What is Minimalism? And More Importantly, What It’s Not

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What is minimalism? And more importantly, what it's not
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Looking back on this blog now that it is just about two years old (woohoo!), I realize I probably should have started with a post on the definition of minimalism. One of my first posts did discuss my journey into minimalism, but I’m not sure I spent enough time truly defining the concept.

There are lots of misconceptions and misunderstandings of what minimalism is, and what it isn’t. So, better late than never. Here’s a post where I attempt to answer the question, “What is minimalism?”.

What is Minimalism?

One of the things that I always preach to people is that minimalism is what you want it to be. There is no perfect formula for minimalism. Colin Wright is a popular blogger who famously listed the 72 items he owned, while Leo Babauta is a minimalist with six kids. Being a minimalist does not mean that you can only have a certain number of items, nor does it mean you need to take away enjoyable things from your life. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The point is, minimalism can look like different things to different people. With that being said, here is my definition of minimalism:

Minimalism reduces the physical and emotional clutter in one’s life to create more time and energy to focus on what really provides happiness. In short, we gain more of what we want by living with less.

I break down my views of minimalism into three separate categories:

  • Physical – Reducing the number of items in my house
  • Digital – Limiting the amount of time spent on phones, computers, and watching television
  • Emotional – Less ruminating about the past and worrying about the future


For me, my jump into minimalism did result in me getting rid of a lot of stuff. I emptied out my closet and got rid of all the clothes that I never wore or that didn’t quite fit right. We donated a bunch of books to the local library and I brought a lot of my history books to school in case students from my classes were interested in borrowing them. Ashley and I both went through boxes and boxes of sentimental items and kept only what we really knew we would want to look back upon.

Most people associate minimalism with physical decluttering so that is why I listed it first. For me, however, this is where I was probably in the best shape. Don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of extra stuff that was totally unnecessary. But the real value in minimalism for me came from the next two categories.


How much time do you spend on your phone each day? How many hours of television do you watch?

I started to ask myself these questions…

I didn’t like the answers.

My first step was a rather radical one, although I have no regrets about it. I got rid of my iPhone and went back to a flip phone! Although I do once again have a smartphone, I have no regrets about my original decision. You can read more about my original decision to go back to a flip phone here as well as my reasons for switching back here.

In this world where we can easily become enveloped by our social media, it’s important to take a step back and realize what we’re missing out on when our heads are buried in our phones and our laptops.

Related Post: The Costs of a Technology Addiction


This also meant getting rid of the “other stuff” in my life. Everyone thinks of minimalism as getting rid of possessions, but removing the emotional clutter is just as important.

I needed to stop spending so much time worrying about the past or the future. It’s great to remember past events, and we need to learn from our mistakes of the past, but we can’t let our past lives consume us. At some point, we have to push forward and be in the moment.

The same thing goes for the future. Planning for the future is great and I would strongly recommend it, but there is only so much we know for sure and can control. Take 2020 for example. Who could have predicted everything that happened?

Instead, be present in the moment.

Be where your feet are.

What Minimalists Are Not

As I have talked to friends and relatives about my journey into minimalism, I realize how little people really understand what it is all about. There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings.

When we talk about plans for a vacation, I’ve had people say, “That doesn’t sound very minimalist.”

Or if we purchase something for the house, someone might question how we could still be minimalists.

Minimalism does not mean we don’t buy things, and it certainly doesn’t mean we deprive ourselves. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Minimalists get rid of the excess to maximize what truly brings us value and happiness.

Frugal (Necessarily)

A minimalist is not necessarily frugal, but oftentimes they do go hand in hand. I would very much consider myself a frugal minimalist, but many others are not. For example, a person may own only 10 shirts, but each of them cost over $200. Or someone may only have technology that they feel is necessary, but they have the latest iPhone, most expensive computer, and a movie theater screen for a television. The same goes for cars. I prefer older, reliable cars, but other minimalists may be driving a brand new Tesla or BMW.

Related Post: The $1,000 Rule for Car Buying


I have heard it asserted by some that minimalism is restricting. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I feel as free as ever now that I have embraced minimalism. My priorities have changed so I get to spend my time doing the things that I love instead of being burdened by consumerism and all of my stuff.

The key question to keep asking yourself: Does it bring you value?

If the answer is yes, then by all means have at it. For me, I value the time I get to spend with my family and friends. Beyond food and shelter, there is nothing more important than that.

But I also value things like experiences and travel. I want to see the world and I want to go places and do things. A weeklong vacation will make me much happier than a new wardrobe or the newest iPhone would.

Prioritize what truly makes you happy. Once you adopt that mindset, the rest takes care of itself.

You Get More by Having Less

The phrase “less is more” is a common one in the minimalism community. By getting rid of our excess physical and emotional “stuff”, we are able to make more room for the things that are important to us.

More Time

Time is the most valuable asset we have, and it is ever fleeting. People want to gain money, everyone wants to be rich. But really, what we are striving for is more time.

Minimalism provides the opportunity of time. By clearing out our spaces, we provide ourselves with more room for the things that matter to us. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there working 50+ hours/week to pay the mortgage on their 6 bedroom house or to pay for the 130th pair of shoes. Yet, they are not happier because of it. In fact, it’s usually just the opposite.

More Energy

Our lack of stuff allows us to have more energy for what’s important and meaningful to us. I’m rarely burnt out from all the excess so I have the energy to go for a hike with my kids or to play Monopoly Jr. or Trouble for the eighth time in a row.

What is minimalism? It's this right her
What is minimalism? It’s this right here!

More Focus

Minimalism has allowed me to feel more grounded. I’m better at being in the here and now instead of lost in the past or fretting over the future. My focus is on my life as I’m living it.

We only get one choice, after all, let’s make the best of it.

What is Minimalism to You?

Now, it’s your turn. Whether you have been doing this for years or just starting out, what is minimalism to you? How can you use minimalism to improve your life? Please comment below, I’d love to hear!

5 thoughts on “What is Minimalism? And More Importantly, What It’s Not”

  1. Love this post. It describes me perfectly..I discovered minimalism about ten years ago. I have never regretted all the crap I chucked. Every year this time I take a January inventoryof all my stuff and each year I end up getting rid of the small amount of thngs I did buy. I have really learned to just look and leave it behind

  2. I hadn’t known it but there’s actually an opposite side called “maximalism” that says that “having more is more”. I will forever be on the minimalist camp that says having less is more. The more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.

    1. minimalismandmoney

      I consider myself a maximalist too. Maximum amounts of experiences, travel, and time with friends and family!! In those cases, I agree, more is more!

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