Minimalism 101: A Focus on What is Important
Updated: Jun 22
Cal Newport defines minimalism in the best way I have heard, as focusing on the things that are really valuable to the exclusion of things that are much less valuable, as he describes in an interview on Impact Theory you can find at the link below. This was around minute 27. He also notes that this is an ancient practice and not something new.
Minimalism is not just about belongings – it can be about so much more and a guiding philosophy for life. In my practice of this principle, I have noticed it applies to:
How you spend your time
Who you surround yourself with, your relationships
Your digital technology (apps, etc.)
Your work (workspace, how much work do you take on, or how many projects you like to have going on at once)
The food you eat
Your home space
And so much more
As you can see minimalism is about defining and getting very clear as to what is important, what is not important, and being relatively ruthless with yourself to prioritize what is important.
When that comes to your time, that means that we are spending our time on what matters, what is going to make the biggest impact, help our lives, bring joy, or help others. It has purpose and intention behind it, versus filling our time with things that don’t matter as much.
When that comes to what we put in our body, we are prioritizing what is going to have the impact we want.
It just means that we would rather have less, less belongings, options or variety, less in general, but more of what matters greatly to us.
It is so clear and obvious when it comes to belongings. When you walk into someone’s home you can immediately tell if they live by this philosophy with their things or not. With other areas of life, it is a little bit harder to tell, and we are a very materialistic society so to go counter to that culture, to want to have less, to not want to buy into consumerism, does end up setting you apart. I think that is why minimalism has become associated so widely with just belongings, even though to me personally it applies to nearly everything in my life.
The next point I want to make is that it is an ideal or a value, not a destination. It’s not like you go through everything in your home and then you have a minimalist home and then you are done. No. Things have a way of entering your home as you may have noticed if you have done some sort of purge of your belongings and all of a sudden, a year later there is clutter again.
So, you have to be very strict with yourself about what you allow in (in any area of life); it is a process and you have to continually realign with this mindset.
It is a process. Especially in a world that wants “more, more, more” if you want “less, less, less.” It has to be a mindset that you bring with you at all times if it is something that matters to you.
The second reason I say there is no strict definition and that minimalism is an aim or value is because it is going to look very different person to person. Meaning some people, like one of my best friends, are a minimalist when it comes to clothes. She has very few clothing items, but they are all very high-quality. She might have just a few pairs of shoes, but they are all shoes she loves, they’re comfortable, they look great on her, they are her style, and they really fit her. So, she is a minimalist in that regard.
I am a minimalist more so when it comes to my time. Everyone might have different areas they apply this to or that come more naturally to them. But I think that for people that truly do identify as a minimalist, it does encapsulate several areas.
The last reason I say that it is something you aspire towards or a value as opposed to a destination is that some areas may not come naturally to us. I have a ton of books! You can see some in the video below – many are not seen and are off camera as well. Someone may look at that and say, “You are not a minimalist, you have a lot of books and a true minimalist would only have what sparks joy or 5 books.” But while there is a possibility that I should get rid of and donate some books, we should not compare ourselves to other people and where they are on their journey in anything we are striving towards. Just like any other value, we don’t need to expect it to look one way.
There is sort of an ideal, we expect. We expect this clean white room with just a coffee cup on the table and that’s it! They maybe only have one piece of artwork on the opposite wall. “And that’s a minimalist.”
It can look however it looks. If this is something that matters to you, then you can identify with that term and you can do things to better your life with that ideal in mind.
To make this applicable this week, if you want to be the kind of person who focuses on what brings you the most value, I want you to actively think as you walk throughout your house or apartment on the following exercise. Instead of doing this very strict thing where you purge all your belongings and then maybe there’s that backlash effect where more stuff comes in as a result of that:
Just really take some items in and ask yourself when the last time you used the item.
And ask yourself why you’re hanging onto it if it is something that you don’t use. (Or haven’t possibly for years.)
Is it because it has an emotional pull? Is it because you think you will use it one day when you become this certain kind of person? Is it because you think you should keep it and feel it would be wasteful to get rid of it? (When really you could donate it, recycle it, or sell it?)
Dig to the why, for why you are hanging onto some things. Of course this is going back to the materialistic sense of the word for minimalism, but you can do this “digging to the why” exercise for anything you hold onto in your life, for example holding on to habits, relationships that don’t serve you, time commitments that don’t bring you value etc. Any area.