To succeed with minimalism, you need to adopt a minimalist mindset.
Only when you know your reasons will you be able to make minimalism stick.
This goes well beyond decluttering your wardrobe. A minimalist mindset signifies a radical departure from what we value as a society.
It affects everything — your behavior as a consumer, your productivity, even your relationship style.
Read on to learn how a minimalist mindset must go beyond the physical sphere, and what the implications are.
1. Question the Cycle of Consumption
It’s a nice day, and you’ve just gotten done with work. You go to the drugstore to buy a bunch of toiletries.
Back at home, you sit down at the computer to order a pair of push-up handles on Amazon, since you recently started working out again.
While looking out the window, you admire the brand-new car of your neighbor. Maybe you should get one too?
Later that night, you watch a movie with your friends in their home theater. When you leave, you decide that’s the way to go. Your large-screen TV just doesn’t pack the same punch.
It sounds decadent reading about it, but that is how we are. Consumerism is the fabric our society is made off.
And it’s set up as a cycle.
We go to work, so we can buy more “stuff.” And we buy more stuff, so we can forget about work.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Most of us never question that cycle. It is convenient, after all. We know what to do. It keeps us busy.
So, the first step to adopt a minimalist mindset is to ask, “Why?” Why do I constantly need to buy more stuff, most of which I don’t need?
Is it because everybody else around me is doing so? Is it because I crave the temporary high I get from buying a new dress or unboxing a new gadget? Is it because I am bored with my 9-to-5 job?
One of the best ways to untangle your relationship with consumerism is to journal about it.
Set aside some quiet time and ask yourself in writing: Why am I going along with this hamster-wheel life? Is it making me happy? Or am I just afraid to deviate from it?
Take your time. Don’t try to please anyone — not society, not the hip minimalist crowd, not me. But start asking the right questions.
2. Move Past the Physical Sphere
We think of minimalism as this pop-culture phenomenon, something we saw Marie Condo do on Netflix. Decluttering your wardrobe, only buying things that “spark joy,” that kind of thing.
So when it comes to developing a minimalist mindset, most people expect strategies for tidying up at home.
That is not doing minimalism justice.
Minimalism is not about clearing out the drawers in your bedroom. It is about clearing out the drawers in your mind, so to speak.
And they need clearing.
Most of us cannot name our values. We are unclear about our goals in life. We have no idea about our strategies.
The problem is that there are too many options. And we’ve never taken the time to filter for the few essential ones. So we end up with this mess.
The physical messiness around us — the chaos in our bedroom, our scattered desk — are just expressions of that. They are not the subject of minimalism, but a physical manifestation of a non-physical problem.
The real point of a minimalist mindset is to start an investigation into the mental causes. Getting rid of your stuff is just a stepping stone.
3. Find Your One Thing
Consumerism is the perfect system to keep us occupied. We are either working to buy more stuff. Or we are buying more stuff to forget about work.
So, many minimalists, once they see through the cycle of consumption, cut back on work or switch to a minimalist job.
But now you face a different dilemma:
What to do instead?
And it’s not just about the extra time. It is also about where you get your kicks from. Consumerism used to provide quick dopamine hits. What do you do when that is gone?
So if you want to shift to a minimalist mindset, you need to come up with ways to fill the void. It forces you to answer the question, “What do I want to do with my life, now that I have the space to do it?”
This must be an individual decision. But here are some ideas to get you thinking:
- I have a friend who lives for yoga. Instead of attending cool NYC social events, she will practice every night for two hours. Making progress with a challenging pose is more important to her than partying.
- I have another friend who let go of his prestigious position as a university professor to follow his dream of becoming a psychoanalyst. He has never seemed so content.
- Yet another friend of mine dropped his well-paid marketing job to take over my MMA gym. He doesn’t look at it as his job — it’s his calling. Even ten years later, his ideal day would have two training sessions.
These people found their one thing and ran with it. And to adopt a minimalist mindset, you must do so too.
