When does minimalism go too far?

This is a guest post from Katy Wolk-Stanley of The Non-Consumer Advocate, a blog about frugality, food waste, environmentalism, simple living and finding thrift-store bargains. She describes herself as a “mother, utility bill scholar, laundry hanger-upper, library patron, frequent napper, and Buffy enthusiast.” When not blogging (or napping) Katy works as a high-risk labor and delivery nurse. Katy's blog has been featured in many major media outlets, including The National Enquirer, which featured Whitney Houston suffering from “Cocaine and Booze Binges” on the cover. She couldn't be happier.

The subject of minimalism (and blogging about minimalism) is currently hotter than Megan Fox before her last round of plastic surgery. And if the plethora of minimalism blogs is any indication, it's just a matter of weeks until we all live in spartan homes surrounded by our 100 lovingly-chosen personal items. And as much as I joke, there's nothing wrong with being deliberate and thoughtful about the things we surround ourselves with, but I have to wonder: When is too little, too much?

I mull over the “is less more?” quandary on a regular basis, but I began over-thinking the subject when Naomi Seldin of Simpler Living posted a piece about the wit and wisdom of Nate Berkus. (Berkus is Oprah's protégé and personal decorating guru.) It included this quote:

For a long time I was hell-bent on clutter-free living. I was a ruthless editor when it came to my possessions, to the point where my homes were very sparse, very minimal. Then I realized that's not who I am. I wanted to be surrounded by things that moved me. I wanted to have tabletops piled with books and shells and candles. But it took me a while to let go of this very rigid idea I had, of what my space should look like. Once I started letting stuff in, I really started making a home for myself.

I live in a 96-year-old craftsman-style house and have garnered great pleasure fixing it up and filling it with appropriate period Stuff. At the same time, I've fought a constant battle with clutter and excessive belongings. It's not a monetary issue (as I am the thrift-store goddess), but apparently I lack an organized brain. That, plus I'm just one of four inhabitants in this house, all of whom possess differing ideas about what should stay and what should go.

I read a few of the minimalism blogs, specifically Rowdy Kittens, Simpler Living and occasionally Zen Habits. I also enjoyed reading Dave Bruno's 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade my Life and Regained my Soul. But even Bruno is not shy to admit that he's upped his belongings number now that his official yearlong experiment is completed.

Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens and I are friends, and I've been to her apartment a number of times. (In November, Tammy wrote about pedaling toward financial freedom here at GRS.) She and her husband Logan both practice a 100 things challenge, and their home reflects this choice. There are no shelves crammed with books and knick-knacks. There's a dearth of rugs, extraneous furniture, collectibles, and the other ephemera that clutter typical American homes. It may sound impersonal, but it actually works perfectly for the space they've chosen for their home.

My 12-year-old son's room used to be filled with so many toys, games, stuffed animals, art supplies, books, pillows and Legos that it made keeping it tidy an impossibility — and often a hazard. But he and I have gone through a few rounds of decluttering that have transformed his room from war zone to peaceful meadow. I'm happy that my son now has a room where play and study can happen, but I worry that he was too ruthless in his quest for order, and that he will later regret his decisions.

I'm currently amassing a garage sale stash in my basement, and plan to recruit his services when it comes time to order the mayhem. I expect (and frankly, hope) that my son will re-appropriate a few of his personal possessions. Going from too many to not enough without a middle ground seems too fast, too soon, too much.

My older son's room is more typical of what one would expect from an American teenager, with strewn clothing, papers, knick-knacks and miscellaneous crap littering every horizontal surface. I let it go, as it's not my room.

I asked my Twitter followers if they had any thoughts about minimalism going too far, and this was the response:

  • DakotaGale: “re: minimalism, focusing on the # of possessions accomplishes little. Focus on the quality of the possessions – not <50!”
  • MarianneKthleen: “When you have given up so much you have lost the joy in some things.”
  • FeathrdFriendsy: “I think it's a great topic. Taking any behavior to the extreme can be damaging and unhealthy. And nobody ever seems to address taking healthy behaviors too far.”
  • gleanorganics: “Making everything yourself all the time so that your passions become chores – no point in losing happiness over it.”
  • mile73: “Thoughts on that. Favorite old clothes? Baby blankets? Keep? Or is empty space (mental physical) as valuable & important?”

Extreme minimalism is akin to extreme frugality: It works for some people, but robs others of life's dear enjoyments.

I wouldn't be comfortable living in a home without my cool Stuff. I'm drawn to the William Morris quote that Claire shared in her reader story last weekend: “Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” And I guess it turns out that I see beauty in a lot of stuff.

Do you think minimalism goes too far? Or does the minimalist movement appeal to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

Yes, minimalism can go too far, but frankly, I think it’s pretty tough for us all to get there. A few decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon for a child to only have 2 or 3 toys, and they were just fine! Today, if a child only had 2 toys, you may get them taken away by some child rescue mission or something, and you’d be charged with neglect…. My wife and I recently moved across the state and sold many of our belongings – enough to fit our entire life in a 5′ x 8′ trailer. Honestly, it was great!… Read more »

Moneycone
Moneycone
9 years ago

It is all about balance. Some take it too far and even make it work! When blackberry was all the rage for their awesome keyboards, Steve Jobs decided his phone won’t have any buttons at all!

