Moderation Is The Key To Simple Living: Sometimes Minimalists Go Too Far

I gave away 80% of all my Christmas decorations last year. Did I go too far? You’ve all heard the saying, “everything in moderation.” There’s a bucketload of truth in those words. Anything taken to an extreme can become an obsession. Even minimalism can be taken too far. Let’s practice minimalism with a little moderation. 

architecture-839362_1280 Moderation over minimalism: Photo of minimalist architecture

What Is Minimalism?

Last year, I wrote a post called Minimalist or Pragmatist. I was struggling then, as I am now, with the term “minimalism” as a lifestyle description. First, the term was originally used to describe a specific style of art, music, or architecture. Second, there is no clear definition of a minimalist as a person. Third, it’s a label. Why do we humans always have to label ourselves? 

Is a minimalist someone who owns less than 100 things? Is a minimalist someone who travels the world with nothing but a backpack? Do minimalists live in tiny houses? Maybe. Maybe not. Does it really matter? 

Read this post: 5 Reasons The Tiny House Movement Is Doomed To Fail

I consider myself one who finds ways to simplify life. I own relatively little compared to many Americans. I’m a consumer, but I don’t practice overconsumption. I live in a small house, but it’s more than 1000 square feet. I grow my own vegetables. I own two vehicles. One gets 50mpg. The other, a small truck, helps me get work done. Am I a minimalist? I’m not sure. But I am sure that I practice moderation in most areas of my life. 

What Minimalists Are Saying About Minimalism

Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist wrote a list of 28 Benefits of Minimalism. I agree with most of them, but not the following:

  • Benefit #12 – easier to entertain: I’m a musician. If I want to get a few friends together to play music, we need a little space. You can’t have a house concert in a 300-square-foot home.
  • Benefit #13 – never have to go antiquing: I own several antiques. I don’t shop for expensive antiques. I buy simple, practical pieces that are made of solid wood and are less expensive than the more common cheap pressboard furniture. My antiques serve specific purposes. I consider them minimalist pieces of furniture. Read about how I save money and keep things simple with antiques.
  • Benefit #20 – never have to organize a garage sale: I don’t care how little you have, you can always find a few things to sell. I had a small garage sale last summer, I saw that as part of being a minimalist by letting go of excess.

Here’s how Leo Babauta of Zen Habits describes minimalism on his site mnmlist.com:

A way to escape the excesses of the world around us – the excesses of consumerism, material possessions, clutter, having too much to do, too much debt, too many distractions, too much noise.  

Although I agree with his description, as he continues to describe minimalist living, it feels like he goes on the defensive. He has to explain why he has six kids and has operated a plethora of websites. I understand. Sometimes I feel like I have to go on the defensive about owning two vehicles and more than five musical instruments. But should we really have to prove anything? No. We should just practice moderation as best we can.  

Colin Wright from exilelifestyle.com describes minimalism as:

A reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff.

That’s nice. But Colin has also blogged about living with less than 100 material possessions. That’s fun, but it’s extreme. It’s not minimalism in moderation.

The Minimalists once posted on Facebook:

We needn’t be attached to our home: It’s just a bunch of wood and stone and wires – it should not be a permanent fixture that defines you.

The response to that post was mostly negative. Why? Because although many of us can philosophically agree with the statement, home is an important place. It’s where we raise our children. It’s where we make memories. It’s part of who we are. But remember, The Minimalists don’t have kids.

Minimalism Should Be Practiced With Moderation

I’m not knocking any of these guys. I love what each of them is doing. I think they’re all spreading important messages about living with less, being intentional, and putting more emphasis on relationships than materialism. I agree with most of what they have to say. But perhaps we can take the message too far.

Did I really need to get rid of almost all my Christmas decorations last year? Like anything else, minimalism to an extreme becomes less valuable. It becomes something that’s seen as an oddity rather than a valid lifestyle choice. It can scream of shock value rather than sincerity. 

So although I’ve often used the terms minimalism and minimalist on this blog, I want to be clear that I’m not referring to taking extreme measures. I’m all for focusing on living with less clutter. I’m all for practicing simple living in a way that makes us better human beings. I’m all for living in a way that’s more friendly to our environment. Am I a minimalist? Perhaps. But even in minimalism, I believe we can practice moderation.