Again, journaling is a helpful tool. Ask yourself in writing:
- What did I always enjoy doing when I was younger?
- What dream has always been at the back of mind?
- If failure was impossible, what would I choose to do with my time?
Be true with yourself. Don’t try to impress anybody. If you enjoy working construction, let no one deter you.
Likewise, ignore morals. If you always wanted to become an adult movie star, do it.
Morality is just a fiction used by the herd of inferior human beings to hold back the few superior men.Friedrich Nietzsche
Most importantly, you need to field test everything. Your first hypothesis about what you love will rarely be the right one. But you will only find out by attempting it.
All of this is to say — minimalism is not a goal in itself (or worse yet, a fad lifestyle). It’s a tool aimed at creating space, so you can reclaim that space in the most meaningful way.
Finding your one thing in life is the true adventure.
4. Value Experiences
We are all way too caught up in the accomplishment fallacy.
The accomplishment fallacy states — once I get to X, I will be happy.
“Once I make $10,000 / $50,000 / $100,000 a month, my success will be complete.”
“Once I buy that car / that house / that boat, I will feel fulfilled.”
“Once we move in / get married / have kids, life will be wonderful.” (aka the relationship escalator).
“Once I acquire skill X / read 1000 books / get my PhD, I will be content.”
But in reality, once any of these desires have been accomplished, we right away find a new aim. And so the process starts over.
The accomplishment fallacy is at the heart of consumerism. Nothing is ever enough, only “more” will do the trick.
Don’t get me wrong — prioritizing your most important thing in life is imperative.
But the danger is that we fixate on future accomplishments instead of the process. And it’s the latter that brings us joy.
To counterbalance this, we need to relearn how to value experiences. They are what make us feel alive.
It’s walking in a forest at night, your senses heightened so you notice every little sound.
It’s having sex with somebody who is completely there with you.
It’s tasting a piece of fruit, it’s texture, its sweetness.
We all had that skill once, to be completely present. As children, it came naturally. Then our planning mind interfered.
But now we need to come full circle. We need to reenter the now.
If that sounds a lot like meditation, that’s because it is. A minimalist mindset and meditation go hand in hand. The more empty space you create, the more awareness can reclaim that space.
5. Develop Self-Awareness
One of the main reasons we keep consuming is a lack of self-awareness.
Ask a random guy about his car. Chances are, he can tell you how fast that thing goes, the horsepower it has, what fuel it needs, when its next check-up is due, etc.
Now ask the same person about their most important value in life, their top goals, their strengths and weaknesses.
Hardly anyone knows themselves. We are like zombies, just moving along with the herd.
Consumerism encourages this. Without self-awareness, we are much more likely to keep buying. Advertisements, the news, and social media all work hard to keep it that way.
But when you adopt a minimalist mindset, you cut out all that noise. You enter into monk mode. You focus on your one thing.
And that is when you rediscover your long-neglected sense of self.
Here are a few ideas to help that process along:
- Ask for honest feedback. We rarely tell the truth to others; instead, we exchange social niceties. But when you overcome this convention with a few trusted friends, and start telling each other what you really notice about each other, self-awareness prospers.
- Learn to meditate. Meditation will help you to experience yourself on a pre-rational level. The accompanying joy is exhilarating. So, give it a try. Find a good guide, and build the daily habit.
- Be outside. Spending time in nature is the easiest way to become more self-aware. The “wild” forces you to become more awake, to be on the lookout for sustenance and predators.
- Start a full contact martial art. Getting punched in the face will heal you of any delusions really quick. You will have to confront your strengths and weaknesses.
- Read great books. Reading forces you to take on someone else’s point of view. As a byproduct, you will refine your own sense of self.
6. Minimize Your Relationships
To settle down is to be a good consumer.
Houses are bought. Cars are bought. Furniture is bought. Appliances are bought. Tools are bought. Consumer goods are bought.
We are talking thousands and thousands of items.
There is no question — consumerism and monogamy are deeply intertwined. The latter is simply a function of the former.
