Before Minneapolis blogger Anthony Ongaro became an evangelist for the minimalist lifestyle, he was an Amazon addict.
Boxes would routinely show up on his doorstep, full of assorted goodies that he’d impulsively ordered: paper towels, electronic gadgets, cables and more. He kept clicking and buying until one day, he reviewed his four-year spending history and was stunned by how much he’d amassed.
Time to get radical, he decided. He quit Amazon cold turkey.
At first, he said, it was agonizing. He’d grown accustomed to pacifying moments of discomfort throughout the day with mindless clicks. But after a few days, he felt more peaceful.
Then he went a step beyond limiting his buying: He purged hundreds of belongings and embraced minimalism.
Today, Ongaro, 31, not only practices the less-is-more lifestyle, but he preaches it online through his newsletter and blog, “Break the Twitch.”
His videos have attracted thousands of viewers, tapping into the vast minimalism movement that includes everything from tiny houses, to digital detoxification, to Marie Kondo and no-makeup selfies. At the heart of this live-simply revolution is the belief that by making deliberate choices about what we spend our time, money and energy on, we will be less stressed and ultimately happier.
“It’s made me more aware and intentional,” said Amy Ongaro, who shares her husband’s minimalist philosophy. “When you are too cluttered in your physical and mental environment, you just don’t have the clarity to notice what can be changed or improved or cleared out.”
An uptick in downsizing
Some say it’s millennials who value experiences more than things who are driving the trend. Others point to environmentalism with its reduce/recycle virtue or the shared economy. The spartan life also appeals to many baby boomers now looking to downsize their homes.
Whatever the motivation, there are plenty of followers. Two notable poster boys — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus — will be speaking in Minneapolis this Sunday as part of their nationwide “Less Is Now” tour. Millburn and Nicodemus are the guys behind a recent documentary, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” that helped spread the idea of owning less.
It’s unclear how many minimalists are in our midst, but a Minnesota Minimalists Facebook group claims more than 500 members.
Along with adherents, there are critics. Some see minimalism as a lifestyle that smacks of privilege — a form of conspicuous un-consumption. People who are poor have no choice but to get by with less, critics argue. Indeed, images of curated spaces on Pinterest showing off white bedspreads and sparse furniture suggest that minimalism can become just another version of keeping up with the Joneses.
Some practitioners set a limit to the number of things they own, opting for no more than five pairs of shoes or just the “essential” kitchen tools. Hardcore minimalists have even been known to give up their beds, sleeping on the floor instead.
Ditching the couch
Ongaro’s website, blog and YouTube channel offer advice on how to declutter and reduce distractions to free up space and time to focus on passions.
A filmmaker and writer, he sees minimalism as a “decision filter for the things we do want and don’t want in our lives.” The twitch in his blog’s title, he explained, is an impulsive and unproductive response to discomfort. While his Amazon habit was chipping away at his money, his constant clicking on his phone was sucking up valuable increments of time.
“I think a lot about technology. It’s essentially an unregulated attention market,” he said.
The Ongaros live in a modest house that’s just under 1,300 square feet. They’re down to one car and just got rid of their couch. Their living room is furnished with a stand-up desk, where Anthony writes every day, a recliner, a shelf and a rug.
“I don’t mind sitting on the ground,” Amy said.
When they first started purging their possessions, they played the “Mins game.”
To play, you pair up with someone and spend a month discarding things you own every day. The first day of the month, the goal is to get rid of one thing. The second day, it’s two more items gone. Each day, you must toss or donate a rising number of items so that by the end of the month, collectively, you’ve shed hundreds of things.
“By the end of the month, we had each gotten rid of 500 things,” Anthony said.
Amy said she and her husband don’t always see eye to eye on what’s worth keeping. She owns more shoes than he does, for example. “One general rule of thumb we follow is it’s up to that person to decide what to give up,” she said.
Anthony said he’s had just one regret about something he tossed: a blender.
Amy Reeve Blank, of Shoreview, is the leader of the Facebook group Minimalist.org.
Its 573 members represent all ages and walks of life. “We have single people, family people. It’s a real mix. People come looking for a lot of different things,” she said. “A lot of the minimalist gurus that you see floating around tend to be young single men. But there are also families who want to live more simply. There are people on a budget who want to figure out ways to make their budget more effective.”
For a long time, Blank and her family were chasing after things, too.
“For me, I got to this point where I said, ‘I don’t want this anymore.’ At some point you say this isn’t what’s making me happy. I had the big house, the fancy car. I said, ‘All this stuff. I don’t need it.’ ”
She became very deliberate about the family’s belongings.
“I started looking at everything with a new lens,” Blank said. “I traded in my Acura for a Prius.”
She didn’t have to sell her husband on the idea of living lighter. He’s never been a stuff person, she said. “I have a lot of group members who are not in that situation.”
Blank cautions against overdoing it with the purging. In all, the Blanks parted with two-thirds of their belongings, but they describe themselves as being moderate in their approach to minimalism, pointing out that they still live in a big house that is fully furnished.
And Anthony Ongaro has had a new revelation about minimalism and happiness.
Before, he was all about freeing up his time and having flexibility in his day. But then he and his wife got a puppy.
Caring for 6-pound Rocky has added structure to his day and has increased demands on his time. But the trade-off, he said, has been well worth it.
“It’s not just freedom of responsibility that brings you joy,” he said.