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On one-lowmanship

You know what being one-upped is: someone stealing your thunder by saying or doing something bigger, better, or more. Ever heard of being one-lowed? It’s exactly the opposite. And it’s the easiest trap for an aspiring minimalist to fall into.

I’m about 14 months into my journey into minimalism, and I’ve had the help of several extremely inspirational minimalist books and blogs. All of the authors I read seem like wonderful people and are quick to assure readers that their way works for them, but minimalism is different for everybody. Even so, it’s easy to feel inadequate compared to them. I read about the man who owns 90 belongings, and I feel guilty about my chef’s kitchen. I marvel at a blogger’s 40 total pieces of clothing—like, everything—and I feel compelled to further purge my functional wardrobe. When I am inspired, I also feel ashamed, like I’m not doing enough. To be a good minimalist, I need to have less, donate more, quit my smartphone, live in 250 square feet—it goes on and on.

But that isn’t the message that minimalism is trying to send.

Minimalism isn’t about having the least. It’s not a bare-walls, empty-hangers competition. It’s about achieving inner peace through getting rid of the excess. It’s about having what you need and what you love. In her book, Miss Minimalist lists out the scant contents of her kitchen. Her dishes are functional for the everyday, but, as she concedes, she can’t make cupcakes, for example, on a whim. Now, baking is important to me. I have a whole basket of cake decorating stuff that I don’t need, but I would surely miss it if I excised it from our home. Therefore, my cake pans stay.

In times like these, when I feel compelled to one-low other minimalists in order to prove myself one, I take a breath and repeat a mantra I learned from Amy Poehler: “Good for them. Not for me.”

Challenging yourself is a good thing, and often leads to your better self, but be wary. Don’t fall victim to one-lowmanship guilt, and don’t look down on others because they aren’t as minimalist as you are, either. Be calmly self-assured, no matter where in your journey you are, and you will inspire others simply by being yourself. Make minimalism work for you. Keep the things you need and love, and whether that’s 50 possessions or 2000, it will be the perfect number.

Who inspires you? What are you self-conscious about as you take on minimalist challenges? Let’s start a support group in the comments.

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