Frankly at that time had he pitched this idea to anyone, he would’ve been laughed at! But hey today BlackBerry is releasing models without buttons!!

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

I think this video on the subject is great: http://www.getoffthiswheel.com/2011/01/07/the-minimalist-part-i/

I agree with you, each to his or her own. And I would like to keep my books, kthnxbai.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

that was hilarious

cerb
cerb
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Totally worth watching, thanks for the chuckle!

olga
olga
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

That was totally worth to start a day with!

MutantSuperModel
MutantSuperModel
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

YOU! Beat me to it :/

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Gotta get up early to beat me!

KSK
KSK
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Thanks for a great chuckle! This totally made my morning.

kim
kim
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

That was awesome. Thanks for sharing!

stannius
stannius
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

What everyone else said. Funny video

Anne
Anne
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

This made my day!

Chad
Chad
9 years ago

My family lives in a modest sized home. Not big by any means and not too small. We use every square foot of our space (even outdoors: we have a large garden, an orchard, and a sizable berry patch on .3 acres). If we bring something home, something else usually has to go. That is not a rule, it is because the house feels cluttered otherwise. As many will say, it is all about balance. There has to be room to think and breathe, if you have that, the amount of stuff does not matter. Everybody must find what works… Read more »

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
9 years ago

I’ve been trying to write a post about my concern with extreme frugalism for a while and this has hit many of the same issues. Sure, stuff has a mental, physical and financial cost but so can stressing about decluttering (and staying possession free) to achieve an arbitrary number. The same can be said for (opt-in) extreme frugalism – I’ve read a number of tales recently about people’s diets and health suffering while trying to be extremely frugal. While I do think cut-down challenges are useful occasionally, the emphasis on quantity – amount of items, how little you can live… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

Hmmm. Definitely food for thought. When I’m decluttering, I ask myself “do I use/enjoy this, or would someone else get more use and enjoyment out of it?” That’s helped me strike a balance.

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

Yes, minimalism can go too far. But it is a reaction to out-of-control consumption. I’m in the contemplation stage of moving onto a boat. As I walk around my house I look at things I own now and think about their value to me and what it will feel like to give them up. It’s amazing to me how few things I’m finding that would really hurt to let go of–including antiques, books, photos. I feel like I’m moving toward something that’s even more important to me than memories and things. I find myself overwhelmed by the amount of stuff… Read more »

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

re “Material World”, only when putting western families and all their stuff outside their house equals a “what not to do” reality TV show i.e. Hoarders, Clean House, How Clean is Your House (UK). ~chuckles~

Beth
Beth
9 years ago

I’m confused. How can there be such a thing as “extreme minimalism”? Minimalism means stripping things down to their basic qualities. Either something is minimalist or it’s not.

I think people can go too far in their efforts to live with less, but I think most of us could do with less than we have. It would be a boon to the environment, but perhaps a blow to the economy (which relies on people constantly buying stuff!)

I think I’ll like your blog, Katy! I’m going to check it out 🙂

Lauren @ Pineapple Pizza
Lauren @ Pineapple Pizza
9 years ago
Reply to  Beth

When I think of extreme minimalism, I think of things like owning 2 shirts and washing them all the time, or not keeping the sentimental things (even when you want to) because you don’t need them. You don’t *need* pictures on the wall, for example.

Tanya
Tanya
9 years ago

I had this discussion with someone just the other day. You don’t “need” pictures on the walls, books, etc. But beauty is important. Having things around us that inspire and comfort us – books, shells, candles, comfy chairs etc. – does a great deal for our mental health. While you don’t have to have a home stuffed with “stuff,” leave room for the things that are meaningful and beautiful, that will feed your heart and soul. You might be able to exist in a spartan world – but would you want to?

xysea
xysea
9 years ago
Reply to  Tanya

ITA. Right now, my new hubby and I are discussing this. He likes a really stripped down existence, but even then he compromises this belief when it comes to his books or CDs – which he has tons of (we both do, that’s the hardest cull for us both). He also likes plain everything – white walls, plain floors, simple furniture and no texture or patterns. I am more tactile and engaged with my environment and I like textured fabrics, art, stone, metal and ceramics and personal mementos and inspirational things to surround me for comfort and well-being. Where I… Read more »

Steve S
Steve S
9 years ago

Arbitrarily picking a number of things to own and throwing everything else out turns minimalism into just as much of a game or contest as anyone trying to “keep up with the jonses”. It seems like it becomes more about telling other people about your minimalism (and bragging about it) than about the joy you gain from having such a simple life. We look down on both obesity and anorexia. It’s the same pattern here. If you’re doing it for outward appearances you aren’t doing it for the right reasons in the first place and you will ultimately end up… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416
9 years ago
Reply to  Steve S

Totally agree with this Steve. I know not all “minimalists” are playing a game but this stuff seems to me like hipstery online one-upmanship – 37 folders! 100 pushups! 100 things! (but buy my ebook!)

