On the surface, minimalism seems like an ascetic lifestyle. One mistakenly imagines that minimalists are the type to live out in the desert with a jug of water and a packet of crackers with nature to entertain them. This version of minimalism is a rather extreme version. However, that is not to say that the ascetic is not experiencing his version of freedom.
Rather, minimalism is best described as letting go of the unessential. For the sake of argument, if you are a painter and spend all your time on your art, the items that are essential to you are your brushes, paints, canvases, and other items that aid you in your pursuits. Unessential to you are newspaper and magazine subscriptions, season tickets, and a McMansion.
For most of us, getting to that essence of who we are is the most difficult part of putting minimalism into practice. Who are you? What do you value? What core items help you be the best representation of your ideal self?
Having said that, some folks are fine with the sports car, fancy clothes, shallow relationships, and bleeding bank account. To them, that is the essence of who they are and are content with that. They are willing to forego other things for the sake of keeping up an image.
For other people, the essential is time freedom, financial freedom, or freedom from all responsibility. You will notice, that many people live out their values and are consequently forced by circumstances to essentially live their lifestyle.
Those who value not working hard get small returns. Those who do not value self improvement, do not increase their earnings. Those who value not working tend not to work. Travelers are hindered by possessions that have to be schlepped.
In short, we have a tendency to live our values. The trouble is when we do not truly understand our values and spread ourselves out over inherited or assumed values that do not coincide with our own personal essence.
And so, minimalism is about figuring out who you truly are and where you are headed in life so that you can cut out everything that hinders you in being your true self. This is the hardest thing to do for many of us because we have been told what we should do and what we should value.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
There is some truth to Socrates’s words that the unexamined life is not worth living. If you have not questioned who you are, what your values are, and who you are at the core, then you are not living your life. Instead, you are living up to the expectations of others who may not give a toss what you want.
So, to me, minimalism is the paring away of social expectations. It is a laser focus on what will bring you the most happiness with the least effort. It is the letting go of anything that does not add lasting value to who you are and where you are headed. Minimalism equals freedom; because, when you are at your essence, you are free.