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Why the Minimalist Lifestyle Isn’t Just a Fad (And How You Can Start Living It)

October 28, 2020

A minimalist lifestyle sounds appealing to a lot of people for obvious reasons. Buy less, have less and maintain less so you can experience more. But how do you pull that off?

People have been pursuing the minimalist lifestyle for centuries, and in this article, we’re going to explore why.

First, we’ll look at minimalist roots. Sometimes it’s helpful to know where an idea came from to really sink your teeth into it. Then, we’ll cover some basic ways you can start living minimally right now.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you to give away everything you own and live out of a van—even though I love van life! (I even record my podcast from a mobile studio.)

Instead, I’m going to give you doable, practical ways to experience more while consuming less.

Sound good?

The minimalist lifestyle isn’t new

If you start digging, you’ll see references to minimalism sprinkled across multiple cultures going back centuries. People all over the world are interested in being present in the moment—from Buddhist monks to Marie Kondo.

Here are the high points.

Sidenote: If you’re not into history and just want to dig into my practical minimalism tips, feel free to skip this section.

The Cynics & the Stoics

European minimalism began with the Cynics. They were Athenian philosophers. But don’t confuse their name with the idea of pessimism. They weren’t a bunch of negative Nancies.

Rather, their main goal was “to live as nature intended”—without extravagance.

One of the most infamous Cynic philosophers, Diogenes of Synope, lived in a barrel to prove homes were unnecessary. Now that’s commitment.

Cynic philosophers inspired the Stoics, who believed in a kind of emotional minimalism. They avoided overreactions and selfishness, believing level heads help improve society.

Stoic writings even influenced Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela. In other words, they had a lasting effect.

Religious asceticism

The strictest versions of “asceticism” involve depriving yourself of any pleasure to achieve virtue. Talk about intense. But there are less extreme versions of this idea.

For example, modern religions often devote holidays to ascetic traditions. Christians avoid meat during Lent, while Muslims fast during Ramadan.

Other religions use ascetic principles as fundamental tenets. For instance, Buddhist tradition describes how the Buddha embraced poverty, even though he grew up wealthy.

It’s not at all uncommon for belief systems to include some kind of a “less is more” message.

American minimalist art

During the Vietnam War, artists became disillusioned with academia and materialism. Throughout the ‘60s, American art took a turn.

Minimalist artists rejected conventional materials and methods. Instead, they used simple, repetitive shapes and colors. That way, viewers could decide on the meaning of each piece for themselves.

Basic accounting principles

Let’s shift all the way from art to math.

Most corporate accountants are expected to help their employers avoid unnecessary costs. Their attention to detail makes it possible for companies to stretch their budgets further.

This, too, is another form of minimalism.

What does the modern minimalist lifestyle look like?

Modern minimalists don’t have to live like hermits. In fact, you can embrace minimalism and still indulge in luxury. The trick is focus and self-control.

Said another way, being minimalist is less of a lifestyle and more of an approach to decision-making.

At its core, minimalism “helps people question what things add value to their lives.” If something doesn’t make your life better, why include it?

The result? Happiness and efficiency.

Of course, happiness looks different for everyone. A curated record collection may feel burdensome to one minimalist, but precious to another. A valuable record collection isn’t anti-minimalistic … as long as it adds value to your life.

Minimalism is a very personal thing. What works for you may not work for someone else.

How do you start living minimally?

If you’re interested in the minimalist lifestyle, I’ve got some good news. You can start living it right now.

In the next 15 minutes, you can get rid of some of the things that don’t add value to your life and double-down on the stuff that does.

How? Just work through these 7 quick exercises.

1. Map out your ideal life

Set a timer for ten minutes and pull out a sheet of paper. Write a description of what your ideal minimalist lifestyle looks like. What does it DEFINITELY include? What do you KNOW you want to ditch?

Write a list or a paragraph. That doesn’t matter. Just get your preferences based on your values down on paper.

Then, go through and pick some actionable topics. What can you create more space for today? What can you start letting go of right now?

2. Get serious about avoiding unnecessary stress

Write out your daily routine. Which parts are stressful? Which parts bring you the most joy? Do you have enough time for real self-care? Or do you feel like you’re always running out of time before you get a chance to pamper yourself?

Knowing what overwhelms you can help you find solutions.

Remember, the goal here isn’t to live out of a van (even though I think that’s awesome). The goal is to identify what makes your typical day worthwhile and what brings stress into your routine.

You want more of the good stuff and less of the bad.

3. Make a “stop-doing” list

“Stop-doing” lists are the opposite of “to-do” lists. They’re lists of habits, activities or feelings you want to take out of your life.

The items on your list might be unhealthy, like overworking, or they could be things you just want to try out, like working in a café instead of at home.

When one habit leaves, another one will take its place. Be sure to be intentional about adding new habits you want if you try to remove any habits you don’t want.

4. Take stock of your stuff

Deciding what to keep and what to throw away can be one of the hardest parts of the minimalist lifestyle. While you don’t have to get rid of everything, if you’re new to minimalism there’s a good chance you need to let go of some things.

So take a look around your home. As you consider individual items, ask yourself, “What’s this for? Have I used this in the last year? How about the last month?”

Once you have an answer, decide if you’re comfortable holding on to an item you don’t use often. Strict minimalists may only want objects they use every day. But keep in mind, you don’t have to be that extreme.

That said, the Halloween costume from seven years ago that’s still hanging in your closet? Yeah. You can probably let that go.

5. Give your budget a little purpose

Take a look at your weekly or monthly spending. Assign a general category, like “entertainment,” “clothing” or “utilities” to each expense. Now, determine the purpose of each category.

Which categories make your life better? Which are essential? Which could you cut back on without sacrificing your quality of life?

For instance, you might spend a certain amount on lunch for yourself each day. What if you packed lunch a few times a week? How could you use the extra money? Is it more valuable than a no-hassle meal?

Be honest with yourself.

Budgeting is a great way to practice minimalist principles without too much emotional pressure.

6. Evaluate your relationships

Remember this mantra—everything must have value.

Sometimes, friendships become burdensome. Or worse, toxic. Business partnerships can go stale. Romantic connections can lose their spark.

If a relationship isn’t making your life better, it might be time to ask yourself why you’re pursuing it.

I recommend journaling about the relationships in your life. This can be helpful because you’re looking for patterns over time, not impulsive feelings based on the last interaction you had with someone.

You may have long-time friends who sometimes annoy you, but who have definitely made your life better. And you might be dating someone who’s really, really fun at parties, but a pain in the ass day-to-day.

Give yourself permission to end relationships that ultimately aren’t good for you.

7. Experiment

The goal of minimalism is to improve your everyday life. And what works for you will be very specific to you.

That’s why there’s no all-encompassing plan for minimalism that works for everyone.

You won’t know what works until you start trying things. So consider each little change you make an experiment. Before you make any permanent change, take intermediate steps and see how they feel.

Don’t just stop being friends with someone. Take a break from hanging out with them. Don’t just donate everything you think you might not want. Pack it up for a couple of months and see if you actually miss it.

Your best life now

Minimalism isn’t a fad. It’s a long-standing tradition that can make your life better, starting today.

So here’s my challenge to you. Look through the list above and pick at least 3 things you can try out today.

It might require a little bit of effort, but I promise, it’ll be worth it!

Author: Emily Baudot

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