Moving around a lot will make you minimalist, just as living in small homes will. It was always amazing to me how much junk I’d accumulate every summer spent in the US when I was a student.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

Having lived amid clutter most of my life, I love my newfound minimalism. It gives me tremendous serenity to know that I am taking good care of everything in my life and nothing is falling through the cracks. I have also found that I can do more with less and I can focus on the things that really matter to me. I don’t think I’d take minimalism to the extreme of getting rid of my books and records and other things I value. As long as everything is organized and taken care of, it is not clutter as far as… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

I’m not familiar with the minimalist movement, so I really can’t comment. TBH, I didn’t get much more out of this post other than “I know some people who are decluttering their house. What do you think?”

FWIW, I live in a sub-800 square foot apartment, so by construct, I have to limit clutter.

Geek
Geek
9 years ago

I think that minimalism goes a bit too far – it’s great to not live a super consumerist lifestyle but we have wonderful technology for comfort and productivity, so why not use it? Just not all of it. I think not watching cable helps more than anything, no commercials saying buy buy buy. Lately I’ve been frecycling a bit and that feels pretty nice 🙂 since I never used my coffee pot or the Foreman grill anyway. Although – having minimalists around (even just on the internet) helps me declutter by comparison. But so does going to my parents’ house… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago
Reply to  Geek

I totally agree with u about ads and parents!

indio
indio
9 years ago

I’ve always admired the Japanese aesthetic of minimalism and not having my life cluttered with too much stuff. When I was in college, it used to take other kids 3 or more trips home to pack up and move out of their rooms at the end of the semester. I was usually done in 4 hours. Now with kids, work, volunteering, hobbies I have very little time to keep the clutter to a minimum. The rule “one bag in, one bag goes out” isn’t always followed and I find myself spending days of my life, when I could be having… Read more »

amber
amber
9 years ago

I find it impossible to be both minimal AND frugal. Frugal to me means having things on hand that I can make do. Minimalists “throw that crap out”. I come from a long line of frugal women, so I tend towards the “I might need this blue mismatched button for something someday” even though I long to be a minimalist in a sleek home with nothing crammed under the bed. I do not see where the balance point is between these two world views.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  amber

The balance point is the cost/benefit ratio. If your mismatched blue button is easy to retrieve and it truly gives you an economic benefit, then all is well. If costs more to keep and maintain than the benefit it provides, and it takes you longer to find than it would to make money to buy a new one, you’re doing it wrong. People don’t think of hidden costs, but real estate is one of the most expensive things we pay money for, whether you buy or rent. How much are you paying in rent/mortgage for the things you keep in… Read more »

Geek
Geek
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I just really like buttons… 😛

stannius
stannius
9 years ago
Reply to  amber

There are articles out there about how avoiding clutter can be frugal. A couple arguments I recall are that it costs money to have space to keep all your stuff; and that if you have too much stuff, you might accidentally buy duplicates of items you have but can’t find or have even forgotten you own.

If you think of time and happiness as resources, just like money is, it starts to make even more sense.

Barb
Barb
9 years ago
Reply to  amber

I’m very mcu with amber on this-I’m frugal (bordering on extreme) because of necessity. However I am not a minimalist in probably any area of my life. Being a frugal person means using what I have from my home. It also means that if I change my mind and get rid of something, for me theres an unaffordable cost in replacing it. So while my house is neat and organized, I have Stuff-heck, I even love my stuff….I have no problem with folks who want to be minimalist-but simplicity and frugality are very often different things.

Sheelah
Sheelah
9 years ago

I posit that minimalism or voluntary simplicity are not the same as the “100 items challenge.” Voluntary simplicity should be about being mindful of your possessions and life choices. You should evaluate if each of your possessions add value to your life. If they do, then keep them. In that way, the total number of possessions will differ from person to person, but each person will be living their authentic thought-out life. Adhering to a strict number of possessions for the number’s sake is antithetical to living a consciously simple life. Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago

As with any lifestyle change, balance is key. Each person has their limit for minimalism. For some people, owning 100 things or less is their comfortable limit. For others, it could be 1,000 things. As long as you appreciate what you have and it brings joy and/or function to your life, that’s what matters. I try to manage my home by the quote mentioned: “Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I definitely can get rid of more stuff (and I frequently do). I enjoy looking at things and… Read more »

Michael
Michael
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

“Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

What if you feel that an empty corner is uglier than that statue you don’t particularly like?

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago
Reply to  Michael

Hard to believe I could find a corner ugly.

If I hated it that much (along with the statue), I know I have something around my apartment that I could put in that corner to spruce it up (I definitely have more possessions than necessary, hence the frequent purging).

I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of not liking a corner…

Megan
Megan
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

Oh we have an ugly corner..the carpet is stained and bulging and the walls aren’t clean either (even after trying to make them that way). I put a lamp in the corner. We rarely USE the lamp, but it hides the corner and pulls the room together.

I just don’t know what to do with the rest of the Stuff that doesn’t serve a purpose – sell it or take to goodwill??

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

Megan if the time it takes to sell and the amOunt you’ll earn are compatible sell. If u itemize goodwill. If neither, freecycle.

