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What is minimalism?

krystina wetzel

Minimalism, a lifestyle choice in which a person practices living with only the things they need, has grown in popularity over the past decade. It serves as the topic for many blogs and YouTube accounts with millions of followers. Though, despite its popularity, there seem to be many misconceptions as to what the practice actually entails. Not only that, but many people appear to be vehemently opposed to the idea, believing that the practice requires them to give up everything they own and live a nomadic lifestyle. While this is one of the many ways minimalism can be practiced, this is not the only way. Minimalism is a practice that is best when tailored to the individual. 

Ryan Nicodemus, of the blog The Minimalists, states that most people believe that, in order to be a minimalist, “you must live with less than 100 things, you can’t own a car or a home or a television, you can’t have a career . . . you can’t have children, and you must be a young white male from a privileged background (2019).”  This does seem to be the general consensus. If you look up the term on YouTube, you are bound to see many videos of young, single people sitting in an empty room with little to no furniture or decoration. It’s no wonder that Americans, with an average of over 300,000 items per household (“For Many People,” 2014) would be hesitant to give minimalism a chance. Not only that, but, despite the fact that most American homes have tripled in size in the past 50 years, there are more than 7 square feet of self-storage available for every man, woman and child in the United States (Mooallem, 2009). There’s no denying that Americans love their stuff. 

Minimalism is not necessarily the opposite of our natural state of maximalism. It is not an empty, monk-like existence, despite what you may come across online. In a post titled “Minimalism Explained” for his blog, the Exile Lifestyle, Colin Wright states that minimalism is a “reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff -- the possessions and ideas and relationships -- that don’t bring value to your life (2017).”  Everyone’s priorities are different, so it makes sense that minimalism can (and should) look different for everyone.

Let’s take geography, for example. Whether or not a person lives in the suburbs or a rural setting has a large impact on what minimalism looks like for them. If you live in a city where public transportation is widely available, you may not need to own a car in order to get around. Stores are abundant in cities, so it may not be necessary to stock up on supplies, such as groceries and other goods. However, those in a rural setting would more than likely need to own a car to get around, and since stores may not be easy to access, keeping your pantry full is a must. 

Another factor to consider is the size of your household and your current stage of life. If you are young and single, you may be able to get by with very little, similar to Colin Wright, who owns a total of 55 items--all of which fit into one backpack--and travels the world, choosing not to live in one place for more than four months (“55 Things,” 2019). A family with multiple children will have different needs and, therefore, different possessions. A family with teenagers will look different from a retired couple, as well. It is important to scale your possessions to fit the needs of your family. 

Your choice of hobbies and interests can have an effect, as well (yes, you can have hobbies!). My husband was initially hesitant to try minimalism because he has a large art supply collection--in addition to many other hobbies--and he did not want to dispose of it all. This hesitance is not necessary, as there are many people who practice minimalism and still continue to pursue their passions. It is, however, important to keep tabs on which hobbies actually bring you joy. For example, my husband had a large collection of vintage cameras and manuals that he wanted get around to fixing eventually, but keeping them around knowing that may never actually get around to it only brought him guilt. A minimalist mindset allowed him to get rid of these items, as well as the guilt they carried with them. Disposing of the clutter also allowed him to spend time on what he really loved, because that was all he had kept.  According to Joshua Becker, author of the Becoming Minimalist blog, “The more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you. That’s why those who live a minimalist lifestyle have more time on their hands for other things in life (2017).” In other words, when your days are not bogged down by an endless cycle of tidying up overwhelming amounts of clutter, you can devote that time to the things you actually love.

         So, there you have it. I believe it is important to understand what minimalism is not (empty, monk-like, boring, repetitive) in order to understand what it is. By getting rid of the things that matter very little, we can make space for the things that matter most. Not only that, but knowing what minimalism isn’t gives you the freedom to figure out what it means for you: where you are, however large your family is, and regardless of passions and aspirations. Minimalism is a practice that can benefit many, if only we can look past the stereotypes and shape it to our own lives. 


Works Cited

Becker, Joshua. “More Time for the Things That Matter Most.” Becoming Minimalist, 29 Dec. 2013,

Colin. “All 55 Things I Own.” Exile Lifestyle, 26 Jan. 2017,

Colin. “Minimalism Explained.” Exile Lifestyle, 2 Sept. 2017,

“For Many People, Gathering Possessions Is Just the Stuff of Life.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar. 2014,

Mooallem, Jon. “The Self-Storage Self.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Sept. 2009,

Nicodemus, Ryan. “What Is Minimalism?” The Minimalists, The Minimalists, 24 June 2019,

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