A primer on minimalism

There are three major schools of thought in the minimalist movement—well, four, if you count monk-like asceticism. But modern-day minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of all the joys of life in pursuit of pure simplicity. It’s about living life to the fullest without being burdened by material things. So, for the purposes of this post, we’ll only talk about these: Minimalism, Zero Waste, and Simple Living. There’s a ton of overlap in these schools of thought, of course, but they’re separate enough to be worth talking about.

A note before we begin: Minimalism is not necessarily the same thing as being frugal. There are lots of frugal living bloggers out there who have similar values to minimalists, but people who live frugally do tend to keep a lot of things around that most minimalists eschew, in the name of saving money. The Non-Consumer Advocate, for example, is always hunting through free piles and garage sales for things to sell on Craigslist, and keeping empty containers around in the hope that they will be used. For me, this evokes an image of a Depression-raised grandparent’s house, crammed with odds and ends just in case. Minimalism can be a catalyst to a low-spending lifestyle, and needing to live frugally can cause you to live minimally, but they are not one and the same. The motivations are different.

Minimalism: Classic minimalism is the most common form of living simply. It’s about rejecting consumerism, living only with what one needs and what one loves, and spending less time and money on things in order to spend more time and money on valuable experiences, people, and causes. Motivations usually include wanting to declutter your space, schedule, and mind in order to focus more on what matters, but may also include living more lightly on the planet, separating value from stuff, downsizing into a smaller living space, choosing ethical products and practices, or saving money.

Zero Waste: Zero Wasters make it their mission to have as little negative impact as possible on the planet. They are often minimalists as a side effect of their environmentalism, because the first step to going Zero Waste is not buying stuff—or, when buying things, buying them sustainably (secondhand, wholly consumable, recyclable, local, etc.). Zero Wasters strive not only to not reduce consumption, but to reduce the afteraffects of consumption through reusing, recycling, and composting.

Simple Living: People in this category tend to be more on the radical side of minimalism (if you can call any part of minimalism something as strong as “radical”). Simple Livers believe in the tenets of classic minimalism, but strive to simplify not only the world around them but their very selves. It’s definitely a philosophical frame of mind. Here’s where you’ll find some off-the-grid Tiny Housers, homesteaders, and those who focus on becoming more “zen.” Basically, the motivation is to discover your best self through minimal living.

Obviously, you can see how people can be in more than one school of thought at once. I’d call myself a classic minimalist with a growing focus on Zero Waste and an academic interest in true simple living. But with so many resources out there for budding minimalists, I know it can get confusing to see so much input from so many different motivations. I hope this little guide helps! Remember, no matter which bloggers you prefer or what school of thought you subscribe to, the message is roughly the same: Own less–do more.

Did I miss anything? Do you know what type of minimalist you are or want to be? Let’s chat!


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