Minimalism has become a huge thing over the last several years. It speaks to people looking to find simplicity in a world they feel has gotten crazier by the day. Those folks are looking for some sort of mooring to hang onto while also deciding what is and isn’t worth having in their lives. It’s understandable minimalism became such a big thing, but for all of its benefits, there is still a big problem with minimalism.
Minimalism has exploded in popular culture over the last few years and for important reason. Hoards of people are feeling overworked and under-enthused in their lives and are looking for something to shake things up a bit. Oftentimes these people gravitate towards minimalism, due to aesthetics and rave reviews, and almost immediately become consumed.
This phenomena happened with CrossFit, Keto diets, barefoot running, tiny houses, zero waste, and just about every other flare up fad in the last 10 years. But just because it may be a bit of a cultural fad, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits to it. Just like CrossFit or barefoot running, minimalism does have some core tenants that are useful, helpful, and satisfying to the people who partake in it. CrossFit is great because you form a community and perform various healthy movements. Barefoot running can help because it prevents heel-striking and back pain. Likewise, minimalism can be satisfying because it removes the excess from your life and allows the good to flourish.
But even with all those benefits, the general public, after hearing and seeing the results of the Minimalist mindset, tends to distance itself from the movement. Why? Because of the advocates themselves. The people who are benefiting the most from these movements are the ones turning regular folks away. This is counter intuitive but it makes sense when you realize people turn into zealots when they’re filled with the zeal of the current best thing in their lives. Unfortunately, that exciting zeal can be damaging.
And that has become a major problem of minimalism. That term has gotten so deep into our cultural lexicon that when I, or someone I know, clean the house a little more than your standard Spring Cleaning session, someone will ask “Are you trying to be a Minimalist?”
It’s possible you’re taking one too many boxes of junk to the donation center. It could be you’re trying to decide what clothes you wear the most. Maybe, just maybe, you want to evaluate the stuff you’ve surrounded yourself with – and someone will always say, “Are you a Minimalist now?” I have to always say No because it isn’t healthy to have such a loaded term tied to perfectly natural process.
Just the name minimalism hints that the thus dubbed individual is consumed by less (and surely owns less), and therefore is more enlightened, than the non dubbed person. It instantly becomes a competition. That’s not good when you want to bridge the gap between you and the potential convert. So, here’s a bit of a list about why we are not minimalists and why we actively work against it.
This is the first problem with minimalism. This is really a shame because there are a ton of benefits behind the tasks and exercises associated with minimalism. Usually the most easily accessible and readily available action on the path to minimalism is decluttering. Look it up online and you’ll find a zillion different methods and videos titled “A Minimalist Guide to Decluttering”. Minimalism doesn’t have a monopoly on decluttering or getting rid of stuff. That’s just it’s most widely recognized vehicle. Getting rid of the excess in your life isn’t minimizing, it’s just focusing on the good – it’s just living with intent.
Too many people, when they hear the very word minimalism, think of owning 10 pieces of clothing (all black, of course), sleeping on the flood (black sleeping bag), and not owning anything, ever. “I can’t be a minimalist because I have X, Y or Z”. And this turns them off from the process of evaluating what they do have in their lives worth focusing on, which is a self defeating problem with minimalism. They become overwhelmed and decide to avoid it all together.
Minimalism didn’t set out to be elitist but the nature of the movement and the people have lead it down that path. Bad actors can so easily pervert minimalism into a virtue signaling endeavor that it’s no surprise your average person shies away from it. The name “Minimalism” wrongly suggests that a “true” minimalist owns minimal things, almost nothing in fact. He with the fewest toys is king. It’s this weird masochistic tendency to show how in-tune they are with their “inner nothingingness” that they don’t need anything in life. And that doesn’t jive with most people. Most people want a TV and a bed. Most people don’t want to be a monk in a monastery.
This is such a bummer because, like in the last point, the habits related to minimalism have tons of benefits to them and have helped thousands of people find what truly matters in life. This may be the most damaging problem with minimalism. These practices are for everyone, not only the most minimal. They’re normal, everyday performances that humans have been doing for thousands of years. The thought of some black-clad Minimalist looking down his nose at you, saying, “Not good enough” is more than enough to turn anyone back towards the familiar comforts of excessive consumerism and other destructive behaviors.
It’s a Nebulous Term
What the heck is minimalism anyway? Can you define it in a way that encapsulates the word itself? I can’t. There’s always more room to minimize, so is it ever really over? The genuine Minimalists out there know that minimalism is just a tool to help you find what you really enjoy and use in life. But even then no one has a solid, all encompassing definition of the word. It’s a weird label. Not all labels are bad, but this one tries to corral too much in too convenient a word.
Where does it end? Does it extend to your ego? To your eating habits? Speaking habits? How does it end? Does it end? Can it end? And while it may never be over, per say, it becomes more of maintenance and constant reevaluation than a race to 0 things.
It Too Cut and Dry
Another problem we see with minimalism is you’re either in or out. A Minimalist or not. If you’re in, you’re all the way in. You can’t be a semi-Minimalist, weekend-Minimalist or anything like that. It sounds a lot like politics: these people over here, and these people over here. I’ve not noticed much gray area with Minimalism. Problem is it turns away those interested in experimenting with it but don’t want to go 100%.
It Hijacked an Sound Idea
Before minimalism was a word or even a thing, people had been living intently and with merit forever. This Johnny-come-lately term dressed up a way of living in a costume that was unflattering and didn’t fit. Agrarian lifestyle, for thousands of years, meant living with what you had and using everything possible to survive. You used everything because who knows when times will be bad. Or monks living in squalor because that’s the way monks lived – no one called that Minimalism. They called it devotion to god. Those farmers weren’t Minimalist. They called them thrifty and hardworking and content.
Call it Whatever You Want or Nothing at All
The folks who, for since forever ago, lived lives content with what they had would be called Minimalists today, and that’s too bad because of the reasons listed above. You should examine your own life and evaluate how content you are. If you find areas where you can improve, maybe you can start removing those things in your life that cause you stress, anger, or fear. It could be getting rid of stuff helps you feel that way. Or it could be that moving into a different lifestyle helps you feel that way. Maybe it could be that switching jobs, or finding the right hobby, or finding new friends helps you feel that way. Who knows, that might mean buying more appropriate things. (Can minimalists buy more things?) Just remove that which is harmful to you and add that which is beneficial.
As long as you can be honest with yourself and pursue the life you love, and are making steps to move closer in that direction, who cares what you call it? Just start improving yourself.