What does it mean to be a minimalist?

When I decided that I wanted to change my lifestyle to a slower, more intentional one where I had the time and space to breathe and be fully present I stumbled upon the concept of minimalism. Many ideas and images might spring up in your mind when you hear this word but what does it actually mean to be a minimalist? 

A tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important - so you can find happiness, fulfilment and freedom
— The Minimalists

The Minimalists describe minimalism as "a tool to rid yourself of life's excess in favour of focusing on what's important - so you can find happiness, fulfilment, and freedom". It's about finding happiness through life itself and not through things you own. For me personally, that word "excess" is the important one. I'm not interested in living an aesthetic or monastic life and I won't be putting a numerical limit on what I own but I am interested in making sure that everything I have in my life has value and meaning - that it's worth the space and energy that it takes up.

How do you work out what amount of something is sufficient and therefore what the excess is? Priorities. In my experience, it all comes down to working out exactly what your priorities in life are. What is it that is fundamentally important to you, what is enjoyable even if not necessary and what is just there for the sake of it?

For me, the things that are of fundamental importance are family and friends, good health, having a comfortable roof over my head, being financially secure (note not wealthy but knowing you have enough to pay the bills and some left over to spend on what you enjoy and so having a job that enables this) and having a way of channelling a desire to be intellectually and creatively active (preferably as part of my job too). Things that I also enjoy but that aren't essential come in the form of writing, reading, photography, being creative and getting into the countryside. Anything else is probably an excess - something I've picked up along the way and haven't yet found the time or the ability to put down and let go.

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Where does this lead? A rampaging purge through the house throwing things out left right and centre? That one probably isn't the best approach; it will probably just result in the new space being refilled with clutter all over again. Instead look at the things that surround you and work out how you use them, how they fit into your life and whether they're something to stay or acquired clutter that should be let go. I'm a hoarder, I have been ever since I was a child and so letting things go takes a lot of thought and intention. I can attach sentimental value to a lot of things but if I declutter slowly and deliberately then I can get rid of things without thoughts of "oh but what if" or "but I loved this ten years ago, I might love it again at some point in the distant future" from rising up and blocking me.  

There's also no reason why you can't add new things to your life and to your home. When new things come along ask yourself if they fit into those areas that you have identified as important and/or enjoyable. If they are then great, welcome them into your life with open arms and if not, then let them pass on by to be enjoyed by someone else.

Remember that Minimalism is a tool like any other, and you shouldn’t become dogmatic about it any more than you would about a religion or other philosophy. Take the practices that work for you and which help you live a happier life, but leave the others for those who find value in them.
— http://exilelifestyle.com/minimalism-explained/

I think that this quotation is really important generally in life but also especially when you start out on a new idea. I think it's important to keep your thoughts and ideas fluid and flexible, open to new possibilities and directions rather than rigid and fixed. I choose to use minimalism to ensure my energy is focused on slow living, spending time with friends and family and things I enjoy doing. For example, one of the things I love doing is reading and the books that I own give me a lot of enjoyment. I don't want to give up my books but I will use minimalism to ensure that each book I do own has value in my life - I'm not going to hold on to books that I didn't enjoy or will never read again just for the sake of owning lots of books. Think about how you might want to use minimalism to live your life; it's a concept that you can own and you don't have to do it in the same way as anybody else.