Minimalism embodied: a minimalist desk image.

Many people reach a point in their lives where they see clutter and excessive personal possessions for what they are: distractions and time-sinks that deeply – and negatively – impact one’s life.  Minimalism seeks to change this.

I am no different; I, too, have been conscious that for many years I have amassed a vast number of gadgets, had far more clothing than I could ever really wear (before it went seriously out of fashion), and bought books far quicker than I could read them.  Freely, I admit, I still do the latter – but I can “hide” them now on my ebook reader!

The Internet’s “Minimalism”

It is amusing to see, particularly on certain social networks, how minimalism is portrayed.  Let’s describe a typically “minimalist” image:

  • White.  It must be white.  White walls, white furniture, mostly-white accessories, all well lit (often artificially).
  • An Apple Mac computer, centre-stage on a desk.  Typically a 21-inch iMac, but sometimes a 27-incher too.  In front of the Mac must be the following:
    • A wireless keyboard & wireless trackpad – both precisely aligned;
    • A notepad
    • A pencil
    • An iPhone
    • Sometimes… a mug of coffee (although I am allowing myself a crossover into that other bastion of internet imagery here, the “Getting Organised!” image);
  • A desk lamp;
  • A single picture on the wall, bordered with a white frame, casting a soft shadow thanks to…
  • A window on the adjacent wall;
  • A crappy plastic chair (still white) that no-one in their right mind could ever sustain a day’s work in;
  • A wooden floor.  Or, if the floor is white, then the desk is wooden.  Or the chair back might be green.  You get the idea.
A silly picture of my wardrobe.
For completeness, here’s a terrible picture of my wardrobe, showing just how far my minimalism still needs to come (it’s not just white, grey or black)!

For an example, check out Jessica Comingore’s minimalist studio.

Flipboard is a great resource for these types of images.  Search for ‘minimalist’ and you’ll soon happen upon this template of what a minimalist lifestyle apparently involves.

What Is Minimalism?

If you Google this, no doubt you will see a definition along the lines of styles in art, music or design.  But these days, “minimalism” has come to mean something else: the removal of superfluous possessions leading to a perceived reduction of stress and distraction in a person’s life.  It’s this definition what I am most interested in, which is the one driving most internet imagery these days.

Minimalism is not, necessarily, about choosing to do without

Minimalism is an interesting side-effect of western capitalism.  The effect of acquiring wealth is curious; it more often than not seeks to be displayed through the adornment of expensive garments, and through “showcasing” the necessity of owning various accessories, plus the outward demonstration of their worth to a “successful” person.  But to many people, myself included, the effect of acquiring objects is that they increasingly demand more time from the owner in order to manage.

This is detrimental to their original purpose, because time will now be split between the owner using the objects, and the owner managing the objects.  Thus, the fewer objects there are – whether these are clothes, cars, bottles of liquor in the cabinet, or watches – the more utility such devices actually provide and therefore the more effective they become both at their original purpose, but also as a showpiece.

What Minimalism is not.

Minimalism doesn’t, in my mind, have any connection with frugality, virtue through sufferance, or eco-mentality.  To me, “being green” and “being minimalist” can be mutually exclusive, although they can also co-exist very well too.

Minimalism is not, necessarily, about choosing to do without.  It is choosing to do with what you need, in the numbers your need it/them, and do without what you don’t.

Minimalism is also not doing without, for the sake of doing without.  It’s a great exercise in making one reconsider what is important and what’s really important to you.  This is the key.  It’s justifiable to say that you need something because it makes you happy.  Most people listen to music because, for their happiness and wellbeing, it’s needed.  That’s fine.

Being minimalist does not mean sitting in a silent, white room, looking at perfectly pressed shirts hanging in a wardrobe.  And it’s also not about choosing £20 shirts instead of £100 shirts.  One can enjoy life’s luxuries, and one probably will enjoy them more, if their number is measured.

My Minimalism Experience

Macbook Pro 2015: forcing my minimalism.
A really expensive laptop considering the spec. A true minimalists machine!
Image of ThinkPad T420: my barrier to minimalist computing.
A great laptop, but sadly superfluous to my needs.

For example, just before Christmas I came to a difficult decision:  I decided I had to sell my ThinkPad laptop.  There were no two ways about it; I had too many computers adoring my house, due to accumulating older work laptops as time went on.

My thinking was, “well, it still works and it’s still powerful enough to do lots of stuff, so I can get more done by keeping it and splitting my activities between the MacBook Pro that I now use for work, and this.”  Except that doesn’t really translate into the bigger picture.  Sure, I could keep both machines and pretend I’m being more productive, but in reality I started spending more time wondering which machine to do what on, or moving data from one to another, or agonising that I was simply distracted by this entire thought process, or generally finding that the MacBook Pro was more portable and thus my preferred choice to take somewhere.

I historically associated my perceived productivity benefits to my ThinkPad, its wonderful keyboard, and loved how I had complete control over the GNU/Linux operating system I used on it.  But in reality, two machines became a burden.  Yet, this wasn’t the only laptop I had “laying around” (although occasionally used).  Actually, I had four other laptops.  This was akin to hoarding, and served no benefit whatsoever.  There was basically no chance I would ever use them all until they broke, one by one.

So before Christmas, each laptop – an HP Pavillion, a ThinkPad T420, another ThinkPad – a T420s, and a Samsung Chromebook, all found new homes.  They also found me richer – not only for the money I made on them, but also for the less clutter I had around the house.

Finally, the agonising dissipated and with that, the stress went.  I had more space to think, fewer options to consider (as far as my computing went) and happier productivity.

Moving forwards

Once you get the bug for selling or giving away old stuff, it is hard to ignore.  As soon as I can find the time I will work on selling more computing kit I have laying around.  And there are other things too – all sorts, in fact.  Like old pieces of furniture (bin/tip), old garden tools (tip/sell), old clothes (donate to charity), one or two old TVs (!) … it goes on and on.  In fact, the speed at which one can acquire goods is absurd.

Moving forwards, reducing this clutter alongside a renewed focus on personal development has already made a huge change in my self-perception.  I feel stronger, lighter and more focused.


If this post has helped you, or if you have had similar experiences, please comment or link below!

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