I wrote about how I found minimalism, but in that post I didn’t define minimalism. I think most people have a loose idea of what it is, but it’s tricky because minimalism is different for everyone.
Here’s what it means to me.
Minimalism IS a tool to help me make my life and my style more me. Minimalism is NOT an aesthetic to be cloned or copied.
Minimalism IS defining what’s important to me and placing value on those things. Minimalism is NOT the attempt to be austere.
Minimalism IS about gratitude. Minimalism is NOT about suffering.
Minimalism IS about making life easier for myself. Minimalism is NOT about meeting strict standards.
Minimalism IS creating space or margin in my life so I can fully appreciate what I’ve kept, and let go of guilt for what I haven’t kept. Minimalism is NOT getting rid of things just to get rid of them, or being antisocial.
Minimalism IS congruent with the Christian faith. Minimalism is NOT secular, new age, or some kind of cult.
Let’s break these down.
It’s a tool, not a style
Here’s a what a stereotypical minimalist looks like. Often he’s male, and certainly children aren’t involved. He has a capsule wardrobe containing only black, white, gray, or denim clothing. His home is a small urban apartment with white walls, no art or plants, and almost no furniture. Any furniture he does have is of modern design with clean, straight lines and slick textures. Everything he owns fits inside of a duffel bag. He talks about being “zen” and meditating. He is self-employed as a writer or photographer and usually works from a coffee shop (a local place, not a chain, of course). He values being green and produces almost no trash. He may not say it aloud, but you can tell he judges you for being “a consumer” and feels superior.
Yes, this person may be a minimalist, but there are VERY FEW people who are actually like this. Far and away the majority of minimalists are NOT like this.
So, why is this our image of a minimalist? Minimalism is about clearing away the clutter, so that you own and manage only what’s important to you. But every person is unique, and what matters to me may not matter to you. It’s hard to capture such a wide definition of minimalism in one image, but the extremes are easy: a house filled with stuff is hoarding; a house with nothing in it is minimalist.
The extremes aren’t the definition of something though. Not to mention, minimalism isn’t about how a person or home looks, but rather about a person’s values and how their belongings reflect those values. The picture at the top of this post is an example of that—would a minimalist have a piano? Or colorful furniture with throw pillows? They would if those were intentionally chosen according to their values. A minimalist can just as easily have a rainbow wardrobe or artwork filling the wall. Remind me to show you my closet sometime. There are a lot of spring-like colors and fun patterns!
Define what’s important
This is the heart of minimalism: What is important to me? What is not? Once I know these things, I can act in a way that proves these are true.
My writing is important to me. I’ve loved writing all of my life, and it’s been a dream of mine to be traditionally published. But for years I talked about it without ever actually writing anything. Or if I wrote, I did it infrequently and never finished.
As a minimalist, I recognize that writing makes me come alive and is a core part of who I am. I’m not fully me unless I’m writing—so I make room for it. When my kids were babies and time was scarce, I tried to use cracks of time to write instead of on something easier, like scrolling on my phone (it’s enjoyable, but not valuable to me). Now that my kids are older, I schedule blocks of time to write and treat it as my job—I don’t say yes to other things that land during that time, even good things, because my writing matters to me even more than those good things.
Did you notice that I used an example of my time instead of my stuff? Though minimalism does involve decluttering, it’s not JUST about the stuff. Sure, we get rid of the extra stuff, but we do that so we can appreciate the things we keep, and so we don’t have to spend as much time managing the extra stuff (finding it, fixing it, cleaning it, putting it away, etc.). That extra time can be put toward the activities that matter to me, like writing.
Focus on gratitude
Once the clutter is gone and you only keep what you love and use, you can fully appreciate what you have. Why have eight tiny throw pillows on your couch when you can have two big ones with the same impact? Why keep grandma’s handwritten cookie recipe in a box in the attic where you’ll never see it when you can frame it and display it in your kitchen? Why dig through an overstuffed closet every morning and find nothing to wear, when you could take away 80% of it and be left with only the pieces that bring you delight to wear?
