COLUMN: Minimalism — own less to find more meaning in your life


When I used to live in the dorms, I would occasionally walk by one of my neighbors' open doors and notice there was almost nothing inside the room. It looked as barren as the day we moved in. I could appreciate the lifestyle choice, but at the time I was convinced it wasn’t for me. I love my stuff too much. 

As I’ve moved several times in the last few years, I have been thinking an awful lot about all the stuff I own. I think about the appeal of living in a van someday to travel and see the world, but all of my belongings are a limiting factor in that scenario. 

I think about how devastated I would be if my home burned down or a natural disaster swept it all away. I think about the attachment I have to my belongings and how it distracts me from more important things in life. 

So, I am trying to get to a different state of mind – minimalism – and hoping to bring you with me. In the last year or so, it seems the idea of minimalism has grown more popular, or perhaps it has been that my interest has grown stronger. 

After watching “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” on Netflix, I am convinced minimalism is what America needs. 

My favorite quote from the documentary was by architect Frank Mascia, “Nothing is more responsible than living in the smallest space you possibly can.”

This is the idea that we don’t need large, extravagant homes filled with pretty and meaningless things. While these are marvels and symbols of social status, it is not responsible to live this way. The tiny home fad may just be one of the best things to happen to humanity.

I like the idea of minimalism for several reasons. 

First, it is an extremely sustainable way to live. Just about everything we buy over the course of our lifetime remains on this planet forever. You may have discarded those old toys as a kid, but they were merely relocated to a landfill somewhere, taking up precious space. And that goes for every product on every shelf in every store across the country, whether you buy it or not.

Minimalism is also potentially a way to save money. I say potentially because you may find yourself spending more money on fewer objects in favor of quality over quantity. However, that nice shirt you pay $40 for should last you several years, as opposed to one season from a $10 shirt. 

It's easier said than done, but changing your mindset to buy only the things you need will save you money. This means no compulsive spending, avoiding trendy clothing and sticking to the essentials. 

One unexpected benefit of minimalism is the communal aspect. Ever heard the cliché of borrowing sugar from the neighbors? Let’s get back to that. Rather than buying a new dress for a special occasion, borrow one from a friend. Share the resources that already exist. This will help keep the demand for certain products down, and increase the interactions you share with friends, family and neighbors. 

I like the idea that minimalism could combat consumerism, which as I see it, has clouded our minds, and distracted us from what truly matters. Online shopping, seasonal fashion and ridiculous fads have people convinced they need to own more to be happy. 

“If I buy this I will be happier,” is a thought I know many people have, myself included. Minimalism is a way to combat that myth.

I would not consider myself a minimalist, but I am striving towards that mindset to bring more meaning into my life. Minimalism is all about putting your time, money and energy into things that matter more than material objects, like people. 

To me, minimalism isn’t necessarily about owning nothing. It’s a mindset that if practiced long enough, and with devotion, leads to less attachment. And according to Buddha, attachment is the root of suffering.