How to Become a Social Minimalist

“How do you make sure you surround yourself with the very best people in your life? The ones that push you to be the very best version of yourself?”

My answer: Become a social minimalist. 

What is social minimalism?

Perhaps it’s best to start with what social minimalism is not. Social minimalism is not choosing your 5 favorite friends and ditching the rest. Social minimalism is not ignoring everyone until you finally want to hang out. Social minimalism is not trying to have as few friends and social interactions as possible. 

None of that.

Social minimalism is the philosophy of minimalism applied to the way you spend time with people.

This is how The Minimalists define minimalism:

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

In other words, minimalism is cutting out all your trivial distractions so you can spend your time and energy on the things that matter to you.

It’s a surprisingly comprehensive philosophy: Yes to the things, experiences, thoughts, and decisions that move you toward your goals and give you energy. No to the things, experiences, thoughts, and decisions that do anything except move you toward your goals and give you energy (even if that means keeping you where you’re at).

Do those 46 mediocre, rarely-worn shirts hanging in your closet add value to your life? Or do they clutter your space, consume your bandwidth and distract you from the 8 shirts you love and actually wear?

The more stuff you’re dealing with the less energy you have for each thing, including the stuff that matters to you. The less stuff you’re dealing with the more energy you have for whatever’s left. The more energy you give to things that matter to you and energize you, the more alive and free and awesome you feel. 

This is the simplest route to fulfillment I can think of: give most of your energy to whatever matters to you and energizes you.

Now apply this to your social life.

How often do you hang out with people by default? Just because “it’s what we always do”? How often do you say yes to an invite when you feel neutral or even less than neutral about it in that moment? How often do you invite people to chill just because?

These moments are the social equivalent to those 46 mediocre shirts. Except it’s way more than 46. And when one hangout turns out to be surprisingly fun, you use that to justify the dozens of other times you wasted your time.

Your social life could use a clean out and you know it.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris

The social equivalent of that quote is this: spend time with those who move you toward your goals or empower you to accomplish your mission (those who you know to be useful), or those with whom you love spending time (those who make your experience beautiful).

Here’s the caveat—people change all the time. Our moods change, our priorities change, our interests change, our thoughts change. I’m not a proponent of the popular tenets to keep your circle small or cut negative people out of your life — humans change too often for that to be a legitimate solution. It’s unnecessarily drastic. You only resort to cutting someone out of your life when you don’t trust yourself to make positive, discerning decisions in each moment. Otherwise you’d just be honest and choose not to hang out with them every single time you didn’t want to hang out with them. Then, whenever you do feel interested in them and they invite you to something that excites you, you’d go. No major friendship decisions needed.

Instead of eliminating people from your life and only keeping your favorites (like you would with material possessions) think of social minimalism like a brain update; a new mindset. It applies less to who you spend your time with and more to how and when you spend your time with them.

Here are the two criteria you should use to become more of a social minimalist:

When deciding whether or not to spend time with people, at least one of the following must be true in order for it to be a “yes.”

1.  It’s relevant. You’re up to something. You’re scheming or building or collaborating or solving a problem. You’re partnering on a project. You’re coordinating your friend’s birthday. You’re watching the big game. You’re meeting up to meditate for half an hour. One of you needs advice and the other has advice to give. There’s a reason to get together. There’s purpose. Spending time together is useful. It’s aligned with what matters to you.

— Or (or better yet, And) —

2.  It’s energizing. The thought of getting together is exciting. Tune into this feeling. You know how some invitations feel like an internal mini-victory? Like hell yes perfect timing that’s exactly what I want to do. And other times you only go because you couldn’t come up with a good enough reason why not? (If your first response upon receiving an invitation is to look for a reason why not, it’s not energizing.)  It’s energizing if you’re both eager to spend time together. It’s energizing when you find yourself nodding or smiling as you imagine it. There’s a dinner party and you have a good feeling about it. Your hilarious friend invited you to lunch and the thought of sitting across from him laughing is the best thing you can think of. Your group of friends from college is back in town and you cant wait to get together and party like freshman year. There’s someone you’re crushing on and you want to ask them on a date. You know this feeling.

If you make sure to check the box for at least one of those two standards from now on for all social get-togethers, you’ll have the best social life you’ve ever had in 6 months. (That is a totally trivial amount of time— I have no clue— but I’d bet on it if someone wanted to test it.)

Side note: I realize that some relationships are seemingly mandatory or locked in. You’re circumstantially obligated to spend time with someone and it’s not as simple as saying “I’m not feeling it today.” I get it. Think of social minimalism as a muscle to strengthen. This is a skill you are practicing, not an immediate overhaul of everything in your life. The better you get at being socially discerning in other situations, the more insight you’ll have about how to deal with your current situation.

Back to the original question:

“How do you make sure you surround yourself with the very best people in your life? The ones that push you to be the very best version of yourself?”

You surround yourself with the very best people in your life by having a social standard that honors your time, energy, and bandwidth. 

You attract the most fulfilling and rewarding relationships into your life (and nurture the ones you already have) by being honest about what matters most to you in each moment, and confidently declining default or suboptimal social options.

It’s not about the people. It’s about getting into alignment with your true self; with your intentions and goals and values. What matters most to you? How can you spend your time in accordance with those priorities?

The more aligned you get with what really matters to you (and the less distracted you are by what doesn’t) the more naturally you will generate an environment that supports your lifestyle. You’ll start to like your friends more and they’ll start to like you more. You’ll develop a better relationship with your own time and bandwidth. You’ll learn to trust yourself to be discerning—so you won’t have to cut people out or make any sweeping decisions as a result of burning out from too much time doing stuff you don’t care about.

And, as a result of this new bar you’ve set for yourself, the new people who make it into your life will be more and more aligned with you. Social minimalism is an upward spiral. 

2 thoughts on “How to Become a Social Minimalist

  1. I think you tapped into something a lot of social minimalists have missed- the whole people are not posessions but changing creatures growing and expanding and shifting all the time, it’s not who you spend time with but how and why. Awesome.


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