Real Life Minimalists: Ashley

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today, Ashley shares her perspective on minimalism—explaining that it’s not about the number of possessions you own, but how they suit your lifestyle.

Ashley writes:

Photo by Ashley

I’ve heard a lot of crazy things regarding minimalism lately: counting your items, owning a set number of things (usually 100), being vegan, doing yoga, etc.

Well, I feel like the time has come to finally speak up.

I have always been a minimalistic person by nature. I’ve come to realize that no object will give me as much satisfaction as accomplishing the goals I have set for myself.

I’ve always been like that.

Growing up, I never got swept away by fads, must haves, etc. I just did the things that interested me. It is true that I never buy books, I just read them at the library, and it is also true that I pretty much never buy things anymore, except for food and necessities, but I’ve come to realize that minimalism truly isn’t about the possessions you own, its about simplifying your life in order to do the things that you truly want to do.

Minimize your possessions to fit your actual lifestyle.

Not your past lifestyle, not your future lifestyle, and not as Ms. Francine says, your fantasy lifestyle, but your actual lifestyle.

I remember that my cello professor, the principle cellist of the CSO, told me he owned two cellos, each worth over $100,000, each more than the price of some houses, so that he could keep one at the symphony hall and one at home for teaching to eliminate his constant travelling and potential accidents between the two places. Was two cellos excessive? Yes, probably for most people. But for him, it was not. You see, that was his lifestyle and those were the things he decided he needed for his lifestyle at that moment.

That’s what true minimalism is about, only having the things that are truly useful and fitting for your lifestyle at the moment.

If you are a traveling nomad, yes, owning less than a hundred things is extremely fitting. In fact, I honestly hate carrying more than that for extended travel.

But, whether you’re a banker, a baker, a musician, an artist, a homemaker, or a business owner, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has their particular tools that they need to achieve the things they need to do.

That said, excessiveness only comes into play when your trying to keep up with the latest trends and fashions. Hoarding arises when you have too many things that you will never truly use in your life.

Purge your life of anything that doesn’t suit your life at this very moment. That to me is what true minimalism is all about.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

56 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Ashley

  • Rich

    Hit. Nail. Head. Thank you.

  • Nicole

    Ashley – thank you for putting into words what I’ve been thinking for a while. On a continuation of what you said–as I agree that we each have our own necessities and someone’s necessity is another’s excess–I try to constantly re-assessing what is a “necessity” for my life and what is “excessive.” There are things I thought were necessary that I’ve now managed to place in the charity box or passed along to others. But going back to what you said, I think a big part is being honest with yourself. What is my lifestyle? Will I ever actually use, make, paint, build, repair X, Y, or Z?

  • Lan

    Extremely well said! Thank you.

  • Femke

    In complete agreement with you Ashley!

  • This is so true – when I first heard of the 100 Thing Challenge, I got really excited and wondered if I could do it. Then I realised how utterly arbitrary the various ‘rules’ that people made up for themselves were. Even Dave Bruno himself counts his library as one item. As soon as I learn to drive I am buying a campervan/motorhome and heading from the UK over to Europe where I will be travelling around indefinitely. (I will be like a snail, with my home on my back, lol!) Since it will be just me, all the items will be ‘personal items’ (well, apart from the dogs’ stuff), and I am sure they will total over a hundred if I count every single one. But I have been decluttering steadily since February (when I had to get rid of 25 years’ worth of possessions in 5 days) and I am currently in training for campervan life, living with a minimum of belongings, not using a dishwasher (it’s broken anyway) and cooking my meals using only one pot (I have even unplugged my fridge/freezer). Now I am considering selling all my photo equipment, because – much as I love it – I haven’t used it in years. The fact is I can’t be bothered to carry it all around with me when an iPhone will do, so all that equipment is not truly useful and fitting for my lifestyle at the moment, as you so aptly put it. I get a kick out getting rid of stuff (it is so freeing, isn’t it?), but these days I end up just walking aimlessly from room to room, as there isn’t really anything left that I don’t use regularly. Yes, I have more than 100 items, but I need or regularly use everything I have left, so I am not going to feel bad about it! ;o)

  • I have been both a vegan and done yoga for twenty years. I have never associated either with minimalism (and did both long before I was a minimalist). Veganism and yoga can both create clutter if you let them. They are both what you make or them

    • Susan

      Samantha: What did you mean when you said, “Veganism and yoga can both create clutter if you let them,”? That has piqued my interest because my husband and I are trying to transition to a vegan diet (right now I’d call us “cheatin’ vegans”), and I’m trying to establish a daily yoga habit. Your comment makes me wonder if I’m making these two projects harder somehow by unknowingly letting them create clutter. Your clarification might be very helpful, if you would.

