While participating in online discussions about minimalism, I frequently hear people ask about the number items they can own to still be considered minimalist. For example, “Am I still a minimalist if I own three sets of bed linens (instead of one)?” But focusing on specific item limitations distracts from the true spirit of minimalism. And I think this can lead people to miss out on the benefits and inner peace that comes from living minimally.
Minimalism is not the number of items we own
What is minimalism? Minimalism is the practice of evaluating the contents of our lives, keeping what serves us, and parting with what doesn’t. We can apply this practice to the items we own, but we can also extend minimalism to other areas of our lives. Such as, evaluating the people we keep in our lives, and how we spend our time. Ultimately, it is a tool that helps us free up our lives to focus on what matters most.
Minimalism is not a strict set of rules. At its best, it is a mindset, an approach. That’s how it serves us best. The practice of minimalism looks different for every person, based on their unique needs and desires. (For example, a minimalist does not have to fit everything they own in a backpack or tiny house.)
And so, minimalism is not arbitrary item limitations set by other people. As individuals, we apply the principles of minimalism to our live. And we ultimately decide what serves us and what doesn’t. This distinction is where we gain more benefits of minimalism. And it’s how we can practice authentic minimalism.
Why item limits trap some minimalists
Many people first hear about minimalism through observing others’ experiences. We see how others apply it to their lives, and we start to get an image in our head about what minimalism looks like. For instance, we hear stories of success and happiness after culling a wardrobe down to just 30 items. Or we hear others are delighted to discover they can live with just two spatulas instead of their previous eight. Without knowing the underlying principle of minimalism, it is easy think “if I pair down to the same number of items, it will make me happier, too.”
Subsequently, people start decluttering items, without considering what serves or doesn’t serve their lives. This leads to feelings of inner turmoil during the decluttering process. Some report feeling pressured to get rid of items that they actually use and enjoy, just because other minimalists have removed those items from their lives. In addition, some minimalists experience decision fatigue. They feel stuck, unable to make decisions about parting with certain items. When they remove these items anyway, they often regret it later.
When decisions about what to remove doesn’t sit right inside, people turn to others asking, “Am I doing this right?” They seek guidance from others because they started minimalism by letting others define what minimalism looks like for them. This can lead to people regularly seeking external guidance about a practice that is entirely individual and personal. And unfortunately, the results do not provide many benefits of minimalism.
Practice Authentic Minimalism
We can experience more benefits of minimalism by focusing our practice inward and practicing authentic minimalism.
Remember that minimalism is about freeing ourselves of what burdens us, the individual. Not about owning a specific number of items. Only we can know what things serve us, and what we can live without. The number of items we own, the relationships we have, and how we spend our time in a way that truly benefits us, is a question only we can answer. We can use our internal compass to authentically navigate decisions within our minimalist practice.
Through hearing other minimalists’ experiences, we can see what minimalism looks like to other people. We can learn how others apply their reasoning and decision making to achieve their personal success criteria. And this can inform us about how we can apply reasoning and decision making to achieve our personal success criteria. Let’s let other minimalists’ item counts serve as an example, not a rule. And let’s follow our own internal compass in our minimalist practice.