What Is Extreme Minimalism and is it Crazy or Genius?

As I peer through the door of our storage room, packed to the gills with totes and boxes stacked willy-nilly floor to ceiling, I ask myself a few questions. For one, what is all of the crap, but also, are there people who, by choice, own next to nothing and what is life like for them?

Extreme minimalism is making the conscious choice to own as little as possible. Each possession owned is thought over and only the most vital items are kept or purchased. Many who practice extreme minimalism report that it brings them joy and peace with less “things” to clutter their space and their mind.

In this article, we explore the meaning of extreme minimalism, who is doing and it and why, benefits and caveats, and finally, baby steps you can take if you are interested in getting started in the less-is-more lifestyle.

Can you really be happier with next to no possessions? Read more to find out!

I should probably explore that section a little further myself!


What is extreme minimalism?…

Extreme minimalism with a white room with only two stools, a couple of plants, and some books.

Extreme minimalism is a lifestyle that requires only the bare necessities, where essential things are kept, and all other material objects are discarded.

If you wanted to explain this as briefly as possible, less-is-more is the first phrase that will come to mind.

We could say that this lifestyle is an ancient way of living in the modern world – something that makes it both beautiful and challenging in the same breath.

American culture has evolved into valuing “stuff,” and the more stuff, the better.

A person who has adopted an extreme minimalist lifestyle will reject this view, often have a home free of majority of their furniture, decor, and possessions.

There will be an absence of a television, minimal closet space with only a handful of clothing items, as well as no need for items such as a washer and dryer.

People practicing extreme minimalist living often tend to go paper-free and keep their work and books on digital devices.

Extreme minimalists strip life right down to its bare bones in every way possible, and most of the time spirituality is the greatest motivator.


*Advertising and Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.


Why are people practicing extreme minimalism?…

A couple practicing extreme minimalism by living in a van.

If we glance at our history as human beings, we notice an undeniable love for a lavish lifestyle, whether that be Marie Antoinette in the Palace of Versailles or the 1920’s flapper era and its decadence.

The reasons for this could be a topic of research that would fill books all on its own.

But when we think of a time long before that, it can be said that people survived happily on much less and were far more in-tune with the true meaning of life.

“Simplicity, for me, has therapeutic values and in the past distracting things always prevented me from doing what I really wanted. Through the practice of minimalism, I was also able to let go of a lot of the artificial stimulation that was getting in the way of my wellbeing.”Youhem, Minimalism Coach, Healing your Living

Individuals are gravitating toward an extreme minimalist lifestyle because it gives them what the modern world is starving us for – connection and peace.

Through decluttering and minimalism, so much room is made for introspection and the experience of nature, as opposed to being continuously distracted by technology and spaces filled with too many objects.

Without going too deeply into the spiritual side of extreme minimalism just yet, it must be said that the world is starting to “wake up” and notice that our current way of living isn’t for our own good or the good of the planet for that matter.

People are starting to take off their blindfolds and see the damage we do to nature for mass production, the cruelty inflicted on animals for cosmetics and fashion, and the disconnection between us due to technology.

As the technological age advances and society becomes more obsessed with accumulating more, many people are seeing the need to step away from this addiction – because that is actually what it is, an addiction to the distraction that objects offer.

Extreme minimalism offers a lifestyle that is exactly opposite to all of that.

They want to make a difference in this world and understand that change must start with them.

A lifestyle that facilitates interpersonal growth, healthy eating habits, kindness to all living beings, and a drastically smaller carbon footprint, are all at the summit of the journey to extreme minimalism.

Examples of minimalism to the extreme…

Extreme minimalism with a woman doing yoga in a room that is completely empty.

So who is living this lifestyle and what, exactly, does that look like for them?

One such example comes from Youhuem, quoted earlier in the article, who is a minimalism coach, author, and founder of the minimalism blog, Heal Your Living.

In her article, “What Is Extreme Minimalism and How To Do It”, she explains how she approaches the extreme minimalism lifestyle: “My practice focuses mainly on furniture-free living and low-waste lifestyle. I also do laundry by hand, sleep in a hammock or on the floor, eat an 80/20 raw vegan diet, and live with a capsule wardrobe.”

She goes on to explain that she chose this as a way to focus on “freedom and abundance in other areas of life.”

