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My girlfriend has been experimenting with different lifestyle changes lately, which I think is not only amazing, but an important element in growth. I would like to support her through all these changes the best I can. For example, a few months ago she decided she wanted to experiment with vegetarianism/veganism and started by cutting out red meat from her diet. Wanting to be supportive, I also cut out red meat and helped her research more into health aspects, food sources, etc. This has strengthened our bond and helped us both learn more about dietary restrictions and requirements.

Lately, her new thing is minimalism. I think this is great and always try to encourage her as I am somewhat of a minimalist at heart. She started out by donating old clothes she hasn't worn in a while, as well as objects she hardly uses. However, my concern is lately she has been using words like "have to." For example, "I'm a minimalist now so I have to get rid of this." When I ask why she got rid of something, she'll say "Well, I'm a minimalist now." She started donating sentimental objects from her childhood because she felt she "had" to in order to comply with the minimalistic lifestyle. I know how much these things meant to her, and I know she didn't really want to give them away, but she felt she had no choice.

This is where the problem lies. I want to be supportive, but I also want her to be happy. I've tried explaining to her that being a minimalist doesn't necessarily require getting rid of all your belongings, just trying to cut down on buying less than necessary things. Just like how we didn't go 100% vegan and cut every animal product out of our diet, we don't have to get rid of everything we own. She seemed to understand, but without modifying her behavior.

I'm not bothered by her decisions per se, I'm just worried she will regret these actions later on. Just to be clear, I'm not trying to make her stop being minimalistic or anything, and for example if she went vegan I'd 100% support her. I'm trying to let her know she doesn't have to get rid of this stuff, especially when I see the sadness in her eyes after doing so. I don't know, maybe I'm the one with the problem and being a bad boyfriend. Maybe I should just be more supportive of her doing these things no matter what.

How can I maintain being supportive while convincing her she doesn't have to get rid of all her belongings? I totally support the idea of what she's doing and want to encourage further branching outs, but don't want her to be consumed by it and feel she has to do anything, especially when she doesn't want to do it.

  • Do you know WHY she has adopted a minimalist lifestyle? It would be good in working on why she feels the need, not necessarily the want, to get rid of some things. How do her actions compare to your own approach as a minimalist? – user8671 Feb 20 at 8:06
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    After talking with her I learned the root cause may be fear of becoming a hoarder. She has had recent experiences with hoarders and feels the temporary happiness in buying something is not a good way to live. It also seems her family is very bad at buying things very often for what she thinks is no reason. Also, from the sounds of it, the next thing is going to be attempting to live with "zero" waste. My approach is more so don't buy something just because. if you don't need it, no point in buying it. – anon Feb 20 at 23:37
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The starting approach

Your approach of telling her that being a minimalist doesn't require getting rid of all of her possessions is the right way to start. Minimalism is a philosophical way of living, not a list of rules that need to be followed. Colin Wright's explanation of minimalism puts it quite succinctly

It’s important to understand that the reduction of physical possessions is often a result of Minimalism, not Minimalism itself. Just giving away a bunch of things doesn’t make you a Minimalist, any more than buying a statue of Buddha makes you a Buddhist or doing yoga makes you healthy. It’s one aspect of the whole, for sure, but you needn’t partake if that’s not where your priorities happen to be.

Talking through this point is a good start because it will help you establish the idea that minimalism is not just a list of rules that you have to follow. Because minimalism is a philosophy, you should continue the discussion by talking through the philosophical points with her. The minimalists about page provides a nice list of things that minimalism helps achieve.

  • Eliminate our discontent
  • Reclaim our time
  • Live in the moment
  • Pursue our passions
  • Discover our missions
  • Experience real freedom
  • Create more, consume less
  • Focus on our health
  • Grow as individuals
  • Contribute beyond ourselves
  • Rid ourselves of excess stuff
  • Discover purpose in our lives

As you talk through each of these points, focus on two objectives: trying to understand why she wants to embrace a minimalist lifestyle and trying to understand how getting rid of sentimental things does or does not achieve those goals.

Understanding her motives

The best way to understand her motives is to ask questions. As you go through each point ask questions about how she experiences the "problem" and why she wants the "solution". For example let's look at the kinds of questions you could ask for the point of "Reclaim our time".

How do you feel that your time is being wasted with the possessions you currently have? If you are able to reclaim some time, what would you do with it?

I've been asked questions like this a number of times about various subjects, and the result has always been the same. These kinds of questions force me to critically think through why I am taking a certain action and evaluate whether that action will actually achieve what I want to achieve. It's important that you come to an understanding of why she wants to embrace minimalism because you may find that there are other ways to achieve her goals that don't cause her to do something that she may regret (i.e. throwing out sentimental items).

Understanding how her actions fit in

The second piece of the puzzle is understanding how throwing out sentimental things actually impacts her. Ask about how she feels when she throws these things out.

How did it feel when you gave away item X? Did it help you achieve outcome Y?

As much as possible you should list specific items that she has discarded when asking these questions. Having a specific example will help her to bring back the emotions and she will be better able to explain how she felt. Be aware though, that between re-evaluating her reasoning and reliving the emotions of throwing out sentimental possessions, she could get quite upset. If this happens, you should be prepared to comfort her, and it would be wise to save the rest of the minimalism conversation for another time.

Other options

Given how sad you've said that she appears when giving away items of sentimental value, it's quite possible that you'll find that while she wants certain benefits of minimalism, she might not be realizing those benefits through the way she is living. If this is the case then the best way to support her will be to help her explore other options for achieving the same benefits. There are a few other philosophies that focus on simplifying your life, but have different methods of doing so. For example, KonMari emphasizes selecting the items that bring you the most joy, and even approaches ways to go through sentimental objects.

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    Thank you for the fantastic answer. We had our first conversation about this and I believe she understands and we are on the same page again. This is truly a great template and will help me tremendously in the future. It has helped me learn more about her underlying motives and beliefs, as well as why she feels the desire to do certain things and the outcome she expects in doing so. – anon Feb 20 at 23:37

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