      • Nadia

        IDK exactly what Samantha meant, but for yoga you can collect a lot of stuff. The special pants and tops you may reserve for yoga, the mat, a bag for your mat, straps, blocks, bolsters and other pillows… the list goes on. But these things are very functional, so if they get used are they clutter?

        My family is moving toward an all plant-based diet and cooking at home more and relying on processed/packaged foods less. You do need more cooking equipment to make food from scratch over tv dinners and take-out. I would rather have overflowing kitchen cabinets than an overflowing clothes closet, though, but right now I seem to have both.

    • I’m vegan too, and in reading what Ashley wrote (or in spite of it), I realized that for me, veganism may be the best manifestation of minimalism in my life. Becoming vegan, I learned to cook and bake, to look for foods with fewer ingredients, and to pay attention to where my food comes from and its effect on others. Living vegan, I’ve tried to extend this philosophy into other areas of my life, particularly my (non-food) purchases and how I raise my daughter. Veganism and minimalism both remind us that our actions affect others, and encourage us to take a long view on things — asking, is this momentary pleasure worth the cost?

  • cecilly

    Thank you, Ashley. I enjoyed what you wrote so much I just had to post a comment to tell you.

  • Kurkela

    So true. And sometimes we buy things to show that we belong (or want to belong)to a certain part of community. The community usually doesn’t even notice or care.

  • Katie

    Love this, Ashley. Reading this felt so liberating (which is how minimalism is supposed to make you feel)!

  • I like the example of the cello professor. I personally like to paint. Things connected with painting can stay with me. And FOR me. For my pleasure, for my relaxation, for my development. For my present — here and now.

  • maryann

    “Minimize your possessions to fit your actual lifestyle.

    Not your past lifestyle, not your future lifestyle, and not as Ms. Francine says, your fantasy lifestyle, but your actual lifestyle.”

    This is a fantastic quote. I’m writing it down so I can remember it as I continue my decluttering journey.

  • dinah gray

    I think one of the beauty’s of Monday’s Real Life Minimalist post, you get to see how individuals walk out minimalism in everyday life. You also see it in the post comments. I find those as valuable as the written article. I want to know how people are actually living out minimalism, not what they wish they were doing. This really shows how it uniquely applys to individuals.

  • Agreed! Funny how we’re trying to move away from the competition involved with our consumerist society, only to deal with the competition of having less than 100 things in our new minimalist world. I’ve never liked peer pressure. Go Ashley!

  • L

    Ashley, you so eloquently put into words exactly what I have been trying to sort out in my mind for the past few months. I feel a sense of clarity and contentment after reading this. Thank you.

  • Beth

    Oh Ashley, your post was beautiful. I’m a classical musician, too, with multiple instruments, stands, bags, and tons of sheet music. I’ve been struggling with the music especially in my journey towards a home filled with more useful things. As you know, sheet music is very expensive and can be hard to replace. Thank you for your post. The amount of items I need in order to continue playing and teaching has been on my mind. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Thank you.

  • Kay

    Thank you, Ashley for the wonderful essay. I completely agree that minimalism is different for each person and one arbitrary number doesn’t work for everyone and we all should examine what are considered necessities for our current lifestyle.

  • Kim

    Love it! Does Ashley have a blog?

  • Sky

    Best post I’ve read in quite a while! Thanks!

  • Muli

    “Hoarding arises when you have too many things that you will never truly use in your life.”

    Hallelujah! I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment!

  • Well said, Ashley. While it is tempting, and perhaps a part of human nature, to compete with others in our minimalism, it is so important to do what’s right for us. The same goes for keeping or quitting jobs. Many minimalist bloggers have quit their jobs to pusue their dreams, but just as many minimalists hold on to their jobs out of love or necessity. There is no one right way.

  • Joyz

    I love this simple and straightforward post! To the point! Thanks Ashley!

  • Ashley,

    I totally agree. I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore minimalist but I have been, in the past two years, in the process of getting rid of everything that I don’t love, don’t use or doesn’t fit in my life. I don’t think that being a minimalist necessarily means owning less than 100 things – it means owning only that which we find functional and beautiful in our everyday lives.