Tech mogul Andrew Hyde lives a life of extreme travel minimalism.

He made headlines in 2010 when a trip around the world prompted him to shed all possession, only keeping 15.

“The “rule” of ownership is the express-lane checkout rule. If you were checking out in a grocery store, what would be counted as one item in your bag? A six-pack of beer would be one, right? I count my things as resellable items I would be pissed if someone took.
Coffee cup? No. Jacket? Yes. iPhone and headphones? One thing. Simple enough?”

Andrew Hyde

I find his most interesting quote on the concept of minimalism to be “minimalism is equally easy as it is boring to do. What shirt today? The one I didn’t wear yesterday. …Once you get used to simplicity, the complex normality others have becomes the audacious thing.”

What are the benefits and drawbacks?…

Extreme minimalism with a room that is completely empty except for a hammock.

Why minimalism?

As with all things in life, there are naturally both benefits and drawbacks to an extreme minimalist lifestyle.

Drawbacks

When you have grown up living in maximalism, and more-is-more has been your mantra, the first drawback of extreme minimalism is that it can be very challenging to apply at first.

After so many years we often begin to identify ourselves through our possessions and letting them go can feel disorienting

On the other end of the spectrum, we can also become so fixated on embodying this lifestyle perfectly that even the accumulation of one additional object makes us feel like we have failed.

Extreme minimalism takes a lot of discipline which some people may also find difficult, but what is probably the most challenging area to navigate, is the judgement of others.

Your family or friends may not “get it” and can think that you’re going off the deep end, unsure how your way of life fits into their “norm.”

It may be hard to maintain old friendships if they don’t understand this lifestyle.

But, there are definitely benefits of extreme minimalism, as well.

Woman meditating under a tree

Benefits

One huge benefit of minimalism is that this type of lifestyle is naturally stress-free and really focuses on the art of simple living.

It is true intentional living because you have put thought into every item you own, designing your life and space how you see fit.

When you own less, you naturally have less to organize and be concerned about.

You don’t have to stress about an out-of-control closet if it’s empty.

Because you are focused on only having what you need, your financial load is significantly less in comparison to people who measure their success by how many things they can afford to accumulate.

Having less actually equates to more freedom, another benefit of extreme minimalism.

Travel minimalism, being able to fit your entire life in one backpack, makes spontaneous adventure something you can do any time the mood strikes.

Minimalists run very simple households, so they can pack up and leave on a whim without having to make endless lists about what to bring, spending days prior packing, and days after working through a mountain of laundry.

Travel minimalism, a man in a forest with nothing but a backpack

When the logistics of life becomes less complicated, it naturally increases our freedom and lessens our stress.

One huge benefit of minimalism is that because in this lifestyle one doesn’t own much, they are extremely maximal in terms of their relationship with themselves and others.

Clearing out the clutter and artificial distractions free an abundance of time that they use to connect with friends and loved ones.

Think of how much time we spend social media, organizing our stuff, fixing or replacing broken or lost items, cleaning, choosing just the right throw pillow/knickknack, new fancy tech/anything and everything.

Now think of how much time we would have if those distractions were omitted – we could devote countless hours to friends and family, cultivating more meaningful connections.

This is the heart and soul of extreme minimalism, the desire to connect.

Woman meditating on a beach

Lastly, an important benefit of minimalism is that this lifestyle also allows for ongoing personal growth and peace that is found in the absence of noise, clutter, and artificial stimulation.

Most minimalists will read, practice yoga, meditate, and go for long walks in nature on their own.

This allows them a great deal of introspection and to deepen their understanding of themselves and other people in general.

It is so easy to avoid our flaws, insecurities, and personal needs when we brush them aside and distract ourselves with everyday things.

“We go on multiplying our conveniences only to multiply our cares. We increase our possessions only to the enlargement of our anxieties.” Anna C. Brackett

Practicing extreme minimalism in one area of life often has a ripple effect on other areas as well.

There is no particular order in which these transitions can happen, as for one person it could’ve started with material decluttering, another could’ve had a spiritual “epiphany” which lead to minimalism, and another could’ve found this lifestyle after first becoming vegan.

Everyone’s journey to this way of life is going to be different, but there are definitive attributes that most extreme minimalists have in common.

Material minimalism ties in with dietary choices, and often a minimalist will be a vegetarian or vegan.

