answer “yes” to a lot of things that we don’t need, or that don’t actually improve our lives. Advertisements all around us are trying to convince us that buying certain products will make us happier, if only for a moment. A slight improvement to the question might be – “Will this make my life happier in general?” Even so, perhaps that could use some refinement. It helps to keep a clear view of what truly makes us happy. What are the things that will have mattered when everything is said and done?
I know what it feels like to be cold, wet, hungry, tired, and happy. After experiencing that, I decided that that was something I would remember. Creature comforts don’t make me happy. Sure, they can be nice, but I have often been comfortable and miserable. When I know that I am working on something that I care about, then I am happy. When I know that I have made a positive difference in someone else’s life, then I am happy. Occasionally, when I express myself artistically, then I am happy. When I can share good times with loved ones, then I am happy. I have promised myself that I will never forget that material things don’t make me happy.
Of course, the things that make me happy aren’t necessarily the best choices to make other people happy. People have different passions in life. People have different ways to practice the wonderful lifestyle of “minimalism.”
Some ways that people practice minimalism include:
- Living debt-free, or paying off debt with dogged fervor.
- Having an empty attic or storage shed.
- Canceling cable.
- Using a car share service.
- Canceling some commitments and freeing up time in their schedule.
- Transferring physical keepsakes and objects that represent fond memories to digital files, rather than carting them around for the rest of their lives.
- Quitting the habit of shopping for recreation.
- Working less so that they can have the time to find clarity and priority in their lives.
- Or even just intentionally decluttering.
There are a multitude of ways that people practice minimalism – many more ways than I can hope to catalogue. There is no arbitrary line you have to cross or qualification you have to complete in order to be able to call yourself a minimalist. In a sense, figuring out when you “can” call yourself a minimalist doesn’t have to be any more complicated than deciding whether you’re a “fan” of an author you read, or a television series you watch, or a blog you follow. You are a “fan” when you feel comfortable calling yourself one. If you intentionally put effort into cutting the gunk out of your life, and consider that as what minimalism is for you, then you’re a “minimalist.” Maybe someday you will decide you want to go farther, and downsize a lot more – but it doesn’t mean that you have to reconsider whether you were a “minimalist” before. Perhaps someday you will decide to take minimalism even farther than that, and take the challenge of living with 100 items or less, or maybe you’ll decide that that’s not what is best for you. You can take the path of minimalist living in whatever way makes you happy.