Less is more, the old adage goes, but more of what? For minimalists, those whose life philosophy is to pare down the size of their wardrobes, possessions, and dwellings, having less means having more time to meet new people, enjoy cities and cultural events, and hit the road.

Here, Maryam Siddiqi explores why minimalism is more than just a passing fad.

In April 2015, Time magazine named Marie Kondo, a decluttering expert, one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Her expertise: Living with less. Six months earlier, Kondo released a little book that would take the world by storm: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To date, Kondo’s guide to decluttering, a structured method to simplify, organize, and store stuff in one’s house, has sold five million copies around the world.

For many, that book was a catalyst—an opportunity to hit pause on consumption and start figuring out what is actually needed in daily life.

“I liken the things around me to visual noise, and it can either be music and things that make you feel filled up, or it can be clutter,” says Michelle Elliott, a consultant from Portland, Oregon. “When there’s a lot of stuff around me it becomes noisy in my head and in my heart.”

In 2009, after a divorce, Elliott, moved herself and her three small children from a 4,500-square-foot house to a 1,000-square-foot loft with no walls—“not even in the bathroom,” she says. Everyone had the necessities in the new space, like a bed and a bicycle, but she told her children that they could fill up only one backpack to bring with them. “We all had to look at what everyone brought into the house…at our relationship with the things that were there,” she says.

The result was a change in lifestyle for the family. “I didn’t have to do maintenance or worry about shopping. There was no reason to do anything outside of spending time together,” Elliott says. “We were doing more things that allowed us to interact, like being outdoors.” Today, the family lives in a slightly larger space where everyone has their own room with a door, but the life-with-less ethos still stands. “My children don’t have want for things,” says Elliott. “They ask for experiences.”

It’s not just an extra pair of sneakers here or four different sets of glassware there, but big-ticket items like vehicles that people are doing away with. “We are living in the beginning of a pivotal era that will transform our relationship to ‘stuff’ (we’ll need less of it) and to each others (we’ll share more),” writes Michael Munger, director of the philosophy, politics and economics program at Duke University, in an article for Learn Liberty, a project at the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. Munger cites the rise of the ride share service BlablaCar, which is prominent in Europe. With it, drivers aren’t selling seats in their cars, but instead opening up their cars to other who’d like to share a ride—and maybe the costs of tolls and gas.

A service like BlaBlaCar means fewer people need their own cars (and therefore cities need fewer parking spaces, meaning there’s more space for public parks, squares, and events), and that people are interacting in new ways—in a four-door sedan, there’s no escaping conversation.

Urban centres are hot spots for services like car and bicycle sharing. These companies know their customers are using their transportation to see their cities and partake in experiences, and plan their community outreach accordingly. In Toronto, car and bike share companies are actively involved with major community events. This year, Car2Go worked with the arts festival Luminato, promoting free parking facilities near the festival’s venues. And, in 2016, Zipcar drove celebrities around during the Toronto International Film Festival and gave away film passes and after-party tickets to car-share users.

As more and more people adopt minimalism as a way of life, their actions—or non-actions—are creating a ripple effect. Retailers must learn to cater to a new type of customer, one who wants less. The focus, says Deborah Weinswig, managing director of the think tank Fung Global Retail and Technology, must be on those who want higher-quality items, but fewer of them.

“Consumers’ future priorities will be ethics, a concept of ‘disownership’ and sustainability,” Weinswig writes in the report “Downsizing and decluttering will remake retail.” She notes that having less stuff resonates most strongly with urban dwellers, who live in small apartments and therefore have less space in which to store their stuff, and cites a correlation between housing prices and internet searches about decluttering.

Back in Portland, Elliott has turned the passion about her life with less into a successful business decluttering and organizing for other people. “I think people are really tired and searching for a way to get out from underneath all that stuff,” she says. “People are building these huge spaces and filling them up. But it’s not those things that fill us up on the inside.

“Minimalism is really a mental state,” she says. “Until you realize the value of not having all that stuff around you, consuming you, things don’t change for people.

“I liken the things around me to visual noise, and it can either be music and things that make you feel filled up, or it can be clutter.”

the life-changing magic of tidying up

“Consumers’ future priorities will be ethics, a concept of ‘disownership’ and sustainability.”