Minimalist Living, Minimalism, Conscious Consumerism, Simple Living, The Joy of Less, Decluttering, Downsizing… Perhaps you have encountered these words recently and realized this is a movement spreading across America. Minimalist living is nothing new, but weary Americans coming off the consumerism roller-coaster, are discovering it again.
Minimalism Across Generations
Minimalism is appealing across generations, but it seems to be most appealing to the Millennial Generation. The Millennial generation (born 1981-1996) grew up with the high spending of the 1990’s and the bubble bursts of the 2000’s. Exiting school with a poor job market and lots of debt shaped the way Millennials see the world. Moreover, the highlighted effects of climate change from global consumerism are concerning to this generation which will most likely live to see the effects of our changing weather.
According to Forbes, 78% of Millenials would rather spend money of experiences than on stuff. (59% of Baby boomers say the same thing.) Millennials are opting for smaller house, smaller carbon footprints, and sharing cars/tools/etc. They are decluttering and donating the remnants of their early spending, and the mainstream is taking notice.
Baby Boomer Minimalism
The Baby Boomers are noticing too. As we mentioned, over half of the Boomers said they would rather spend money on experiences than things. However, this number is far below the Millennial count, and Boomers have a much more complicated relationship with things.
The Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) grew up with rapid U.S. economy growth, the rise of the suburbs, and the marketing of the “American Dream.” As a result, Boomers were the generation of accumulation. Generation X (born 1965-1981) was not far behind in picking up where the boomers left off in consumption of stuff.
Now, the Baby Boomers are entering retirement in droves (10,000 Boomers each day reach retirement age) and sometime after this (hopefully a long time after this) they will pass. What happens to all their stuff?
Unloading Your Stuff for Minimalist Living
Here is the new reality: the generations after you do not want your “stuff.” Heirlooms to one generation are now the junk of the next generation. This is not to say that nothing is precious. You might have a few very special objects that can be confidently passed down. However all the china, crystal and large pieces of furniture that were once considered essential and now considered (heavy) burdens.
Step number one will always be – STOP buying more stuff! Once you have accepted this concept as more than theory, it is easier to move on to step two – minimizing your stuff.
Traditional Downsizing and the Rise of Sweedish Death Cleaning
Let’s say you are a Baby Boomer (as an example, this applies to all ages), with a average to above average living space and perhaps even a storage unit. You have accumulated many things in a large amount of categories including clothes, shoes, accessories, kitchen wares, furniture, decor, outdoor tools, camping gear, exercise equipment, beauty supplies, cars, holiday decorations, etc.
How does the responsibility of this amount of stuff make you feel? Moreover, who will inherit this responsibility when you are gone?
There are several ways to look at this situation that fall along the spectrum of minimalist living:
- Minimalist Living
Let’s look at each step on the journey:
Organizing is not minimizing. It is taking what you have, sorting it out and putting into a manageable system so you can use it and enjoy it effectively. It can be helpful to you, and those that have to sort through your stuff later, but it does not take away any of the burden of material things.
Organizing will always have a place in the process of minimizing. You will need to organize what you have at every step in the minimalist journey. In addition, organizing will get easier as you let go of more and purchase less.
Decluttering is the first step in embracing minimalist living. It involves not only a physical shift of letting go, but also a mental shift into what it means to live more with less.
Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, brought decluttering into the spotlight in 2014. (As did her Netflix special a few years later.) It is still a great book to start you on your journey of letting go and learning to find the joy of living with less. Are you unfamiliar with this book? The premise is to only allow things to exist in you life that “spark joy.”
For example if a pair of shoes does not bring you joy – get rid of them. If you have 10 shirts in your closet, but only 2 shirts make you feel good and look good (i.e. bring you joy) then you have 8 shirts too many. Kondo also has a very effective system of gathering, sorting and deciding what stuff stays and what goes.
Downsizing goes beyond decluttering and challenges us to face our mark on this world and what we might leave behind. In this way, we consider how our current living situation is affecting our own happiness and the happiness of those around us.
For example, consider the size of your living space. How much space you live in affects your comfort level, but it also dictates the amount of responsibility (or burden) you have. Your space size decides how much time you spend cleaning and maintaining and how much money you spend doing these activities. It also affects those around you by the amount of energy you use (your carbon footprint) and the amount of resources you use to maintain your home.
When you pass, your responsibility (burden) for all of your things becomes someone else’s responsibility (burden). The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a very recent book on an old subject. It is dedicated to helping people unload their stuff now, so their loved ones will not have to when they pass.
When done in the Swedish fashion, downsizing and decluttering becomes an act of love. Moreover, it becomes a journey that allows you to share experiences and meanings behind objects and heirlooms, before you part with them.
Finally, after you have organized, decluttered, and downsized, you may just be ready to embrace a minimalist life. Minimalism asks you to let go of anything that does not serve you or bring you happiness. It favors quality over quantity, and conservation over consumerism.
More than any of the other step, minimalism is a lifestyle. You get to define what simple living means to you. Maybe it means only owning 30 items of clothing or letting go of a large house or an extra car. Minimalism can free up your cash now that you have stepped off the consumer wheel. Maybe that means you can retire early – or even retire at all!
Above all, minimalism can give you freedom. It is amazing how much stress and pressure comes from our accumulation and maintenance of our stuff. If you are looking for a guide to start you on your path to minimalist living, then I have a few recommendations:
- The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. This book by Joshua Becker is an excellent starting point for any curious reader. It was one of the first minimalist books I read, and it reached me right where I was at – in my suburban home with a crowded garage.
- Project 333. For those of you that want to create a minimalist life, but would like to start smaller, Project 333 will help you minimize your wardrobe. This is a website/blog that will challenge you to evaluate what you really need in regards to clothes, shoes and accessories.
- The Minimalists. This website will lead you to articles, podcasts, movies and other resources that will help you discover more about minimalism and the people that practice it.
Going Forward with Minimalist Living
Whatever stage of life you are in, it is good to know that it is not to late to minimize! It is just going to be a lot harder for some. Starting small with one specific area or project will help. As will understanding that letting go of stuff is a journey. We are never really done, and choosing a minimal lifestyle is an everyday process. However, it is worth is when you consider all the benefits: time freed up, money saved, resources conserved, and stress relieved.