Maximize Your Minimalism

Fall visit to a local farm.

To minimize or not to minimize? That’s not really the question. The crux lies in why you’re minimizing.

Like frugality, simple living, or values-based spending, minimalism must be viewed as a tool in order to be effective. Owning less stuff is hardly a worthy life direction. Getting rid of clutter cannot make your life meaningful. Meaning makes life meaningful.

Meaning means you’re doing something significant on this planet. Something worthwhile. It means having a purpose. But figuring out your purpose is whole lot harder than cleaning out your closet, and I suspect this is why many more articles are written on the latter.

I won’t pretend I can tell you what your purpose should be, though you can check out some overarching principles in the post “How to Pursue Happiness” (hint: pursue purpose instead). I will share that our purpose is very much related to living out our Christian faith. This means we value involvement in our church, hospitality, and poverty relief.

Let me illustrate how your purpose might shape how you practice minimalism. If you want to be a minimalist so you can be generous, maybe you won’t be the type of minimalist who spends $300 on the perfect bag to end all bags. You’ll keep your three bags, while spending minimally in order to help the poor.

If you are the type of minimalist who has downsized forever, you probably need to buy that $300 bag because you don’t have room for three bags. And you’ll save much more than $300 by downsizing.

But if you’re the minimalist who highly values hospitality, you may not downsize. And you’ll keep more furniture and more toys or kitchen appliances or linens. But you’ll avoid adding unneeded stuff to make room for more people.

If you’re the minimalist who loves to DIY, you’ll have more tools. If you’re the minimalist with lots of kids, you’ll have more stuff than the minimalist without a large family. Okay, enough examples?

It’s been said plenty of times that minimalism looks different for everyone. But it doesn’t look different randomly. It should be different for a purpose. Linking your choices to your bigger picture will free you to own your choices about what to own and spend.

I largely curtailed recreational shopping when I read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger at age 18. Suddenly browsing clearance racks at the mall for clothes I didn’t need seemed absurd. Helping people in poverty became part of my purpose, which changed my spending and owning habits forever. I’m certainly not the most generous person, but having a deeper motivation helped me change my consumption habits for the long haul.

Once you determine that purpose, start asking if the things in your home fit that purpose. I don’t care whether my possessions bring me joy. I don’t think the point of possessions is to evoke emotions. They are there to serve my purposes. My kitchen’s contents allow me to produce many healthy, homemade meals each week. They also help me to host and feed many guests throughout the week. My dishes hardly enrapture me, but they sure are useful.

I can tell you one possession that does not give me joy: the giant Rubbermaid tub of hand-me-down Legos. There’s stepping on Legos. Seeing my basement covered in Legos. Telling kids to clean up the Legos. Helping the kids clean up the Legos. But I could never get rid of the Legos. They’ve helped make our house a place where kids want to come. They’ve served as a way for me to bond with my son. And they foster my kids’ creativity and development. They may be annoying, but those little pieces of plastic serve my purposes so well.

The framework of purpose helps us use minimalism as a tool for a greater good, rather than falling into materialistic minimalism. After all, it is purpose, not possessions, that truly brings us joy.

How has your purpose influenced your consumption choices?

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19 Responses to “Maximize Your Minimalism”

  1. Tonya says :

    I think minimalism is what you make of it. It’s very person, as I’m sure your faith is to you. It’s not “if you get ride of 9%% of your belongings you’re officially a minimalist.” For me, owning less stuff just feels like a breath of fresh air. I’ve always hated clutter and things sitting around with no purpose.

    • Kalie says :

      “Minimalism is what you make of it” is a good summary. I agree that clutter simply bothers me–I feel like I can’t concentrate with too much of it lying around.

  2. Emily says :

    I love that you’re emphasizing the purpose behind the desire to live on less. This lifestyle would mean very little if it was only on the surface. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was very transformative for us too. That book is part of how Josh and I began our journey two and half years ago…and ironically, it actually involved moving to a larger house to practice hospitality like you mentioned. There’s no one-size-fits-all (even though tiny houses are cool!) I’m realizing that what’s radical to one person may just be normal life to another. And that’s okay!

    • Kalie says :

      Glad to hear that book impacted you as well. Great example about your home–it sounds like you’ve put your home to great use.

