Minimalist are not Nomads, but Nomads are Minimalists

There is a perception that minimalism means stripping possessions to the bare minimum needed to live. I find this description to be much different from what most minimalists think the term means. Here’s my take on the difference between these two terms.

Ghandi's things

This 1948 image of Gandhi’s last possessions by an unknown photographer has intrigued Menil Collection director Josef Helfenstein for years. It inspired the exhibition “Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence,” which opens Oct. 2 at the Menil Collection.


My definition of a minimalist most closely matches Marie Kando’s description – only keeping things in my life that spark joy. This ranges from decorations to functional items, to furniture to outdoor items and work-related items. The “goal” of minimalism for me, if you can even call it that, is to live in an environment that is inspiring, in which I have a difficult time feeling anything but happy. In this sense, minimalism is much more about the state of my residence and the areas where I function than a mindset.


In the past decade, the term nomad has grown from its origins to include “digital nomads” – those who can work anywhere in the world with a computer and an internet connection. Looking back further, nomads favored practicality over happiness. Nomads need to remove things from their lives not because they don’t love them, but because they can’t be mobile with them. The Wikipedia description

A nomad is a member of a community of people who live in different locations, moving from one place to another. Among the various ways nomads relate to their environment, one can distinguish the hunter-gatherer, the pastoral nomad owning livestock, or the “modern” peripatetic nomad. As of 1995, there were an estimated 30–40 million nomads in the world.

Gandhi, for example, was a nomad. He traveled across India relentlessly with a purpose. He was able to carry all of his possessions.

A Mission

Which path you pursue depends entirely on your goals. If you’re attempting to live a nomadic lifestyle, but you’re staying put, you’re not going to enjoy yourself. Likewise, if you live a nomadic lifestyle and can’t reduce your possessions to a few, you won’t enjoy yourself. I see James Altucher as a nomad, but Joshua & Ryan (The Minimalists) or Leo (zen habits) as minimalists.

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