Definition of Minimalism: A Stress-Free, Debt-Free, Freedom-Focused Lifestyle

definition of minimalismMy definition of minimalism is as the title suggests.

A lifestyle that minimises stress and debt and maximises freedom.

People are often scared off by the term ‘minimalism’ and it’s easy to see why.

With bloggers challenging you to live with less than 100 things and bragging about how everything they own fits in one bag, it does come across as a tad extreme.

Tokyo’s newfound obsession with micro-apartments isn’t helping matters. Neither, for that matter, are Sporty and I with our constant lifestyle experiments.

Those are extreme examples, however. You can adopt a minimalist lifestyle and still live a normal life. You know, one that includes having a couch to sit on and more than one spoon in the cutlery drawer.

“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” —Joshua Becker

My definition of minimalism doesn’t require you to sell your house and live in a van to pay off your debt. Unless you want to of course, then go for it. 

You do you.

Sporty and I are inclined to embark on hairbrained adventurees from time to time, but more often than not you’ll find us living regular lives in suburbia.

For us, minimalism is a means to beginning

It prompted us to rethink our spending habits, pay off our debt and make inroads towards filling our retirement coffers. It’s reduced our stress levels, made us happier and more productive and allowed us to try out different career paths. 

We’ve discovered that the less you own, the more you have.

Let’s Talk Debt (Boring, I Know)

man holding empty wallet

According to the New York Times, Americans now owe a whopping $1 trillion in credit card debt. Rising credit card interest rates are partially to blame for pushing folks even further into the long-term debt trap, but there’s a much bigger problem at play here.

Americans are drowning in stuff. This obsession with ‘more’ is what’s keeping people in the red. These clutter stats illustrate just how big the problem really is.

Click through and have a read, you’ll be shocked.

The United States is not the only one with poor spending habits. China and Japan have a massive debt problem and a growing portion of Europeans are feeling pressured by debts as well.

On the other hand, the British have revolutionized their spending habits with something they call the experience economy. Perhaps we could take a leaf out of their book?

Saving for Emergencies (You Know, Rainy Days)

man holding piggy bank

A survey conducted by revealed that around 21 percent of Americans aren’t saving any of their income at all. Their reasons for this ranged from having too much debt, too many expenses and not having a good enough job. Worryingly, 16.4 percent admitted they simply hadn’t gotten around to it.

Part of saving means sticking to a budget, something Time Magazine claims is the one task most Americans can’t accomplish. Granted, a color-coded spreadsheet isn’t a one-way ticket to financial freedom, but it’s a good start.

For the dual-income family with two cars parked in front of an overflowing garage, it could even herald the end of living paycheck to paycheck. Along with some of the other tips mentioned below, it might mean even more.

A New Definition of Minimalism (And How It Can Help)

group of friends outside 1

Minimalism shifts your attention away from the things you own (or would like to own) and allows you to focus on what really matters: relationships, creativity, travel, exercise and so on. It creates space in your life, room to breathe.

When you recognize that stuff doesn’t actually make you happy, a world of possibilities opens up. Suddenly you’re no longer driven to accumulate.

Sounds good, right? Let’s look at how you can get rid of your debt and start living the life of your dreams.

1. Sell All Your Stuff (No, Wait)

In 2008 Adam Baker and his wife were deep in debt. The birth of their first child caused them to take stock of their lives. In his TEDx talk: Sell your crap. Pay your debt. Do what you love, Adam explains how they went from being in the red to taking a year off to travel abroad.

Adam’s is a great story. It’ll definitely motivate you to pare down your belongings. But just to be clear, I’m not advocating that you sell all your stuff. Only the things you don’t need.

Take a look around your home. How much of what you own do you actually use? We often hang onto our possessions out of habit. We’ve had them so long we no longer even notice them. 

Another well known excuse for keeping things is because we think we might need them someday. Someday almost never shows up and if it does, you can always rent the thing you need.

We also refuse to let go of an item because we’ve attached some kind of value to it. This could be sentimental (your grandmother’s dinner service) or financial (you spent a fortune on an impulse buy and now you feel guilty).

Which is why you need to ‘let go’ before you declutter. It’s a topic in itself, so be sure to click through to the post and give it a read. Suffice to say, getting a handle on letting go will have you decluttering like a pro in no time.

