Minimalism: Knowing the difference between want and value

I’ve been on a bit of a Netflix documentary binge lately – kind of amazing what you can learn... Many of them were really interesting and inspiring but there was one, in particular, that’s been on my mind a lot since watching it. It’s called ‘Minimalism’ and follows to guys, Joshua and Ryan, who are big advocates of the minimalist lifestyle. Both Joshua and Ryan talk about how a more minimalistic lifestyle has helped them find happiness and the documentary also tells the stories of other people who are embracing this lifestyle and feel like it has changed their lives for the better.

Seeing these stories is definitely inspirational. However, as so often, the people shown in the media are the ones that are taking it to the extremes. Many of them really only own the absolute basics – some can fit all their stuff in a couple of bags (nope, not a couple of over-sized shipping bags).

To be honest, I can’t see myself ever go that far. But there were a couple of things that really resonated with me and that I’ve been thinking about a lot since. I do like the idea of simplifying my life. I think there is something liberating about getting rid of stuff I don’t need and, maybe most importantly, thinking twice before buying more stuff in the future. However, what has resonated most with me is realising that the minimalist concept is actually about more than just owning less.

One of my favourite points made in the documentary is about the difference between wanting something and really valuing it. Joshua and Ryan explain that the minimalist lifestyle is not about owning only two bags of stuff or getting rid of everything you don’t absolutely need. It’s about focusing on stuff we actually value. They give an example of a guy who loves books and has lots of them. He thought to be a minimalist he would have to give away all his books – something he didn’t want to do. But Joshua and Ryan explaine to him that it’s not about giving away all his stuff. It’s about holding on only to those things that really add value to our lives. In his case, since he really loves and values his books, he could be a minimalist and still own 100s of books.

In other words, being a minimalist is not necessarily about owning only the stuff we absolutely need, it’s about owning stuff we really value – and understanding the difference between stuff we just want and stuff we really value.

I’ve been thinking about my life and the stuff I own.

Compared to most other people around me I probably already own relatively little – mostly because I’ve moved several times in the last few years (including a recent move which involved a massive downsize), I rent a room in a house so I only own my bedroom furniture, and I don’t have any kids so I only own my stuff. Now that made me think; if I own that little, where did all my money go? And then I remembered…

… I own a lot of ‘toys’ and sports gear; surf and paddle boards, paddles, leashes, a kiteboard, three kites, several wetsuits, a bike,… But all of that is stuff that I REALLY!!!! value (as in, really in capital letter and with 4 exclamation marks). It all adds so much value to my life. I can say, with absolutely certainty, that my life wouldn’t be anywhere near as great as it is if I wouldn’t have all this stuff. 

I also own a lot of clothes. I think for a while a few years ago these clothes did actually add value to my life. Having been overweight my whole life, clothes shopping was always more depressing than enjoyable. After I lost all the weight, I could suddenly just walk into a normal store, pick something of the rack and, more often than not, it would fit and I would actually like the way it looked. At that time in my life, buying clothes became a motivation, reward and a reminder of what I had achieved. Buying clothes and then putting them on and liking (or at least not hating) what I saw in the mirror was a very positive experience and added a lot of value – for a short time at least.

Today, I don’t really value most of my clothes anymore. I still have a few favourite pieces that bring me a lot of joy but I’ve noticed I think and feel a lot more practical about clothes. I still enjoy browsing through shops with a girlfriend occasionally but that’s more about enjoying and valuing time with my friends than the shopping part – I often have a really good time without buying even a single thing.

However, I still do own a lot of clothes – many that I haven’t worn in ages. But somehow, I’m still having a hard to letting go of them. I still think I want to have the option to wear them. But all it really does is add complexity to my life. Every time I need to pick what to wear, I spend time considering option after option – and most of the time I just end up wearing one of my favourite ‘go-to’ outfits again. So having all these options that I think I want, actually only waste time and create unnecessary frustration…

I’m thinking on the next rainy day it might be time for a major closet clean out.


All of this has been on my mind a lot over the past couple of weeks and the more I think about it, the more I believe this ‘value vs want’ way of thinking applies to more than just stuff we own. Thinking about what brings the most value to our life can be a great guide in helping us to decide how we spend our time. For example, often when I wake up in the morning I want to just be lazy and take the car to work. It’s faster, easier, less sweaty and cheaper (thanks to the pricy ferry I need to take as part of the bike commute). But I know, taking the bike adds so much more value. Even though it’s hard work getting up that hill, I feel better, healthier and more alert all day when I do get on the bike in the morning.

Food is another big one for me. If I would just eat what I want, I’d basically be living in the chocolate factory and be back to weighting 120+ kgs in no time. Luckily, I’ve figured out to eat food that adds value to my life (most of the time anyway) in that is gives me energy and make me feel strong and healthy. I still indulge on chocolate too much which is why I need to bike to work :).

I think looking at relationships and friendships with the ‘value vs. want’ angle can also be useful. What are the relationships and friendships that really add value to our lives vs. the ones that just bring short-term distraction and companionship? Are we with someone because we don’t want to be alone or because we actually value them?

I think, in the long-term, most of us are better off with focusing on fewer people that we really value instead of having a lot of friends and people in our lives that distract us from investing in those that really matter.

And that actually sums up really well what I like most about the concept of the minimalist lifestyle; it’s not about getting rid of stuff we don’t need or value. Instead, it’s about focusing on those things, people and activities we really do value – and everything else that’s just a distraction will then automatically become absolute and will, over time, disappear from our lives.

For me that means I don’t think about what I can get rid of. Instead, I think about what I really value and then focus all my time and energy on that.