I was a minimalist at 18 when I lived in Fiji and worked as a volunteer teacher in a high school for a year. I owned less than ten garments and had a free roof over my head with a couple of free pieces of furniture. That was minimalism but not through choice.
Now, many decades later, I have acquired a lifetime of material possessions along with invaluable life lessons and I am making a conscious decision to be a minimalist again. This is minimalism which is chosen and comes from a clear mind-set change.
You can be a minimalist at various stages in life but in a different way and with different degrees of difficulty.
Minimalism as a student
Some of the minimalist blogs and minimalist Youtube channels are run by those who are still studying and often still live at home or away at college. They do not earn a living of any significance and are financially dependent on others. It is natural to be a minimalist at this stage of life, as it was for me in Fiji, because you own very little and have very little disposable income. This is minimalism but it is not yet a choice and so has needed no effort. Nothing is achieved because a change has not been made. Whether these minimalists will continue to be so once they are earning their own living is an unknown.
Minimalism at the beginning of a career
A disposable income, even though possibly small, now plays a part and will test whether the previous group can stick to being a minimalist or not. Fashionable clothes can now be afforded and the workplace, with its high levels of image consciousness, will strain your relationship with minimalism. Keeping up with the Joneses and fitting in become powerful forces. The majority of the student minimalists will now drop away but a hard-c ore group will persevere, especially if they work for themselves and don’t have that daily pressure to conform to society’s rules. A few I enjoy following who do seem to have a true minimalist ethic are Rachel Aust , Jenny Mustard and Light by Coco.
Minimalism in full career – no children
Once your career is well established probably in your 30s and the disposable income has increased, you will be acquiring material possessions at a desperate rate in your quest to live the good life –a flashy car you wash every weekend, trendy couture clothes and a house with a mortgage that you have filled with the most stylish furniture you can or can’t afford. If you come to minimalism at this stage in your life it is through an enormous awareness of the meaning of life, which is rare at this age, or through some traumatic life event which makes you question your chosen path to happiness.
My first contact with the minimalist movement was years ago when I started to read the blog, The minimalists. Joshua and Ryan are the epitome of this age of minimalism – young men who had everything they could have dreamed of owning with high flying careers, but they weren’t happy. They became the pioneers of the modern take on minimalism, which of course has always existed through the ages through necessity but also often through choice.
Becoming a minimalist at this stage has to come from some deep, dark and meaningful place because the effort required to give up a decade of acquisition and status symbols is monumental. Only a small percentage of those at this stage have the life experience and capacity for self-analysis that is required to throw off everything that society tells you is important in order to be successful. I congratulate each and every minimalist from this age of minimalism.
Minimalism with children
This is the busiest stage of life when you have your head down and you are working day in and day out to bring up your children and to supply them with everything they need to take their place in the human race as fully functioning adults. A couple of decades can pass in a whorl of activity with that one focus – the family. And now you are acquiring for the children too – toys to fill a small South Pacific nation, clothes so they can fit in with their peers, the latest gadgets. Your house is overflowing with commercialism and discarded possessions that no longer have a function, but that need to be maintained. Your weekends are spent on preserving all that you possess – mowing the lawns and weeding the garden, mending broken possessions, polishing, cleaning, scrubbing, organising. No wonder these years pass in a flash – you have no time to pause and enjoy what you have achieved, it all becomes a blur of activity maintaining your acquisitions.
Those who lift their heads from this chaos and make the choice to be minimalists are the most worthy of our praise. To be able to extract yourself from the day-to- day for long enough to realize there is another way takes fortitude and lateral thinking at a magnitude not often seen. My favourite minimalists from this stage are Joshua from Becoming Minimalist and Leo Babauta from Zen habits, both also founding members of the modern minimalist movement. They are truly inspirational.
Minimalism as empty-nesters
Decades of acquiring have reached a desperate stage of overwhelm. The children are gone and rooms sit uninhabited but still furnished. Because you never know, those kids might come home again. Did you know we are the only animals that allow our offspring to return to the nest?
At some point, there is a discussion about downsizing and that opens up the whole possibility of minimalism. But the very act of downsizing is an act of minimalism because going from a 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom, 2-lounge home to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1-lounge home means that a mountain of possessions are about to be gifted, donated or discarded. This process can be exquisitely painful as arguments erupt over the importance of Aunt Milly’s crocheted placemats and little Tommy’s artwork from first grade. Emotions will run high as old photos depicting lost youth are found and remnants of forgotten hobbies are unearthed. The past looms large and ready to undo the best of intentions. The cabinet that was bought in Bali during your honeymoon, which lives in the basement, the vase that your mother gave you just before she died. How do you get rid of those memories? The pain is real and has to be dealt with before the process can proceed.
So, this could just be a downsizing exercise or it could turn into real minimalism. All duplicates are discarded, memory items are reduced to one small crate, only essential furniture is kept and clothes conform to Project 333. A new phase of life is entered unencumbered by excess objects and with the free time to venture out into the world and enjoy life on every level.
Whichever stage of life you are at, the opportunity is there for you to turn into a minimalist and create your own unique version. Live light and unencumbered!
At 17, Suzanne Perazzini was living in the Fiji Islands for a year on Volunteer Service Abroad. She was a natural minimalist, owning 10 garments and a few toiletries. Five years later, with a University degree under her belt, she moved from New Zealand to Italy with a suitcase of clothes. She returned nine years later with a half a container of belongings and an Italian husband. A period of working, having a family, building a business as an online nutritional therapist and accumulating material wealth began and now, decades later, it is time to return to what came naturally at 17 – a life of more with less. The downsizing has begun. Follow her journey at www.pathtominimalism.com .