woman walking in snow alone wondering does minimalism work?
Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

If you’ve seen Matt D’Avella‘s documentary on Netflix called “The Minimalists,” you’ll know what I mean by minimalism. It’s the idea that if you have less stuff, you’re going to be happier. That begs the question if you’re a shoe-hoarder or you have a ton of tools or gear, does minimalism work?

The first part about understanding minimalism is realizing that it does NOT mean that you have to be a monk or an acetic wandering through the desert with one shirt and a pair of sandals. Maybe that would work for some people, but it would probably drive most people insane.

Minimalism is about realizing what provides value to your life.

If you have a ton of books, but you don’t read any of them, it sounds like they’re not really adding value to your life. If the intention of the books was to learn something new, it’s not working. If the intention of the books was to show them off to guests so you could talk about how smart and well-read you are, well, that’s different. It’s not ideal, but I get how that could feel good and thus be valuable.

Minimalism is about finding the things that bring you a lot of bang for your buck.

I have a hoodie that cost me a lot more than a regular hoodie. I wear it almost every single day of the year. I love that hoodie. I get a ton of value from it.

For some people, choosing what clothes to buy and wear is a hassle. That’s me. For others, choosing what clothes to buy and wear is fun! That’s my partner. Does minimalism work for both of us? For me, minimalism doesn’t mean only wearing one shirt and one pair of pants–it means finding my favorite shirt and getting enough of those so that I can wear my favorite shirt every day. For my partner, it’s about expressing herself in different ways. So, yes, minimalism can work for both of us.

That’s just a small example, but I think it outlines the values of minimalism really well. It’s not about having no stuff, it’s about having only the stuff you love and letting go of the rest. From a finance perspective, this might feel a lot like getting rid of depreciating assets and focusing only on the assets that put money in your pocket. Like beanie babies.

There was this great photo in some publication that showed a couple breaking up in divorce court and splitting up their beanie babies. Here’s the image and the super short post I sent to my newsletter audience about it.

This goes for work and career as well. What are the skills you love developing? It’s probably worthwhile to invest more in those if you’re able to make a living with them. If you can’t make a living with those skills, maybe you can turn it into a hobby that brings you joy.

The focus is not on having less stuff. The focus is on having only important and meaningful stuff.

If you have a musical instrument on the wall that you don’t play or use, you’re probably not getting very much value from it. In fact, it might even be hurting you! How many times will you walk past the piano and say “gosh, I really should play more?” Does minimalism work for ambitious people?

If it’s not serving you, let it go. It will lift pressure off your psyche and you’ll be able to focus more on the things that matter most to you.

Minimalism is, at its core, about noticing what you value and giving yourself more of it. If you value playing music, you’ll notice because you enjoy playing it and so your behavior follows suit. If you don’t value playing music, it might feel like a chore or routine. If you’re noticing how you feel about these things, you’ll be able to adjust your lifestyle to double-down on what provides you value and eliminate what doesn’t.

Minimalism is a feedback loop that gives you space to welcome new things into your life and test them out. Minimalism is a value system that encourages you to be really clear about what brings you happiness and then take action!

If you’re like me, you’ve probably changed since you were younger. I’m 32 and I am definitely not the same person I was 10 years ago. My values have changed and so have the things around me. If you are mindful of what you value, it will be easier to notice these changes and recalibrate your life to suit them. You’ll be much happier if you can let go of the old you and make space for your new, evolved self.

Does minimalism work for “just in case” scenarios?

To evaluate “just in case” items, just consider this:

If it’s a commonly found commodity that doesn’t cost a lot, consider letting it go. If it’s a rare and useful thing, or if it will become rare and useful in the “just in case” scenario you’re imagining, it might be worth holding onto. This isn’t perfect–just look at the rarity of toilet paper after the COVID-19 outbreak. That certainly wasn’t on many people’s “just in case” lists.

A good, all-around safety net for these “just in case” scenarios is good ol’ fashioned cash money. If you hop off a plane and your luggage is lost, having an emergency stash of money will help you keep moving without too much worry.

If you’re still asking “does minimalism work,” here’s a quick little summary:

Minimalism works for those people who are willing to consider what they value and let go of what they don’t. Remember, you’re not just getting rid of EVERYTHING, you’re getting rid of the stuff you least value. This makes room for more stuff you DO value. This means you’re not walking around your house seeing the piano you never play and thinking “oh, I should be practicing piano more” and instead you’re seeing the sleeping bag and tent in your closet and thinking “oh, I can’t wait to go camping again!”

The day-to-day feeling of being surrounded by important and valuable things will have an impact on your psyche and will give you the space to focus on the parts of your work and life that matter most.

If you’re still not sure, here’s another post I wrote about minimalism but reframed a little differently. It steals from Greg McKeown’s book on “Essentialism.”

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