Destination Minimalism

I have recently stumbled across a couple of articles discussing the concept of ‘minimalism’ and recently listened to a podcast, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, which discussed the same.

Between the various articles, the podcast and discussions with my wife, I got to thinking about what minimalism means to me. I should start off by noting what it does not mean to me.

It does not mean living in an impossibly small house. While I appreciate the advantages of living in a tiny home, occasionally watch – and find quite interesting – the show Tiny House Nation on the FYI network, and have even offered a couple tiny living documentaries as SavvyRecommendations, living in a tiny house – say less than 1,000 sq. ft. – just wouldn’t work for me, even though at this point in my life it is just me and the wife. We need a little more room to be comfortable and possess the things that are important to us.

It does not mean living without a car. Although I believe I could do without one, it just isn’t practical at this point in my life, primarily because I live and work in a small urban area, which although it possesses a transit system, the system is small in scale and would not be adequate as a means of getting me and the wife to and from work in a timely manner on a daily basis and/or around town when we aren’t working. Perhaps in retirement, if we move to a larger urban area with a more sophisticated mass transit system, living without a car would be an option, certainly not now, however.

It doesn’t mean possessing as few items as possible. It doesn’t mean living without a television. It doesn’t mean reducing my wardrobe to only the clothes that can fit into one small suitcase and two pairs of shoes. It doesn’t mean being cheap.

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, interviewed in the podcast above and among the most recognized minimalist, describe minimalism as follows on their blog, The Minimalists:

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

I have indicated what minimalism does not mean to us, so what exactly does it mean? Of course, part of the answer is contained within the observations of what it does not mean.

While I don’t believe a tiny house works for me, I do believe it makes sense to not buy more house than you need, both for financial reasons and to limit your ecological footprint. Our present home is smaller, and less expensive than one we could afford; however, it meets all of our current needs and we are able to comfortably maintain the material items that are important to us. While I have a hard time envisioning ever moving into something less than 1,000 sq. ft., I can see a time where something in the 1,250 – 1,500 sq. ft. range would work for us.

As I noted previously, living without a car is not practical at this point in our lives. However, moving – or spending a fair amount of time – to a larger urban area with a sophisticated transit system is definitely something that is part of our discussions about retirement living. While we will likely never get to the point where we don’t own a car, I can certainly see a time when we reduce our reliance on, and time spent in, one.

Identifying the items that are important to us and discarding those that don’t make the cut. The Disabled Veterans of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters are two organizations that regularly leave bags for donations. If we haven’t worn or used an item for the last 4 – 6 months, it typically ends up in one of the bags for the next curbside pickup. Recently, we completed a couple of home improvement projects and had some removed mirrors, doors and the door frames taking up space in our garage. Instead of holding onto the items in case we might want to use them in some way in the future or for some future garage sale, the wife called Habitat for Humanity and arranged a pickup. The bottom line, we are always looking to identify items we no longer need and the best way to get them out of our lives.

Adopting some frugal practices but not being a cheap skate. I discuss the differences here.

Freedom from the scourge of debt and being a hyper-consumer. For me, the number one consideration for working toward a life of minimalism. Working simply to service debt is the path too many people find themselves on and one the wife and I work hard to avoid. Unfortunately, I see too many people who focus on a bigger home – which means a larger mortgage and increased costs for utilities and maintenance – to house all the stuff (purchased on credit) they don’t really need. Unmanageable debt translates to a reduction in freedom, a narrowing of choices.

How about it. What constitutes minimalism for you?

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.

16 Comments

  1. To me, minimalism is more about aligning your values with the items you own and not keeping things that add no value to your life. It is a little bit like optimizing your life to include the things that matter.

    • Agreed. Nicely stated.

  2. Minimalism can be what ever you would like it to be. I do think the common goal for most minimalist is to achieve a comfortable balance it their lives. What ever that is. LOL

    • Agreed that a common goal for most minimalist is to achieve a comfortable balance. To that I would add that it seems to me a core component of minimalism would have to be – almost by definition – is living with less. Of course there are a lot of different ways in which people can go about that.

      Thanks for dropping by and adding your voice to the conversation.

  3. Great post for discussion James.

    I don’t believe there is one set way or a set of rules to follow. Your words “living with less and reducing our ecological footprint to the greatest extent possible” is consistent with my definition. I would also add that for me it has been about finding balance.

