What minimalism is NOT about

As of this writing, I own 128 things. That number is shrinking constantly. I don’t have a final number I’m aiming for; my goal is simply to fit all my possessions into carry-on luggage when I leave New Orleans on December 1.

A lot of folks online have taken turns explaining what minimalism is all about (and perhaps no one has done a better job of this than Colin Wright). Allow me to take the opposite tack and share what I believe minimalism is not about. In no particular order…

1. It’s not about a number

It really doesn’t matter how many things you own. It can be helpful to count them, but don’t be a slave to a number. That just replaces your slavery to clutter. For me, it would be nice to own less than 100 things, but my primary goal is to be able to carry everything I own with me and not have to check a bag at the airport.

2. It’s not about being cheap

You don’t have to shop in thrift stores or wear shoes until they fall apart. Invest in quality, not quantity. Buy one good belt and let that last you several years. Go out for one fantastic meal each week instead of hitting up cheap and crappy restaurants every night.

3. It’s not about competition

Someone else might own less stuff than you. Good for them. But you don’t have to match or better those people. Find your own sweet spot.

4. It’s not about following the crowd

Minimalism is gaining momentum. It’s getting to the point where it’s trendy to be minimalist. That shouldn’t be the appeal. Don’t do it because everyone else is doing it. Do it because it helps you live the life you really want.

5. It’s not about suffering

Minimalists aren’t pain freaks. Minimalism isn’t about punishing yourself by giving up your favorite things. But minimalism is about sacrifice. You sacrifice a few things/activities you like to make more room for the things/activities you love.

6. It’s not about location independence

Minimalism can help with this, sure, but you don’t have to be a vagabond to benefit greatly from a minimalist lifestyle. A simple, decluttered environment works to your advantage even if you hate to travel. Less distractions, more focus.

7. It’s not about preaching

Focus on your own minimalist journey. Share it with the world. But don’t force it on anyone. Nobody makes a permanent, sustainable change just because someone else tells them to. Be the happiest minimalist you can be and you’ll have a much greater impact than someone who roams the streets with a soapbox admonishing shoe collections.

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    1. Perfect post for your last day of work.

      I was a little worried after our email exchange that this video was about something I had said and this would be you correcting me on minimalism, I was wrong. I don’t know I suddenly assumed I was wrong and that you would take great joy in pointing it out.

      Your video was well structured and helped me better understand this life choice.

      I wish you luck and I hope you continue to blog through your independent business venture.

    2. Wow! Look at those curtains in the background! If my workplace had curtains like that I would have run the day I got there! (Just kidding! ;-))
      Great video/lecture Niall. Good luck to you!

    3. I like what you say about it NOT being about a specific number. If it becomes about getting to a specific number that means the things you own really own you. If you just end up keeping what you like and need, then you can find some freedom…regardless if this means you end up having 50 or 500 things.

      • Thanks, Ravi. Yesterday I saw a post from another blogger about how she now only owns 47 things. I must admit, for a split second I was a little jealous, but then I snapped out of it and said “Good for her!” I make good use of everything I own, and that’s what really matters.

        I just read the latest post on your blog about the 4-Hour Body, btw. Point very well made. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on when you’re done reading the book.

    4. Thank you for this post! After reading so much on minimalism in the past few months, I’m starting to realize that a lot of ‘trendy’ minimalist bloggers are trying to force others to live the same as them and buy their eBooks. I recently wrote a post entitled “What is Minimalism?” and I focused on many of the same things you did, as well as how I want to apply minimalism to my own life and defy the definitions of others.

    5. I love your take of what NOT minimalism is. I do find that some people focus too much on the number of items they own and I try and stay away from that.

      What I would add is that minimalism is not final! If you got rid of something because you felt that you didn’t need it but 3 months down the line feeling like you need it again… it’s okay to buy that item again. Nothing is final and peoples priorities change but it’s important to really think about what you need and not rush into getting rid of things. Take your time and most importantly don’t take things too seriously 🙂

      • Great point, Tim. I’ve heard of something called the 20-20 rule: Don’t worry about getting rid of an item if you can replace it within 20 minutes for $20 or less.

        Lots of people hold on to easily replaceable items because they don’t want to be wasteful, but the trade-off often isn’t worth it.

    6. Great post! I’m about to head off to Palau for 2 years and have been furiously ditching stuff and questioning everything I will need whilst I’m away.

      It seems that I am taking loads of ‘gadgets’ such as laptop, cameras, ereader and phone- pretty much same as what you outlined. I’ve been torn between thinking I am taking way too much technology and being dependent on these things but they certainly are an essential part of my life. So I guess I’ll just practice acceptance! Thanks.