Méla
Méla
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

This William Morris quote is one of my favourites! One of my great pleasures in life is occasionally–usually with the change of the seasons (I live smack-dab in the middle of Canada so we definitely have 4 seasons)–is to make subtle changes in the decor of my house. Usually means bright lemon yellow and sky blue cushion covers with sea shells scattered round in the summer to slipping cranberry covers on the same cushions and spreading some black wrought iron and candles around in the winter. To do this I have accumulated a fair number of “things” but these things… Read more »

stannius
stannius
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

Rules like “100 things”, “one in one out”, and “you used it in the past 12 months” can be useful as tools to help yourself keep your possessions in balance. Applied willy-nilly they are just rigid and arbitrary. Applied deliberately they can be a way to help yourself think through the pros and cons of a possession or set of possessions in a concrete manner.

At least in theory. In practice I can’t get my wife to use any of them :/ And I’m a little too lazy to work hard on them myself.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago
Reply to  stannius

Maybe your wife needs to see a therapist that specializes in hoarding/disorganization-type issues.

I know my mom does. Now… How to get her there?!

Holly
Holly
9 years ago

I agree with what others have said — it is hard for most of us in the U.S. to get rid of “too much” stuff, but that if we start to get rid of stuff that is important to us, then we have gone too far. For myself, I measure my approach to minimalism by how I feel when I walk into a room — If I walk into a room and breathe a relaxed sigh, then I know I’m “there” — I have a room with just enough stuff. So far, I’m only there with the guest bedroom and… Read more »

stannius
stannius
9 years ago
Reply to  Holly

The only way to know your limits is to exceed them.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago
Reply to  stannius

No, the only way to know your limits is to attempt to exceed them and fail.

Ash
Ash
9 years ago

Tyler, you make me laugh.

bekka
bekka
9 years ago
Reply to  Holly

Great attitude, Holly. I’ve heard different lifestyle experts say that you should envision how you want to use each room, then declutter or conversely buy what you need for your dream. Homekeeping ideally is about enjoying your home, using efficiently to free your time and finances, and live the way you want to, not to some ideal of the smallest house possible or the least number of possessions. We have a relatively large home for just two people and our dogs, and enjoy the spaciousness of being relatively uncluttered.

ap
ap
9 years ago

Cutting down on possessions, when used as a tool to curb an out of control spending habit and debt, can trigger a lifestyle change where you prefer having less. Opting for quality over quantity to save natural resources is a good thing. Wanting to change your lifestyle and needing to do so are two different animals altogether. It is fine to want a materially simple life, even when motivated by what is considered trendy. Of the different lifestyles you can afford, choose the one you prefer. Taste is a different matter. A collection of mass produced movie memorabilia is in… Read more »

Lo-Wa
Lo-Wa
9 years ago

I’ve read a number of minimalist blogs and watched the video about the Zero Waste Home and I always come away scratching my head and wondering …what the heck do these people do for fun? From what I can tell, they don’t have any books, games, sporting equipment, musical instruments, art supplies or visible tools to pursue any type of hobbies. I seriously wonder what they do in their empty homes when they’re not at work. To each his own, but I can safely declare that I will never be a minimalist. I have 5 curious, active kids who love… Read more »

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago
Reply to  Lo-Wa

Many without the possessions you listed (books, games, etc) use them, they just don’t own them. Borrow books, movies, even games from the library. Play games with their friends. The minimalists I follow all have hobbies and supplies for them. They just don’t have unnecessary possessions.

Your clutter seems to work for you, and in the end, what works for each of us is what matters.

That Other Jean
That Other Jean
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

So people practice minimalism by relying on other people’s stuff? There’s a flaw in that, somewhere. . .

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

Have you never read Thoreau’s Walden. I know a lot of people love it, and there’s some great stuff there, but it’s hard to take him seriously sometimes. “I am so virtuous because I live a simple life in the woods. I grow my own food — though I do have to go borrow all the tools and implements from people in town. I invite people to my cabin — though I don’t have any furniture, so they have to stand all night long.”

Walden is inspirational, but Thoreau took minimalism too far sometimes. 🙂

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago

I don’t see a flaw in helping out friends and neighbors by borrowing/lending each other’s/your own Stuff. If your passion is gardening, you will have the tools you will need. Your neighbor or friend may need to borrow them and that’s okay. Their passion may be board games. You don’t play them often, but when you do, you borrow from the friend.

Also, borrowing media from the library is good for the community, environment, and your wallet.

Ultimately, if you use the Stuff you own and/or receive joy from it, it’s not a problem. The problem lies in unnecessary Stuff.

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

J.D., one of my college English professors had buttons made for his students that said “Henry David Thoreau Went Home Weekends.” Apparently it’s true–he wrote about solitude and minimalism but basically let his mom do his laundry!

Lo-Wa
Lo-Wa
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

Yes, what works for each of us IS what matters, but if my stuff is well maintained and neatly stored, does that still make it “clutter”?

This is what I reject about minimalism: the notion that “stuff” is the same as “clutter”. “Clutter” is “stuff ” I don’t want….”stuff” is “crap I like to have and use”.

This reminds me of an old George Carlin routine where he talks about a home being a place for “my stuff”. Does anyone else remember that?!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Lo-Wa

see post #11 🙂

Lo-Wa
Lo-Wa
9 years ago
Reply to  Lo-Wa

Thanks, El Nerdo. I missed that link earlier!

Thank goodness for numbered replies!

