Can Minimalism be Measured?

Just yesterday I read a post by Charley, writer of the blog ‘You, Simplified’ and he made a very interesting statement:

There’s a fair amount of talk in Minimalist circles about the prospect of Living with 100 Items

Some want to live more consciously, some want to escape the stranglehold of consumerism, some want to lighten their footprint, some want to live out of a bag and travel the world, some want to break their attachment with anything considered materialistic (and there is a whole spectrum that measures the magnitude of this).  All are worthy, and I won’t dare judge or question anyone’s motives.

What I want to be careful of is that it doesn’t become the litmus test of whether one is a minimalist or not.

Let me first say that I really admire the people who manage to live with 100 things or less, especially if they’re married/have children etc. which no doubt makes it a bit more difficult to do so. I also really admire the people who are minimalistic in the way they act – they are mindful all (or most) of the time – and constantly practice awareness and focus.

But I would be saddened if these things do become litmus tests for whether or not one is a minimalist. Of course it’s possible for everyone to get rid of stuff until they have 100 things, or force themselves to slow down and be mindful all the time, but the simple truth is that it would be so difficult for some that it would distract them from the things they really want.

Right now I am trying to earn a degree – I want to have fewer things so that I can focus but I still need to use paper, stationary, books, utensils and clothes. I want to slow down and take my time but I’m being bombarded with work and doing so will almost certainly cause me to fall behind.

I may sound like I am trying to make excuses, but I am just being honest. The line between ideal minimalism and practicality is different for everyone. However, I still don’t buy nearly as much as other people, and I try to slow down and focus whenever I can or need to. In other words, I try my best.

I think what I’m trying to say is that there is a time and a place for minimalism; where, when and to what degree it applies to every person is arbitrary, and I don’t think it can be measured with numbers like ‘100’.

I think of minimalism as a lifestyle that you adopt because it makes your life easier, not so that you can spend your time constantly obsessing over it. It would be a shame if ‘minimalism’ was defined by how many things you don’t own instead of how may things you’ve achieved because of it.

Justin, hit the nail on the head when he made a comment on my last post:

In my opinion, the value of minimalism is dependent upon the context of the individual. For that reason I don’t think the absence of things necessarily constitutes a minimalist way of life; instead, the ability to understand the value of what is and is not important to you and your life will ultimately (hopefully) lead to a more “free” way of life. In other words, I don’t think a minimalist way of life is determine by the absence of “things” or “stuff” – instead, I think it depends on understanding them and their personal value – and then getting rid things that don’t have as much value or purpose.

So perhaps you haven’t managed to get everything down to 100, or even 200. What matters is that you have what is valuable to you, you are not attached to things that are unimportant and you are doing your best for your situation right now.

This summer, I will be going abroad for a year. I have no doubt that my needs will change and I will shift towards more minimalism – which means it’ll be just me, a few clothes, a camera and my laptop. In the mean time though, I am going to play my guitar while I can still carry it and read all of the books that I can stuff onto my shelves.

I’d love to hear what minimalism means to you, if it can be measured or what you think about the ‘100 things’ challenge. Leave a comment below!

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  • Thanks for the mention and, more importantly, for furthering the conversation. I think we can agree that minimalism is a personal journey. It’s also a label and, for lack of a better term, a Tribe. Once you elect to be part of the tribe, I think you’re in. You’ve elected to consciously evaluate your life. There’s no rules as to what that evaluation should be except to minimize the unessential. The subjectivity of “unessential” is something that we must each make peace with.

    – Charley

  • nicole 86

    Great post !
    As for me, minimalism is a tool to live a better life. No TV because it’s time consuming but a weely appointment with my hair dresser because I feel great after being pampered.
    Good quality paper and pencils because I enjoy handwriting.
    Nice china because tea tastes better in fine china mugs.
    I wish I has enough money to get rid of ugly useful items and replace them.
    I love books but I use libraries as much as possible.
    I prefer going to a concert to buying the CD
    I like home to be cosy, clean and free of unused stuff. Stuff is nice if it makes my life more comfortable or my home more welcming to friends.
    All is a matter of choice.
    Whether I am labelled minimalist or not is of no importance, it is my own way to a better life.
    nicole from France

  • Heather

    I find the 100 things challenge fascinating. I think it’s great every once in awhile to assess what you have and think about the whole who, why, what’s and where’s of life. Having said that, minimalism is VERY individual to each path we are on. When I was single and very mobile, it was easy peasy to have around 100 things. I was younger, didn’t need much and I liked it that way. I have now gotten older, married, one small child and my goals and persuits have changed and that has come with a small amount of stuff. Am I a minimalist by the 100 thing challenge? Not by a long shot but I am more minimal compared to the average 3 person home. I think the greatest yardstick is to measure your own comfort level and personal happiness because the rest is really just stuff at the the end of the day. : )

    If you are in competition to be the most minimal than the next person, isn’t that keeping up or not up??? with the Jone’s in reverse?? ; )

