The more I waste my time on Facebook, the more I realize my lifestyle is…counter-cultural? I never realized I was such a rebel. But I see pictures of houses from decorating groups I’m in, and think about how busy those feel. I see people asking for recipes they can start in the slow cooker for all those nights they’re out of the house. I see people asking how to organize a pile of things – and no, they don’t want to get rid of it, thankyouverymuch, just tell them the best solution to store it all! I feel bad for them, honestly. It seems like they spend a lot of time being stressed out about these things. I just choose not to worry about any of it – I’m very deliberate about what I do and don’t allow in my life. I’m a big fan of practicing both simple living and minimalism, but it occurred to me that not everyone is aware of them, or what the difference is.
Simple Living Versus Minimalism
Minimalism is one of the biggest buzzwords lately, and simple living seems to be following right behind it. But what distinguishes the two? Is it possible to both live simply and be a minimalist? Can you choose a simple life without being a minimalist? Can you be a minimalist without a simple lifestyle?
Minimalism is a lifestyle defined by stuff. How much you do or don’t have. Where you put it. Do you have – gasp! – extra spoons and forks, or does everyone in your household own a single spork to eat with?
Simple living is a lifestyle defined by stuffing – as in, how much are you stuffing into your days. Do you rarely eat dinner at home because your life is filled with Scouts, PTA, sports, band concerts, and other activities? Or are you awesome at telling everyone “no” about activities?
Quality Versus Quantity
Essentially, as I see it, minimalism is about quantity – how many things do you own? Are you getting rid of more things? Do you want to live in a tiny house or RV? Does everything you own spark joy?
Minimalism may look like Project 333 or capsule wardrobes, the “100 things” challenge, being able to fit all your belongings in a backpack.
Simple living is about quality. Do the things you allow into your life bring you fulfillment? Do you have enough time to adequately recover from one activity before you get into another? Can you remember the items on your schedule?
Simple living focuses on slowing down, living consciously, managing your time wisely.
The nice thing is, there can be a co-existence between minimalism and simple living. It’s possible to maintain a lower quantity of items in your life – in fact, it can help make room for a higher quality of what remains. It seems a step for many minimalists is to give up fast fashion in their wardrobes and find more sustainable brands, of a higher quality that will last longer. You can apply that philosophy to many things in your life, when you let minimalism and simple living co-exist.
When Minimalism or Simple Living is Unhealthy
There can be unhealthy extremes for both of these. Unhealthy minimalism looks like my initial introduction to the concept – an article I read that talked about how this guy was pursuing this “minimalism” thing, owned less than a hundred items, could fit everything he owned in a backpack, and was still trying to reduce his belongings. I remember coming across it via StumbleUpon when I was
wasting time taking a break from studying in college and thinking, “Ewww, no, that’s crazy. I could never live that way.” In a Facebook group I was in for minimalist moms, there were people who would brag about the fact that their children owned three toys or something depressing like that. That’s unhealthy minimalism.
Unhealthy simple living isn’t as bad, but it can look like saying no to too many things. Allow experiences that will enrich your life. Don’t turn down a random playdate with a friend because it’s a Thursday, and Thursday is the day you go to the library, and you didn’t schedule it three weeks in advance. Don’t turn down a great opportunity because your worldview is too narrow.
Explaining Your Lifestyle Choices
First, let me get something straight – your life is your own, and you owe explanations about the choices you make to absolutely no one.
That being said, inevitably, discussions may come up about how we live our lives. Maybe a friend is complaining about her busy schedule, and you want to talk to her about the deliberate choices you make with simple living and how that’s positively impacted your life. Maybe she’s talking about how her kids have too many toys, so you want to mention how decluttering helps your home.
It’s become socially acceptable to be a minimalist, now more than ever before. Marie Kondo has brought it mainstream. It’s a little harder to explain the concept of simple living. There’s not a nice, neat, term for it. A lot of people use terms like “slow living” or “deliberate living.”
Remember that our society (particularly in the Western world) is not conditioned for slow living. We’re taught to move fast. We’re taught to achieve (and it’s erroneously believed that a fast-paced lifestyle is the only way to do that). We push, push, push, all the time. We push our children to achieve early – get good grades! Participate in extracurricular activities! Earn awards! We push adults to succeed as quickly as possible – get that degree! Get that promotion! Wow, that person is only 23 years old and making $5 million a year, why can’t you do that?
When we make the decision to live slower, simpler lives, we’re being counter-cultural. You’re likely going against everything society has taught you, ingrained in you, for your entire life. It’s a hard concept for people to grasp. So when it comes up, I like to explain it as being very deliberate about guarding my time, my mental energy, and my life, and careful about what I allow into it. Everyone will have a different explanation because everyone has a different reason for pursuing it.
Simple living and minimalism can co-exist beautifully together. They’re both perfectly fine on their own as well. If you want to lead a slower, deliberate life while tripping over mounds of stuff, go for it. If you want to be able to itemize your belongings while you wait for your child to be done with band practice, and swim team, and Scouts, okay. But simple living and minimalism are like peanut butter and jelly – great on their own, but excellent together.
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