If you’ve enjoyed this post and would like to learn more about simple living, I encourage you to read my free ebook: The Happiness Of Simple

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10 Comments

  1. Great post. You say exactly what I think!
    I see minimalism as minimizing what is just generally useless ( or a negative memory or influence) to our lives ‘stuff’. And that will clearly differ from person to person or year to year or decade to decade.
    I like Marie Kondo’s approach better than say, The Minimalists, because the focus is squarely placed on the keeping only the things you love ( or as she says – ‘sparks joy’) rather than the eliminating. Some say it’s just semantics but it’s not – at least to me.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I see too much emphasis on “rules” among many minimalists. I think the focus should be on our needs and our joys, not on rules that tell us how much to keep and how much to throw out. That’s an individual choice. The point is that most of us have things we never use. That’s the stuff that can go.

    2. I totally agree! This article says exactly what I’ve been feeling, too, as I go through and declutter my house in an effort to downsize and live more simply. I like the term Pragmatist better. It’s such a good point that even minimalism can become an obsession.

  2. I read your post about minimalism versus pragmatism and I would agree with the pragmatism idea.

    Uber minimalism, in many ways, is not very practical for a lot of us. Many of us have life situations that, while not necessarily precluding us from living in a tiny 400 square foot house, would make it extremely difficult. We have 2 cars because we need 2 cars, there are 2 adults to get 2 dependents where they need to go and we aren’t always, almost never actually, able to all go in the same direction at the same time. Still, I have no need of the 5 car garages and 3000+ square foot houses that are popular to so many. And I do hope that our next house is smaller than the one we live in now.

    Maybe we should coin the terms “Reductionist” and “Reductionism” as they give the sense of moving in the direction of minimalism without the hard core edge. Which isn’t such a bad thing …

    1. Hi David! Reductionism: I like it. Another term that’s been thrown around is “essentialism.” It was a best selling book last year. It was more about business, but it still applies to life in general. I know many people need more than sheer basics. I’m probably not considered a minimalist by most current “minimalist’s” standards, whatever they are. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. It’s interesting for me to read all of this. I’ve been called a minimalist a few times. Wasn’t sure if I should be insulted by it or not. Lol
    I don’t TRY to be one! And I feel I have more stuff than I need for sure!
    I remember feeling most free and at peace when everything I owned could fit into my little micro Honda hatchback! Of course I was 18 then!

    It all got crazy crowded when I finally broke down and bought a bed.
    I buy what I need. And I’m not very frugal. But I don’t like an over cluttered living space. Don’t like to have to pick stuff up with one hand while vacuuming with another!

    I hate knick knacks! But most of all I find that STUFF has never made me happy. It just doesn’t. So why would I have a bunch of it?
    Me I feel like I do hav a bunch of it! It’s everyone ELSE that as me as a minimalist! Lol

    1. Your story sounds similar to mine, Faith. I never really set out to live minimally. I did it out of necessity when I was younger and have just lived fairly simple since. I tire of all the hoopla that some of the newfound “minimalists” create. It seems they are taken as more credible than people who have practiced simple living for the majority of our lives.

  4. I really enjoyed this post.
    Like another poster commented, I really enjoyed Marie Kondo and her movement. I KM’ed (lol it’s a thing) my house and although it seems wishy washy to many it changed how I approached my things. I have literally gotten rid of at least 25-30% of my stuff and I keep finding I need less and less.

    I’m a single mum with 3 kids. So I certainly can’t go and move to a tiny house and have under 100 things (OK I suppose I could but the children would rebel and it wouldn’t be pretty), but I don’t think I want that style of minimalism anyway. But like you say why must there be so many perceived rules? Why do we feel we have to tick off an invisible checklist before the internet gods will let us be real minimalists?

    I know I live more simply now, certainly with more intent, I don’t have things that don’t bring me joy or serve a purpose. My home feels welcoming to me for the first time ever, I don’t feel stressed about it.. and gosh darn it if I don’t know where everything is. Bonus.

    1. Yes, the children might rebel and that would lead to more stress. Simple and comfortable is good. Thanks for commenting, Alisa.

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