    One quick example of finding balance. I am able to take advantage of a transit system and use it for commuting to and from work, however we own three vehicles and although all but one is paid for. (One was gifted to my wife when her father passed) the excess in this part of our lives has been a matter of constant discussion.

    • I know exactly what you mean with respect to vehicles. That has been a discussion for me and the wife. We’re fortunate in that both of our vehicles are paid for. However, we work in close proximity to one another and we could probably do with just one vehicle. While I am a little more willing than the wife to go that route, I do have a concern and my wife has an objection. I like the idea of having two vehicles when (not if) something requiring repair/maintenance for any length of time happens to the first. As I noted earlier, our public transportation is not robust enough to where I would want to rely on it to get back and forth to work – and around town – for any period of time. My wife’s objection is pretty straight forward. She likes her alone time – enjoy her music, etc. – for the 30 minutes a day she spends on her commute.

  4. James, I do not aspire to a smaller home being a stating point. Minimalism means to me not using more than you need. If that is car, house, or even tv then you need to reconsider.

    I use just what I need daily, nothing more, nothing less, however, no one is going to tell me I need to cut back.

    I know what I need. My apartment has no coffee tables or rugs. I like it that way because there is less cleaning involved and I do not spend money on those things.

    My family wonders what is going on with me, but they accept my transition, which is to own less.

    • Buying less, using less and reducing your impact on the environment. A nice, straight forward definition and approach to minimalism.

  5. I agree, James, I don’t think minimalism = deprivation. I think it means living comfortably with the things you need & use & love, but not keeping things that don’t bring value to your life. I think it’s great that you donate unused items–it’s good to get those things out of the house & into the hands of people who really need them.

    • I think you have hit the nail on the head when you note that minimalism – or moderation as suggested by Maarten – could be smartly described as living comfortably with the things you need, use and love.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and sharing your thoughts.

  6. I don’t like the term minimalism. No matter what you do to reach your “freedom” in the name of minimalism, someone will tell you how you can do with less. I kid you not, someone recently scolded me for owning a Prius. It would have been better had I gotten a Yaris.

    Personally I like the term moderation much better. Moderation ties in better with circumstances. Our proximity to services prevents us from ditching our cars (oops, yes plural) but the cars we have are cheap in use and serve us both economically and ecologically. I splurged and bought a house on the water, I like to think I own one of the more modest homes on the water (it actually is just 1200 sq.ft). Living on the water makes me happy and I can afford it so I have no regrets.

    Whatever you wish to call it, it sounds like are already living a life of modesty/minimalism according to your circumstance. If you’re happy with the not-so-tiny house and can actually afford it, I have a hunch you might be a smidgen happier than the minimalist living in the tiny house.

    btw, I wouldn’t want to live in a tiny house but it might be fun to build one (which probably goes for many of the tiny housers out there).

    Enjoyed the article. Keep up the good work

    • ” … someone recently scolded me for owning a Prius. It would have been better had I gotten a Yaris.” Too funny. I guess it’s never enough for some people. I agree with your observation that moderation might be a better term and as Joie noted, I think each of us has to determine what it means to live comfortably with the things you need, use and love.

      Be well, my friend and thanks for stopping by adding your thoughts to the conversation.

    • I’ve thought about building a tiny house, but no idea where I’d keep it. Plus I’d have to get rid of many of my hobbies.
      I ran across a book a couple months ago called the Not So Big House. It was more about building something modest in size, getting rid of unused rooms like dining rooms and put more personality into the home. People love craftsman style homes, which actually came about as a backlash to the cheap homes people could buy out of catalogs in the early 1900s. The idea is that big rooms don’t feel cozy and you should build smaller and put the extra money into details like a craftsman home rather than build a McMansion. I hope in 10+ years I can afford to build something like that.

  7. I’m right there with you to James. I’m not ready to move to a tiny house. A family of five needs a little room, and we need our cars to get to work. Maybe in the future we can downsize a bit when the kids are on their own. I do like the idea of decluttering lifestyle, getting rid of unused household items, books, clothes and making your life simple.

    • Exactly. While hardcore minimalists might scoff at my lifestyle, I definitely see some value in living with less and reducing our ecological footprint to the greatest extent possible … and practical.

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