What's Your Definition of Minimalism?


Is it your own or did you adopt someone else's?

The formal (in the Oxford dictionary) definition of minimalism reveals an aesthetic principle. The word gained popularity amongst certain groups of artists in the 60s and 70s and evolved to become a colloquial term used in writing, architecture, fashion, product, and other aesthetic, design, and creative fields. 

Then, somewhere along the way, it started to be used interchangeably with simple living. Asceticism is ages old but, but within our generation the 90's sparked a heightened interest in applying "less is more" as a lifestyle philosophy. 

With that came a flood of so-called minimalist gurus who turned philosophy into fad with 100-item or less challenges, 30-day no shopping contests, 10-things to throw away guides, and so on. 

Fast forward to today, if someone tells you they are a minimalist you can't assume you know what they mean. And even if their definition happens to be similar to yours, their interpretation may still be miles off from your thinking. 

A now ubiquitous term has lead to confusion and conflict that overshadows its positive connotation. A quick search on "minimalism" in Reddit will land you into some pretty heated forums where the root of the debate is nothing more than semantic misunderstanding. 

So how do you navigate all the external noise, tension, and hype around this word to establish a perspective that's true to you?

Drop the arbitrary rules and think balance: your less vs. more equilibrium can only be found with a personal assessment of what makes you happy. 

I have a motto that's useful in making judgments calls on balance (particularly when my "wait, is this really your idea of minimalism" BS radar kicks in):

Do what you want to do so long as you do no harm. 

It's all about differentiating real happiness with suffering in disguise. For most of us, the extremes are where we start to blur the line between helpful and harmful — this can be extreme consumption just as much as it can be extreme abstinence. 

So be realistic and empathetic to your own unique set of needs and desires. Write your own definition of minimalism and remember it is only a tool (not doctrine) that can help guide your lifestyle choices.