In an increasingly materialistic society, I find more joy in owning less. I believe less is more. I believe that simplicity and clarity is best for the mind.

The ordinary person would describe me as a minimalist. I inadvertently adopted a minimalist lifestyle as a result of a personal motto of living a simple life, long before it became hip or cool to be a minimalist.

I'm not one of those extreme minimalists, who could fit every single item they own into a suitcase (I'd probably need 2 suitcases). Neither am I one of those minimalists who has to count how many items they own to determine whether or not they are genuinely a minimalist - who cares?

Although I probably do own less than 100 items (I've never counted and don't intend to). 100 items is a very arbitrary measure and shouldn't be the yardstick used to determine whether or not someone is a minimalist.

Minimalism should be defined by the individual. I personally define minimalism as owning the minimum amount of stuff, to achieve the optimal level of long-term happiness or satisfaction (utility to an economist). Meaning I try not to have more than I need.

This does not mean I avoid luxuries, far from it. By having fewer items, I concentrate on things that add value to my life - items giving me the most joy to maximise my long-term happiness.

The Economists View on Minimalism

I have graphically illustrated what I mean by "I aim to own the minimal amount of stuff possible to maximise my long-term happiness".

The graph below is my utility curve, which models my long-term happiness based on the number of stuff I own.

Each new item I own up until point A gives me considerably higher utility. These will be the basics necessities of life. Essential clothing, shoes, a toothbrush etc.

Between point A and B, I acquire a lot more things, with little increase in my long-term happiness. This is the law of diminishing returns. The effect on my happiness of having more stuff is disproportionate to the number of stuff I need to own, to maintain the same level of happiness. Acquiring large quantities of stuff only results with a marginal increase in my long-term satisfaction. These items could be for example; a smartphone, my Rubik's cube, kindle etc. They only add a little bit more happiness to my life.

In saying this, Point B is where I generally aim to be. It's my utility maximising point, where my long-term happiness is maximised. It's the point where the amount of things I own adds the most value and joy to my life.

Most hardcore minimalists aim to be around closer to the red circle. I have no problem with this because their utility curve may be maximised at this point. The utility curve for each individual will be unique, and some may generally be happiest around the red circle (i.e. only owning a handful of items).

Others' utility maximising point could also be at point C, which again wouldn't be unreasonable.

Past point B and leading towards point C, having more stuff, actually leads to lower levels of happiness for me.  This is the point where I continue to add luxuries into my life. The 5th pair of trainers, an iPad Pro, an expensive computer etc. They may increase my utility in the short term, but over the longer term, they won't add much happiness to my life. My kindle doesn't add anywhere near as much long-term happiness to me as essential clothing and necessities.

More stuff then begins to stress me out. I need to remember to charge my phone, find a place for each of my items, more items that need to be maintained, tidied and put away, more clothes to wash and iron etc. You can quickly see how more items can lead to more (often unnecessary) stress in our already stressful lives.

Having less means less worry as purchasing an item usually introduces 3 or 4 new things for you to worry about. For example, buying a new car means you'll need to worry about fuel, insurance, parking and maintenance.

7 Benefits of Adopting a Minimalist Lifestyle

Here are the 7 key benefits that I have identified from adopting a minimalist lifestyle. They've worked well for me, and they may just work well for you too.

  1. Keeps things simple, tidy and organised - I can account for every single item I own. Having less also makes it easier to keep my environment tidy. I rarely ever have to look for things - it's difficult to lose things around the home when you don't have much to lose in the first place.
  2. Saves time - I also save a lot of time. For example, I don't have to worry about selecting the ideal outfit when the only choice I have is between a few pairs of trousers or shirts of very similar styles.
  3. Saves money - along with saving time, it also saves you money. I only purchase items which genuinely bring me joy. I'd much rather be spending my money on experiences as the memories give me higher long-term happiness.
  4. It makes me happier - having a clear environment and not having to worry about materialistic items clears my head, mind and gives the freedom to concentrate on what's essential.
  5. Freedom - I feel free from the consumerist culture prevalent in modern western society. I don't feel the need to follow the latest trend in owning the new must-have item.
  6. Gratitude - it makes me grateful and appreciative for the little I have, realising that I don't need that many things to live a happy and fulfilling life. Everything I own serves a purpose and gives me joy. Once it stops serving a purpose or giving me joy, I'll give it to someone else so they can get some joy from the item. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
  7. Focus - it helps me to focus my thoughts and attention on what's truly important to me, instead of material items. I can appreciate each item I own more and realise the joy or value they bring to my life better.

Is Minimalism for Everyone?

I would say no, for the simple reason that everyone is different. What works for me won't necessarily work for you. I think it's stupid that hardcore minimalists live in an apartment and own at most a handful of items. One such minimalist doesn't even own a bed!

I have no interest in being one of those minimalist with less than X number of items. This shouldn't be what minimalism is about. Not to me anyway. It shouldn't be about owning less than an arbitrary number of items. Instead, it should be about having the right amount of items required for you to live a happy, joyful and purposeful life.

Once we realise how little we need, we can all benefit from scaling back on our material possessions. Adopting some aspects of a minimalist lifestyle and focusing our attention on what is truly important to us, is something we should all do.


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