The concepts of minimalism perpetually expand our mindset, despite or maybe because they're so simple.
If you strive to adopt core minimalistic principles into your lifestyle, you may be wondering if minimalism and luxury are compatible. We may appreciate the finer things in life once in a while, so where's the balance between having less "stuff" and going without?
By reflecting on your possessions, routines, and relationships, let's find out how you can incorporate more luxury into your lifestyle while practicing minimalist principles.
What Does Minimalism Mean?
The concept of minimalism has grown in popularity in Western cultures over the last half-century. Social commentators attribute different meanings to the term based on personal experiences and circumstances. So, what exactly is it?
Less is more.
The minimalist movements of 1960s art and music scene have evolved into a style in which the simplest and fewest elements are included to create the maximum effect.
In Japan, however, the concept of minimalism was cultivated long before as an integral part of Zen philosophy.
To introduce minimalism into our daily lives, we need to work like the 60s minimalist artists and mindfully strip away the parts of our possessions, routines, and relationships that hinder us from focusing on what matters most. This involves not only accepting an alternative (and more accurate) definition of "important" but rejecting the status quo which permeates every layer of our culture.
You might be thinking this sounds like a froufrou First World problem. After all, you can only strip out possessions without causing grief if there is an abundance in your life. Perhaps that's true. Or perhaps the abundance is the cause of grief.
Do you really need cheap, new clothes every week or daily caramel lattes? How long did you have to work to pay for it? How much time do you spend away from loved ones in order to afford the stuff you don't really need?
It's about time someone called out the widely accepted definition of abundance as a euphemism for over-consumption epitomized by fake Rolexes, artificially whitened teeth, and unsustainable credit card debt.
Jaded by the broken promises of consumerism, a minority have started to open up to a new non-materialistic definition of "rich". Minimalistic lifestyles have forged a viable alternative path in the pursuit of happiness.
Ironically, this is where luxury comes into play.
More was never the answer. The answer, it turned out, was always less.Cait Flanders
What Does Luxury Mean?
Luxury in the traditional sense encompasses items that are expensive and unnecessary, but the term is now more associated with filling a defined need in the best possible way.
Contemporary luxury provides more profound meaning, brings rare joy, or simplifies life. Have you ever wondered why hand-made artisan products are so appealing? Maybe it's because they attach meaning to objects beyond their basic utility. When craftsmen share their personal story behind a handbag crafted from recovered ocean plastic, you buy into more than assembled materials. You buy into the personal success story of a self-made-(wo)man saving both a long manufacturing tradition and our environment.
Likewise, an emerging generation of travelers search for a deeper meaning than simply ticking off a to-do list of attractions. Instead of adhering to a mainstream guidebook, they seek out unique things to do and personal experiences that deeply connect with a cherished location.
"Why on earth did you spend a fortune on that bulky flip-up seat that doesn't fit with anything in our house?", my husband asks. "Because it is an original seat from Vienna's famous Ronacher theater in my home city", I explain to him.
What delights me more than sitting on that seat is that it talks to me about 100 years of cherished Viennese culture in my emigrant London home. I could have bought 6 ordinary dining chairs for the same price but they wouldn't have fulfilled my need for a historically rich adornment from my birthplace.
Simplifying life with a focus on quality and originality creates a blissful simplicity that gives back more than it takes away. For example, a hand-made reversible jacket in your two favorite colors, with removable lining, can help declutter your wardrobe and will likely last for many seasons compared to a cheaper run-of-the-mill mass-produced jacket from H&M.
Are Minimalism and Luxury Compatible?
Since minimalism strips away to make space, contemporary luxury helps redefine that space: either through filling it with things that matter to us, or by deliberately allowing space if that is what we need most. In that sense, minimalism uses luxury to solidify its foundations. If I have everything I need in the best possible way, I won't feel the urge to start adding bits and pieces until minimalism is eradicated.
Ever wondered why some of the busiest top executives shun all-inclusive luxury resorts in favor of a remote rented villa? Because all they want is to stay with their families, water the plants, and quietly swim in the pool. To detox their hectic lifestyles during a few precious weeks they need less, not more. They don't care about breakfast buffets and in-house hairdressers, let alone morning gymnastics programs.
And when it comes to luxury hotels in glamourous destinations, classical abundance is now rivaled by minimalism. Take former Imperial capital Vienna, Austria, as an example. Simple-chic boutique hotels without a single golden faucet and only a handful of beehives on its rooftops outshine pompous luxury hotels, at almost the same price.
Likewise, new smartphone generations often focus on small tweaks to simplify functions, streamline design, and improve the user experience. Instead, the existing elements, such as cameras, are fine-tuned and enhanced.
Environmentalists especially get behind the idea of 'less is more'. Why use disposable plastic bags when you can bring your own reusable cloth bags to the grocery store? And why waste so much food when it takes an enormous toll on the natural environment to create it in the first place?
By morphing from a materialistic to a needs-based mindset, luxury has become incredibly compatible with minimalism.
That doesn't mean luxury has become cheap, rather our understanding of it is sharpened. The added value that luxury promises has to work harder now to qualify in a minimalist world. It is not enough anymore to be expensive, or aesthetically pleasing.
Just like minimalism, luxury has to serve a purpose, and justify the resources it takes, from space to money. Hence the idea that minimalism is equal to being poor doesn't hold up because poverty serves no useful purpose.
