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What IS Minimalist Living?

Amazingly I got a personal email from a regular reader who was having some inner turmoil about living a minimalist lifestyle. Here is part of the email.

I feel attracted to a minimalist lifestyle, but I find myself too materialistic. Yesterday I had a discussion with my best friend about it. He was very surprised when I said that I often feel ashamed because I find myself too materialistic. He said that it was not true, that I’m not a materialist. So I wanted to ask you: what’s your definition of a person who is materialistic?

I think it about myself because I have a lot of stuff, decoration around the living room, many books, many CD’s and I feel that some stuff have an emotional connotation for me, because it comes from Wales, from Sweden, because I bought that on that specific trip and things like that.

Hell, I feel this way at times too! And I told the reader this as well.

I am now feeling that I am not a very good minimalist. I drive a car. I don’t remember to always take my cloth shopping bags to the grocery store. I too, have stuff. I don’t live with only 100 things.

So am I a minimalist? I want to think so.

I do think before I buy.

I don’t buy anything I don’t really need.

I am trying to examine my ecological footprint and how to make better choices in purchasing in regards to their impact on the environment.

So here is another question.

Is someone living a minimalist lifestyle also automatically an environmentalist?

I am not a tree hugger. Not there is anything wrong with that at all. I wish I was more of one. Certainly lately with my plans to actually build a tiny house on a trailer, and to live off grid, I am taking a much more proactive approach to living a sustainable lifestyle.

I am much less attached to material possessions than in years gone by.

I try to travel very lightly. Minimalist packing, taking only one bag, etc.

I have a concern for others and for ethical issues.

Is this living a minimalist lifestyle? Am I doing enough?

I am sure that a lot of you have heard of the excellent book No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process

It is nothing short of incredible. I highly recommend reading it. This is what I strive for.

Now I know that each person is choosing their own path and doing the best the know how. I also realize that minimalist living is different for everyone. There are no hard and fast rules to live by.

So am I actually living a minimalist lifestyle? Am I walking the walk? I want to think so but I fear I have a long way to go.

So what are your thoughts on what makes a minimalist? What makes someone a materialist?

Please share this on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and all other social sharing sites.

I really need your feedback on this post. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks.

Live simply

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25 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Be A Minimalist?

  1. I was confused about minimalism when I first started looking in to it’s meaning, but the reason was that I associated minimalist living with minimalist architecture. I don’t think to be a minimalist we have to live with a certain number of things, or live in a sparse and empty home.

    Minimalism to me means letting go of what isn’t working for me. Getting rid of the extras and living within my means. I work on furniture, do crafts and have grandchildren that I enjoy doing creative projects with. All that adds up to things that others may not own, but I do. Things I only use occasionally I borrow rather than own.

    As for whether a minimalist is also an environmentalist, I don’t believe that is the case. Just because a minimalist may purchase very little extras, it’s what that person buys that would determine if he/she is also an environmentalist. If the person isn’t checking labels, seeking organic and gently produced products then no that person isn’t an environmentalist, but may very well be a minimalist.

    1. “Just because a minimalist may purchase very little extras, it’s what that person buys that would determine if he/she is also an environmentalist. If the person isn’t checking labels, seeking organic and gently produced products then no that person isn’t an environmentalist, but may very well be a minimalist.”

      I think the question as to whether someone is an environmentalist comes down to intent. One can read labels and purchase all sorts of things without being an environmentalist. It’s a philosophy. Thus, one can only be an environmentalist if they subscribe to environmentalism. If you do not subscribe to environmentalism, you are not an environmentalist, even if you are going the same things that environmentalists do.

      1. Great comment and explanation. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts on both minimalist living and environmentalism.

      1. It is interesting how many of us keep doing the same stuff over and over again even though it isn’t working.

        Making the same mistakes many times.

        Well said!

  2. If I am wondering about this – that means that I am questioning my positions on a very important subject … and that’s a great thing! . . . Questioning means that I am thinking; thank goodness!

  3. I think most are on a path to a destination not yet reached. The effort and concious attention to the issues are of themselfs great value. When we think we are living a true minimalist lifestyle we should begin to look for ways to advance that if possible. Myself, I am progressing and have lots of road ahead of me yet. Kind regards to all and everyone is to be appreciated for their personal efforts.

