So What Actually Is Minimalism?
As you probably already know, I’m an outspoken vegan - for our health, for the animals and for the planet, as I like to say. I’m also a minimalist. Did you know the two often go hand in hand? The term minimalism is often used to describe a trend wherein the subject is reduced to its necessary elements. OK, but that’s kind of abstract. What does that really mean? What does being a minimalist actually entail?
Minimalism can relate to any subject and is often ascribed to art, design, and architecture. But it can also relate to lifestyle. Or, more accurately, to choosing to live a certain way. People who practice a minimalist lifestyle choose to live with less. They reduce their belongs to only the essentials and to those things which bring them joy. Generally, people who practice minimalism choose to live in smaller houses with a few select, well designed items of furniture, some well-loved belongings, meaningful art, and practical necessities. This reductionist approach typically translates to wardrobe, too. Many minimalists prefer simple, well-designed clothes that can be paired with each of the other items in their closet. For this reason, many minimalists wear simple colors – white, grey, black, blues, or earth tones – that can be mixed and matched. They may only own 2 or 3 pairs of shoes. This isn’t to say one is not a minimalist if one owns 7 pairs of shoes – this isn’t a club dictated by hard set rules – but more often than not, as the term implies, minimalists forego excess.
Minimalism is thought to be most culturally prominent in Japan, where Zen Buddhism instills a desire for simplicity in many Japanese. The people of Japan are known worldwide for their superior craftsmen, which may also play a role in their adoption of a more minimalist tradition. Choosing a few well-made items over many so-so clutter-inducing belonging is a habit evidenced in traditional Japanese – and increasingly in modern Japanese – homes. Just picture the wide-open floor plans 6 or 8 tatami mats in size, simple sliding doors with washi paper screens subdividing the space into usable, translational compartments. In one corner, the traditional alcove, sparsely decoration to reflect the current season with a single beautiful scroll, specifically chosen to match a bonsai or a single flower stem artfully positioned for maximum effect. Many traditional table settings are without chairs, only a low table to sit around, the only utensils, beautifully lacquered chopsticks. Bedding is traditionally a mat that can be folded and stored during the day to open up a room which can then be used for another purpose, not just housing a massive bed frame. Even traditional Japanese food is known for its subdued flavors and ingredients, opting for a few basics – steamed rice, gently prepared vegetables or tsukemono pickles, dashi stock, fermented soybean products – attuned to the changing seasons.
I support minimalism and the minimalist lifestyle for a number of reasons. First, as a minimalist, everything you own serves a purpose, one of which is to bring you moments of happiness when used or viewed. And I think that’s beautiful. When you begin to pay attention to what you surround yourself with you can choose what you invite into your life. Serenity and peace. Quiet and solitude. Beauty and light. Instead of claiming meaning in our lives, we assign meaning to the things we own. Possessions no longer possesses us because we begin to realize they do not carry the meaning of our lives, meaning the process of acquisition is no longer paramount to life’s purpose or personal success. Instead, through the process of making conscious decisions about how we want our lives to be and what we want to enjoy in our lives, we begin to craft our own stories. This approach toward simplicity asks us to question what we value and what adds value to our lives. It’s a very active, conscious way of living and I love that about minimalism. In its own way, minimalism helps us find freedom, whatever that means to each individual.
When you begin to choose what you invite into your life and pair-down belongings to the essentials you end up freeing time and you lighten your load, both literally and figuratively. For example, I never carry a purse anymore. I own a small, simple, thin wallet for my bank card and driver’s license and it fits in the pocket of the one jacket [ moto vegan faux-leather ] I wear everywhere. When you own less, consume less, and choose what activities you participate in carefully, your life suddenly becomes far less stressful. You free up room for your creative mind to grow. A secondary benefit of owning less, for me, has been to really define my own sense of style. When I choose what I wear based on a few items of clothing I genuinely love and feel very comfortable in I feel more confident, more in tune with myself. I’ve discovered that I absolutely love wearing black most of all, but I also enjoy adding dark greys and hints of white to my outfits. I guarantee this helps others recognize me – I’m one of the only all-black-every-day wearers where I work. But my sense of style is unique to me and makes me stand out because when I wear what I love with a very defined sense of self incorporated into my daily wardrobe I actively define who I am and what I enjoy.
Although you do not have to be vegan or vegetarian to be a minimalist, the ideals of both movements do align. A plant based diet is the most ecologically friendly and produces the least waste. Additionally, choosing unmanipulated whole foods means buying plant-based food sources, which are simple to prepare and eat raw or cooked as desired. It’s easier to incorporate health and wellness into a minimalistic lifestyle because your food purchases are simple, whole, essential ingredients for meals – no clutter or wasted food in the cupboards, either. Many minimalists like to display dried goods and spices in glass jars or tins to more fully enjoy the colors and shapes of fresh, whole foods and ingredients – so much nicer than having a printed box of cheap junk food tossed in the pantry.
Similarly, minimalism is practical. It’s cheaper because you learn to make thoughtful choices about what you buy. And everything you do buy has its place – you’ll never lose anything ever again. It becomes easier to keep a home clean and organized. Not only is there less stuff to create untidiness, there’s less space and surface area to worry about keeping clean. Rooms feel airy and light when they’re free of clutter. A clean living space gives you room to think. Nothing competes for a spot. The negative space begins to speak more loudly and openly than surfaces covered with ‘stuff’.
Conservationally speaking, minimalism is more sustainable. I don’t mean it’s the MOST sustainable – we’re not living off the land here, though that certainly would fall within the scope of minimalist living – but it is MORE sustainable than our current consumerist trend. When you buy less and you buy based on need, you’re more likely to buy one quality item that will last and serve a purpose rather than buying things that are not needed and that go to waste.
Minimalism is largely anti-capitalist but I’m happy to say it is another movement that appears to be gaining traction in western countries. And for graduates like myself in the post-recession phase, it makes practical sense. We grew up with a buy-buy-buy mindset instilled by the financially successful generations of our parents and grandparents, yet many of us are facing low-paying jobs and heavy financial debt. We’re also facing the negative environmental changes resulting from the overuse of natural resources and overproduction of unnecessary goods. Many are perpetually stressed and deeply unhealthy, both mentally and physically exhausted. I believe a minimalist approach to lifestyle can help us alleviate each of those burdens. By learning to live with less, by appreciating simply being over getting or owning this generation may start to alter the tide away from the continually dissatisfied consumerist toward a people who appreciate resource conservation and who may, perhaps, begin to find some inner-peace.