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May 03, 2023 • 5 min read
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We bring nothing into the world and can take nothing out of it. While here, we have the freedom to choose what we add to our lives and what we do not. Yet, it is easy to get caught up in others' ideas about how to live, what to pursue, what to own, and what to wear. If we are not deliberate, we might trade most of our working hours—our energy—to buy things we probably do not need. Decades later, unchecked materialism can decrease our life satisfaction and increase the likelihood of mental disorders.

The things we own end up owning us.

Fortunately, there is an emerging antidote to materialism: a life philosophy of minimalism. Formally known as voluntary simplicity, minimalism helps us create room for the essential things that are not things at all, such as health, relationships, and purpose. When we remove the physical distractions around us, we can look inside ourselves and begin the process of mental decluttering.

Minimalism simplifies your life to generate more enjoyment and fulfillment.

Minimalism is not about deprivation but about owning what serves a purpose or brings us joy. If collecting fridge magnets makes us happy, then it is perfectly acceptable to buy another fridge for them. However, relying on consumerism to make us feel good will only work in the short term. Impulsive shopping may cause an initial surge of happiness, but soon, it reverts to its previous levels. This phenomenon is called hedonic adaptation, or hedonic treadmill, because we always end up where we started. Research has demonstrated that investing in our experiences, rather than chasing material possessions, brings us long-term satisfaction.

Did you know that compulsive hoarding is an officially recognized disease?
Rupert is chasing discounts on a hedonic treadmill.
If something costs $100 and is on sale for $75, and you buy it, you do not save $25. You spend $75.


Here are some by-products of a minimalist lifestyle:

  • Increased sense of freedom
  • Increased authenticity
  • Increased sense of control
  • Increased mental health
  • Increased mental energy
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Increased positive emotions

Minimalism can give us an effortless pay raise too. Joshua Fields Millburn, a co-founder of The Minimalists, one of the most popular minimalism movements, says:

An item is 100% off if you do not buy it.

A minimalistic lifestyle also impacts sustainability by motivating manufacturers and producers to seek more sustainable modes of production. There is a study that aims to help policymakers encourage minimalism as a way of life.

Widespread minimalism would help reduce stress and anxiety and minimize excess consumption, thereby preventing rapid resource depletion and environmental degradation and reducing carbon footprint and global warming.
Rupert has become too excited about minimalism.

Action steps

Here is how you can start adopting a minimalistic lifestyle:

  1. Consider your efforts before each purchase. You put effort into earning the money you use to purchase things, a sacrifice worth being aware of. Depending on the price tag and your income, buying a particular thing can take hours, weeks, months, or even years of effort. Every time you are about to pay, ask yourself whether the purchase is worth it.
  2. Rent stuff you only need once or occasionally. When deciding whether to buy an item, always consider its hidden costs, such as maintenance, repairs, and storage. Unused items take up the living space you pay for. Consider renting specialized tools, sports equipment, clothes for special events, recreational vehicles, cars, boats, and vacation homes.
  3. Invest in the experiences rather than the stuff. Traveling, dining out, entertainment, and outdoor activities bring more joy than buying things. Experiences bring you joy regardless of whether you are doing them now, looking forward to them, or replaying them in your mind. Material possessions, however, lose their value over time. Why not invite a good friend out to dinner?

Ideally, create a wallet reminder to question the intention behind each future purchase. It can be a simple note that conveys the statements above or encourages you to focus on the essentials, such as this quote by Joshua Fields Millburn:

Love people and use things because the opposite never works.
Now Rupert loves people and uses things.

Minimalism challenge

Minimalism is often associated with tidy living spaces. Rather than tidying up (hiding things from sight), minimalism challenges us to sort through our possessions and keep only what serves a purpose or brings us joy. Popular minimalist movements have created practical guides. Here is their synthesis:

  1. Sort your belongings into four piles—keep, sell, donate, and trash. It is easier to do it by category, such as clothes, books, electronics, and kitchen utensils. Look out for sentimental items that are often difficult to let go of, such as odd gifts from loved ones. If you answer any of the following questions with no, then the item should not sit on the keep pile:
    • Have I used this item in the last twelve months?
    • Would the best version of myself buy it again?
    • Does it spark joy when I see, touch, or smell it?
    • Do I benefit from it more than someone else could?
    • Would I let it go if it were only less expensive?
  2. Organize what you keep. Every item you keep should have its place in your living space. In addition, items of the same category (for example, clothes or books) should be kept in the same place, not spread across multiple rooms. Consider digitizing photos and documents. If you do it radically, minimalism could downsize your furniture or house, leaving more budget for experiences.
  3. Sell, donate, or trash everything else. Valuable items can be sold online or donated in the neighborhood. When you are throwing things away, it feels good to give thanks.

If we are radical, we can pretend we are moving. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus came up with the idea of a Packing Party. Ryan packed everything he possessed, from a toothbrush to a sofa, and spent the next 21 days unpacking only the needed items. After 21 days, 80% of his stuff was still in the boxes.

If we make minimalism a habit by carefully selecting what we need, we will never have to declutter our lives again.

Now or never

For the next two weeks, do the minimalism challenge for one or more categories you choose. Create a wallet reminder to question each purchase.