Myth: Minimalists Hate Possessions

diamonds

“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”
― Joshua Becker

Truth: minimalists love their possessions more than most others.

It comes down to math. If you’re not one of the mega-billionaires, you have finite financial resources. Even millionaires have a limit of expensive “toys” to choose from. With your resources, the choice is simple – accumulate “stuff” in quantity or pursue fewer items of quality.

Minimalists prefer fewer items, which affords them greater quality on the items they choose to own.

I know Apple products are expensive compared to their cost to manufacture because their margins have historically been near 40%. But I still bought a Macbook Air because I liked it much more than any other option (the build quality is amazing). And I’ve been much happier with it than my previous four purchases of higher-specced, less expensive computers.

The best value may not be the best purchase. (tweet this)

How Scarcity Increases Our Enjoyment Of Possessions

The law of diminishing marginal utility in economics says you will enjoy your 5th slice of pizza marginally less than your 4th slice. Wake up! Sorry, that sentence, while true, tends to have a sedating effect on readers. This sleep-inducing concept works on a broader level of all your items too. A poor child’s single soccer ball brings him more joy than a rich kid’s 3,000 toys combined will bring him. The more we have of something, the less we enjoy each item, and when our focus is split between items, we’re less happy overall too. Focusing has been found to be a key component of happiness (source), and minimalism helps us focus by limiting our focal points.

But when you grow up and see everyone around you with all kinds of “stuff,” you might assume that it’s a good idea to accumulate items. It isn’t.

Think about the Summer Olympic Games – they form the biggest global competition event in the world. The games are special because they only happen every four years. But does anyone know if the Pacers won last night? Not many, and even Pacers fans won’t care too much because it is one of 82 games they’ll play this season. Scarcity impacts value in all facets of life (not just the price of diamonds).

So to purposefully make your possessions scarcer is to increase your remaining items’ unique value to you. You will pay more attention to each one. You will appreciate their entertainment and utility more. Perhaps this also explains the living distance phenomenon. Some people will spend more time with friends/family if they live 50 miles away than if they live next door. Their perceived availability is much scarcer when they live 50 miles away (but still within reach), so they subconsciously value each other’s company more.

The Power Of Combining Scarcity And Quality

What happens when you combine quality and scarcity together? Treasure. The best. Greatness. Guinness. Stuff people fight over. Diamonds! NOT your 4th coffee mug with a faded picture of a dolphin on it.

Minimalism is about removing clutter, but it is also about enjoying possessions more. If anything, minimalists are “pro-stuff” because we place a higher importance on owning things worth owning and not wasting time and mental/physical energy on things that aren’t worth owning.

I have a mental picture of minimalism. It is not an empty room with a couch, because while that’s refreshing, it is also boring. No, it’s a room with just a few more premium items, all of which I use and enjoy.

I see a solid oak coffee table with a good book and fine whiskey on it. That sounds like a nice evening to me. What else would I need? In that situation, I will treasure reading my book on my nice couch, whiskey in hand, with my feet propped up on my oak coffee table. The rest of the room will have no distractions, which calms me and keeps me focused on enjoying my limited, but very valuable things. Contrast this with a bookshelf overflowing with books – some good, some horrible; and picture the room filled with clutter – some valuable, some worthless.

Sorting through junk to find value is stressful. Knowing that only value surrounds you is comforting.

To say minimalists don’t like possessions is to say a gardener doesn’t like flowers because he pulls the weeds out. (tweet this)

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Vincent Nguyen

Exactly how I think! I don’t own very many things but what I do own I freaking love.

When I first read your headline my eyes didn’t see the “Myth” word so I was thinking “What?! That’s not true! They don’t hate… Oh…”

Keep spreading the good word on minimalism. You know, I’ve never written about the subject yet on my own site? I might have to soon thanks to you. 🙂

Stephen Guise

Haha, the “myth” part is critical, don’t skip it!