  • Elizabeth

    Ashley, you really captured the essence of minimalism. I always say that minimalism is a philosophy/a state of mind and unique to each individual. And I love the cello reference. Whay may seem extravagant to some is a cherished item to others. My husband and I live in a house that we know is too big for us, (empty-nesters), but we have no mortgage. We’ve searched for years for a house more fitting, but cannot find anything that suits us, plus we would end up having a mortgage and higher property taxes. We feel we live a minimalist lifestyle by being debt-free, buying only to replace things or on activities and experiences we enjoy. Thank you for your wise comments. You made my day!

  • katie

    I am vegan and take offense to it being listed as a “crazy” thing that people do for minimalism. I don’t think veganism or anything else on that list is crazy. Perhaps not something you are interested in maybe but…

  • Muriel

    Beautifully said. Thank you.

  • GreyQueen

    Ashley’s post was excellent and it would be great if he had a blog.

    I’ve read Dave Bruno’s book and blog posts by other minimliasts of the count-my-belongings school of minimalism and it seems to be a form of one-down-man-ship. I don’t know how many belongings I have, and have no intention of starting to count them any time soon. What matters is that they are suitable for the life I am living now. As that life changes, so will the supporting cast of things change with it. Right-sizing your lifestyle is just as relevent as right-livihood, IMO. After all, if you regularly end up wearing your bikini bottoms or swim-shorts instead of proper undies because you don’t have enough pairs to see you through to laundry day, it’s neither efficient nor comfortable.

  • Caroline

    I agree with Katie, being vegan is about so much more than being minimalist and it is not crazy. Yoga is also more than minimalism and not crazy.

  • TS

    Hi Ashley,
    What a great post – thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on minimalism and for bringing some clarity and realism to the sometimes-fanatical world of minimalism, decluttering and living a simple life.

  • Linda

    Thanks, Ashley! I too sometimes cringe at the I’m-more-minimalist-than-you vibe. And have no intention or desire to count everything I own, which seems like mental clutter to me. Minimalism can become another religion, a distinctly non-freeing one, where a person prowls her domain daily searching to ferret out just one more thing to discard. Personally, I’m going for the feeling of more empty space in the house and space in my chest when I look around – no tightness, just rightness.

  • Thank you for your thoughts. I imagine you are a peacemaker–acknowledging the opinion of someone else as valid, while being comfortable with your own personal choices. What someone chooses as the methodology of their life must suit them.

    • Annabelle

      AMEN to what you wrote, “acknowledging the opinion of someone else as valid, while being comfortable with your own personal choices”

      BEAUTIFULLY STATED!!! Thank you. There might be more peace in our world if that statement was more readily lived.

  • Well said, Ashley. I just wrote about my perhaps un-minimalist attachment to a milkshake maker, but you know what? It fits in my life. It has value. It stays! The over-flowing closet did not add value, so out it went!

  • Ellen

    I have to jump on the “Well said, Ashley” band wagon! Nice and concise perspective. Thanks, Ashley for the extra boost and motivation I needed right now.

  • I’m late coming into this, but that was beautiful! I’m definitely sharing it! ;-)

  • Elaine

    Great post! Perfect way to describe being a minimalist!

  • Ashley Laurent

    Dear All,

    Thank you for all the kind comments. I’m glad I was able to share my thoughts with you.

    I wanted to mention to Samantha, Susan, Nadia, Caroline, and Katie (I apologize if I left anyone out) that when I said “I’ve heard a lot of crazy things regarding minimalism lately: counting your items, owning a set number of things (usually 100), being vegan, doing yoga, etc.” in my post, I wasn’t trying to be offensive.

    I was trying to say that sometimes generally people associate doing yoga and being vegan with being minimalistic and fitting the “minimalist stereotype”. I respect that being vegan and doing yoga will have different, perhaps more deeper meanings for different people. I have no problem with vegans and yoga masters… in fact, I do yoga myself. I simply saying that you don’t have to do those particular things to be “minimalistic”. If you do those items, wonderful, please continue to do so. I am simply saying that minimalism comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, and lifestyles and it is a collective movement to encompass all types of people. Being minimalist isn’t about fitting into a rigid checklist or forcing a person to do certain ‘approved’ activities, it’s unique to everyone, whether it be from vegans to carnivores, yoga masters to the more yoga challenged.

