So many people are put off by minimalism because they believe myths about minimalism. They think poor people can't afford to be minimalists, they think minimalists are people who live in super clean all-white houses, and they think minimalists are trendy people who keep up with tech and fashion.
These are utter delusions. Anyone can be a minimalist. Anyone at all.
Myth #1: “Poor People Can’t Be Minimalist Because They Can’t Afford to Buy Replacements”
Many people believe poor people can’t be minimalists because to throw stuff away, you need to be able to afford a replacement if you need one.
This myth comes from all those minimalism books that came out 5–10 years ago that said “If you’re afraid to get rid of something, remember you can always buy a replacement!”
This was meant as a platitude. Everything is replaceable. Nothing will be lost permanently. But people take it to mean “You need to be able to afford to replace every single thing you get rid of.” This is preposterous. The whole point of minimalism is that you don't need most of the stuff you own. When you get rid of it, you will not need to buy a replacement for 95% of it. I promise.
In fact, poor people can benefit greatly from becoming minimalist. Getting rid of stuff you don't need opens your eyes to what it is you truly do need. Once you understand what it is you do and don’t need, you end up buying less stuff. Buying less stuff means more money in your pocket. That's great news for poor people, last I checked.
Myth #2: “Being Minimalist Means Having a Clean, White, Modern House”
The stereotypical image of a minimalist is someone who lives in a tiny apartment with white walls, white floors, white furniture, balsa wood end tables, and a single potted succulent on the windowsill.
I have met people whose houses looked this way, but they weren't minimalists. They were rich people. They could afford additional hidden storage, they could afford interior designers to pick out their “minimalist” decorations, and they could afford house cleaners to maintain their extremely difficult-to-keep-clean houses.
The interior design choices of actual minimalists vary just as much as the interior design choices of everyone else in the world. The only difference is minimalists don't need to buy additional dressers, armoires, shelving units, or offsite storage units to store their stuff.
Personally, I have a very busy non-“minimalist” interior decoration style. I put tapestries on every wall, I buy heavily padded squishy furniture, I drape very fuzzy blankets on every surface, and I am prone to leave things lying around. I'm a minimalist because I use every single thing I own, not because my living space looks like an Instagram photo.
Myth #3: “Minimalists Are Always Really Clean”
Anyone who has met me knows I am not always clean. I go through days and weeks when I am untidy and leave things lying around all over the place. Mental illness can do that to a person. Being a minimalist simply means I have less stuff to leave lying out.
Because of my minimalism, there is an upper limit to how cluttered my house can be. Even if I took every single thing I owned and threw it all over the place, it wouldn't look like a hoarder's house. Plus, because I am a minimalist, it's easier for me to clean up. That does mean I am more likely to have a clean home compared to how messy I was prior to becoming a minimalist.
There are many people in the world who are very clean who are not minimalists. They own a staggering amount of stuff and devote hours every week to keeping everything neat and ordered. It's an impressive accomplishment. But it strikes me as a pointless one. Why would you want to spend all that time cleaning? The less you own, the less you have to clean, the more time you have for the rest of your life.
Myth #4: “All Minimalists are Trendy and Look Good”
This myth is closely related to myth #2. Just as most minimalists do not have a stark white house with white leather furniture, most minimalists do not have a trendy millennial aesthetic.
Most minimalists I've met do not have a trendy aesthetic. They own the same clothes for 5 to 10 years and they wear what they want to wear, not what they think will “look good.” Their outfits are years out of fashion, but they don't care. They don't spend their time shopping. They spend their time enjoying their life.
And on the other hand, most people I've met with a trendy aesthetic are the complete opposite of minimalists. They achieve their trendy “minimalist” aesthetic by buying every cool backpack, pair of jeans, and shoes they see on the Internet. A large part of their free time is spent picking out their next outfit and deciding where they are going to go in their new outfits. That's not very minimalist.
I used to be really into fashion and shopping. The minimalist aesthetic was one of the aesthetics I loved to shop for. But my life became dramatically better when I became a real minimalist. I stopped shopping so much and started doing things that brought me true happiness instead.
Myth #5: “Minimalists Always Call Themselves Minimalists”
There are a lot of people, including me, who walk around using the word minimalist to describe themselves. But many minimalists do not use that word to describe themselves. They do not consciously identify themselves as minimalist. They just see themselves as people who are not so taken in with buying stuff the way other people seem to be.
Many older people are minimalists. Divorces, health scares, and retirement have a way of whittling down the number of things you own and bringing into focus what really matters in your life. Many people who get graduate degrees and doctors are minimalists because it's hard to own much when you were constantly moving from school to school in pursuit of your education.
But you don't need to go through a divorce or enter a graduate degree program to take advantage of the benefits of minimalism. All it takes is a conscious decision to give up the things in your life that don't serve you so you can focus on the things that do.
Minimalism isn't a set of rules about what you can and can't own or the way you should design your house. It isn't even necessarily a philosophy about stuff. It's a way of navigating life.
The minimalist is one who stops regularly and asks themselves, “What in my life isn't serving me right now? What can I get rid of to make space for the things that are serving me?” It's that simple.
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