Minimalism, in modern culture, is a word infused with so much meaning that it doesn’t seem to mean anything any more. “Minimalism” is thrown around carelessly, and often offered (in the case of a book or an article, including many you might see on this site) without enough context to understand if we’re all on the same page. And often, we aren’t.
It turns out there are many different ways to practice the same underlying, abstract foundation. So I wanted to try my hand at fleshing them out, and giving scenery and context to the many ways a person can subscribe to minimalism.
There is one common thread: Whatever type of minimalist you are, it’s a lifestyle centered on less.
It’s all about the optics for the aesthetic minimalist. They don’t necessarily own less, but they certainly have less on display. Their favorite color — for walls, for linens, for dinnerware, for everything — is white. Since it’s all about the visuals, the aesthetic minimalist is easy to finger: Walk into the front door of their colorless apartment and spot bare countertops, bare floors, and bare walls (save for maybe a single piece of abstract art in a slim frame leaned gingerly atop a shaker-style bench).
Signature Move: Throwing out their menagerie of mismatched hangers to buy a pricey set of modernist ones.
The essential minimalist is cued in to discovering precisely how much they can live without. They are obsessed with using less, having less and paring down their belongings to only the ultimate basics. Look inside their closet or kitchen cabinets to see a collection in short supply — just enough to last a week or so until the next wash. Waste is not usually at the forefront of their minimalistic mind as much as quality and quantity; the essentialist will sometimes toss their old things aside just to procure better, more worthwhile things. They do what they can within their means to buy the best thing they can afford; if they’re only going to buy one, it needs to be the best and last forever.
Signature Move: Throwing out all but a dozen hangers for their curated seasonal wardrobe.
The hallmark of the experiential minimalist is a belief that the pursuit of experiences is more universally important than the pursuit of things. So while the experientialist does own very few possessions, it’s merely a symptom of their chosen lifestyle rather than an outcome of any intentional curation. You might also call them “backpack” minimalists for their ability to fit their entire life into a bag and be ready for anything, but this brand of minimalist encompasses a wide range of personalities from adventure-seeking hippie types to freelance digital nomads.
Signature Move: Throwing out their hangers because all their clothes are in a suitcase.
The sustainable minimalist might just as accurately be described as the eco minimalist. Their focus is on green living: reducing their dependence on, consumption of and harm to the environment. They’ll own more — more tools, more land, more clothes — if it means they want for less. You might find them living the homestead life — or at least aspiring to — as their priorities are centered around reducing waste and living off the land as much as possible. This brand of minimalism is sometimes as much about serving the environment as it is about serving the person and their chosen lifestyle. The motto that drives the sustainable minimalist is “make do, or do without.”
Signature Move: Crafting their own hangers from reclaimed wire and wood they sourced on their land.
They might share some of the same waste-conscious habits as the sustainable types, but the underlying intentions of the thrifty minimalist are totally different. You can find them tending to their gardens, shopping at thrift stores and refinishing furniture, but the end goal is about spending less rather than using less. They embrace minimalist tendencies because of their financial mindset. You’ll sometimes find them in tiny apartments, or at the very least bunked up with roommates to save on rent. But thrifty minimalists are known to hang on to things — as much as they can fit — lest they need something like it in the future and have to replace anything they once owned with more of their hard-earned dollars.
Signature Move: Asking the dry cleaner if they have any extra hangers to take home with them.
The mindful minimalist is one who gets joy and spiritual enlightenment by ridding themselves of extra things. They practice sensible moderation not for any particular financial, ecological or aesthetic reasons, but purely in search of their own peace of mind. Letting go of their possessions, for the mindful minimalist, is mostly about letting go of guilt or stress or other sour feelings. Stripping away excess allows the mindful person to find more purpose in their day to day life and better relish their intellect, their sanctuary and their community.
Signature Move: Standing in their bedroom contemplating which of their clothes hangers sparks the most joy.
Do you consider yourself a minimalist? Which type are you?