  • Ashley Laurent

    Also, I apologize, but I do not have a blog. I will leave the blogging to the wonderful growing minimalist online community that never ceases to amaze me with new revelations and knowledge.

  • Jenifer

    Absolutely the case. I tell people that I simply try to make my lifestyle easy — workable for my family — and that takes whatever objects it takes.

    When we moved from the US to NZ, we brought with us 8 bags. We now live in a lovely 450 sq ft cottage with a small courtyard and waterfront views. It’s lovely, to be honest. I love it.

    I definitely have more now than I thought I would when we moved here, but really, every purchase has been simply because it is useful to us — we use all of the furnishings *every day* as well as all of our cooking gear and half our linens. What we don’t use, we usually find a new home for very quickly.

    It’s just a wonderful process. It’s easy to care for all of our things. We never feel cluttered or overwhelmed by stuff. Our home is easy to keep tidy and clean (takes 1.5 hrs to scrub the place). It’s comfortable, warm, and simple with inspiring views in a great neighborhood where we have lots of friends. It suits our needs.

    For others, it will be different. They could have less, they could have more. I don’t know what another needs. How can I say? I can only strive to be more efficient in my own life, and that I find to be a really fun and exciting process!

  • Well said, Ashley. I think this is the best description of my own version of minimalism. I figure that as long as it is an item I really love or really use, it is just fine.

  • Our possessions tend to change over the years, to reflect our interests.

    Personally, I’ve unloaded a ton of stuff over the last couple years. I bring in new items to reflect my current interests if they are functional, for example a Djembe drum to attend more free drum circles, and a backpack with hiking/survival gear for more free hiking, and festival camping.

    It’s all relative.

    Either way, good points Ashley!

  • Mims

    I think this is ine of the first real-life-minimalist-posts that I have bookmarked and returned to, several times, and it still strikes a chord with me! During the first readings it was the part about your cello professor that drew my attention, today it was the part of clutter and hoarding. The irony is, that my clutter mainly lies in the things that don’t interest me because I can’t bother decluttering them, my dance gear, my kitchen utensils and my knitting gear on the other hand are quite streamlined to what I need and use!

    Thank you Ashley!

  • Interrobang

    Dear Ashley, I love your post and I hope you’d have time to start your own blog and share your views about the essence of minimalism (God, it sounds like a cliche).
    For me it has always been figuring out what works for me – the minimal set of belongings that fit my lifestyle. I should add that within this set I favor quality over quantity.
    I don’t have to fit into a mold arbitrarily created by a certain philosophical or life style guru. I like belonging instead of fitting in, and if I don’t belong than I should create my own lifestyle. To me, the idea of counting belongings was only a mental exercise that helped me realize once more that nobody can set goals for myself.
    With this in mind, I love reading Francine’s blog and the subsequent postings which reinforce my take on minimalism – it is not an uniform I should fit in, but my freedom of defining the meaning of “essential” in my own life.
    Please keep posting!

  • […] featured here, describes lagom thus: I remember that my cello professor, the principle cellist of the CSO, told […]

  • Tina

    Everyone has a different list of essentials. I keep my drawing supplies in a very small tool box. I have a few books on drawing. I’ve stopped getting beading, quilting, and crocheting books and thinned my collection down.

  • Tina

    I have beads I don’t wear. I may make them into something else. I also have a pewter necklace I used to wear a lot but haven’t worn recently. I have gotten rid of most of my craft items. There are some pieces I really should sell.

  • Tina

    I have 4 sweatshirts. I just got rid of one because I didn’t wear it. I will be giving away a pair of shoes because I don’t wear them. This will start this week’s bag for Goodwill.

  • Heather

    I am going back through all these older posts and this is really resonating with me today… “Minimize your possessions to fit your actual lifestyle.

    Not your past lifestyle, not your future lifestyle, and not as Ms. Francine says, your fantasy lifestyle, but your actual lifestyle.” Yep…I look at it as right sizing for where you are RIGHT now…not next week, month, year, or who you THINK you are, but who you really are, in this moment.

  • I was helping a lady organize her closet and I realized even people who are not wealthy in the US have an awful lot of stuff. On TV, even people who are waitresses have lots of things. On a recent vacation, we met Europeans who were fascinated by the coupon queens on American TV with their 2 year supply of salad dressing, etc.

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