Sam Holstein

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Minimalism is More Than a Trend. It’s a Path to Personal & Social Transformation.

Many people view minimalism as a trend or a lifestyle, followed by an odd minority interested in minimalistic interior design or nomadic lifestyles. The mainstream view of minimalism is as an aesthetic, not a philosophy. Some may also view it as an impractical or unachievable goal, particularly in a society where consumerism and accumulating material possessions are highly valued.

But this view is misguided. Minimalism is not a trend. It’s a powerful personal philosophy — one that has the power to transform our culture.

At its core, minimalism is about identifying what supports you in your life and cutting out anything that does not. This process of simplifying and streamlining leads to a greater sense of clarity and purpose and improved mental and emotional well-being. By focusing on the things that truly matter and letting go of extraneous distractions, minimalism allows you to better align your actions with your values and goals, giving you a more fulfilling life.

This philosophy has the added benefit of making your life easier. Minimalism can free up time and resources for more important pursuits by eliminating excess possessions and financial burdens. People who adopt minimalism often have more time and money on their hands after the switch, a benefit nobody complains about.

Minimalism can be so powerful precisely because it cuts at the core of something that’s deeply wrong in developed nations — consumerism. Consumerism of the kind that reigns supreme over the free world, run by large corporations and entities known as “shareholders,” has warped aspects of life that remained unchanged since civilization’s dawn. Now we can talk to people across the globe, max our brain out on dopamine-inducing repetitive digital activities, and DoorDash some McDonalds to our apartment while we do it.

Minimalism encourages people to see through this system. It encourages us to stop, mindfully consider what we want, and say no to anything that isn’t it. Shareholders win when we say yes, yes, yes, but we win when we say: no, thank you, I have all I need.

None of this has anything to do with how many books are on your bookshelf, the square footage of your home, or any other minimalist aesthetic. I poke at those examples in my writing about minimalism because they’re handy examples of things weighing many people down, but if you benefit from having a large home, then by all means, own a large home. There’s enough land on the planet for all of us. Minimalism isn’t about having a small home or space-compact gadgets. It’s about saying no to a culture that always demands more.

While minimalism isn’t about denying yourself pleasure for denial’s sake, it often does involve saying goodbye to things you like. Once upon a time, I used to enjoy shopping for clothes at the mall. But I noticed how even though I liked doing it, I didn’t like watching my credit card debt go up, I didn’t like feeling like I had to have the latest fashion to leave my house, and I didn’t like contributing to the environmental and social destruction. Even though it felt good, it wasn’t supporting me or the world. It was only supporting fast-fashion corporate shareholders. So I decided I didn’t like shopping anymore, even though I still kinda did, and I stopped going.

When you say goodbye to things that don’t support you, you reap the rewards quickly. It only took a few months for my adopted opinion to feel natural. Now when I’m forced to venture near malls, I feel queasy. Emotions tend to conform to behavior over time, so when trying to change your preferences this way, the best strategy is fake it ‘till you make it.

Some may say this isn’t authentic. That I’m suppressing what I find pleasurable. But humans are capable of finding a wide range of things pleasurable, including heavily destructive things like opiate addiction and narcissistic abuse. When deciding what supports you in life, merely deriving pleasure from something isn’t enough for it to make the cut.

And, ultimately, I get more pleasure in the end from things that do support me. One of my favorite hobbies now is hiking, not shopping. Since making this switch, I’m in a more robust physical condition, my mental health is doing great thanks to all the sunlight, and I have more money to travel to hiking destinations. In the end, I’m happier without shopping in my life, even though I like shopping. Trust me; I am authentically happy about that.

There are some choices I’ve made in life that I don’t recommend for everyone. I voluntarily live off-and-on in a cargo van from the late two thousands, a choice I recommend to virtually no one. But I firmly do recommend minimalism for everyone. I think most people living in developed nations, especially America, would experience an immediate jump in their quality of life in the next month if they became minimalists tomorrow. This, to me, is almost as obvious as the color of the sky, yet it strikes nearly everyone I’ve ever interacted with as bizarre and unworkable.

What strikes me as bizarre and unworkable is how things have been going on. Fifty percent of Americans are on psychotropic medication. Fifty percent. I don’t think fifty percent of Americans have a genetic unavoidable predisposition to mental health challenges, I think fifty percent of Americans are so thoroughly alienated from themselves and what they like that they don’t even know which way is up anymore. And I think the rat race, the pressure to earn more and be more to buy more, to live up to the hundreds of social media photos you see every day, to want what you’re supposed to want and have what you’re supposed to have, is what’s doing this to us. The pressure is crushing. We even have a word for what it’s called when the pressure grinds us into dust. Burnout. When that happens, we take a two-week vacation and start again on Monday.

The way American work culture has functioned for the last 100 years is what’s insensible. But you don’t need to wait for social justice activists to overthrow the system. You can overthrow it for yourself, starting today, by literally throwing it out of your home.

Minimalism is an increasingly unusual choice as American culture descends further into consumerism, but unusual does not mean insensible. Following the herd is no way to develop a personal philosophy. Decide what’s sensible for yourself. Data supports the conclusion that minimalism is good for mental health and well-being.

If you don’t trust the data, you can experiment with it for yourself. Try one small minimalist modification in any area of your life, and see how you feel after two weeks. If you don’t feel better after you’ve done it, don’t pursue it any further. No harm done.

And if you do feel better? Well, it would hardly be surprising.