    1. And long road for myself as well on the path the minimalist and environmentally friendly lifestyle I want to live.

  4. To me, a minimalist lifestyle is about attitude. It’s about you living your own way. It’s about you living within your means and meaning how you live. It’s about not succumbing to commercialism and giant monopolistic corporations. As the person above says, it’s letting go of the things you don’t need. You need to stop thinking about “the Jones'” and more about your personal wants and needs. I also agree that, as much as you can, think local and consider the environment.

    If you’re “attached” to some thing for sentimental reasons, I don’t think that’s terrible. Some things are part of who we are and our life experiences. I say find the home that accommodates your personal lifestyle (it needn’t be the mansion on the hill because Mr. Jones has one but it needn’t be so small you suffocate). If you must drive a car, it needn’t be a big SUV or fancy sports car because your friend on the hill has one or the marketers tell you it’s the next great thing. If you love art and can afford it, buy it.

    Tip: If you get the urge to buy something, ask yourself, “is this a need or a want.” Wait a period of time and see if you still need it, want it, love it. Ask how or if it will truly enhance your life or your home. To paraphrase George Carlin, “some sh*t is stuff; some stuff is sh*t.”

  5. I keep hearing this same question from minimalists. I have seen two people in the last few months abandon their minimalist blog or reinvent it into something else becuase they feel they are not good examples of minimalist living.
    I think livingsimplyfree has the best explaination yet on how to live minimally.
    If you read the actual definition for minimalist it is really up to us to decide how extreme we will be.

  6. I think minimalism and environmentalism definitely go together. Why? In my understanding part of the reason for being a minimalist is to lessen your impact on the planet. By not recycling, having more than you know what to do with, even buying food that goes to waste; all unnecessarily takes resources from the earth (energy, trees, plants, etc) and also creates more junk for the landfill thereby increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, nothing changes overnight. So it’s great that you and the reader are becoming conscious of what and how you’re living. Baby steps are still steps in the right direction…

    1. Yes baby steps.

      I am still a minimalist living work in progress. And I would tend to agree the living a more minimalist lifestyle and environmentalism do naturally go together.

      Thanks for visiting.

  7. I totally agree with both the reader and your response. I work in retail which is so difficult. I feel like I’m constantly bringing something home. Even though I try to stick to the “something in means something out” rule I still have too much. From 2005 to 2009 I moved 6 times. Each time I purged my belongings. The result is I like most of the stuff I own. It’s survived this long for a reason. So I struggle with this problem a lot. I am not a minimalist by a long shot but I do recognize that I own too much “stuff” that’s not serving a purpose in my life. I think minimalism is defined slightly differently for each person depending on it’s purpose for you. My family tries to create minimal waste in everything. Whether it means recycling, composting, and donating in order to prevent trash, or considering packaging when we make purchases so as not to bring trash in in the first place. We also live in a very small home and use minimal resources. It’s a process and a philosophy that each person has to incorporate into their lives in a way that suits them. And I’m sure over time it evolves to encompass more areas of your life.

  8. Good for you for asking this question! Far too many people jump on bandwagons without knowing what direction they are even headed. I sure don’t believe I’m an expert on minimalism or simple living–but I do know that I strive to live a life of happiness, contentment, peace, meaning and compassion–and I think all of those are enhanced by simple living. What’s the saying? “Live simply, so that others may simply live.” I too wrote blog asking, “Are you really a minimalist–5 questions to find out.”http://smartliving365.com/?p=1375 I got some really nice responses from people who appreciated that the questions were just exploring the topic…I also got some angry responses from people who didn’t want their approach scrutinized…. I think self awareness is critical. Again, thanks for asking the question and your great website!

    1. I actually read that post a few days ago. It was very good. The questions were thought provoking that is for sure.

  9. This is so well put. Obviously I’d agree that “minimalism” manifests itself slightly differently for everyone, but it really does come down to the attitude. My minimalistic tendencies shine out in my desire to own less stuff, but I couldn’t claim to be a minimalist in my day-to-day activities and commitments (yet!). There are so many facets to be considered that I’m not sure it’s possible for there to be an across-the-board definition of the term. 🙂

  10. Pursuing a minimalistic lifestyle is relative to the individual I think. Having less is meant to be less stressful. I don’t think we can compare ourselves to others or worry about expectations. No one should feel bad because they want to keep something sentimental. On the contrary, we should be keeping what absolutely makes us happy as well as the basics and forget about all the rest?

  11. I would like to be minimalistic but I drive a bentley because I love cars not because of the status Im 56 and have a beautiful house that I e worked hard for why should I give this up I don’t feel guilty as I’ve paid for many peoples motgtages but I want to feel good and I don’t why

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