    I work in the corporate world and actually LOVE my job. It took me 20 years and 6 years of college to find what I am truly passionate about. I don’t keep up with anyone except my 4 year old and that is exhausting enough. I don’t fit the stereotype of an “excutive” or “corporate” type- whatever that is supposed to be. But my goal was never that. It is just to live and be happy. This was very apparent when I had a BBQ last summer in my very tiny 1200 sq. ft home. I had to rent chairs to have enough seating and most people preferred to throw a beach towel on the ground and enjoy themselves. It was about the food, socializing, enjoying the weather, watching all the kiddos play and the dog stealing hotdogs. Not one person, including my boss who lives in a very large beautiful home, said degrading or bad thing about my home. Most said it was cute and I am very happy with that. I like cute.

    Guess my point is we worry too much about labels instead of living. Live how you feel most comfortable, greet each day with a smile and give lots of hugs. That’s what I try to do. : )

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  • Petar


    Needing less today than what you needed yesterday.

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  • So, as I’ve been slowly wading into Minimalism, something that has been on my mind, and you brought it up.

    How does minimalism effect the second generation?
    (children of minimalists)

    I will continue my slow path steady path down the first few miles of Minimalism, because I love catching every piece of information as it comes to me, and doing enough of that advice to let it sink in. But I can’t help but wonder, how can I force my children to live in a house with less than 100 things? Is that right?

    I’m also wondering if you could lead me to posts by some minimalist parents, that reference their life with children?

    • tsukinon

      I know this is five years old, but I’m curious as to whether you ever got an answer to this. I don’t have children, but I own dogs and I’m a caregiver for my sick mother. Since your issue really seems to be the ethics (or even morality) of letting your desire for minimalism affect the lives of people (or animals) who have no real recourse against your choices, I think that does give me a little insight.

      First, arbitrarily choosing a number of things to own (and 100 is an arbitrary number) and forcing children to live within those confines regardless of their needs and desires isn’t right. In some cases, it’s abusive. Limiting your child’s toys to a certain number is fine. It’s probably even good. (My heeler mix had tons of balls and I eventually found about a dozen or more balls under the love seat. I have less for my lab and he does just fine.). Limiting your child’s clothing? Again, good, although you’re going to have to bear in mind that kids are adults and where a couple of pairs of pants might be more than enough in an adult wardrobe, it’s not going to fly with kids. You need to buy enough clothing to keep them in clean and dry clothing at all times. Bed linens are another example. Except in rare cases, an adult can get by with one set of sheets and two is definitely enough. Kids can wet beds, throw up in beds, and other gross stuff. You’re going to need enough sheets to handle this problem. You’ll definitely need two sets. And so on.

      Then you get to the issue of specialized equipment. Every time my mom is discharged or admitted to the hospital, I get the same question: Do you have any specialized equipment? For instance, wheelchairs, walkers, canes, shower chairs, bedside commodes, and several other things. She doesn’t need *all* of those things, but she does need some of them for her comfort and safety. I plan to ask to get an IV pole for home in case she needs IV fluids again. I know “just in case” isn’t a very minimalist mindset, but sometimes she needs fluids at home to keep her out of the hospital and it’s tricky to improvise a stand-in. Then you get into the realm of “As Seen on TV” products that no one would ever need, except the people who need them. That hands free toothpaste dispenser on TV, for instance? Utterly ridiculous unless you can only use one hand, then it provides more independence. There are a lot of products like that.

      Then there’s the issue of choosing to sacrifice comfort or taking risks. For instance, I live in an area that has pretty mild winters but it does get pretty cold sometimes. Based on this, I can choose not to own a winter coat because it takes up space and decide that in the really cold days, I’ll put up with being a little chilly and having everyone ask where my coat is. (I actually own a winter coat but never seem to have it when I really need it.). Taking a child out when the windchill is below zero without a hat, costl and gloves when you can afford those things is again probably abusive.

      Of course, there are also advantages to minimalism in these situations. For instance, the more things in a house, the more chances of a fall. More open space means more room to maneuver a wheelchair or for EMTs to bring a stretcher in. It would be similar with children, I think. Fewer pieces of furniture means less chance of a child hitting their head on a corner of a table.

      To wrap it up, I think minimalism is great in any circumstance if you’re using minimalism to refer to minimizing consumer behaviors and keeping your possessions down to what you need, use, and love. It’s especially great for kids because you’re not teaching them to mindlessly acquire stuff with no regard to need, which is a lesson a lot of us have had to unlearn. Setting an arbitrary number to define minimalism and forcing everyone in your family to stick to that number regardless of need isn’t okay. So if someone with control over the lives of others chooses a minimalist lifestyle, they need to commit to not assuming that their needs are what everyone else needs and making sure to closely considering the needs of others.

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  • That’s exactly the type of false idea one can have at first: if I want to be a minimalist, I need to pare down to 100 items, etc. It’s good that you spell it out clearly, minimalism isn’t about numbers! I agree!!