First of all, just to be clear: I don't really consider myself a minimalist.
I'll admit that the ideal of minimalism, or voluntary simplicity, appeals to me in some ways. I like the idea of clearing away all the stuff in my life that doesn't improve it—not just belongings, but schedule commitments as well. My biggest problem with it is that most minimalists seem to have the idea that less is always better. The fewer possessions you have, the fewer things you have on your to-do list, the more bare you can strip your life, the happier you'll be. That's the viewpoint I rejected in this post back in 2010.
But to be fair, this isn't really a problem with the movement itself. The authors of the website "The Minimalists," which is more or less the definitive source, say minimalism is simply a way "to rid yourself of life's excess in favor of focusing on what's important." Thus, by definition, anything that is really important to you—anything that makes your life easier or more satisfying—isn't "excess," and there's no need to get rid of it. Indeed, the whole point is to give yourself more time and space for the things you care about by clearing away all the junk.
So my latest Money Crashers piece is all about this idea of voluntary simplicity: where it came from, what it means, and most importantly, what it doesn't mean. I talk about the financial, environmental, and health benefits of living with less, as well as the challenges of choosing a life that's so different from most mainstream Americans', and I conclude with a few ideas about how to move toward a simpler life if that's what you want.
How to Simplify Your Life With Voluntary Simplicity – Benefits & Challenges