Again, like minimalism, this is a simple and stripped-down way of eating that does not support the intake of animal products.

This then flows into the spiritual aspect of this lifestyle, where the connection to all things is sacred – hence why consuming fellow sentient beings is not considered just or right.

Where to find tips for minimalism…

Extreme minimalism with an empty room with nothing in it. Light is shining on the walls through the windows.

I am NO expert on extreme minimalism, in fact, I am not even good at decluttering in general, my garage being Exhibit A.

Luckily, there are experts out there who can show us how to practice minimalism!

Before I get to that, I would like you to understand that there is extreme minimalism, and then there is another similar lifestyle choice referred to as practical minimalism.

Practical minimalism stems from the same philosophy, but, you guessed it, feels more “practical” for those who currently live in our societal “norm.”

It’s a spectrum, choose which place on it feels right for you!

The minimalism author and coach

For an enlightened education on all things minimal, I will turn to the person who literally wrote the guide to minimalism, Youheum.

I am not affiliated with her products or services in any way, but she offers an excellent array of downloadable worksheets, planners, ebooks, and coaching services to help you life more with less on her website.

She also offers an incredibly informative set of videos on her YouTube channel, including a helpful Q & A on extreme minimalism below:

Best minimalism books

MOST of us have heard of Marie Kondo and her “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Many of us probably even own a copy, including me.

It does change the way we see our stuff, has great action steps for decluttering and minimalism, and has even been life-changing for some.

If you aren’t already a convert, get a peek inside her book here.

But, there are also other books out there that offer different ideas and perspectives that can teach you how to practice minimalism.

Minimalist Joshua Becker has written books on minimalism, all with incredible reviews.

He lives the life and teaches you how to do the same.

Of “The More of Less,” one reviewer writes “even though I’ve been a minimalist for years, there was NEW stuff in this book. I ended up with a carload of crap to donate this weekend. Big inspiration! Thank you for pushing me to the next step!”

Click here to read a sample of “The More of Less.”

One other very interesting concept of minimalism is in the realm of our digital lives.

For those wanting to dip their toe into the practice, starting with your digital minimalism can be a great entry point because it can feel less permanent and scary.

Cal Newport wrote a book about just that.

Fast Company reviewed his book, Digital Minimalism, stating: “Cal Newport may have figured out a solution to let people keep their smartphones and their sanity…. His approach seems much more sustainable than the popular digital detoxes in which participants completely unplug.”

Am I a blogger who is suggesting we use our devices less??

I can’t deny that the lure of the glowing blue screen light hasn’t at times affected my life in some negative ways, so if it could be of help to your quality of life, I would like to give you information on how to do that and so be it!

Of Newport’s book, one reviewer writes: “my favorite thing about the book is that Cal’s advice is immensely practical. He is no Luddite, and he does not expect you to eliminate technology from your life…If a new technology is deemed to be the best way to support our goals, Cal then recommends that we carefully tailor our use of the technology to get the most benefit while minimizing the concomitant distractions.”

If you want to get a preview of Digital Minimalism, check here.

Who are “The Minimalists”?…

When two friends went through some pretty earth-shifting life-changes, they both found themselves pulled toward a life of minimalism.

They have since explored the concept of minimalism together and documented their experiences on many platforms and outlets.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, otherwise known as The Minimalists, offer a host of information on their blog of the same name.

The Minimalists homepage
The Minimalists

If you prefer to get your information via podcast, The Minimalists offer a minimalism podcast rich in information and deep in episodes!

There are several to choose from, but I have highlighted some below.

The Minimalists

They also wrote a book covering their story and lesson they learned along the way in “Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life.”

Click here to read an excerpt.

They even offer what they call the 30-Day Minimalism Game that you can use to get started with decluttering and minimalism.

In conclusion…

There is no denying that everything in life has a certain element of light and shade, and extreme minimalism is no different.

People find this beautiful way of life in their own way and on their own terms.

The aim of this way of life is not to judge how well or how poorly someone lives as an extreme minimalist, but rather to rejoice in the fact that someone has decided to try and live more holistically.

From the absence of furniture, a handful of clothing items, as little machinery as possible, and the avoidance of single-use plastic, minimalism can be achieved in a variety of ways.

Above all, we should recognize the abundant focus on love, connection, and self-discovery.

Thank you for reading and take care!

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