Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simplification vs Minimalism

There is a lot of confusion between simplification and minimalism. More often than not, the words are used interchangeably. They are related – but, to me, they are not the same. When we don’t differentiate, it makes it difficult to articulate what we want & what we are doing.

Simplifying is a matter of reducing obligations, activities, needs, and streamlining processes. I feel that simplifying works in the realm of intangibles more than in tangible items. Simplifying is learning to define our true needs – physical, emotional, and mental.

When we over commit ourselves to clubs, organizations, parties, events, gatherings, etc – we create a go-go-go attitude. This breeds stress and doesn’t allow for down time. Simplifying is a matter of prioritizing who & what is important to us. And learning to say no to anything beyond that. When we can’t say no, simplifying obligations allows juggling room.

Simplifying is a matter of redefining our entertainment. Having a dozen hobbies, all of which require tons of equipment, only causes confusion resulting in lots of time devoted to keeping them organized. Then we end up not actually participating in any of them. Have simple entertainment or hobbies that can be done at an external location. Art shops very often have open studio hours. How often are you really going to make stained glass sun catchers anyway? Comic book stores host RPG or other board games. Share hobbies & entertainment with others, the variety is huge but the investment isn’t. It would be easy, and provide social time if each person in a group owned a different board game or equipment for different hobbies.

Streamlining processes is a matter of eliminating unnecessary steps or rules of behavior. It took me years to break the mindset that I was a failure if I didn’t cook dinner every day. Now, I cook several meals one or two times a week & we eat on leftovers for the remainder. We eat leftovers anyway, why not plan for it? I still put up a tree during the winter holidays, but I have eliminated the majority of the other decorations. Outdoor lights are an absolute no. I hated untangling them, making sure they worked, putting them up in the cold, taking them down in the cold, & trying to put them away so they wouldn’t tangle next year. I like the tree, the other stuff was just a pain. So I don’t do it. However, Halloween is an all out – decorations in every room, my socks glow in the dark, taking the day off so I can get ready for trick-or-treaters – extravaganza. That is what makes me happy, so I have eliminated other things & made space in my life for it.

Is there something that you do just because it has always been done? Consider the why & if it can be changed, shortened, or eliminated.

When it comes to physical possessions, we can eliminate things before they ever become possessions or habits, if we are mindful of why we are considering purchasing something. By doing so, we are allowed the opportunity to Not have to remove it from our lives later. This is the first step toward minimalizing. Do I need that onion chopper gadget thingy? No, I have a knife. Do I need dishes for every season? No, I have a basic, general set that I love. Do I need a dozen different coats? No, I only ever wear one or two anyway. This does not mean I have no frivolous things in my house. I have coffee cups for every season – a whole set. Too many? Oh yeah, but I am working on determining which ones are truly important to me & slowly removing the others. Which is where we cross into minimalism.

Minimalism is reducing the physical stuff in our life. The average American home in 1950 was 938 sq ft. It is 2349 sq ft today. It is in our nature to fill the spaces we have. More space = more things. More things to clean, to put away, to manage, to misplace.

When we are overrun with things, we spend all of our time taking care of them. I did a count the other day. Even after everything we have purged, we still have something like 80 pieces of furniture (I lost count at the end). 80! That is tables, chairs, lamps, beds, dressers. Let me remind you that there are two of us. I could sit in a different chair / cushion every day for 3 weeks. When we aren’t managing our items, we are trying to find them. I own three pairs of sunglasses and can barely find one at any given time.

Minimalism is the movement against more. This is where, after I have decided to not add more activities or things to my life (simplifying), I get to pare down what I already have. I am reducing the number of Everything. Clothing, accessories, dishes, furniture, heavy equipment hobbies, everything. And it has been amazing.

I haven’t gone clothes shopping in over a year. No one has pulled me aside to tell me I look like a shabby bum yet, so I figure I am still doing ok. When something wears out – I get rid of it. I am evaluating what clothes I actually wear. As of Dec 21, I get to see what I haven’t worn in 6 months & get rid of it.

To help mitigate the occasional panic, I have learned a few tricks. 1) No books. I can’t do it. I just cannot let them go. I freak out every time I do. If I actually decide a book is purge worthy, I follow trick 2) Put the items to be purged in a box in a corner. If I haven’t gone looking for the items in the box in 6 months, out they go. 3) Stay alert! It is easy to start accumulating or stop purging or both. Go through the exercises every so often. Grab an empty box & do a quick run through the house. Do it again the next day, the next week, and the next month. Pause, then repeat in another month or two.

My definitions of simplicity and minimalism aren’t the end all of all. One of my favorite bloggers, Courtney Carver at Be More With Less has a different take here. The important thing is that it works for you – or it won’t work at all.

Here are some of my favorite inspiration blogs, people who helped me find my way onto the path of less. Enjoy!
Be More With Less
Becoming Minimalist
Rowdy Kittens


  1. Books we are a family of 4 who are in the midst of similar actions. We live in a 1100 sq ft condo (down from 3000 sq ft house). We have simplified and minimalized. While still a work in progress, we are happier. What we did to organized our books (we love them). Instead of saying to get rid of them we have other piles: one to return to bookstore (buy back to support the habit), ones that other kids to enjoy who cannot access (children' s book bank), ones to trade with other people. Absolute keeper (criteria for that). The agreement is only way books can come in our home:: library, gift, exchanged or purchased with buy back credits (it is on the store card). So far it is working for us. Using the words "get rid of" May be what is hindering. But people need to do things as they are ready to do it!

    1. Jesse.. I love your system. And that you have done what we are trying to do (move into a home approx half or less of our current size). You are inspiring.
      Also, thank you for your insight in regard to wording! I really think you are on to something when you note the phrasing. Words have such power & "get rid of" has a strong negative vibe. Perhaps I should phrase it as "pass forward" or "trade for something different."