Mary H
Mary H
9 years ago
Reply to  Lo-Wa

“I seriously wonder what they do in their empty homes when they’re not at work.”
I’ve wondered that myself. I like to stay home and play with my stuff.

twist
twist
9 years ago

I understand exactly what you mean about the arbitrariness of extreme minimalism. I sometimes feel like the minimalist movement is the sour grapes of a group of people too well off and too used to wasting that well being. My family has never been well off (honestly near poverty), but I have a book collection that I started when I was four years old and started saving change in piggy banks. Now its large enough that I regularly weed through and remove books that aren’t getting a lot of use, or don’t like but have snuck in in the form… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago
Reply to  twist

5 books a day? Holy cow. Do you sleep?

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
9 years ago
Reply to  twist

5 books a day would be my ideal; i only manage 5 a week. but thank you for your comment! i’ve been paring down and all i have left of “arbitrary stuff” are my books (and cases…which i don’t care about except they hold my books). My library was built similarly to yours. Somehow I feel better about being stubborn about my books. I don’t think I’ve yet recovered from giving up half of them for a cross country move twelve years ago, even tho’ many have already been replaced by copies. I think maybe now I follow your footsteps… Read more »

margot
margot
9 years ago

This post is silly. “Extreme minimalism” or “minimalism gone too far” affects about ZERO Americans, excluding the few who do it for the sake of a blog or a book. Americans do not have a problem with too little stuff. I read the article from which you took that quote from Nate Berkus, which contained photos of his house, and his “non-minimalist” look was still rather minimalist by the cluttered standards of most Americans. It wasn’t as if he’d embraced clutter and “stuff.” I don’t know a single person who has purged or minimalized their stuff (again, beyond those who… Read more »

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago
Reply to  margot

The movement is picking up pace so people are talking about it (even if they aren’t doing it). I don’t know people that have gone that far, either, but I (and you, according to your post) have read about it online enough to know about it.

I think the general idea of the post is to make you think before you take any extreme action. Much like diet fads. You have to do what is right for you.

margot
margot
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

Yes, but “picking up pace,” only refers to the number of blogs and books. I see zero indication that any regular person is actually embracing minimalism to anything approaching an “extreme.” It seems that, at best, the populace is embracing a very modest version of minimalism. There is no need for commentary on the subject – as there might be with the fad diets that you reference – because unlike fad diets (which truly are a craze that people actually implement by the millions), we aren’t in danger of extreme minimalism. There are enough things to worry about, consider and… Read more »

Bridget
Bridget
9 years ago
Reply to  margot

My family is slowly going from a 2000 square foot house with a standard amount of stuff, to just enough stuff to fit in a 40 foot sailboat. We’re taking 7 years to do it. The more stuff I take away, the more free I feel. I feel like there is a pattern with people who originally espoused simple living and minimalism, to distance themselves from it. Ev Bogue did it. This post does it. Why is that? Is minimalism uncool now? Is it a passing fad? Do we need to rename it? I haven’t heard or seen anything extreme… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

Yes, it can go too far. The “n things challenge” is ridiculous because it’s completely up to the person counting how they group the items. So even the 100 things guy had over 100 things all along, correct me if I’m wrong.

Also, at some point, doesn’t maintaining that magic number of items become more trouble than actually acquiring and dealing with a little more stuff?

I’m all for conscious spending and not just buying something because your neighbor has it, but the minimalist movement is out of control.

Trudi
Trudi
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin M

How can a movement that affects a tiny percentage of the population be considered out of control?

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago
Reply to  Trudi

By out of control, I’m referring to the seemingly endless amount of blogs and blog posts devoted to the subject.

Anjali
Anjali
9 years ago

This is something I’ve been struggling with lately. In the 10 years since I went to college and moved out of my parents’ 3000 square foot home, I’ve lived in a series of increasingly smaller apartments. Right now, my husband and I live in 600 square foot studio. My husband is an architect and he gets a thrill out of the challenge of using space in most efficient way possible and he thinks we could try to pare things down even more! We moved out of our last place (900 square foot ground floor apartment with a patio and yard)… Read more »

Niterainbow
Niterainbow
9 years ago

It is very simple. In my humble opinion YOU ARE RICH when you do not counting pennies over a small every day things.

Yes they add up, yes you can save money on them. But when you go for groceries and buy what you need and what you want this is good for peace of mind.

Pat S
Pat S
9 years ago

When you see how people in other parts of the world live, you will understand that “minimalism”, as we consider it, is not minimalistic at all.

mike
mike
9 years ago

When is too little, too much?

Excellent Katy.

Minimalism for me is another way of looking at life. I’ve learned a lot from minimalism blogs, and have incorporated some of their ideas into my lifestyle.

We have too much stuff, that’s all there is to it.

My wife told me last night she appreciates my frugality, but she said she didn’t marry a cheapo, and she said that’s what I’m becoming. After regurgitating my dinner, I said, “Maybe you’re right”.

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago
Reply to  mike

Good comment, Mike 🙂

I’ve incorporated ideals of minimalism in my life. I don’t own 100 things (WAY more than that), but what I’ve taken from the minimalist movement is to reassess our wants and needs.

