Minimalism is a lifestyle that more and more people seem to be embracing around the world. You see it in Ikea design and Danish hygge. You read about it in books like Mari Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. And you see it in videos from a variety of content creators on YouTube.

Japanese minimalists, in particular, have an interesting approach to minimalism. They’re influenced by Zen Buddhism and challenge the norm of a consumerist society by drastically cutting back on their possessions. Fumio Sasaki is one such minimalist who has sold or given away most of his belongings. He says that he now spends less time on cleaning and shopping, and more time travelling or hanging out with friends.

Aside from simplifying people’s lives and spaces, minimalism is also a sensible way to live in Japan, which is frequently affected by earthquakes. Sasaki adds that 30 to 50 percent of injuries in an earthquake occur due to falling objects. He also claims that the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 caused many people to re-evaluate what they owned.

Minimalism and the environment

In our modern world, we’re often disconnected from nature, but when we’re confronted by it, we’re reminded of how closely we’re linked to our natural world—the world that we lived and hunted in for thousands of years.

A practice such as owning less has positive environmental impacts, although our transportation and energy consumption levels still leave a much larger carbon footprint in the United States. Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College, says that when you add our material possessions into our carbon footprint—especially considering how rapidly we buy things and throw things out—you can see the negative impact of this type of consumerism on our environment.

According to Schor, a main driver of consumerism is inequality. If you take the example of fashion, most of us buy new clothes to follow the latest trends and fit in. We also enjoy the shared experience of movies. Despite the advent of online shopping, we also continue to visit shopping malls, which are swimming with other people. We dine at restaurants to eat with family and friends.

Minimalism goes beyond owning less

Minimalism, though, goes beyond owning less.

Schor explains that what we’re really longing for is a sense of community with others, a feeling of belonging. And she says that minimalism is a way to close that inequality gap and build social ties with others.

Consider Little Free Library, for example. It’s a non-profit organization aimed at encouraging reading, fostering a sense of community and inspiring creativity through neighbourhood book exchanges around the world. Anyone can take a book or leave one behind for someone else to read.

Similar to public libraries, Little Free Library promotes literacy, community and creativity. Anyone can be part of these spaces and communities, where a sense of belonging is fulfilled.

At its core, minimalism is a countercultural way to live and is perhaps a response to an increasingly complicated and rapidly shifting world. For many people, it’s letting go of the inessential to make room for the essential. In a society in which we’re constantly presented with advertisements and the message that we must own the latest gadgets, minimalism seems like a revolutionary act.

Minimalism is a social movement. It seems to be borne out of frustrations with our current consumerist society, polluted by greed and carbon emissions. It’s a choice, informed by healthy criticism of our society.

Minimalism can be meditative

Cleaning out cutlery drawer with cutlery spread out on kitchen counter - Minimalist livingMinimalism is also a meditative and intuitive practice. Mari Kondo’s method—called the KonMari method—involves cleaning and organizing in a quiet space, free of noise. She says that noise interrupts the inner dialogue a person should have with themselves as they treat cleaning as a Zen ritual. This dialogue involves using your intuition and asking yourself, “Does this item bring me joy?”

The idea behind this is that you learn how to use and trust your intuition when it comes to decision-making. By simplifying everything around you, you enable yourself to more easily tune into this innate intuition.

Minimalism is a way to question things in a thoughtful and peaceful way. It’s a more intentional way to live, to include others in your life and to build solidarity. Perhaps we’ve become so disconnected from our past and from each other that minimalism is becoming a new way to bridge those gaps, and to reconnect with ourselves and other people.

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Angela Ward is a communications professional and writer with an interest in personal development, mindful living and environmental protection. You can find her on Twitter.

image 1: Pixabay; image 2: aimee rivers