Minimalism has been gaining popularity recently as a lifestyle choice, and in short, I've been in full support of this movement.
I've tried to pursue a minimalist lifestyle for years now, and I'd like to note some of my thoughts down in regards to it here. Starting off with a big misconception:
Minimalism is not about owning as few things as possible.
A natural trend among the more extreme adopters is to throw out everything you own and sleep on the floor, or move into a van and live on the road. Although both interesting and potentially deeply fulfilling experiences, minimalism is only part of the equation in those scenarios.
Simply put, the point is to minimize that which is unnecessary, superfluous, or non-beneficial (within reason). That also means that you should keep the things that bring you genuine joy, and worthwhile ease of life. Sacrificing comfort itself is not necessarily a mantra of minimalism, if you ask me.
This might seem fairly obvious to some (or most) people, but there's always room for some new enthusiasts to misunderstand, and I think it's best to avoid that. Physical possessions are certainly relevant in minimalism, though the philosophy itself is more about how one organizes their set of priorities both in regards to physical matter, as well as more abstract things like money and time. In short, minimalism is about focus.
What's the point? What am I trying to "minimize", exactly?
The reasons are numerous, and different people feel different advantages from a more minimalist lifestyle. But, in minimalism fashion, I'd like to try and outline some fundamental advantages that I feel are applicable across the board.
You have more time and money to spend on better things: What you're essentially doing is a reallocation of resources. Resources like time and wealth are not always spent optimally. That's fine, of course, the point isn't the optimize to the maximum and live the most mathematically efficient life. But rather, it's to evaluate where your resources are being spent very poorly, and reallocate them towards activities that net you a larger profit of overall fulfillment.
You have less things to worry about: A natural side-effect of this reallocation is that some things you had to deal with were, in fact, unnecessary. Now that they're no longer part of your life means that the anxiety they generated will also subside.
You can develop a deeper appreciation for the things you've kept: That which is left will now hold a more deliberately fundamental role in your life. This way, it becomes clearer what is truly important for you, and encourages investment in those areas.
You can keep a clearer head space: The junk (trash, disorganization, bad design) that occupies your room keeps you from maintaining your physical presence in there comfortably, just like the mental junk (unfulfilling work, bad social life, unhealthy habits) is keeping your mental space cluttered. Cleaning, organizing, and focusing on what's important allows you to follow your goals and ambitions with far less distractions.
You can put into question your beliefs, and make unconscious beliefs deliberate: Perhaps the most powerful effect is to encourage you to reconsider what you believe is important. Let me explain in the following section.
How do I do it?
I've sort of pushed the idea heavily at this point, but minimalism really isn't about physical possessions.
Additionally, I think it's important to say that minimalism is not easy. If someone's trying to maintain that lifestyle, trying to adopt it as a new side of themselves, or they've lost focus and need to reorient themselves, it's entirely normal to have a tough time. Like many things, minimalism is simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy to put into action and maintain. One really shouldn't beat themselves up for not pulling it off effortlessly. I know I've been at times really critical at myself, but overdoing it doesn't motivate me as much as being patient with myself. It is an endless striving for a more fulfilling and worthwhile life, so one shouldn't let the setbacks discourage them from this pursuit.
Stoicism, I believe, is a fairly important first step towards being more minimal. Stoicism says that we should not focus on the things we can't change or influence, because a great deal of suffering comes from trying to change that which we cannot. It is best to, instead, accept this fact, and put all of our focus towards the things we can change. The result is far less suffering, since we're seeing results in focusing on the things we have an influence over.
Minimalism is, in a way, a second step in this journey. Now that we know what we have influence over, it's time to think, out of this set of things, what would we like to influence in the first place? There's only so many resources allocated to a lifetime, and not every skill can be maximized, and every milestone reached.
For this reason, the first step to mastering minimalism is to evaluate your life in detail. I strongly advise taking at least 30 minutes in silence, or to calm music, and write down on paper or on a computer your thoughts on this topic. Whenever I'm trying to explore an idea in my head in depth, this is exactly what I do. Don't stop yourself, just write your stream of consciousness.
What is important to you? Why is it important? What would happen if this wasn't in your life anymore? Do you really like these things, or have you been brought up to feel that way? If this was gone, what else would you do?
What do you spend time or money on, without it making you happier? What would happen if you stopped that? What do you feel is missing from your life?
This is not an easy exercise. You and I have lived at least a few decades, and in all likelihood our exposure to different cultures and value systems is limited, all things considered. That means that what we think is heavily influenced by this cultural background. Try and avoid these cultural beliefs as much as you can, at least while doing this exercise, because it's very possible that your culture, just like mine, is far from optimal in regards to maximizing the value you get out of life.
Feel free to repeat this a couple of times until you feel that there's something genuine and worthwhile in what you've written. You will realize that, in all likelihood, there are things you really need to get rid of, and in turn, things you really need to put your attention towards. This is an awesome thing!
Now comes the part where you need to build a system towards changing your life to suit these new habits. This is unique to you, and may take some planning depending on the scale of change. Not only that, but these changes need to be maintained.
Take what you've written and create a concise set of statements that summarize these thoughts, as well as a set of steps you can take towards achieving those goals. Put this somewhere that you can easily revisit and remind yourself of, because in the long-term, you will lose focus, and resetting your priorities with this reminder is a way of keeping that focus active.
Now it's all a matter of just keeping things going. As I said earlier, this is not easy, and I myself often struggle with maintaining my priorities.
If you're reading this looking to make changes to your life, then I wish you success, and I hope that the changes produce positive effects in your life and in the lives of those around you. :)