Google the word minimalism, and you will be met with countless videos of influencers claiming that the secret to living a happy and fulfilling life is giving up your material possessions. Often dressed monochromatically from a capsule wardrobe of 5-6 clothing items, their walls and shelves are empty behind them, portraying a space that is hard to believe has been lived in. In the same way that social media is designed to be addictive, these videos make this extreme lifestyle choice look attractive.
Unfortunately, this content has given minimalism a bad rep – viewers are often fed with a one-size-fits-all approach to the lifestyle in which the number of things you own is supposedly more important than the relationship you have with them. Going on a cull with your belongings may seem like a way to exercise control over your own life, but in fact, it serves as a strategy of distraction from the things that really add meaning to our lives. We’re all aware of (and have experienced) the peer pressure present within social media and how manipulative these online spaces can be. By blindly following these so-called minimalist lifestyle tips, viewers are letting someone else dictate what their personal values are. The reality of minimalism is that it’s not about what you own: it’s about consuming more intentionally, which can actually have real benefits for those who practice it.
Know that there is an abundance of everything
While hyper-consumerism is arguably much worse for the environment, both this and extreme minimalist lifestyles often stem from the same insecurity – a fear that comes with a state of lack. Respectively, the fear of not having enough things and the fear of not having financial security (buying less to save more).
The key to overriding this insecurity is knowing that there is an abundance of everything. You don’t need to buy lots because you will never run out of what you need. By the same token, you don’t need to punish yourself for buying things – especially things that bring you joy and therefore enrich your life! Rather than wasting time obsessing over having less, this realisation makes it easier to spend your time (and money) more mindfully and understand that you can always have enough of what is important to you.
You do not have to feel guilty for finding happiness in your belongings.
Minimalism is not the antithesis of consumerism
"I am not against consumerism. I am against consuming things impulsively, irresponsibly, and without a purpose."
He acknowledges that while minimalism may not be for everyone, the philosophies behind it can help us to reduce excess in our lives - the things we keep “just in case”, things that we simply don’t need, and things that no longer serve the purpose we acquired them for. You don’t have to be a minimalist to consume responsibly and consciously, and there are a number of ways you can do this without placing limitations on what you create space for in your life.
Defining your interests and personal goals is a great place to start. We all have different wants and needs; identifying these in your personal life can not only prevent impulse purchases resulting in regret, but also increase confidence in your own identity. When you know who you are and what you want, you are more mindful of your purchases and spend more time fulfilling your values.
It is also important to fully understand your reason for buying something - is this purchase actually going to add anything positive to your life? Or are you buying it to keep up with a certain image or impress others? Most people don’t care what you do, though social media can easily manipulate us into thinking otherwise, making us want things that we don’t really care about. Are you buying something out of habit? Consider the impact of this repeat purchase. If it’s positive, then there’s no need to feel bad about it!
One notable strategy to encourage better decision-making is to delay purchases, which gives the consumer time to either change their mind (and avoid potential regret) or make a more informed purchase. For example, you can add things to an online shopping cart without checking out - if you’re still thinking about the items with the same enthusiasm after a week, then why not treat yourself?
Keeping track of the things you buy allows you to identify unnecessary purchases and create new spending habits. An under-utilised strategy is re-evaluating purchases a few months down the line and considering parting with items that are no longer useful or of interest to you.
It’s not about what you buy, but why
Minimalism may lack a clear definition, but due to (social media) trends that the lifestyle’s philosophies try so hard to avoid, it has become widely misunderstood. Either way, you don’t have to consider yourself a minimalist to be intentional with your purchases and become more sustainable and authentic to yourself in the process.