Something impractical cannot be beautiful.Otto Wagner
How to Incorporate Luxury Into Minimalism
Whether or not you already follow a minimalist approach, these practical steps will help you integrate meaningful luxury into a happier, more purpose-filled life.
1. Define Your Core Values
To incorporate contemporary luxury, start with your core values first. What things are most important to you? For example, are you passionate about protecting the environment or addicted to designer brands? Do you love both travel and a healthy lifestyle? Or is it more important to spend time at the pub with your friends every Thursday?
These values set a foundation for decisions that you'll have to make. So, take your time to consider and even write them out. Talk about them with your friends and family, and see if those closest to you also recognize priorities that resonate with you.
Take it further...
Listen to our interview with Kel Galavan (AKA Mrs Smart Money) on the Forever Break podcast (season 1, episode 14) who provides guidance on how to understand your core values.
2. Conduct an Audit
If you aim to apply minimalism to your lifestyle to achieve a deeper level of satisfaction, take a personal audit of your possessions, routines, and relationships. You might need to be ruthless with yourself.
- Style trumps trend: Everyone knows that today's fashion cycles are not sustainable. Who cares if culotte trousers are the latest trend if they don't flatter your physique, making you feel uncomfortable? Instead, be aware of what works for you, and only buy things that match.
- Choose technical gadgets you will still use after a couple of years. Instead of opting for products with all the bells and whistles just to keep up with the Joneses, go for an option that covers what you really need and won't need to be upgraded for some time.
- If you have been eyeing a pair of expensive shoes and know they will fit perfectly with your existing wardrobe, invest in them if they are top quality and will last a long time. This ensures you will receive a durable piece of clothing that you will treasure. More expensive, quality items can be a more cost-effective choice in the long-term than cheaper items needing frequent replacement.
- Clothes you haven't worn in 2 seasons won't be needed for a third, even if it's a designer dress. Donate it to charity or offer it to your friend. If you need cash, sell it online.
- An irreparable radio isn't going to get better sitting in the basement. Take a photo if you are emotionally attached to it, then drive it to the tip for recycling. Ask yourself whether you want another radio, or simply like to hear music and the latest news using your smartphone? If you pinpoint your needs you will likely end up with a solution that fits your life better than a predefined product. Just because you used to own a product, or your friend/family member does, it doesn't mean it's a good fit for you. Be deliberate and mindful.
- Out of proportion: The way you arrange possessions can impact your sense of harmony. For example, the dinner table from your former palatial home may have survived the downsizing but now threatens to kill the carefully arranged interiors of your new, smaller space. Evaluating possessions in their wider context will recreate the harmony that minimalism builds on.
- Reorganizing your food supply can positively impact your lifestyle. Instead of taking the car to the supermarket every week, consider a cycling workout twice a week. Alternatively, switch to online shopping - or give the milkman another chance - and align your delivery with existing deliveries in your area.
- Consider reducing restaurant deliveries unless your suppliers take back and recycle the packaging.
- When traveling, make your holidays start even before you hit your destination. A comfortable sleeper train instead of a flight will take longer and may be more expensive but can add a luxurious touch. Opting for a train ticket will likely reduce your carbon footprint.
- Instead of a beachfront hotel, why not book a boutique bolt hole with free bike hire a few kilometers from the beach?
- Feel the luxury of ditching routines that have turned into drags. If you just count steps and calories at the gym, consider taking up an exciting new team sport instead and make new friends. Or perhaps go for a run in the park with your favorite musical beats, podcast, or your dog (and get 2 healthy creatures!).
- Think about outsourcing routines that bring you no joy, from decluttering your garden shed to mowing the lawn. Services like Airtasker, TaskRabbit, and Tiptapp are a useful starting point.
- Every worthwhile relationship costs time and effort to maintain and nurture. Since COVID-19 I call my parents back in Austria almost daily to check-in and exchange daily highlights and hassles. Even though liaising with friends and family isn't always about cheerful things, making a difference to each other's days brings happiness.
- Whether at work or with friends, try to surround yourself with people who don't just make you feel good, but who you can learn from and push you to grow.
- My sensitive teenage daughter has long decided to ditch social media in favor of personal one-on-one chats to improve her mental health. Be mindful of which relationships or communication channels are right for you. Prioritize the friends who bring you joy and appreciate you enough to give back over the number of "friends" you have on Facebook.
3. Incorporate Gradually
Your needs evolve over time, so don't rush with quick fixes. After you have completed your audit, focus on slowly decluttering, and see how you cope. If you feel a yawning gap created by a real need, think about fulfilling it in the best way possible. I always thought a proper household needed a microwave - I still don't own one - but instead picked up an excellent juicer machine and I use it regularly.
Some of the hardest changes will be to acquire new routines. Give yourself time and only take on one larger routine change at a time. The same goes for relationships. Before you cut off ties completely, distance yourself, and see how it feels. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Adopting a minimalist luxury lifestyle can be like going on a diet while eating top quality gourmet food or skipping expensive world tours and staying a month in a luxury summer camp in Switzerland. At the start, habitual cravings for more will require a little discipline, but once you mindfully focus on each fine ingredient of your new life, you will discover that you need much less than you thought to be satisfied.
Without compromise, anchor each possession, routine, and relationship to what fulfills your needs in the most sustainable way. And the happy consequence will be discovering a harmonious balance within the joys of a minimalist life.
It really is true - less is more.