The Two Biggest Myths of Minimalism

When you think of the word minimalism, what comes to mind? Monotone clothing? Stark white decor? Near empty spaces? Minimalism can be all of these and a lot more. It is not just a physical manifestation; it is relevant to your mental and emotional levels as well. To get the most out of minimalism, it should be looked at from a holistic perspective and not just a physical one.

Minimalism is really all about reassessing your priorities so that you can strip away the excess and nonessential stuff— the possessions, beliefs, behavior, habits, relationships, and activities—that don’t bring value to your life, and focus on the essential stuff that does.

As the minimalist lifestyle becomes better known and more widely embraced, it is inevitable that myths and misconceptions of what minimalism is have emerged. So what are the most common myths of minimlaism that are being perpetuated?

Minimalism is about owning ‘X’ number of things.

Minimalism is both personal and individual in its definition and practice. There is no benchmark to dictate that you must own a maximum number of belongings, live in a particular type of space, or adopt a particular lifestyle in order to qualify as a minimalist. There is no all or nothing. Minimalism comes in many different hues, and no two minimalists are exactly alike, but their ultimate goal is the same. What unites and defines them is a common set of beliefs, ethos, and practices. For me, these include:

  • ™™Keeping only what adds happiness, value, purpose, and freedom to our lives and discarding the rest that is non- essential. This includes both physical (for example, clothes and paperwork) and nonphysical stuff (for example, negative relationships, feelings of worry and stress, unproductive habits, and nonessential commitments).
  • ™™Focusing on what we simply cannot live without, rather than asking how little we can live with. Living minimally should be a joy and not a deprivation.
  • ™™Being more conscious and mindful of the things, people, experiences, and situations in our lives, so that we live life with more intention, purpose, and intensity.

Minimalism is living with deprivation.

Minimalism at a personal level is best described by the Swedish word lagom. Lagom is defined as “enough, sufficient, adequate, just right.” It is also widely translated as “in moderation,” “in balance,” “perfect-simple,” and “suitable.” Notice there are no connotations here of an insufficiency that leads to deprivation and certainly no excess that results from over-consumption. Minimalism is like pouring tea into a cup. Too little tea will fail to satiate a need (thirst), and too much will result in an overflowing cup that requires time and effort to clean up.

A common misperception about minimalism and simplicity is that if you have very little or nothing, you are living life as a minimalist. Some people might say, “I have never had much money and don’t own many possessions, so I guess I am a minimalist.” It is possible that this is true, but minimalism is more about living intentionally and consciously than being financially poor and owning few possessions. It should be a conscious choice rather than something forced upon us.

The focus of minimalism should not be on stuff as much as intention. Some of us might live with few possessions, as it is appropriate for our lifestyle and needs; others might find that their library of three hundred books provides much joy and inspiration. If you love books, getting rid of all your books would probably make you very unhappy, and that defeats the whole premise of minimalism. Minimalism should be about focusing on what is essential to our happiness and fulfillment.

There is a limit, both physical and emotional, that possessions and nonessential stuff can provide us. Buying a $100,000 house might make us very happy. Buying a $500,000 house would not necessarily make us five times happier. This is due to the law of diminishing returns. After a certain point, additional income and possessions do not deliver a significant and corresponding change to our level of happiness; in fact, in many cases, the result is less happiness. Similarly, fewer possessions do not mean less satisfaction. Having less, but having the right stuff, can deliver more fulfillment. It is not so much about quantity, but more about quality.

As with most desires and endeavors in life, the ultimate goal or destination is the achievement of happiness. There are many routes and options toward happiness—clearing the clutter in all areas of your life and living minimally by focusing on the essentials helps you to see the road clearer and achieve your goal in a shorter time. At its core, minimalism is an ethos, with a focus on joy and purpose. It is a tool that helps us gain freedom—freedom from being overwhelmed, from nonessential stuff, from consumer culture, from mental clutter, from emotional blockages and negative relationships, from debt and joyless pursuits. It facilitates tangible freedom and the living of an extraordinary life. This is minimalism.

Moderation, a balance between less and more, unmeasurable and personal in its definition, is at the heart of minimalism. —Anonymous

Want to know more about minimalism? Do check out my new book “Make Space: A Minimalist’s Guide to the Good and The Extraordinary.” here.

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