When I decided to write about my experiences with minimalism, I wanted to start with a definition of the word according to a dictionary. It turns out that dictionaries define minimalism as a style of art and music from the 1950s. While this is true, that’s not the type of minimalism I want to discuss. Minimalism as a lifestyle philosophy is a fairly new trend, and I realize that I need to define what minimalism means to me before I begin throwing the word around.
Five years ago I decided to start reducing the number of things I owned. I looked around my house and realized that I was drowning in things, but couldn’t find anything I needed. I had box after box filled with stuff, piled in corners, and basically abandoned. I decided that I was done living in a cluttered house. I was inspired by the traditional Zen aesthetic. I wanted my living space to look like photos I’d seen of clean, simple rooms with maybe an accent piece of décor. I was specifically looking for the principle of “Kanso” (simplicity) and “Seijaku” (tranquility) in my living space. With the goal image of my dream house, the purging began. I would fill boxes and boxes for Goodwill. For a short time, I was donating a carload of random things I no longer needed or wanted every weekend. I was merciless. But with all that purging, and all that donating, and all that work, I would look around and I’d still see boxes of stuff filled to the brim and piles of things in the corner. It was very disheartening. Eventually I realized that it wasn’t just a matter of getting rid of things, I had to totally change my lifestyle if I was going to accomplish my “Zen” dreams.
The first change I needed to make was I had stop bring more things into my home. I realized that with all the purging I was doing, I had not changed my spending habits. I was still buying more and more things. Things that would eventually just end up as more clutter in my space. I took a hard look at why I was buying things, and most of the time, it was because advertising and store displays convinced me that I wanted something. I began to question every purchase. I ask myself seven questions before I spend any money. That slowed the wave of clutter to a trickle, but I wasn’t done. To truly accomplish my minimalist dreams, I also had to start prioritizing efficiency in my life.
As an Engineer, efficiency is an important part of my job. Engineering is basically finding the most efficiency way to do something, be it a solar PV system or a car engine. So I was used to thinking about efficiency, but I wasn’t prioritizing efficiency in my daily life. I needed to think bigger than just the physical things, and start focusing on how the things affected the rest of my life. When I went to get a tool to do something around the house, I didn’t want to be wasting time digging through boxes, and I didn’t want to waste money buying a duplicate tool. I realize that clutter was wasting a lot of my time, money, and energy. Making efficiency a core value in my life and focusing on how can I efficiently use my resources, really helped me focus on why I was getting rid of things, as opposed to just getting rid of things. I focused my decluttering efforts around making it easier for me to do the activities I wanted. I cleaned out my craft supplied to the things I actually used on a regular basis. I disposed of a lot of my school notes I was keeping, for some reason. I cleared out the kitchen gadgets that I never used. I started focusing on how I wanted to utilize my space.
Breaking away from the consumerist culture and really focusing on efficiently using my resources provided one unseen benefit. I was finally able to start living my life. I found that I had more time to work on projects I wanted to do. I spent less time looking for things or navigating around piles of junk. I had more space and less stress. I could truly focus on what made me happy.
From a quick Google search, it is clear that minimalism is a modern trend around reducing what you own to the bare necessities. It is a response to the hyper consumerism of American culture. But that minimalist style is also found in traditional Zen architecture and design. Minimalism is a very modern and very ancient philosophy. So back to the original question, what does Minimalism mean to me? Minimalism means living your life without the burden of clutter. Minimalism means, not only having less things, but wasting less, wasting less money, energy, and time. It’s about streamlining your life and focusing on actually living.