I love minimalism. I’ll keep praising it. I look forward to reading your possibly-soon post about it. I noticed that you’re only taking a backpack with you on your big trip – that’s awesome!

JC

I have come to love minimalism as well, though for a girl, minimalism will probably never be as minimal as it is for a guy. While it makes so much sense, there is the undeniable fact that some people are just naturally more sentimental, and there are others who grew up with very very limited (minimal) resources. These psychological impacts can be quite difficult to overcome. It’d be interesting to hear about what you propose for overcoming those mentalities.

Stephen Guise

I understand sentimentality, but you can still be sentimental while being minimalist. First, you can keep smaller sentimental items (or take digital pictures of items) to remember them. Second, it’s possible to become less sentimental. I always say that I’d rather not attach my memory of a person to any physical object (what happens if you lose the object?).

Growing up with minimal resources does seem to make people keep more items. I’ve seen it from people who lived during the Great Depression. Minimalism could be psychologically uncomfortable in this case, and perhaps isn’t even a good idea to pursue.

But the main thing is if people actually want to change to be more minimalist. Those who are highly sentimental about items might not want to change that, in which case there’s no chance they will.

If someone wants to change to become more minimalist, the process starts with a change of how you perceive the world. Items go from fun things to collect to either useful or a hindrance. As a minimalist, only having the essentials makes me feel “lightweight” and at peace. Clutter has the opposite effect.

So the process I think would be the same with most other behaviors – replacing current beliefs with new ones. It’s not easy, but it’s possible! I’m not sure if that helped, but it’s a very difficult question that often depends on the individual. All I can say is it has to start with the desire to become minimalist, and from there either try self-guided change or CBT.

Onder Hassan

I never thought of it like that before. interesting article 🙂
For me, I’ve had to live a frugal lifestyle throughout my 20’s because I’ve never really found my true calling. Went from job to job and going without money and luxury items for years.

But I thought it was awesome because It forced me to figure out ways to make myself happy without becoming a consumer. And I realised that it was easier than I thought it would be,

Many people don’t realise that happiness and satisfaction can come from the simplest of things like spending time with family and friends, meeting new people and taking part in activities. People are so consumed at buying that they completely overlook it.

Nowadays, I try and keep my possessions and outgoings on a low, which is awesome because it means I don’t need to earn much in order to be secure.

Stephen Guise

For me, I learned much about minimalism while traveling (but also some through frugal living). I traveled the whole year in 2012, going from airport to airport in different cities every 3 months. That traveling lifestyle was an opportunity to experience how very little I needed to be happy and live well.

I agree with you that happiness can be found in the simple things. And your experiences in frugal living can pay off well into the future, even if you see a significant increase in income. It’s a good lesson to learn!

A goal of mine is to live someplace where I don’t need to own a car. Maybe I’ll just downsize to a motorcycle or bike. Cheers!

jamie flexman

That’s actually a pretty good summary of what being minimalist is. It seems to be about a state of mind rather than the state of your possessions. It’s also relative. A minimalist may even have more possessions than the average person, but it may only be 10% of what this person used to own before they changed their philosophy.

Stephen Guise

That’s a great point about it being relative. Women, for example, will tend to have more clothes and accessories than men. But like you said, it’s not about a number count of possessions (though some people do crazy stuff like the 100 possession challenge), it’s about removing the stressful clutter that detracts more value than it adds. And people who go minimalist seem to love it (including me).

Nice insights, Jamie. Thanks.

Don

Great points here. Rather than being loosely connected to so many things, better to be connected to a few valuable things. And most of the time, it is much more in sentimental value and money.

Stephen Guise

That’s the idea behind it, and I honestly do see it as one-size-fits-all. As Jamie said, to each person, minimalism can look different, but we can all benefit from focusing on the things that add the most value to our lives.

Melvina Roselyn

I think that self discipline in anything is the key.

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