mnmlist: minimalist FAQs

Some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about minimalism and living the minimalist life, for those new to the concept.

Q: Why be a minimalist?

A: It’s a way to escape the excesses of the world around us — the excesses of consumerism, material possessions, clutter, having too much to do, too much debt, too many distractions, too much noise. But too little meaning. Minimalism is a way of eschewing the non-essential in order to focus on what’s truly important, what gives our lives meaning, what gives us joy and value.

Q: Isn’t minimalism boring or too sparse, with nothing in your life?

A: This is a misconception about minimalism — that it’s necessarily monk-like, empty, boring, sterile. Not at all. Well, it can be, if you go in that direction, but I don’t advocate that flavor of minimalism. Instead, we are clearing away all but the most essential things — to make room for that which gives us the most joy. Clear away the distractions so we can create something incredible. Clear away all the obligations so we can spend time with loved ones. Clear away the noise so we can concentrate on inner peace, on spirituality (if we wish), on our thinking. As a result, there is more happiness, peace, and joy, because we’ve made room for these things.

Q: What is minimalist living?

A: It’s simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much. It’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly.

Q: What are the benefits of minimalism?

A: There are many. It’s lower in stress. It’s less expensive and less debt. It’s less cleaning and maintaining. It’s more enjoyable. There’s more room for creating, for loved ones, for peace, for doing the things that give you joy. There’s more time for getting healthy. It’s more sustainable. It’s easier to organize. These are only the start.

Q: What does the schedule of a minimalist look like?

A: There’s no single answer to this question, but a minimalist would probably focus on doing less, on having a less cluttered schedule, but what’s on his or her schedule would be important. A minimalist might not actually keep a schedule or calendar, at one extreme, if he didn’t have much to do each day — he might instead live and work moment-by-moment, or just decide each morning to focus on one or two important things.

A minimalist would also save a lot of time because of having less clutter and fewer possessions. That means less time cleaning and maintaining, and less time searching for things. A minimalist who clears away distractions and single-tasks would also waste less time with those distractions and in switching back and forth between tasks (multi-tasking).

In general, all this results in more time for relaxing, for hobbies, for creating, for doing fun things.

Q: What rules do I need to follow to become minimalist?

A: There are no set rules. There’s no one way. What I suggest for living minimally isn’t what someone else would recommend, nor is it how you would live your minimalist life. In general, however, you want to live simply without too many unnecessary possessions, distractions, clutter, or waste. You want to live frugally, debt-free, sustainably, naturally.

Q: Do you need to be vegan or vegetarian to be minimalist?

A: No. While I believe the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle is consistent with minimalism, you can eat simply as an omnivore as well. Again, there’s no one way. A minimalist would try to eat naturally, without too much processing, and not eat too much food (such as the ridiculous portions at most restaurants these days).

Q: I believe in simplifying, but why should I be so frugal — what wrong with a few REALLY nice things?

A: Frugality is simply a way of not spending on unnecessary things — sticking to the essentials. Is there anything wrong with a few really nice things? Not necessarily. If you need to buy something, it’s usually better to go for quality, rather than cheap, because it’s better made and will last longer. Minimalism is about quality over quantity.

However … it’s always good to examine whether it’s good to have an attachment to material things. This isn’t something I’ve completely succeeded with — I love my Mac, for example — but it’s something I’ve been working on. I am much less attached to possessions than I was just a few years ago, and I recommend that everyone examine their relationship with physical things, with products, and see if it’s really what they want.

Q: What about finding minimalism in America — where you need to have a car and a job?

A: This whole site is about finding minimalism within the American culture and society — as well as other industrialized nations — not on some remote desert island. The complexities and social expectations of the United States (and other industrialized countries) is exactly why minimalism is needed. All the advice I give on this site (and Zen Habits) is aimed at people in these modern societies.

I’ve lived a minimalist life on Guam, and now in San Francisco. It’s a matter of choices.

Do you need to be as minimalist as me, or someone living in the wilderness? Not at all. It’s not about that. It’s about finding simplicity and finding what’s important to you, and making choices, rather than adopting the consumerist mindset that most people have.

Q: Aren’t you being contradictory by claiming to be a minimalist and owning a Mac, or a house, or having six kids?

A: Again, there’s no one way. Everyone must find his own path, and mine is different than what someone else would consider minimalist. Also, I have never claimed to be perfect – I’m striving for minimalism, but I always have room for improvement. I have things that are inconsistent with minimalism, or at least by the definition of others. I’m working on it.

I should say a word or two about having six kids and minimalism. Having six children is inconsistent with my message of simplifying, frugality, downsizing, being green.

I don’t have a defense – but I do have an explanation for the inconsistency. I had my kids before (and during) my change in philosophy. In fact, my philosophy is evolving even now, so I can’t claim to have believed in the things I believe in now, for a very long time. Many things I believe in are only recent developments.

As an example – only recently, I made the decision to transition back into veganism (I was vegan once, but have been lacto-ovo veggie for over a year). But I own a pair of leather sandals – do I throw them out? Wouldn’t that be wasteful? Is it better to be wasteful but consistent with my beliefs? It’s hard to say.

However, I have decided it would be most unethical for me to throw out my children, just because I now believe in downsizing. It was a tough decision, but I’m sticking by it.

As a result of my simplifying, I am able to enjoy my time with my children, and I have to admit, they are the best thing to happen to me. I don’t regret having them one bit, even if they are inconsistent with my philosophy of downsizing.

On the good side, I believe that even with six kids — being vegan, buying less stuff, being energy conscious, going car-less, walking more for transportation – I actually use fewer resources than the average person in developed countries (and far less than the average American) – this is according to online carbon footprint calculators. It’s not a justification for having six kids, but just a note that things aren’t as bad as they could be.

Q: Why don’t you have a comment button or comments on this site?

A: I purposely didn’t include comments on this site for a couple of reasons:

1. I already manage several other blogs, and get a ton of comments at Zen Habits, and having to manage another blog’s comments is too much for me. I just don’t have the time, and if I had to do it, I couldn’t do this blog.

2. I love dialog with readers — it’s what makes blogging such a joy — but commenting isn’t the only way. I encourage you to reply to me about any of these posts via Twitter or on your blog. The dialog then will be less local and more widespread.

3. I like the idea of keeping things simple on a blog about minimalism.

Q: How is different than Zen Habits?

A: Well, Zen Habits is about simplicity, and is about minimalism — can’t you see the difference?

Seriously, though, there will be a different focus here than at Zen Habits, which covers a wide range of topics besides simplicity, including productivity, changing habits, health & fitness, family, finances, happiness, and yes, simplicity.

This blog will focus pretty much exclusively on minimalism, a passion of mine. Not all Zen Habits readers are incredibly interested in minimalism, so I’m breaking off this blog for those who are.

If you have other questions that I should include here, please let me know on Twitter!