Less is More: The Minimalist Movement Can Provide A Cleansing Freedom

In the 1960s, the term ‘minimalism’ was popularized by the contemporary art scene as a response to more expressive art forms – its hallmark being an emphasis on visual order and simplicity.

Today, the term has evolved into a lifestyle philosophy touting the mantra that “less is more” – trending at the top of the New York Times Bestseller lists with Marie Kondo’s books “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy”, podcasts, blogs, and in the Netflix documentary “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.”

Today, the term has evolved into a lifestyle philosophy touting the mantra that “less is — trending at the top of the New York Times Bestseller lists with Marie Kondo’s books “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy,” podcasts, blogs, and in the Netflix documentary “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.”

The definition of minimalism seems to be different for everyone, though, according to Asheville blogger and minimalist, Erin Bowers.

“There are many perceptions of minimalism out there right now… The one that speaks to me the most is the ironically-uncomplicated one-word definition: less. Less material possessions, less clutter, less waste, less stress, and less spending,” she said.

While the minimalist lifestyle movement may seem new to some, the concept has been around for years and has only recently come into the limelight, due in part, to the release of “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,”produced by the duo Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, known as “The Minimalist.”

“The term minimalism has traditionally been used to describe a simplistic modern aesthetic. It has more recently evolved into a description for a lifestyle based around intentionality,” said Bowers. “There are millions of people around the world who have been living simply and intentionally their whole lives without ever identifying themselves as ‘minimalists.’ I think it is trending now because it is an easy way to categorize a lifestyle or a person who is defying the norms of society… [But] minimalism [also] offers an opportunity to reevaluate what true joy is and how to find fulfillment in all of the things that money can’t buy: love, nature, gaining experience, and serving others.”

Many reasons exist for pursuing the minimalist lifestyle. For Bowers, it served as a way to re-examine priorities and address emotions, head on.

“I have always been somewhat of a minimalist at heart…I value simplicity, efficiency, and practicality. Yet despite this, many of my everyday behaviors did not reflect these values. For a portion of my young adulthood, I was very caught up in what I thought I ‘should’ be, so I kept bringing unnecessary things (gadgets, clothes, stuff) into my life- thinking that ‘more’ meant better and ‘new’ equals ‘cooler.’

“All of this shifted after I experienced several personal tragedies that led me to examine my life on a deeper level,” Bowers added. “I began to realize that nothing I bought could ever fix the feelings of pain, grief, and loss. With each challenge, I had this innate desire to purge my entire home — discard belongings, refresh spaces, establish new habits. Improving my surroundings and systems became a way to reinvent myself and gain a fresh start.  It was all I could do to feel a sense of order and control out of life’s chaos.”

Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, there are many forms of minimalism that promote the rethinking of unnecessary accumulation and excessive consumption that have become characteristic of American consumerism; and each approach is different.

“[For me], the first step was to discard, to eliminate. Room by room, I whittled away at my belongings, and to my surprise, it started to feel like a game- challenging but fun- addictive, even,” said Bowers. “After I said goodbye to all of the clothing, knick-knacks, old files and all of the random “just in case” things that I didn’t use regularly, I felt such a sense of freedom; Because in decluttering one’s physical environment you automatically begin to cleanse your mental space too. The greatest epiphany for me was realizing that minimalism in my home extended into so many other parts of my life.”

While starting with one shelf, drawer or room may seem simple to start, downsizing and evaluating what is necessary versus excessive can oftentimes become an emotional experience, as well.

“There are [also] negative emotions, mainly guilt and fear, that can arise when letting go of things, even for the most seasoned minimalist,” said Bowers. “I typically get a thrill out of discarding things but every so often I will be taken over by anxiety that something is either too “nice” or sentimental to get rid of. The opposite also occurs where I wonder if I am being too cold and insensitive in my approach,” said Bowers. “It is important to confront these emotions head-on and analyze their root source. The biggest thing to remember is that minimalism looks and feels different for everyone. The fun part is finding your own rhythm and style.”

Erin Bowers is an Asheville blogger at www.thehappiestcamper.com where she writes about her personal experiences in minimalism. She will soon be launching a home organization and counseling business to help people declutter and discard, find order out of chaos, and explore how minimalism and mindfulness can intersect to create their best life.