Simply 4 Reasons To Question Minimalist Logic

I’ve always lived simply. I was a child victim of an extreme cult. We lived simply, with only the stark necessities. In my twenties, I chose to live simply in a 20-foot trailer. I rode a bicycle as my primary source of transportation. In my thirties, I went back to college and spent eight years living simply in a studio apartment while earning three college degrees.

table-1031334_1920 4 Reasons To Live Simply: Photo of stark table setting

It’s only been in the past 15 years that I’ve chosen to live in anything bigger than a one-bedroom apartment, especially since I’ve become a father. Now I don’t see myself fitting into the category of “minimalist.”

I’m Not Really A Minimalist

There. I said it. I’m not really a minimalist. At least not if I compare myself to many others who label themselves as minimalists. So why do I write about minimalism? Because I believe in simple, practical living. And although minimalists might be on a similar page, I’ve always struggled with uncertain labels. Minimalism is not clearly defined in regard to a lifestyle choice. I don’t want to label myself as something that I can’t define. For example:

  • If I say I’m a writer: I prove it simply by the act of writing quality work.
  • If I say I’m a musician: I prove it by the fact that I can play several musical instruments.
  • If a say I’m a teacher: I prove it because I teach communication courses to earn my living.

But if I call myself a minimalist? How do I prove that? By how many things I own? By the size of my house? See? I believe there’s a problem with the term “minimalist” when it’s applied to a lifestyle. There’s no clear definition. It tends to encourage black-and-white thinking.

What’s the difference between minimalism and simplicity? It’s simple. I see minimalism as an uncertain term. Sometimes it seems as though it’s merely a fad. I see simplicity as a lifestyle. If I call myself a “minimalist,” I put myself in a box. I limit my full potential. If I say that I “live simple,” I give myself room to move outside of that box, yet I actively commit to living simply. A “minimalist” is a noun, a thing. To “live simple” is an action, a lifestyle. I choose the latter.

Simply, Stop Creating Labels

One reason I’ve slowly pulled away from minimalism as a label for lifestyle is that I see too many imposed rules. I prefer strategies over rules. I wouldn’t buy a one-size-fits-all pair of yoga pants. Okay, I may not buy yoga pants at all. But that’s exactly how I see many minimalists trying to promote and sell minimalism: as if it’s a one-size fits-all lifestyle. Perhaps you’ve seen some of the following problematic statements on one of your favorite minimalist blogs.

1. Don’t Organize

I’ve read it repeatedly. Don’t organize, just get rid of your stuff. Yes, get rid of unneeded stuff, but organize the rest. I don’t care how much stuff we own. We still need to organize what we have.

When I lived in a trailer with less than a couple hundred items, I still kept my trailer organized. A friend of mine lived on a sailboat and said that organization becomes more important when you have less space. In fact, it’s only through very concise organizational skills that minimalist art, music, and architecture is created.

Where would small business and blogs be without organization? Organization is actually part of the minimization process. So go ahead and organize.

2. A House Is Just A Useless Box

I’ve seen minimalists make comments about houses as a lifeless boxes. It’s just wood and glass and wires. A house doesn’t really matter because it’s an empty shell. What’s the alternative? Homelessness?

A house is a home. Where we grow up is important. Our furnishings and belongings are part of who we are, who we become. Home is our refuge, our comfort: it’s the people, the memories, and the love that matters. Think back to your own childhood. Did your home or your grandparent’s home play major roles? Of course. This does not mean we have to own large homes and fill them to the hilt with consumer goods. But if you throw the idea of home out the window, you divide the very community you’re trying to build.

3. All Debt Is Bad Debt

Okay, I’m not happy that I owe money. However, I’ve been able to give my 10-year-old daughter a home, security, and the basic necessities of life. If it weren’t for borrowing money, I wouldn’t have a good career as a college instructor. I wouldn’t have had the money to protect my daughter through a hard custody battle. I wouldn’t have a dependable car and a place she can call home.

My debt is my burden, but it’s also given me the ability to be the best parent I can be. Still, I’ve created a ten-year plan that will not only help me reach debt-free, but will also provide for my retirement. Most great business people know there is a time to borrow money. How do you think they got started? Not ALL debt is bad debt.

4. It Must Add Value

I think it’s important that our belongings add value to our lives. We should be deliberate about what we choose to buy and own. But let’s be honest, a toilet brush doesn’t add much value to my life. Still, it helps to keep my toilet clean. I have a couple of junk drawers. Many of the things in those drawers go relatively unused. They don’t add much value. But I’m sure glad I have a flashlight when the power goes out and a screwdriver when I need one. I think living simple is less about considering what adds value and more about considering what is practical.