  3. Our Next Life says :

    What a great articulation of the link between purpose and the stuff we own! We’ve said before that we don’t wish to downsize dramatically (though might downsize a little!) because hosting people is hugely important to us. And we won’t ever get rid of all of our outdoor gear because that stuff allows us to do all the activities we love most. But clothes, non-athletic shoes, fancy gadgets? That stuff we definitely don’t need, and we don’t spend on it. Even the stuff for hosting and the outdoor gear isn’t stuff that needs continual investment — my dishes will last forever! As you said, once you realize your purpose, the normal consumerist tendencies feel ridiculous! But buying less just to feel superior in some way isn’t a purpose at all.

    • Kalie says :

      It sounds you’ve thought through your purposes and possessions very clearly, and it’s helped you draw the line for what’s “enough.” That’s wonderful–and it’s nice that those items will continue to serve you for a long time. I’m not sure if my dishes will last forever because I’m such a klutz! But most have made it for 10 years, so hopefully I can keep them intact for another 10!

  4. Amanda says :

    Purpose is huge! Whether your talking about finances, minimalism, or time, when you know what your purpose is, you can align your decisions based on your purpose.

    It’s a great way to look at your possessions. I do think my “things” line up pretty well with my purpose. I rarely buy clothes, decorations, bags, etc. I do tend to buy more lumber, paint, and gardening tools, as well as online courses. I may buy too many courses. There’s always room for improvement…

    • Kalie says :

      Great point–this principle applies in many other areas. That’s interesting about the online courses–valuing improvement seems like a very worthy purpose!

  5. kim domingue says :

    My purpose, when I began my journey into a more minimalist lifestyle, WAS simply to declutter. Hurricanes Katrina and Lily had devastated our area. As I was going through my house to collect things to send to those who had lost everything, it hit me…… I was drowning in stuff. I’m not well off and I don’t have a fancy house with expensive stuff by any stretch of the imagination. But the sheer amount of stuff we’d accumulated over three decades was overwhelming. It felt almost obscene.

    But, as I continued to declutter, I discovered other purposes. Less clutter, less upkeep. Less upkeep, less stress. Less stress, more joy. More joy, happier life! Happier life leads to discovering or rediscovering passions. Hosting game nights, sewing and quilting, costume design, experiments in cooking, writing, traveling, drawing and painting and so much more.

    My purpose for decluttering? So there is room in my life for people and passions!

    • Kalie says :

      Thank you for sharing your story and bringing up a great point–I absolutely agree that decluttering can help you discover your purpose and passions. Especially when we’re not sure what those are anymore. Once those are in view they continue to inform our consumer choices. I’m so glad you rediscovered those and made room for them!

  6. Michelle says :

    Now that we live in an RV, we have WAY less stuff than we used to due to lack of space and the fact that there are very strict weight limits in these things. I like that I am kind of forced to live minimally because I can use that as an excuse for not buying anything 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      I think the forced limitation would be a great way to declutter and minimize. And it totally fits your purpose of staying mobile, seeing the country, and staying debt-free!

  7. rebelwithaplan says :

    This article goes really well with Break The Twitch’s YouTube video on what to do after decluttering. You’re absolutely right that minimalism is about purpose and not just possessions. I’m a big DIY kind of person!

    • Kalie says :

      I’ll check out that video–thanks for the recommendation.

      I think we’d own way less stuff we didn’t DIY, but we’d end up spending way more!

  8. DC YAM says :

    “Once you determine that purpose, start asking if the things in your home fit that purpose.” Oh I like this! I think minimalism, like personal finances, typically is presented as a one-size-fits all approach. It’s like tiny houses. For a family of six with two pets, it simply won’t work. But it doesn’t mean you have to go to the other extreme, either. Love this post!

    • Kalie says :

      You’re so right that it’s not a one-size-fits all approach. I think sometimes people, in their excitement about the benefits of a certain way of living, forget to convey how differently it may look for everyone. It’s okay to pick and choose what practically works for your family’s purposes.

  9. Penny She Picks Up Pennies says :

    I’m not a minimalist by any stretch. But I’m working so hard on trying to declutter. The process of having to get rid of so much stuff has been so eye opening to me. The idea of having to think about getting rid of my stuff makes me not want to buy anything I truly don’t need!

    • Kalie says :

      I agree–finally dealing with the excess really makes you think twice before making more purchases. Good luck decluttering!

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