What minimalism isn’t

I read a lot of blogs, many of them about minimalism, sustainability, happiness and quality of life. These are things that I’m passionate about researching, learning about and writing about. That’s why I started a blog about them. Much of what I read on other people’s blogs is inspiring or thought provoking. Sometimes, though, I think we miss the point in our discussions of minimalism and downsizing. Today I read Tyler Tervooren’s post, Welcoming the Maximalist Movement, on his blog Advanced Riskology. Tyler writes,

“If you came over to my place for dinner, you might think I was a minimalist – I have very few material possessions…After thinking about it for awhile, I realized that I’m more of a maximalist with minimalist tendencies – I own little so that I may have a lot…

At the heart of this new maximalist movement is one simple ideal: more. I think people want more from life, not less. But, I also think that the two are not mutually exclusive. I reject the idea that the answer to a happy life is merely to simplify and do less. Instead, I propose that it’s to:

  • Do much more of what you love and much less of what you’d prefer to avoid.
  • Say more of what you truly feel and stop giving lip service to what you think people want to hear.
  • Have more of the things you value in your life and purge everything you don’t.
  • Be more of the person you want to be and less of the person you think others want you to be.
  • Create more beautiful things and destroy more ugly ones.”

What Tervooren describes (and renames maximalism), from my point of view, is the very heart of minimalism. There have been many comments on his blog entry, most of them positive. It seems that many people share his rejection of the doctrine of less. I don’t disagree with him, or with his ideas about what leads to better quality of life. I too am interested in doing more of what I love, having only things I want, and living with integrity. But I find all of those ideas to be in keeping with minimalism, an integral part of the minimalist equation. To me, the point of paring down, of having less stuff, was to have more time and resources for things like this:

and this

These are pictures from my winter vacation, which was lovely in  part because this year I put some thought into how I wanted to spend it, and made only commitments I wanted to keep. That left me more time for walks on the beach with the dog, and making cookies with a favorite little member of the family. That’s the point of minimalism, for me. Less stuff. More peanut butter cookies. More beach.

Perhaps, in parsing out a definition of minimalism, we first need to agree on what it isn’t:

Minimalism is not about having less stuff or fewer obligations. It’s about having only the stuff – and obligations, and experiences – you really want to have, or need to have, or find fulfilling. It’s not throwing away stuff just to have less of it. It’s an editing process, of thoughtful consideration, and it stays a process – you never have just the right amount of stuff, or experiences, or commitments. Not for long, anyway. Your needs will change, and so will your circumstances. The point of the process is to be able to adapt to the changes. For me, this “minify” initiative has been a way to improve my quality of life through reflection and a willingness to change.

Sustainability has also been at the heart of my own minimalist initiative. It’s why I went vegetarian, stopped buying new clothes and kept the heat off for as long as I could this winter. Those small sacrifices save me money, but more importantly, I am concerned with preserving our natural resources and preventing environmental degradation. That’s not minimalism per se, but for me, minimalism and sustainability are inextricably linked. To some extent, my efforts to live smaller are a value statement, reflective of my concerns about my own impact on the planet and the impact of our collective, societal choices. Even so, the pursuit of less in the name of sustainability has not made my life smaller, sadder, or less meaningful. It has made me infinitely more appreciative of things like clean water, fresh air, the things I do own and above all the community I have become a part of, comprised of others trying to live out the same values and ideals.

Tyler Tervooren is a part of that community, a blogger interested in many of the same ideas, just from a different angle. I think that he and I are pursuing the same goal, only calling it different names. He writes:

“Rather than exclude indiscriminately, focus your time, energy, and effort on more of the good things in life and ruthlessly exclude the bad. Get more of what you really want.”

That sounds like good advice to me.

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6 thoughts on “What minimalism isn’t

    • Tyler,
      I do enjoy reading your blog! I had an environmental studies professor in college who said environmentalism had a PR problem: “people think environmentalists want them to live in the cold, in the dark, in a cave.” Which makes what should be a popular and logical idea less appealing. I think minimalism has a similar image problem, but the kind of lifestyle you describe, by any name, makes a lot of sense.

  1. Hi there, what an interesting post. I suppose its a lot like the question of the glass half-full/half-empty. Either way you look at it the glass has the same amount of water. It’s much nicer to think about minimalism for all the positives that it can bring to your life: more time for the things you love to do, more time to spend with the people you love, more focus on the things that matter to you.
    As for the process, we have been decluttering our home for two years now and still have a way to go. Even though some of the decisions are difficult to make at the time, I have no regrets for getting rid of things, in fact, I feel a growing sense of relief that those items no longer have any power over me.

    • Sally,
      After all our paring down and decluttering, I have one regret (a great coffee pot that I loved, but got rid of when I decided to “upgrade”). The other thousand things we gave away or sold? I’ve got the same sense of relief you’re talking about – I feel less weighed down! I think it’s been good for me, good for my marriage, certainly good for the thrift store we donate to…and better for the earth, because it’s made me reconsider every purchase I consider making! I’m always glad to hear from others with similar experiences.

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