Where’s The Logic?

There are dozens of dichotomies I’ve discovered when we try to box minimalism as a lifestyle. In fact, when we do that, we’re actually turning it into another product, something to sell, a blog, a book, a movie. Sometimes, I believe that minimalists become excessive in their own goals.

Excessive minimalism is a direct contradiction to itself. It’s an oxymoron. The word minimalism was never designed to describe a lifestyle. It was designed to describe art and music. Yes, we can borrow it, but it doesn’t fit as neatly to describe lifestyle as it does to describe the things we create.

You Don’t Have To Live In Black & White

Minimalism is a form of creativity in which we strip things down to the bare necessities. A minimalist painter, for instance, might strip his or her painting down to using a single color. Too often, I feel that the idea minimalism as a lifestyle tries to break things into black and white. A photograph can be black and white. A painting can have only one color. A musical piece can have no melody. But life is not black and white. Life is full of color and melody. I want to embrace those colors. I want to experience the variety that life has to offer.

Bottom line: It’s okay to accept all the colors of the rainbow as we live simply. It’s okay to whistle a beautiful melody on our journey. It’s okay to organize our limited stuff. It’s okay to borrow money to buy a home. It’s okay to own a few things that we might need even if they don’t add value to our lives. The key is to simply live simple. 

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  1. Hi Dan. I agree with not being labelled. I mentioned in a previous comment that I had been a ‘minimalist’ for many years before realising it had a title, however I prefer to think of myself as living a simple lifestyle while trying my best to be as ethical (ie buying cruelty-free toiletries and cleaning products and looking how products are produced and sourced) and environmentally friendly as possible (reduce, reuse, recycle and all that). I think in our world today our lifestyle should encompass many factors to protect and improve it for our children. Another example is that we, as a family, don’t eat meat and only have a little dairy but I don’t class myself as a ‘pesca-vegan but with a little milk in my tea’, I just don’t eat meat and only have a little milk in my tea, that’s it, no label needed. I’m not a keen rule or trend follower and encourage my boys not to be ‘sheep’ which is difficult in this material-fuelled world of who has the latest and best!

    1. Labels become too confining and create as much division as unity. Although I aspire to live with less, I’m not really a true minimalist (whatever that is). I do live simply. Thanks for adding to the discussion with your thoughtful comments, LW.

  2. Enjoyed this fresh take on minimalism. I loved your point about a house being our refuge and that those things we choose to own should add distinct value to our lives.

    1. I was thinking about my childhood when I wrote that, Dave. The things my parents and grandparents owned are a part of my memories. My grandmother’s attic was a wonderland. It wasn’t cluttered, but there was enough to explore. I’ll always remember the living room furniture we owned growing up, too. It’s part of my memory of home. I want my own daughter to have similar memories rather than thinking back that we owned relatively nothing because I played the part of a minimalist, I hope she thinks warmly of “home.”

  3. Awesome man, and eerily similar to my last newsletter two weeks ago! I said the exact same thing (We’re not minimalists) and about not labeling ourselves as “minimalists” and instead tell people “we live a minimalist lifestyle”. I got to reiterate that in a couple of podcasts too. We don’t like to judge, and it seems some “minimalists” like to judge (organizing=bad). I’d rather not be known as a “minimalist” if it involves judging other peoples choice to live their life different from a “minimalists”.

    1. That’s it, Al. Labeling can get too judgmental. I saw a tweet that called organizing “planned hoarding” by a major minimalist website. I thought that lacked tact and empathy. Hoarding is a form of OCD, a mental disorder. By calling organizing hoarding, one claims anyone who organizes has a mental disorder, and it shows no empathy for those who truly have that disorder. I’ll stick with simple living.

  4. Interesting, Dan. I don’t care about the labels and from everything that I’ve been reading and learning about ‘minimalism’ everyone’s journey is different and should be respected. Some will dive in all the way and others will take bits and pieces here and there. It’s not like I joined a political party or something. I don’t feel the groups that I’ve come across have this ‘militaristic’ feeling to them at all. Everyone is encouraging and keeps reiterating ‘it’s your own journey’. I can see the argument that if you have so much stuff that yes you will end up spending more time organizing it, cleaning it, etc. Living simply makes sense to me as does minimizing my stuff. In some ways it feels like semantics? Thanks for the post!

    1. In some ways I think it is just semantics. But I also often get the distinct feeling that there are certain rules to minimalism, or at least some minimalist “programs.” I know they are designed to help people get started, I just have a hard time with conformity and agree that everyone’s journey should be their own. Thanks for adding to the conversation with your thoughtful comment, Dirk.

