When I show people the tiny backpack that contains all of my earthly possessions, the most common response is “I would love to do that, but I never could.” I understand. Change is scary, and minimalism isn’t a small change. It feels like you are giving up so much you will never get back for an unclear gain that you might not want forever. Let’s have a little discussion about it to try and allay those fears.
Fear #1: I have no idea what “minimalism” is! What are the rules?
One of the biggest fears that people have is when they see people who just have the clothes on their back, or people who are telling them to sell everything they own. They see “minimalism” as a goal of getting rid of as much as possible, which is naturally ridiculously scary. It’s all downside, with no benefit.
Minimalism is not a competition.
You don’t win by being naked and homeless.
The reason “minimalism” seems vague is because it is. You get to come up with what is right for you. For some people it’s not buying new clothing unless you get rid of something you never wear. For others it’s moving into a smaller house so they don’t have to clean all of those unused rooms. For me, it was making it so I could travel as much as I wanted.
Minimalism isn’t about getting rid of the things you love. It’s about getting rid of the things you don’t care about so you can focus on the things you love.
Fear #2: What if I need that thing in the future?
Even when people understand how minimalism can help them focus on the best things in life, when it comes time to start getting rid of dusty old things they never use, they start coming up with excuses. “I haven’t used this in years, but you never know…” “I might need this old hinge in case I have another door that it could fit!”
Trust me, I know this one deeply. I had the hardest time battling this one. I would start gathering up things to give to charity, and at first it was easy. Laughing as I threw things into bags. As it went on, though, I went slower and slower, becoming more and more reluctant to throw out something that was useful once 5 years ago because I had spent good money on it. For me, I had a pair of red leather shoes that I loved but never worn once. Were they ever beautiful, though.
This is fine. Everyone hits this stage. When you get there, just put the object out in plain view, where you can’t miss it. If you don’t use it within a month, then come to terms with the fact that you never will, and someone else could be getting great use out of it that you aren’t. On the flipside, this might be the kick that you needed to finally start using something and it will become an essential part of your arsenal. That ended up happening with a few of my questionable objects, and I still have them now. The red shoes, however, I wore once and discovered they didn’t even fit. Off to charity.
Fear #3: It looks so expensive to be a minimalist! How much were those pants? What if I spilled something on them?
If you’ve signed up for my mailing list and gotten access to the list of everything I own, you might be scared by how expensive some of the things are. I assure you, none of those things are necessary to be a minimalist. Not one of them. They are just the things I have found a lot of value and reliability in, and I wanted to recommend them. If you are just starting out, you are fine with your favorite t-shirts and jeans.
One of the benefits of minimalism, though, is that you stop spending money on things you never use. This adds up over time, and you start valuing the things you use more. Combine that with the additional money you’ve gained and it makes sense to spend a little more to make the things you have the best there are. They look better, feel better, last longer, and just make you feel better and more prepared.
Yes, you will occasionally spill something or tear a hole in something. That’s life. However, with more durable clothes, it makes more sense to repair them instead of throwing them out. $5 on a repair to your favorite jeans with lots of stories to them makes much more sense than $40 for a new throwaway pair.
Fear #4: I can’t get rid of all my photos! Those are my memories!
Thankfully, nobody is asking you to. Personally, I took high-resolution scans of all of my photos (negatives where possible), and I will be able to print them out again at any time. Plus now I have digital copies always available, which are much more convenient when I want to show friends.
If I wanted the full scrapbook experience, I could always print them back out and it would be just like it was. If you have a precious scrapbook that has been handed down through generations that you couldn’t bear to part with, however, keep it. Display it prominently. It’s something you care about, and it deserves to be shown.
Fear #5: If I don’t have my stuff everywhere, I can’t express my personality!
I understand wanting to show your personality. People want their own style, leaving their mark on the world, and minimalism seems very small-footprint. It doesn’t make sense to have a closet full of different coats and shoes depending on your mood if you are traveling at a moment’s notice.
I like the modern, minimalist aesthetic, but you don’t have to. You still have plenty of room to express yourself. Hippies and Gypsies are minimalist nomads, and they express a lot through their clothing and where they live. I tend to carry something with me that I set up as decoration when I arrive in a new place, to make it feel like home. Right now it’s a metal figurine I carry with me that a friend gave me when I was leaving her country. I have a lot of memories in it, and it helps me relax into a new place.
You can carry a poster that folds out, hang something up from your hometown, or put up photos of friends and family if it helps you out. All of this helps bring your personality into a new space, leaving your mark exactly how you want. Never let minimalism stifle your personality. The purpose of minimalism is to let your true personality shine and make the most out of what matters the most to you.
Fear #6: All of my stuff makes me comfortable. It lets me (and everyone else) know I’ve made it.
This one. This is the hardest one, saved to the very end because I’m apparently some sort of masochist. I’m tempted to just tell you that if you have this fear, minimalism isn’t right for you and you should just move on to another website that will actually be useful to you until you work through this fear on your own.
Well, I’ve already typed out the section header and I’ve got great music blaring through my headphones, so let’s give it a shot.
This one is so tough because it’s the biggest mental shift. This isn’t something I can teach you or assure you about, it’s something you need to choose on your own.
Yes, stuff can be very comfortable. The “American Dream” is to have lots of stuff. A huge house, lots of fancy cars, electronic gadgets, toys that exist just to make others jealous. You would be hard pressed to find someone who told you they didn’t want this. I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes daydream about it.
But that’s where it all starts to break down. It’s just a daydream, so you don’t imagine paying the cleaning bills for all the rooms of your house you never enter. The maintenance and repair bills to keep all of those cars and gadgets running. The ridiculous hours you constantly work in order to afford this stuff that keeps you from having time to use it. That or the constant calls from banks harassing you about the huge amounts of debt you have run up. It’s a daydream, so you just imagine the upside, forgetting about everything it takes to get there.
Think about all of the stories you’ve heard about businessmen who miss their children growing up because they are working so hard. The people who gave up their vacation for years on end, only to retire, too old to go on adventures the way they wanted to when they were young. People who lose their friends because they are putting so much time into their job, earning more money for their employer, only to be hit by the next round of layoffs.
Minimalism means hacking that system.
No more expensive car payments. No more monthly storage unit fees. No mortgage so high it has you living paycheck-to-paycheck. No more buying everything just in case you might use it at some point.
Suddenly you don’t need to work all those hours to support yourself. You can focus on the work that make you happiest and help people the most, not just fighting for jobs that pay more money. You can relax and travel the world without the constant fear that you are going to lose your job, because you aren’t spending your money before it arrives.
There’s an old joke that gets across the point better than I ever could, and I’ll leave you with that now.
A man on a business trip to an island sees a local in a canoe on the beach, throwing back some fish he had caught, after he cooked enough to eat for the day. The businessman walks over to the local, seeing an opportunity to educate the man in the ways of business.
“Ho there! You should keep fishing and sell the extra fish you catch.”
“Why would I want to do that, when I can let the fish live and make more fish for me to eat?”
“Because then you could have enough money to buy more boats and hire more people to catch more fish for you to sell!”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“So that one day you might make enough money that you could relax and spend all day on the beach, eating the fish you catch.”