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Simplicity is Not About Minimalism

My latest book came out last week. Simplify Your Life: How to de-clutter and de-stress your way to happiness is an easy-to-read handbook for those of you out there who feel stressed or too busy while lacking the one thing (or handful of things) that truly add meaning and value to your life. Since it just hit shelves, I've been talking about it a lot - at book signings, for TV interviews, for online interviews. And, each time, it seems I get a similar question:

So, should we just get rid of a bunch of stuff? Will that make us happier?

No. In fact, it could only make you more frustrated. If your only rhyme or reason for getting rid of something - anything - is that you think you'll be happier with fewer items around, before you know it, you'll be upset and even more frantic as you tear your house apart looking for a (any) pair of scissors because you got rid of the other four pair you own because it was supposed to make you stress-free, but now you really just need some f**king scissors so you can cut out a coupon from yesterday's paper for...more scissors.

I don't care how many pair of scissors you own. Have 1,000 if it brings you great joy. I am not a minimalist. As I say in the book, "Minimalism is boring." Without meaning or purpose, you may as well move into a college dorm if you really want to be a minimalist.

Here are three reasons why simplicity is not minimalism, and why the two are separate conversations:

Minimalism doesn't begin with a conversation about meaning; simplicity does.

It seems as though most people who embrace minimalism start by attempting to answer a single question: "What can I get rid of?" The answer to this question, of course, can change on any given day. Walk through your house today and you may feel like changing out artwork, getting rid of superfluous mugs, or donating extra sweaters. Ask it again next week and a change in perspective can have you keeping sweaters and ditching raincoats or loving your current wall decor while disdaining all those fridge magnets.

Rather, ask yourself this question: "What do I value the most? How can I make sure I get more of that?" You'll find this question rarely changes, and if it does, it changes gradually over the course of years as your values and outlook mature. I believe simplicity is when you have your entire life focused on the thing or things that mean the most. Then, everything else isn't important and can be donated or sold. Find that thing that makes your heart sing and pack your life full of it; you'll be way happier if you do.

Simplicity doesn't focus on quantity; minimalism does.

Read stories of "famous" minimalists. They grab headlines because they whittled their lives down to a set number of things (usually 100). Here's a guy who only owns 15 things. Of course, it's easy to get by with nearly nothing if you don't have a home, spend your life on the road, and aren't married. Instead of picking a number, simplicity focuses on getting rid of what doesn't matter. After you figure out what really matters, clearly, that which doesn't can fall to the wayside. Maybe you'll get rid of 50 things; maybe you'll toss out just one old vase. Don't focus on the number of things you do or don't have; focus on owning all of the right (for you) things.

We can all simplify our lives, but we can't all minimize them.

Penelope Trunk says it best in this article, as she describes minimalism as "lifestyle porn," meaning that it's something people like to think about as if they can do it, but in reality, they know it'll never happen. She goes on to discuss how she approaches organization, which is very methodical, but not minimalist. I believe this is the case with most of us. We want to be organized, but we're not a place (personally, socially, professionally) where we can do without certain items.

If you have kids, you will want them to have a bunch of stuff (whether they need it or not). No one wants to be the parent who tells other parents, "My daughter has three toys. I won't let her have any more because we're minimalists." If you work from home, you'll need the trappings of an office (desk, printer, paper, stapler) and if you love to cook, then get ready to keep all your pans (bundt, frying, saute, sauce) in your guest closet. You may find that your passion requires a lot of stuff - this is okay. Fewer things won't immediately make you happier; chasing down your passion (no matter how much gear it takes) will.

The trick

Of course, the first task is to figure out what truly matters. This is a process - one that could take months or years. In Simplify Your Life, I walk the reader through two different processes to first discover what makes them come alive and then turn that dream into reality. Here's a quick excerpt from the book, which you can buy here:

We each get one shot at life. My motto for the better part of the last five years has been "You have one life. Do something." (I wish I'd come up with this. In all fairness, I saw it on a T-shirt.) In my opinion, you may as well do what makes you happy, not out of pure hedonistic pleasure, but because if this is the one shot you get at living an incredible, remarkable, and meaningful life, then you may as well have a great time at it. Working at a job you can't stand and filling your days with a boring routine all in the hopes that you'll be able to travel a bit more when you're a senior citizen seems like a very risky way to live. Instead, do what you love now. Become the kind of person you've always wanted to be now. Clear out the clutter today. De-stress your mind and body immediately.

Keep it simple. Find what you love and get more of it.

What do you think? Have you tried to live a minimalist lifestyle? What about a simpler one?

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