Did you eat the dinner again? 😉

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog
9 years ago

I am trying to be more conscious of what I buy and why I buy, but this arbitrary number of possessions rule strikes me as a little counterproductive. Besides, WHY is a jacket a separate item but toothpaste and toothbrush gets lumped into one item? Or, why are “common items” (i.e. items shared in an apartment) excluded from the 100 items list? I’ve seen many a minimalist do that so that they don’t count the pots and pans they have in their shared apartment kitchen.

Mary Arrrr
Mary Arrrr
9 years ago

Last week riding home on the bus, I overheard the following conversation: “No. She cannot sleep over at Mindy’s house. She went to a party there just last month. We agreed we were going to focus on doing things together as a family. We just cannot be encouraging this sort of spontaneous socializing.” I wanted to turn around and ask her if she realized how evil that sounded. I refrained. That is minimalism taken too far. I took a Positive Psychology class and one of the most important takeaways from it was the importance of being intrinsically rather than extrinsically… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago
Reply to  Mary Arrrr

Hey! The guest post that I was originally going to post this morning was all about positive psychology as it relates to consumerism, and included a discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. You’re a mind-reader. 🙂 I’ve edited that post, and it’s in the hopper for the next time a GRS writer misses a deadline. (That writer will probably be me!) On a tangent: I think I’ve finally solved two management problems that were plaguing me. First, I had way too many guest posts and no time to run them. Second, writers sometimes miss deadlines. (*ALL* writers, even me.) Yesterday… Read more »

Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I guess I should say thank you to whichever anonymous writer missed their deadline!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

Patti
Patti
9 years ago
Reply to  Mary Arrrr

“We just cannot be encouraging this sort of spontaneous socializing.”

WOAH. That is really nuts. Way to suck the fun out of life. Who knew that spontaneous socializing was even a thing, much less a thing to discourage? I’m going to start working that phrase into my life. As in,

Hey– what are you up to?

Oh, just spontaneously socializing.

Lyn
Lyn
9 years ago
Reply to  Patti

Amen sister! I was thinking the same thing. As a matter of fact, some of my favorite memories have sprung from spontaneous socializing.

Andrea
Andrea
9 years ago
Reply to  Mary Arrrr

You are absolutely correct. I have never heard of not allowing spontaneous socializing because of family time. That sounds really mental.

However, I have seen people(that I know well) make their lives smaller because of too much stuff- no one can come into their homes-they do not allow it. Their kids cannot have friends over and they will not invite people they know into their homes

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Mary Arrrr

I agree with you this behavior is bananas, but I don’t understand how it can be ascribed to “minimalism” instead of (properly) psychopathology.

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago
Reply to  Mary Arrrr

Was she also upset about the wire hangers?

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

Counting items is pointless and ridiculous. For instance, I probably own 100 pieces of silverware. And 100 wrenches and sockets. And 100 plates, bowls, and glasses. Who cares? Would my life be better if I owned fewer place settings? But that’s not really the thing that bothers me about “minimalism”. The thing that bothers me about minimalism is not the “own less” mentality, but the “do less” mentality. The minimalism movement doesn’t seem to understand the value of hard work, or appreciate what so many people have spent the last 200 years building in our society. And yes, I include… Read more »

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago

What they mean by “do less” is to do less of the crap you don’t care about. Too many of us have WAY too many commitments that truthfully, we don’t give two hoots about. We do it because for some psychological reason, we feel obligated.

Do less of what you don’t care about. Do MORE of what you do care about.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

Really important things like these:
http://zenhabits.net/ritual/

4. Wash your bowl.

Important!

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

Perhaps his guest blogger missed a deadline and he needed a quick fill-in post.

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

🙂

Mary H
Mary H
9 years ago

I followed the link but I don’t see what living mindfully through simple ritual has to do with your argument about minimalism.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

The given minimalist philosophy is that we should do less, purportedly “of the things that don’t matter”, so that we can concentrate on doing more of the things that matter. Correct?

One of the internet’s foremost minimalism blogger is advocating doing this by *spending more time contemplating washing your dishes*. This is the sort of thing he *is* advocating doing. We’re supposed to do less of the things that “don’t matter” (like responding to customer e-mails) so that we can spend more time thinking about washing dishes and sitting on the floor.

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

Great comment Tyler! In general most minimalism blogs are a dressed up spiritual take take on consious spending/living and frugality. I mean, if you have no tv, you don’t need to replace it. But many seem to have alot of other tech. There’s a trend for minimalists to hate on common jobs and advocate working as little as possible. I find both of these odd. Most people who are self employed work much harder than paid employees because they not only have to do the work, they have to hustle for the work. It’s not some magical means to almost… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
9 years ago

Admittedly, we are not minimalists, but we have relatives who are maybe not so much minimalists as true eco believers. They’ll buy lots of stuff so long as its second hand and non-consumable. To my knowledge money is not an issue for them. However, when they throw a party, I think they figure out how many people will be there and calculate how much should be consumed in an earth friendly manner and then purchase only that amount. There is NEVER enough food, beverages, napkins, silverware, or anything else that will need to be washed or consumed at their parties.… Read more »

Karen
Karen
9 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

It’s just not a party if you have to ration the pretzels.