If you’re not sure how to declutter there are plenty of blogs that will walk you through the process. There are also a ton of books available: The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker, The Joy of Less by Francine Jay and Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki, to mention a few.  

You could take it mug by mug, room by room or even category by category, as Marie Kondo suggests in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Whatever your approach, the important thing is to start.

2. Have a Come to Jesus Meeting About Your Spending Habits

We often spend without thinking. If you’re in the mall and something catches your eye, do you immediately fish out your credit card and buy it? Life on the hedonic treadmill is all about chasing rainbows. You’re only ever happy until the next shiny thing comes along.

You don’t have to stop buying stuff completely, but it is important to put a halt on the impulse purchases. The next time you find yourself reaching for your wallet, stop.

Tell yourself that if you still want the item in question in a month you can come back and get it then. Chances are, you’ll have forgotten you even wanted it long before the month is over.

Most importantly, create a budget and stick to it. This one habit is how Sporty and I managed to pay off $95 000 in debt. It’s also the reason we’ve remained debt-free ever since.

3. Downsize Your Home (Small Is the New Big)

According to NPR, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled in size over the last 50 years. Do you live in a house that’s bigger than you really need? Claudia and Garrett downsized from a 1,500 sq ft house to a 536 sq ft home and crushed their debt.

You may have kids and not be able to downsize as drastically as the Two Cup House duo, but at least consider the possibility that your house is more than you require.

Aside from the mortgage, owning a bigger house means more upkeep and maintenance. It’s also more of a time-suck than a small place, because there’s more to clean.

Buying small comes with a host of benefits. In addition to those listed above, it makes it more affordable to create the house of your dreams. Embarking on a house renovation when your square footage barely exceeds the 500 mark is significantly easier on the pocket.

Plus, done right it should add as much to 30% to your new home’s value. Which, along with your reduced mortgage and lower utilities bill, will put you in a pretty comfy position financially.

Of course, you could just move into an RV, yurt or a tiny home on wheels. Those are all extreme options when it comes to downsizing, but they work for some people. Maybe they’ll work for you too.

4. Become a One Car Family (Maybe Even a No Car Family)

For a lot of families, having two cars is non-negotiable. With jobs in different parts of the city and carting kids in school and extracurricular activities, having one vehicle just wouldn’t work.

But a lot of times we fall into the convenience trap of owning two cars because it’s convenient. Or because that’s what everyone else does.

Take a hard look at your day-to-day life and consider your alternatives. Can you bike to work? Is public transport an option? What about carpooling? Perhaps you and your spouse take it in turns to drop the kids at school so the other can walk to the office?

Owning a car is great. It gives you the freedom and independence to come and go as you please. The thing is, that freedom comes at a price. Take a moment and think about what you could do with the money you’re currently spending on your car (or cars).

If you’re already a one car house, what about becoming car free? We sold our car more than six years ago and haven’t regretted it for a moment. Best of all, our monthly transport costs have dropped by 80 percent.

5. Build a Capsule Wardrobe (Or, Say No to Fast Fashion)

Fast fashion has turned clothes into a habit. The documentary The True Cost shows the negative impact the clothing industry is having on the planet. The thing is, it’s having a negative impact on our personal finances too.

Nowadays clothing is cheap, which leads us to believe that our fashion habit isn’t costing us that much. Because everything is made to last a season (at best), we end up spending more in the long run.

A better alternative is to build a capsule wardrobe that will last. You might spend more at the outset, but buying good quality means you’ll keep them for the long haul. Another bonus of the capsule wardrobe is you’ll save your cognitive load for the decisions that actually matter.

6. Nobody Hangs Around for the Gold Watch Anymore (Neither Should You)

For older generations, retiring at 65 was the norm. You just accepted that you’d work until that age whether you wanted to or not. Nowadays, more and more people are quitting their jobs much earlier than that.

It comes down to planning for the long game rather than falling prey to the allure of instant gratification.

In the well-known Stanford marshmallow experiment children were offered the choice of either one marshmallow right away or two, if they waited 15 minutes. 

Minimalism helps you become the kind of person who is happy to wait for that second marshmallow. Because we all know two pieces of candy is better than one, right?

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

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