  5. You don’t feel you are a Minimalist and that is ok. Black and White is a beautiful change from the blur of color every once in a while. The Yoga Pants may be a problem or not. LOL

    1. I actually love black and white photography and minimalist architecture and clean lines with out flourish. I think those things are aesthetically beautiful. So in that sense I absolutely am a minimalist. But as a lifestyle, although I’ve never been extravagant, I believe in having “enough.” Sometimes it feels like minimalism would actually suggest deprivation (which has its place too). I never could warm up to minimalism in music though. I tried to enjoy Steve Reich, but it just didn’t do it for me.

  6. I like the way that you have expressed the meaning of minimalism – put in a box and simplicity – move outside of that box.
    I have seen many people who follow this trend of living in a “too much” direction.
    I am keen on simplifying my life and stuff around me. That is my way.
    You have a very nice blog and interesting articles. Definitely I will follow your page.

    1. Thanks Rossi. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I’ve lived simply most my life but have let it get away from me a bit at times. I started this blog to keep myself on track. Then I started studying other blogs about the same topic. I might read into things a little too much at times, but minimalism feels a bit confined to me in relation to just good common sense and practical, simple living. I look forward to hearing more from you.

  7. Thank you Dan, for pointing out that life–even the minimalist life–happens in color and melody. That’s a beautiful truth.

    Besides, I am so bored with the black-and-white-is-minimalism trope.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Lolly. I risk losing credibility in the world of minimalism, but I think we need to be realistic, too.

  8. Your message was a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room.

    I’ve been on a journey to simplify since hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast. So many people lost everything they had. We were fortunate to escape with minor damage and roof repairs. My daughter and I went through our two households and collected items to donate. We had enough stuff to outfit a small two bedroom home with all of the basics except for major appliances. Including clothing in a range of sizes and seasons as well as personal care items. A few years later hurricane Lily hit. My daughter and I swept through our two households once more. Yet again, the things we donated would have outfitted a small two bedroom home. And clothed 4 people from head to foot.

    It felt good to know we were helping people, who had lost all they had, to get back on their feet in the aftermath of these disasters. What we didn’t expect was that we would get something in return. What we got was a feeling of lightness, as though a burden that we didn’t know we had been carrying had been lifted from our shoulders. Our homes were emptier but they didn’t feel lessened in any way.

    When we were first married and later, when we were raising our family, we didn’t have a lot of anything. Over the years I guess that sense of lack contributed to an unrecognized urge to hunt and gather so to speak. Hurricane Katrina broke that cycle for us.

    I’ve read so many blogs on minimalism but as much as we’ve minimized our belongings (and continue to do so), I find that I have no desire to be a true minimalist. I love my paid for, 1600 square foot home. I don’t want to sell it to go live in a one bedroom apartment. I don’t want to have only one pair of jeans, three t-shirts and two pairs of shoes. I like having more than one pot, one knife and a wooden spoon. I’m pretty sure that, like Goldilocks, everyone’s “just right” is different from everyone else’s. We’ve found our “just right”. Thanks for giving me the terminology to describe it.

    1. What a beautiful thing you did to help your neighbors after Hurricane Katrina. And yes, it would seem silly to minimize more than necessary. I have a 1200 foot house and it would be foolish to sell it if it I get it paid off before retirement. I like clean jeans, so three pair is much better than one. As for shoes, I think most podiatrists might suggest that a single pair of shoes is not best for our feet. I could go on…

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Have a great day!

  9. I really like your take on not labelling. I am definitely no where near a minimalist, but that being said, I hate surface clutter, we don’t own any more than we need, we have few duplicates and very limited, well organize storage areas (and can fit both cars in our double car garage). I love the concepts behind minimalism and simple living, even if I don’t adhere to it strictly but those beliefs and view points that you mention almost make me feel bad for not “fitting” into the culture. But in the end I don’t want to FIT in.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Janet. I’m also not a true minimalist although I love minimalist design and have minimalist sensibilities.

  10. Hi Dan. I agree with all the points here. I am moving out from my parents’ house for the second time (first was when I left for college) and I just couldn’t cut out so many things. I know I don’t need most of the stuff, it doesn’t add value and eventually be donated/recycled. However just it being present there has some sort of consolation to them that I haven’t really “left”. I know the odds of me moving back are next to none and if I take it all out, the empty room will break’em down emotionally. My stuff is not that important to me but to them it holds all the memories they don’t wanna part with. It is a new angle to the whole story, it is as if my stuff is not my own but theirs.
    p.s. I’m including your article in my list of favorites this week here:
    I hope that’s okay?

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