Shara
Shara
9 years ago

I agree with Tyler and I would add that my problem with the minimalist movement isn’t that it exists but that it’s often held up as a standard that people ooh and aah over like the minimalist is so clever and enlightened in order to live his/her life this way. It isn’t about cost effectiveness and often isn’t even about simplicity, but somehow getting rid of as much as possible is a standalone goal. If I rent a closet and sleep naked on the floor so I can wash my clothes every night and claim only my toothbrush and multitool… Read more »

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
9 years ago
Reply to  Shara

We’ve been rewatching old videos of “Absolutely Fabulous”, and one of my favorite episodes is when Eddy’s friends Bettina & Max are coming to visit. She recalls their apartment which was so minimal it was basically a white expanse that they couldn’t find the furniture in. Eddy goes crazy trying to make her house perfect for them, but when they arrive, they have had a baby and now have waaaay too much stuff!

Your description of minimalism reminded me a lot of the white expanse of the first apartment, lol! 🙂

Frugal Living
Frugal Living
9 years ago

I think it goes too far when you are living way below your means

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Frugal Living

Oh man, I hope that’s not true. Anybody aiming for financial independence is SOL then.

Megan
Megan
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I think he means to the point that you have old clothes, reuse bags or bottles until they are unhealthy, use plates with chips, or broken knives.

You should live below your means, but don’t make it a health hazard.

Steve Dupree
Steve Dupree
9 years ago
Reply to  Megan

It’s nice of you to give him the benefit of the doubt, but none of that is specified or even hinted at in the comment.

MutantSuperModel
MutantSuperModel
9 years ago

I first heard about minimalism years ago and it referred to very EXPENSIVE, very spartan furniture and interior decor usually imported from overseas. My mom calls them hospital houses/rooms. To each their own and in that case, I’m sure there’s no such thing as taking minimalism too far as long as it’s not having a negative impact on someone else. Personally, I care about de-cluttering because I have little kids and too much stuff is dangerous and messy. I don’t consider myself minimalist and have no desire to become so. If others do, that’s fine with me. It can be… Read more »

ali
ali
9 years ago

I think a lot of things are about finding what’s comfortable. The main minimalist blog I’ve read is Miss Minimalist and she says she’s been minimalist her whole life – always getting rid of and paring down. Her lifestyle does seem extreme, but she’s happy. Personally I always thought I wanted an old house crammed full of things. A library with floor to ceiling bookcases on nearly every wall. A kitchen with gadgets and dishes. Pictures on the walls, keep sakes, knick knacks. I had an image in my head. But what I realized is that I don’t do well… Read more »

Lauren
Lauren
9 years ago

I’m currently reading The Joy of Less by Francine Jay (http://www.missminimalist.com/), and while I quite enjoy the book, I don’t always agree with her. She has a lot of strict rules about keeping everything in their place at all times, and keeping a watchful eye over all your things. I think this can definitely be helpful for someone battling clutter, but I do think at some point you have to relax. If you are constantly stressing over where your things are and the family members that put them there, you aren’t going to be happy. I am currently paring down… Read more »

Megan
Megan
9 years ago

So my issue is that we try and keep our house the way we like – with some stuff, but never too much. However, other people keep trying to give us things – art, decorations, books, nick-nacks, etc.

How do you tell people to stop sending stuff when they feel it is important to show love through physical presents? We’ve started re-gifting it to others but I don’t want it in the house to begin with!

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Megan

I’ve never found an answer to that, but ruthless regifting and donating has at least slowed it down – my mom asks, now, “if i give you this will you just give it to Goodwill?”

If you are too delicate with people’s feelings and pretend like you kept everything, they never learn. And NOBODY listens when you just ask them not to, in my experience.

Andrea
Andrea
9 years ago
Reply to  Megan

I don’t know how you stop the physical gifts w/o offending people. I have tried to say and show(with my house re floored. painted and decluttered) that I have given away and am continuing to give away things. I told people about giving about ornamental wedding gifts(I’ve been married 25+ years) that I never used to charity shops or charity auctions(church, school,etc). I also filled 2 canvas bins for the local library book sale before we painted(probably 200+ books). So when I get something, i say thank you and follow the mantra I learned from a professional organizer” Because someone… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
9 years ago
Reply to  Megan

Last year for Christmas we gave my fiance’s brothers and their wives a date night gift. We gave them a gift card to a restaurant, movie tickets and a bottle of wine. This was a personal gift but didn’t cause clutter. I think if you gave people ideas like this they would be more likely to get you something that is not just more stuff. Maybe they could pay for a day of horseback riding or scuba diving or something else that you would be interested in.

Tanya
Tanya
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrea

My best friend and her family moved to a smaller house a couple of years ago. She really didn’t want “stuff.” What she did want was flowers for her garden. So I bought her some as an early Christmas gift. She loved it and just yesterday said to me, “If you want to buy flowers again …” This is even better if you buy perennials that last for years!