The historical reason for that is agriculture.
When we started to till fields and breed livestock, it suddenly became important to pass these valuable goods on to our genetic heirs, not the mailman’s child.
So, just like we own our fields, we started to own each other. Men owned their wives. Women owned their children.
Religion further solidified this symbiosis. Marriage is not some holy act — it’s a property contract.
So when you renounce consumerism, it only makes sense to also question the traditional-relationship paradigm.
Why would you uphold a relationship model designed to make sure property gets passed on if you own little property in the first place?
And, more importantly, why would you put up with the lack of freedom, the fights, the sexual boredom, and the cheating, that are the hallmarks of traditional relationships?
A true minimalist mindset and the picket fence life don’t go together.
Relationships that deserve the name are not about owning someone or something. They are about freedom enjoyed together.
Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.Albert Camus
7. Take Responsibility for Yourself
We are all suffering from extreme information overload:
- Ideas, ideologies, and religions are competing for our attention.
- Ads and products are vying for our hard-earned cash.
- People immerse themselves in our lives, as friends, lovers, and business partners.
- A never-ending stream of news and social media is keeping us on edge.
There are two things you can do here.
Option A — you can remain a passive consumer and try to weather the storm.
Option B — you can proactively choose a few high-quality options, and shut out all the rest.
If you go with option A, you will be plastered with information until you as an autonomous “I” cease to exist.
This explains the zombie-like mindset that many people have adopted. It’s the only way to go on if you refuse to make hard choices. You retreat into yourself because the world is a scary, confusing place to you.
But if you go with option B, the minimalist mindset, you get to defend your autonomous “I.”
By actively choosing what you want and consciously rejecting most other options, you become the director of your own life. You pick what you consume, and what not to consume, how you invest your time, and who you spend it with.
This is what is at the heart of the minimalist mindset — a sense of agency in a world gone mad.
8. Accept the Trade-Offs
A minimalist mind must choose. But when you choose one thing, you reject many other things. And some of these options will be really good options, even fantastic options.
But you must. Because if you say “Yes” to many things, none of your projects gets its fair due. You cannot split yourself up over five major projects and expect to see much progress.
It is a basic truth we refuse to accept — every resource is limited. Your time. Your energy. Your willpower. And once these resources are used up, they are gone.
A minimalist mindset means acknowledging this law of productivity.
You must learn to embrace these trade-offs.
Personally, this is the mindset shift that I struggle the most with.
For example, I know for a fact that I enjoy blogging the most. Yet, on a regular basis, I catch myself going off on all kinds of tangents. “Oh, I should start a podcast.” “Oh, I should be on Twitter.”
And every time I give into these fantasies, I get sidetracked from blogging and end up regretting it.
But when I accept that it’s just one thing for now, I always end up getting great results, sometimes life changing.
9. Don’t Partake in the Destruction
We are well on our way to destroying the planet that provides for us. And that is a direct result of the “More” mindset.
By always wanting more, we are depleting natural resources — water, forests, fossil fuels — while changing the climate irreversibly.
This greed for more does not stop at consumer goods, though. It also extends to our genes. We want as many replicas of ourselves as possible crowding the planet, no matter the consequences.
In 1804, there were about 1 billion people on this planet. Now, only about 200 years later, there are 8 billion.
Consumerism — i.e, always wanting more things — might be the immediate reason that we face so many problems. But procreation — i.e., always wanting more babies — is the root cause.
For that reason, a true minimalist mindset must extend to procreation as well. If most of us stopped replicating now, we would still stand a chance. The planet might still be saved.
Realistically, though, this is not going to happen.
Just suggesting this here will get me heat from readers. Now imagine you were to propose this as a politician. You would be driven out of office in record time. Our emotional fixation with procreation is that strong.
But by refusing to procreate, you are at least not participating in the destruction (or a lot less). That shows much more compassion than any kind of activism.
If you want to save the world, save your little corner of the world.Naval Ravikant