What Kind of Minimalist Are You?

There are different ways to practice this philosophy of simplicity.

coffee pot on table

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You might think of minimalism as a simple phrase that describes people who don't like excess stuff, but it's more nuanced than that. There are different styles of minimalism that appeal to people with different goals, and it does them a disservice to lump them all into the same category. So let's take a look at some of the types of minimalism that exist.

The Aesthetic Minimalist

These are the people whose houses tend toward stark, empty, and white. They have a single chair in the living room, nothing but a low platform bed in the bedroom, clutter-free countertops, a few beautiful potted plants, and empty walls. Their homes are Instagram-worthy without even having to try. 

For these people, the joy of minimalism comes from being surrounded by empty space, thus embracing the Japanese concept of "ma". Their goal is to feel a sense of peace and calm at home because there is so little to distract and to maintain. They derive visual pleasure from the blank slate that surrounds them and may pay a lot of money to renovate and decorate their homes to create that atmosphere. 

The Environmental Minimalist

This type of minimalist is more concerned about the environmental impact of consumerism than what it looks like aesthetically. They strive to reduce purchases in order to use fewer resources. They use their belongings for as long as they can, repairing and repurposing whenever possible. When they do shop, they prioritize eco-friendly products and like to support brands doing innovative things.

Another term for this is "minsumer," coined by author Francine Jay who joined the words "minimalism" and "consumer." In her impassioned Minsumer Manifesto, Jay writes,

"Our battles are personal, made up of a million little acts of consumer disobedience. We leave convenience foods on the shelf and breeze by impulse items without a glance. We cut up our credit cards, borrow books from the library, and mend our clothes instead of buying new ones. We shop on Craigslist and Freecycle, rather than at the mall. 
We are an invisible army, and our offense is our absence: the empty spaces in the parking lot, the shorter checkout lines, the silence at the cash registers. The only bloodshed in our revolution is the red ink on a retailer’s profit statement."

An environmental minimalist's home is probably not as uncluttered as the aesthetic minimalist's because it contains items that could be useful at some point in the future, thus avoiding another purchase.

The Frugal Minimalist

A frugal minimalist's focus is on spending as little money as possible. These people make do with what they have, making many things from scratch and repurposing old items to keep them in use for as long as possible. Think of it as someone who asks themselves, "What would Grandma do in this situation?" and then tries to do the same.

A frugal minimalist is a homesteader/DIYer of sorts, likely with a backyard garden to grow food, a setup for canning and preserving seasonal produce, a workshop for refinishing furniture and repairing other broken belongings, a sewing machine, quilting and knitting supplies, and methods for making homemade skincare products.

The Spiritual Minimalist

These individuals feel liberated by the absence of stuff. Not having to worry about physical belongings spells freedom for them. They can leave their homes at the drop of a hat, packing all their clothes into a single backpack for spontaneous trips, and they often do precisely that – traveling and roaming the world for months on end. 

They do not feel a need to have backup items; they would prefer to buy a tool when it's needed than store it for a year without using it. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists blog and podcast once described this as "the 20/20 rule" for getting rid of just-in-case items:

"Anything we get rid of that we truly need, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from our current location. Thus far, this hypothesis has become a theory that has held true 100% of the time. Although we’ve rarely had to replace a just-in-case item (fewer than five times for the two of us combined), we’ve never had to pay more than $20 or go more than 20 minutes out of our way to replace the item. This theory likely works 99% of the time for 99% of all items and 99% of all people — including you."

These minimalists tend to rely on community resources such as car-sharing, tool libraries, book libraries, clothing rental companies, and more. Many of these resources have taken a hit during COVID, likely making it difficult for spiritual minimalists to access certain goods without buying.

No type of minimalism is right or wrong; each is unique, with different benefits and challenges. The goal of minimalism is to realize that filling one's life with shopping and acquiring goods is not all that satisfying and that stepping back from mindless consumption will result in a higher quality of life. So, what kind of minimalist do you want to be?