Is minimalism only about giving up our excess? I’ve been thinking about how people can arrive at simple living in different ways. We all have different life events, experiences, or inspirations that might lead us to simplify life. And I also believe that the way in which you view something will affect the way you live it out – and this even applies to minimalism.
For example, perhaps at it’s core, simple living isn’t so much about ‘giving up our excess‘ as it is about ‘acknowledging our true needs’. The attitude with which you approach minimalism will drastically change your experience of simplicity depending on which of these two statements you choose in order to view the world.
1. Giving up our excess: the “Top-Down” method
There are two ways to look at minimalism. Let’s call the first way a ‘top-down’ method. Almost anyone could probably call themselves a minimalist in comparison to someone. For example saying, “That person has a larger home, and I have a smaller one. Therefore, I’m a minimalist.” Or maybe it could be in comparison to what we used to have. When does someone magically become minimalist? When they move from 1000 pairs of shoes down to 100? Or from 100 down to 10?
The point is that this ‘top-down’ method is claiming to be minimalist by comparison. Minimalism is not about comparison. Minimalism is not a competition. It’s not about pointing a finger at a world of consumerism and putting blame on someone else. And minimalism is not about ‘arriving’ at a certain number. If it was, then it most definitely would have an element of privilege or excess because who can boast about getting rid of stuff, leaving a 6-figure job, or selling their large home except for people who had it in the first place? I’ve also heard the surprising comment: “Minimalism… that must be an expensive way to live.” And I believe this comment comes from the same perspective: that minimalism must be only for those who have an abundance and excess in the first place.
2. Acknowledging our true needs and finding happiness: the “Bottom-Up” method
Now consider the ‘bottom-up’ method. This is how I was first introduced to simple living, and perhaps why I have a different perspective. The bottom-up way of seeing things is to begin with nothing and work your way up. My first experience of simple living was when I lived with Mother Teresa’s sisters. Each sister owns 3 outfits: one to wear, one to wash, and one to mend. They each own one pair of shoes, and one rosary. If they’re stationed in a colder climate, then they own one sweater. They have no washing machine, no TV, no cell phones, no computer, no dishwasher, no internet, no bed, no paycheck… the list goes on. This is where I saw the joy of living with less, and where I learned how little I actually need in this world. I need food. I need clothes literally on my back. And I need shelter and a warm place to sleep at night. I need to love, and have people who love me.
This bottom-up method strips away absolutely everything and allows me to see exactly what my NEEDS are. Everything else is extra. And so, here comes the true freedom: there is tremendous freedom in knowing how little we need in order to be happy. Because then we are able to view everything else as a blessing and a bonus. Everything else is extra. I personally like owning more than 3 outfits, wearing makeup, owning a dishwasher, calling from my cell phone, and taking trips with my family. But I also know that if I woke up tomorrow with none of those things that I could be just as happy. My happiness doesn’t depend on things.
Minimalism isn’t about extremes.
On one extreme, if there are people without sufficient food, appropriate clothing, safe shelter, and good medical care then they don’t have their basic needs provided for. That’s not minimalism, that’s poverty. Those of us with more are responsible to share with those who don’t have enough.
On the other end, I would add that we can’t judge others; we can’t always tell from the outside how someone is living. Some people who live in large houses are actually up to their eyeballs in debt and are living paycheck-to-paycheck as they plummet deeper into debt. And some people who own very little are able to provide for their own needs, quietly live with less, and are able to help those who are less fortunate.
Knowing when we have enough.
I would argue that more than a specific ‘one-kind-fits-all’ lifestyle, minimalism is a viewpoint – a way in which to see the world. A lens to look through and see everything that we have. Work from the ‘bottom-up’ method and you’ll discover that it’s from a place of contentment, peace, and satisfaction. Discover the contentment, gratitude, and joy that comes from knowing what our true needs are, and knowing when we have enough.