The big myth about minimalism is that you have to get rid of all your 'stuff'. There's more to it than that.
Me, a minimalist? I would never… Still, it’s a way of life that you can’t simply ignore. With more and more Singaporeans practicing sustainable living, the zero plastic life, and living up the ‘less is more’ motto, of course minimalism would grow to be a thing in Singapore. Even for someone who believes in the magic of cushions and throw rugs, I started on building a capsule wardrobe. Looks like there’s no escaping the movement!
Less is more: That’s what most people think about minimalism but what do we really understand about the concept? Is it simply living with less than 100 things, buying less, throwing out old clothes and stuff, or a sort of design style you tell your interior decorator to follow?
What is minimalism?
While getting rid of stuff is a good first step (and the most visible step), minimalism really is about the benefits we experience once we’re on the other side of decluttering. For some, minimalism is a tool to achieve freedom – real freedom from fear, depression, anxiety and even consumerism.
That doesn’t mean having material possessions is a bad thing. The problem stems from the emotional baggage we assign to our physical stuff, making it hard to let go of them. This is where the concept of minimalism comes in: it allows you to make more conscious (and better) decisions. That takes some skills, man.
The movement in Singapore
It’s no surprise that the minimalism movement has started to pick up in Singapore, and you have the culture of consumerism and competitiveness to thank for that. With the Marie Kondo or KonMari trend making its rounds ever so often (“Does this item bring you happiness?” They all do, Marie.), minimalism is something anyone can pick up as easily as buying milk and eggs from the supermarket.
The small and growing community thrives on the online Facebook group, Minimalism in Singapore where members share tips and stories about their journeys, as well as hold regular meetups around Singapore. You’ll find posts on repurposing items, PSAs on recycling for e-waste, ‘before and after’ photos of rooms and desks, and motivational quotes for each other. And yep, imagine my surprise to find that my own husband was already a member. He had to come out to me as minimalist-curious after this revelation.
Joan Chong, a founder of the group says, “Minimalism is not a radical lifestyle, it’s just simply a guardrail that nudges me in the direction of adding assets to my life and decreasing the liabilities.” Before she got rid of her possessions, she had to work long hours to upkeep her spending habits and because of her analytical nature, she would spend most of her time organising things so that she had enough space. “This took up so much of my time to a point where I was easily annoyed and depressed. I started to question if I really needed all these things to keep my life in order,” she says. Plus, having a support group definitely helps.
Misconceptions of the movement
This are many misconceptions about the movement that people often get wrong. No, they’re not all monks or part of a weird cult. Real fact: minimalism isn’t really about frugality, being stingy, or strongly anti-consumerism. Sure it does save you money in the long run, but minimalism should not be depriving yourself of things, but making better choices in what you buy. Things like investing a bit more for a good-quality sofa that would last you years rather than a cheaply made one that you probably have to scrap in a year or less, or spending more on a pair of shoes that are versatile and hardy than go shopping spree crazy during the sales period for something you’ll only use once – and never touch again.
Minimalism is also not just a trend and about the aesthetics. Interestingly, the minimalist-style is still a much coveted trend when it comes to fashion and decor. Heck, people in Singapore are doing ‘MUJI’ home renovations just so their HDB flats can look as zen as the Japanese lifestyle store.
The truth? Minimalists are ordinary people who gave up accumulating possessions so that they can focus on the more meaningful things in their lives.
Get in on the movement
You best believe that it’s actually pretty easy to get started. Firstly, you have to identify an area you need help with – and if you have more than one, that’s okay too. For Joan, it was simple. She knew that she had a problem when she had 50 pairs of unworn shoes turning musty and mildewed in the Singapore humidity and had to do something about her shoe obsession. She faced the fact that the impulsive spending came from an internal insecurity she had about her height. These days, she operates on only five pairs of shoes.
Decluttering is a long journey and sentimental items is always a tough road block. Even for Joan, this question still comes up a lot and it is always a new challenge every time. She finds it heartwarming and encouraging that members step in to share their personal journey and advice to guide the new member in letting go of sentimental items yet not losing the true sentiment behind each object.
While everyone has their own way of getting on the bandwagon (I started a capsule wardrobe to curb my spending and it worked!), Joan shares with us the Singaporean version of the 30 Day Game:
- Sort your items to the usual template of “Discard”, “Donate”, “Maybes” and “Keep”.
- Start to list your “Donate” and “Maybe” piles on Carousell and Facebook Groups. (Tip: Join the Minimalism in Singapore community, for a directory of places you can sell, swap and donate your items)
- Discuss various methodologies for getting the best bang for your buck in the Facebook Community.
- Place all these items in a few boxes which are labelled and easily accessible.
- After 30 days, re-evaluate if you really have the need for those items.
- On day 31, ruthlessly donate all these items away.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Is minimalism a continuous journey or is there something else – something bigger we need to achieve? Morbid as it seems, Joan abides by the saying of “Memento Mori” (remember that you have to die) and says, “I would define my end goal as what I would leave behind in my later years and after and what I want is security, a peace of mind and leaving a legacy – not a storage room full of stuff.”
Interested in becoming a minimalist? Guess I have to confront that storage room full of stuff and purge the demons. Not literally, of course.
Like this story? Check these out:
Building a capsule wardrobe without pain and tears
How to get rid of your unwanted stuff and get new things for free
Who’s who of Singapore’s ethical fashion brands
We’re saying no to single-use plastic
Cutting down on shopping, one outfit at a time