An edited life
Originally published in Marie Claire South Africa
Mention ‘minimalism’ and most people’s first thought is of a sleek, Scandi-inspired living space, or some Pinterest image of a vintage clothing rail offering a dizzying choice of three identical white shirts and one shift dress.
Yes, minimalism can encapsulate decor and fashion, but as a concept it goes far deeper than aesthetics. At its heart, minimalism is about prioritising. It’s not a process of stripping away for the sake of stripping away, but about removing the extraneous in order to create space (literally and figuratively) for those things you really want in your life.
‘Minimalism is intentionality,’ says Joshua Becker, the founder of Becomingminimalist.com and the author of several books on the topic, including The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. ‘It is marked by clarity [and] purpose. Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from [those things]. As a result, it forces improvements in almost all aspects of your life.’
So, ironically, minimalism is about having more, not less: more time, more space, more money, more travel, more friends over for dinner – in short, more of whatever brings meaning into your life. And therein lies the other important aspect about minimalism: it’s about you. While certain tenets (owning less stuff, for example) are universal, the end result of minimalism looks different for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all minimalist living space, no prescription for what you should do with your resources once you’ve jettisoned all the physical and emotional ballast. You get to decide what living your best life looks like, which is what the philosophy is all about.
Minimalism is about consciously building a life with only those things you love and need, and letting go of everything that no longer serves you. It can be a deeply personal process, as only you know how to apply the idea of living with less to your own context in a way that works for you. Living minimally is not about deprivation but rather freedom, happiness and, ultimately, creativity, as a simplified life gives your inner creative the time and space to really flourish. The most liberating aspect of minimalism is that you can apply the philosophy of quality over quantity to social commitments, friendships, tech habits, goals and even your thoughts.
‘A place for everything, and everything in its place’ may sound like the mantra of a Stepford wife, but you wouldn’t scoff at it when you’re running 15 minutes late and can’t find your keys. Minimalists don’t waste time looking for things, and aren’t slaves to their environment. For instance, there should be a word for that specific irritation you feel when you’re vacuuming a room and have to stop every 30 seconds to move something. Less stuff means fewer hours spent cleaning, dusting, shifting, washing, folding and organising, and more time actually enjoying your home. There’s a reason galleries are generally quite spare spaces; it puts the focus squarely on the art. The same goes for a minimalist home. A decluttered aesthetic lends weight to everything that is there, allowing your taste or passions to shine through. Minimalists never suffer from CHAOS, AKA, Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. If your secret dream is to entertain more, start by curating a home that doesn’t make you cringe when someone drops by unexpectedly.
One way to embrace minimalism is to avoid buying into the ‘storage myth’ – an expensive fix for a problem that started with our being too good at buying things in the first place. Stop worshipping at the altar of storage ‘solutions’. By carefully squirrelling away your stuff, you easily forget about the things you have. You may end up buying duplicates, or never using or getting any joy from an item. No matter how neat your storage, you’re still just rearranging excess stuff rather than simplifying your possessions.
‘When I downsized to a smaller living space, I moved the things I didn’t immediately need but felt I couldn’t part with into a storage facility,’ says Taylor Roberts, a Cape Town writer. ‘A year and a half later, I emptied it, and ended up donating or selling everything that was in there. I didn’t miss or need any of it, but sacrificed nearly R1 000 a month for 18 months, just holding on to it all. I could have gone on holiday with that money.’
Minimalism can extend to your wardrobe too. Stick to high-quality, co-ordinating basics. When you limit what you wear to only those items that you feel comfortable and confident in, getting dressed becomes an exercise in self-love. It also saves you money: capsule dressing – like minimalism in general – is intended to break the cycle of mindless consumerism. Quality over quantity means you know what you have, you actually wear everything in your closet, and you’re less likely to crave that short-term dopamine hit of handing over your credit card in exchange for something new. It also makes it easier to pinpoint your personal style, which means you’re unlikely to fork out for an outfit that you decide you hate a week later, and never wear again. A minimalist’s closet has breathing room, allowing you to ‘page through’ clothes easily – no more standing in front of your clothes complaining that you have ‘nothing to wear’. Decision fatigue is a real thing; having a limited number of options makes getting dressed every morning much, much easier. Plus, fewer clothes result in less laundry.
Caroline Rector has been dressing with less since 2014, and helps others to do the same through her blog, Un-Fancy.com. She advises readers to pare down their wardrobe to 37 items. She’s talking strictly clothes and shoes here – your 37 items don’t have to include jewellery, workout-wear, accessories, handbags, swimsuits, pyjamas, items you wear when lounging around the house, or underwear. (Of course, less is more with these items too.) ‘It’s not about getting obsessed with a number though,’ says Caroline. ‘If 37 isn’t your thing, then find a number that’s right for you.’
If, during the sorting stage, you come across something that you love but it doesn’t fit into the season you’re dressing for, like a Melton coat in summer, store it for a future capsule. The same goes for something that’s on your ‘maybe’ pile but you can’t part with. Box it up and revisit it in three months. If it doesn’t go into your next capsule, say goodbye. Wear only those 37 items for three months (a season). Don’t go shopping again until the final two weeks of the three months, during which you’re allowed to plan your next capsule and shop for anything you need that’s missing.
How to declutter
There is no shortcut: before you can start your minimalist journey, you have to declutter. We drank the KonMari Kool-Aid on this one and found that it actually works.
- Declutter in the following order: clothes, books, papers, komono (basically miscellaneous items that don’t t into the other categories, from your stapler to your garden hose) and 2sentimental items.
- Sort one category at a time. Gather every item in the category you’re working on from every room in the house and make a big pile. Don’t cheat and go room by room; you need to be confronted with how much stuff you have.
- Hold each item in your hands and engage with it emotionally. Does it spark any feelings of joy? Yes? Keep it. No? Thank it for its service (we’re not kidding) then toss or donate it. Keep your focus on the items you’re keeping, and the life they’re helping you build, rather than on the things you are discarding.
- Find a place for everything you’ve decided to keep, and make sure each item returns to its home after you use it.
INSPIRATION IS A CLICK AWAY
‘Simple is the new black’, according to devotees of this website. Project 333 is a community of capsule dressers living in 33 items each for three months at a time.
Jessica Rose Williams
British lifestyle and travel blogger Jessica knows all about the pros of living with less. Her home is an homage to minimalism, and her carry-on capsules alone are worth the click.
Lee Vosburgh popularised the 10x10 challenge – wearing 10 items for 10 days. She’s big on using capsule dressing to encourage her readers to shop with careful consideration. Stylebee.ca