Living Well: Minimalism for Absolute Beginners (like me)

I became interested in minimalism as a lifestyle after I picked up Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I discovered it back in 2018, a few months before her Netflix show aired. Kondo insists that she isn’t a minimalist and her methods are not minimalism, but it does share some of the same principles.

The backbone of what Kondo teaches in her book, on her show, and in her seminars, is a simple but effective rule. Rather than getting rid of stuff you don’t need, start with keeping what brings you joy instead. Then discard from there. Her practice is meant to surround you in the end only with the things that bring some kind of joy to your life.

As a first introduction to the concept of the “less is more” mentality in a practical way, it was persuasive and appealing. Who doesn’t want to be surrounding just by things that bring them happiness?

I research a lot when I’m interested in a particular topic. So when I started looking up stuff about the KonMari method, I saw it pop up on numerous “Top Decluttering Techniques for Minimalists” lists around the internet. I’d been vaguely aware of minimalism as a concept, but then I started reading about it in earnest. (Like I said, research.)

Keep in mind that I was approaching this from the “love what you have” mindset. The more I found out about minimalism, the more it just seemed like a race to the bottom in terms of owning stuff. A kind of “she who owns the fewest clothes/furniture/forks wins” sort of thing. And for some people it seems that’s what it is. An opportunity to be superior because of how empty their apartments are. Even the books I found on the topic were all focused on decluttering and getting rid of things.

It wasn’t until I started looking at YouTube that I started to get a clearer picture of what minimalism looked like from an emotional and spiritual standpoint. In spite of the discouragement of finding nothing but books on how to get rid of things, I still hung on to the idea that what you own should bring joy to your life.

I found Matt D’Avella incidentally on YouTube via another lifestyle youtuber I followed. One of the first videos of his that I saw was “When Minimalism Goes Too Far.” One of the things he said that stood out to me immediately was

“When you strip away so much that you’re depriving yourself of things that you love, you’ve missed the point. Put another way, if you think you’ve taken minimalism too far, you’re doing minimalism wrong.”

The video goes on to talk about living with intention, being thoughtful in the choices of what you own, buy, and do. That was what I’d been looking for. Someone to get at the why of having less.

Through D’Avella, I found Anthony Ongaro. another minimalist youtuber. He called his Channel ‘Break the Twitch,’ which confused me for a while until I actually went to his website. The ‘Twitch’ he refers to is the impulse to pick up our phone the moment we get bored, or even when there’s just a pause in what we’re doing. It’s hitting the buy now button without stopping to think about the full life cycle of the product we’re about to have delivered.  It’s “an impulsive, unproductive response to different types of discomfort.”

Ongaro is the one who introduced me to minimalism’s identical twin, Intentional Living. Here was the missing piece. I learned over the course of watching his videos (and reading a book, Digital Minimalism), minimalism means far more than “she who has the least stuff wins.” It’s about intentionality, about aligning the life you live and the things you have with the values you hold dearest. It’s about owning your attention when everything in the world wants to distract you.

So it finally clicked: Minimalism is about creating an environment that supports you, and in turn supporting your environment with intentional living. It took almost a year and a half of on-and-off research for me to get there, but by god I made it eventually.

It reflects Marie Kondo’s strategy of keeping what you love and letting go of what you don’t need. But the intentional component takes it a step further and asks you to think ‘What is the full life cycle of this product I want to buy? Where is it going to end up when it breaks, or is no longer useful to me?’ Minimalism and intentional living are about connecting to the world in a more real and fundamental way. Thinking about the consequences of consumption as well as the benefits of keeping less.

There’s a spectrum along which minimalism exists, according to both the better books I’ve read and the better youtubers I follow. It’s not one size fits all. What minimalism looks like from household to household changes depending on what’s needed. A minimalist family of four isn’t going to have the same living room as a minimalist living alone. I’m not about to give up my copies of my favorite books, which means I have a ton more books than a minimalist “should,” according to the generally accepted meaning of the term. But that’s the kind of minimalism that fits me. It involved distilling an extensive library of books I’d never read down to the ones that really mattered to me, books that I couldn’t replace with electronic copies, and ones I just liked the heft and look of. I ended up with four bookshelves after starting with twelve.

In one of his videos, Anthony Ongaro recalls asking himself “Am I a minimalist yet?” as he and his wife started discarding belongings and decluttering their house. I relate to that question a lot. One of the things I’ve come to understand is that, like so many other things, minimalism isn’t a single state of being. There’s no threshold to step across, no guidelines to be met one time. It’s a practice. Ongaro calls it “the practice of removing distractions in your life.” I also think of it as “the practice of aligning your actions and ownership with your values.”

I’m just figuring things out still, just beginning to declutter in earnest (RIP books, next stop clothes), but I’m trying to remove distractions, be honest with myself about what I need to own, and to be mindful of the things I consume. So in answer to that question–Am I a minimalism yet?–I think I’d say yes, I am.

 

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