Minimalist Living is Just a Tool

In Essays, Minimalism, Self Improvement

This is a critique of minimalism, from a minimalist – keep that in mind as you read on.

Often the minimalist lifestyle is criticised by individuals who are not minimalists because it’s different to their lifestyle. Remember what I wrote about how people hate being told that they are wrong? Well, if an idea is promoting something that is different to someone’s current lifestyle, it is essentially telling them that they are wrong.

Minimalism is a challenge to all non-minimalists to take a long hard look at the way they live their lives. I just think that somewhere along the line minimalism became a little too hip, too cool and it essentially became lifestyle porn.

There is also a tendency for minimalists to preach about minimalism.

Is overconsumption wrong? Of course it is, we all know that. Nobody is stupid, but it’s not so easy to buck the trend when there are social pressures coming from every conceivable angle.

What I have found interesting is that it appears that the vast majority of people promoting minimalism as a hard-core way of life tend to be young, male, white and single (just like myself). Well, I think it’s probably quite easy to be minimalist when you’re 20 something – I mostly find it a walk in the park.

Throw a child or two in the mix, a spouse and mortgage payments and a demanding job and I wonder if we might consider changing our minds. It’s easy to ridicule our parents with their multiple sets of crockery and three-piece sofa suites, but they probably lived with far less in their 20s than we do in ours.

The Internet is full of entire websites dedicated to minimalism but I find it slightly ironic that something so simple and straightforward as minimalism has numerous websites completely dedicated to living with less. Can it be such a complex issue that it requires thousands of articles to comprehend? Most probably not, but I do enjoy reading them.

I find it really humorous that somehow Apple products always seem to come up when discussing minimalism. We get shown “minimalist” flats with wooden floors and white floors and expensive minimalist furniture with an iMac or Macbook air thrown in for good cause. That’s hardly minimalist – a Macbook Air requires huge manufacturing facilities, R&D, and marketing. Yes, I am writing this from a Macbook Air, but I don’t claim that minimalism is the answer to everything. A real minimalist life is probably quite boring, and is closer to living on a farm in the countryside than anything else.

I find it really humorous that somehow Apple products always seem to come up when discussing minimalism. We get shown “minimalist” flats with wooden floors and white floors and expensive minimalist furniture with an iMac or Macbook air thrown in for good cause. That’s hardly minimalist – a Macbook Air requires huge manufacturing facilities, R&D, and marketing. Yes, I am writing this from an iMac, but I don’t claim that minimalism is the answer to everything. A real minimalist life is probably quite boring, and is closer to living on a farm in the countryside than anything else.

Minimalist Does Work

I think a large part of why many people advocate minimalism is because it works. There are numerous benefits to learning to live with less but that’s more to do with the fact that we live in a society which encourages us to worship material objects. Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life. I’ve written before about the problems with this endless consumption and how it plays off our hedonic adaptation to our current circumstances.

I’m currently living in Cambodia and there are plenty of people here who live with less, and not by choice. Are they better or worse off? Yes and no, but mostly no.

I think the problem of with minimalism is that it sees the world in black and white. Owning a lot of stuff is bad, owning less is good. I’m going to disagree with this one.

How We Should Use Minimalism

Contrary to popular minimalist opinion, you can be free, productive and happy while owning thousands of things.

It’s just how you go about it.

If you deeply care about the things you own more than the way you act then minimalism will not save you.

In fact, owning less stuff may make things worse. If you only have 50 items instead of 500 then you are likely to become more attached to each and every item. If you can make the mental switch and let go, it really doesn’t matter how much you own but if you are not yet able to do that, then minimalist may make things worse. I found this out first hand when I temporarily lost the only book I owned at the time, the Enchiridion of Epictetus.

Yes, from a practical perspective it is easier to have less stuff but that is really not a life changer, it just happens to be a little more convenient.

So I urge you, minimalist or not, to think of minimalist living as a simple tool that serves its purpose. Just like a toothbrush is there to clean your teeth, minimalist living is there to keep consumption in check.

If it happens to bring some of the numerous benefits that it often brings, even better.

If not, don’t worry about it.