Taking away the meh and the eh and the hm and the ick and the NOPE things gives you that many fewer things to grumble or feel guilty about every time you see them. Even if it isn’t a conscious thought, it still affects you. Making space for and treating with respect the items that delight you will bring you joy and thankfulness every time you see them. Again, even it it isn’t a conscious thought, it still affects you.
Minimalism isn’t about how few of things you need in order to live. It isn’t about penance or dieting or suffering without. It’s about clearing away the excess so that an attitude of gratefulness can permeate your life. The only shortcut to happiness is through gratitude and contentment.
Make life easier
There aren’t rules to minimalism, because it’s just a tool. You can use it how you want. You don’t need to throw out X number of things or only own Y pieces of this and schedule Z things onto your schedule. There is no competition declaring one person “more minimalist” than another. There’s no such thing as the Minimalist Police.
Minimalism is about clearing away what YOU consider excess so that only what YOU value remains. My wardrobe is probably less than a quarter of what it used to be, which means I’ve cut my laundry down by the same percentage. It saves me a lot of time cleaning it, putting it away, and deciding what to wear. Laundry was my most hated chore, so I’ve made it easier for myself (now my most hated chore is cleaning the toilet, which I don’t think I can minimize, ha). I can easily get dressed in five minutes when it used to take me at least twenty. And I save space when packing, so I don’t have to lug a huge suitcase around when I travel—it’s a lot easier on my wallet (luggage fees) and my back!
But maybe you need a wide variety of clothes because of your work or the weather, and you don’t mind doing the laundry. Then your wardrobe doesn’t need to be as small as mine. Maybe you hate the time it takes to meal plan and grocery shop, so you sign up for a program that sends meals to cook to your front door. You still get to enjoy cooking without any of the hassle before it, and you consider that money well spent in order to save your time. Great! That’s not how I choose to use my money or time, but that’s okay, because it’s about what makes YOUR life easier.
Remember grandma’s recipe card that I suggested you frame? If your walls are full of store-bought art that looks nice but isn’t meaningful to you, where will you hang the recipe that reminds you of someone you loved and the time you spent baking together? Should something you value live forgotten in a box in the attic? If something is important to you, let’s make space for it. Take down that pretty yet generic print and hang up that sentimental card. It’s okay to take away the good to make space for the things you treasure.
This is true for more things than just your stuff. You can have a fully decluttered house with only the objects you really love on display, but still be miserable because your time is spent doing things that suck the soul out of you. Maybe you’ve obliged yourself to responsibilities you dread. Or maybe you do like going to this event, supporting that ministry, and being active at your children’s school… but at the end of the day you’re too exhausted to do the things that make you feel human again, like reading a book or enjoying a meal with your family.
Just like we make space for our treasures in our home, making space in our schedules helps us to focus on the activities that matter most to us. Taking a break can recharge us so we can apply ourselves better to what we’ve committed to. Saying, “No,” to good things is okay, because then we have room to say, “Yes,” to the great things.
Jesus is a minimalist
Over and over again the scriptures show us how God values our hearts more than our sacrifices, wants us to value Him over our money, teaches us to trust in Him over our stuff, and commands us to create margin.
I think as Christians we are especially forgetful of that last one; “busy” has become an idol for many of us. Having margin is so important to God that not only did He model it during creation, but He also included it in the Ten Commandments. Did God really need to rest after creating the world? No. But who was freshly made and still learning how to function? Humans. Who forgets the value of sleep, rest, and being still so often that God had to make it abundantly clear that we need it? Again, humans.
Who declared Himself the Lord of the Sabbath? Jesus.
Minimalism isn’t the cult of black and white colors, or a judgy competition of who’s doing it better, or the penance of going without. Minimalism is just the name for what God already calls us to do—intentionally make space for what’s important in our lives. We were created as relational beings who crave beauty, so it isn’t wrong to think about our clothes or value sentimental objects that bring us closer to our friends and family. But ultimately our values should point us back to God. This is what minimalism does. It strips away the excess so we can focus on what’s really important:
I can’t wait to unpack the scriptures with you so you can see how Jesus is truly a minimalist, and why I believe that God desires all of us to become minimalists, too. We can make our lives easier and be better able to align our values with His just by removing what’s unimportant and making space for what is—I call that a win-win!
What is one thing you can remove from your life today to help you focus on what matters?