Less is more – just a stupid phrase? This post is dedicated to trying to connect the simple and the good life. I would like to clarify what it means to live minimalistically and how we can free ourselves from internal and external constraints.
Minimalism as a lifestyle became a big trend around 2006, starting with a few bloggers who started writing about the simple life. One of these bloggers is Leo Babauta, founder of zenhabits.net , who has now attracted over two million regular readers. Although the term ›minimalism‹ is probably more unclear than ever because of this hype, it creates a fascination in times of hectic and uncertainty.
This leads us directly to the source of that fascination: In view of the climate crisis, the furious destruction caused by unbridled capitalism, the outbreak of reactionary thinking and the like, more and more people seem overwhelmed – and that in addition to the conventional challenges of life.
But that doesn’t help us understand what is meant by minimalism. In most cases, descriptions like this follow to interpret the term: minimalism means consuming less, possessing less, being better organized, and so on.
True to the literal meaning of the word, to be a resolution of the minimal, i.e. of the ever-less, it does not make sense what distinguishes minimalism from abstention and renunciation.
Because living minimalistically does not mean saving only at the extreme points of life. In this respect, it is difficult to be able to say clearly where we should become minimal in our everyday, even banal life and, above all, for what purpose. An example should help us understand all of this better.
You have probably already noticed that people often buy things, not because they need them or because they are of particularly high quality, but simply because they want to meet a certain expectation towards themselves and others, want to gain a certain reputation or simply want to communicate that they can afford something. The sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) describes this phenomenon for the first time as conspicuous consumption:
Demonstrative consumption is the spending of money and the acquisition of luxury goods and luxury services to publicly display economic power – from the buyer’s income or accumulated wealth. For the demonstrative consumer, such a public display of economic discretion is a means to achieve or maintain a certain social status. 
From the minimalist point of view, an answer to this phenomenon seems simple. It reads: buy less!
But this answer is only so easy to give because this example is extreme behavior. At the same time, we must all admit that we are behaving in some way or another: one person works too much, the other drinks too much, another spends too much time on trivialities and so on.
In all of these cases it is advisable for us to be minimalist on that extreme matter, but that alone does not lead us to the good life. We are missing another criterion for this, which for me personally has been introduced far too late into the debate about ›minimalism‹, namely that of the essential .
On to essentialism!
In philosophy, essentialism means that a concrete or abstract object is endowed with the necessary properties in order to be able to be this object. So these properties are indispensable – they make the object what it is.
We can transfer the same pattern to our everyday life and thus ask a question that minimalism deals, if at all, implicitly, namely: What is necessary for me to lead a good life?
The ancient, venerable philosophers like Aristotle tried to provide general answers to the question of the good life, but this remains difficult for us in the field of minimalism, since this is mostly concentrated only on practical issues of everyday life.
It is then a matter of designing your desk or sorting your clothes, but this method of clearing out mentally and physically in a time of abundance and excessive demands only helps us if we begin to focus on the essentials focus.
This is the real thing that fascinates us about minimalism: We create space so that we can really focus on the things that are at the core of us and our lives. Minimalism as a negating practice only gains its luster when we gain affirmative power for the important things in life through essentialism.
Minimalism and meaningfulness
You were very wrong in expecting that I would write down a list of the things that characterize a good life. The good life, in the sense of leading a happy life, depends on highly individual factors. These fan out into the design of our everyday life and the structure of each and every one of our days.
It may be helpful to actually orientate yourself towards minimalism and also to observe simple rules such as the one that experience makes us much happier than possession  and the like. It is inevitable that we also have to concentrate on the essentials in our life in order to be happy and meaningful.
The clinical psychologist Hein Zegers reveals a simple method for this, which he summarizes under the acronym BASICS and the term ›Essencing‹ :
- Back– One step back: Slow down your life for the moment and look at it from a distance.
- Attention: Pay attention to the little things in your everyday life and your inner experience.
- Select: choose consciously what is important to you in your life.
- Invest– Investing: Fan the ways you achieve your goals and use your resources to achieve them.
- Cut– sorting out: What does not contribute to a more meaningful life must be removed.
- Sense– experience: People who successfully follow these steps experience their present life as much more meaningful. Every step they take is provided with a bigger picture of what their life is about. Your life just makes sense.
In order to have success with these steps, you need to keep focusing on numbers 3, 4 and 5 and repeating them – this is called essencing.