Pictured above: The art of subtraction is also a form of adding — think of the space! (Mary and the Three Baby Cheeses/Flickr)
In our story "50 Things," we showcased Mike Roberts, who simplified his life by scaling all he owned down to only 50 items — 46 to be exact. While that may seem extreme to some (e.g. Mike owns two pairs of underwear), the minimalist lifestyle he espouses has become an alternative to what is commonly thought of as the "American" way of life. For the most part, minimalists eschew consumerism and excess and embrace a culture of simplicity in different areas of everyday life.
Since there is no unified feelgood theory of minimalism, we compiled a list of commonly used guidelines you can apply to achieve a life of simplicity and happiness.
1. Travel lightly
For our protagonist Mike, as with many of its proponents (on the web), travel was a gateway schlep to minimalism. Practicality allowing, if you can make do with what's in a reasonably-sized suitcase while traveling, you can probably do the same at home. The Everyday Minimalist describes her journey from suitcase to simple here.
2. With or Without You
A difficult and ongoing part of becoming a minimalist seems to be not the selective process of arriving at 50, 75, or 100 items to keep, but the 86ing of those items you will ultimately choose to eliminate from your daily life. Minimalist blogger and Zen Habits creator Leo Babauta poses the question, "can you live without?"
3. Sharing is Caring
Though it may seem like a cheat, some minimalists still find it necessary to use items that others technically own or items shared with a spouse, roommate, or family. Mike borrows a bike to go to work. Minimalists often, if not always, use common furniture, appliances, and vehicles, but do not count them in their inventory of "things." The more the shared items, the fewer you own; the fewer items you own, the more minimal the list.
An absolutely necessary "cheat," grouping common items as one, is perfectly acceptable, especially in regards to clothing. As stated above, Mike owns only two extra pairs of underwear. If he were to "splurge" on some underwear, as he states in our story, he could count them as one item, and no one would begrudge him this loophole. Minimalist writer Joshua Fields Millburn found getting rid of his books difficult, so he grouped them, keeping his relatively huge list of 288 somewhat shorter. It's not about living a spartan life, and depriving oneself is not the goal. Practical and comfortable simplicity is.
5. Reduce & Resist!
Though there might be some crossover between the those in the Occupy movement and those in the minimalist movement, the latter is, for many, a way to quietly rail against what they see as the "American" ethos of consumerism and excess. And while a person's reason for following a minimalist lifestyle can range from financial to spiritual, by refusing to give in to the latest technological and fashion trends, minimalists resist the impulse to re-up every time a new version of iPad or a jacket (or an iPad jacket) pops up, resulting in a "thing" reduction. Dave Bruno, author of The 100 Thing Challenge, cites anti-consumerism as main impetus for his decision to go minimalist.
6. None of the Above
Though assigning a number to your cache of goods assumes it is about quantity, minimalism seems, at its core, to be about quality of life. Repeatedly, the words "happiness" and "simplicity" were used to describe the ultimate though nebulous goal of minimalism. The rules above are rough guidelines. You can choose to have a list of 50, 100, or 288 things, or have no list at all. Ultimately, the parameters are set by the individual, and maximum happiness and comfort are achieved through minimalism.
Take a look at the some of these working lists, then tell us what would be on your list in the comments section below.