Kristina
Kristina
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrea

And haven’t we seen the reports that memories make people happy, rahter than receiving a gift? So you have created for them a memory of an evening out, and they will appreciate the memory of your gift even more, as there is nothing to hold on to. With my sisters and their families, for teh past few christmases and their anniversaries I give an activity (dinner and movie for the entire family, theater for two, breakfast at their favorite breakfast place which they do once a week alone, sans kids, etc.) instead of an “object”. Both my sisters apreciate it… Read more »

SL
SL
9 years ago

If you get rid of something that you will have to buy again, it is not just minimalism, it is wasteful. I see people throw things away only to buy a more “minimal” or trendy eco-friendly replacement.

Often those who lived through the Great Depression were a bunch of hoarders. However, the environmental impact of the hoarders is probably less than the superficially green “minimalist”.

alexinmadison
alexinmadison
9 years ago

You may have well been writing about me in this article. My home has always suffered from clutter – primarily because I have sentimental attachment to books and artwork and knick-knacks that remind me of people or places. My home will never look like a Pottery Barn catalog but I do need to strike a better balance. I’d like to start a new movement. Instead of minimalism, let’s go for “simplification.” Or “sensibility.” I need to be more sensible about the things I hold on to and I need to simplify my life by only keeping things that fit the… Read more »

20 and Engaged
20 and Engaged
9 years ago

Minimalism gets you thinking about what really matters to you in life and what you need in order to live. Of course, everything done to the extreme should be reconsidered, but it’s an interesting lifestyle. I’d love to try to implement it but it gets really hard. We live in a world where excess is in.

Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
9 years ago

Thanks for all the great comments. Finding balance in life is a lifelong struggle for everyone, whether that balance is Stuff, work, family or just life.

I would actually like to have less Stuff than we currently have, and have a garage sale planned for May, (of course I live in Oregon, so this is weather dependent) and will do an additional sweep through the house at that time.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot
9 years ago

I dont know if I would say that minimalism is for me, however, consider a lean blackbelt in a corporate environment, they can often apply their “no waste” strategy to their personal lives…and that I tend to agree with.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago

Coming back later in the day to read again I see the benefit of colors in the posts and live the numbering.

laura
laura
9 years ago

I’ve lived with my mom, whom dad called a “pack rat” most of my life. She was born in 1930 and hated throwing things away. She even went to garage sales and made purchases that cluttered up the home. I never liked any of it and when I moved out, I decided not to be like her. I prefer a minimal environment. My husband, however, came from parents who were minimalists because they hated to dust. Therefore, there weren’t any books or knick-knacks around.. I still prefer less surrounding me while my husband likes “things” around him. One day, I… Read more »

Ali
Ali
9 years ago

Minimalism isn’t for everyone. Too bad, because it’s better for the environment, and it’s probably better for most people. Live with less: less stress, more time for life. I admire minimalists much more than I admire people with lots of things that they don’t need. I think minimalists aren’t necessarily about white walls and white furniture, but more about living a rich life without being tied down by belongings. Do some people take minimalism to an extreme? Who cares? How could anyone possibly have a problem with such a harmless lifestyle?

Money Reasons
Money Reasons
9 years ago

Hardcore miminalist really aren’t anything new. They are just the early forms of becoming Misers that we later read about. It’s funny, a lot of misers leave their money to noble causes after they pass away (very Scrooge like, after the change of heart)

I came to my conclusions after jokingly writing: Minimalist vs Misers, Money Fight Matchup #2. I don’t like including links like this in comments, but I think it adds to your article.

Madeline
Madeline
9 years ago

100 possessions only?? Well, one shelf in my husband’s garage would take care of that. So I’d have to throw out all my clothes, books and my food processor?

All the THINKING about possessions is the problem, not the STUFF! My gypsy soul enjoys piles of books, crafts supplies, and lots of stocked up canned goods in my home.I like candles, scrapbooks and garden art.

I economize, make purchases at thrift stores and I buy my book used.

Extreme Minimalism is a symptom of some sort of strange guilt,I believe.

Enjoy your life, CELEBRATE your life, cluttered or not!

Alex
Alex
9 years ago

You know what would be funny? Make a show on Discovery that is the opposite of “hoarders”. It takes extreme minimalists shopping and forces them to buy things. I can see the tears now…”I don’t need a couch, I can sit on the floor” haha. Kidding of course but as many have said here anything in extremes can be unhealthy.

Bridget
Bridget
9 years ago

Okay, please show me one person who is taking minimalism too far, and is espousing a lifestyle without enough stuff. And then show me their cult of followers who are also doing so. They don’t exist. Even the 100 thing challenge guy doesn’t do it. It was a challenge, an experience to explore his relationship to stuff. There have always been people who did things out of fear, who were stingy of spirit and heart. That’s not minimalism, that’s the behavior of a miser, which, I think, is counter-intuitive to minimalism. Sincerely, I think the potential of taking minimalism too… Read more »

Riley Harrison
Riley Harrison
9 years ago

Hi J.D.,
I am a minimalist by nature. My criteria as to what I can do without is the degree of deprivation I feel. As an example, I drive an older car but lose not a second of sleep over the age of my car. I also love to travel and will always find a way to make it happen. Needless hoarding/saving to my way of thinking is as flawed as obsessive compulsive spending. One must learn to live within ones’ means and an intelligent savings plan has to be included as a necessary expense to enhance the future.
Riley

Sean
Sean
9 years ago

“I let it go because it’s not my room”? I wish I had you as a mom as a kid/teen!

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