Could Extreme Minimalism Be Selfishness In Disguise?

When people are excessive we often call them selfish. So could extreme minimalism really be a form of selfishness? Perhaps, anything in excess, even minimalism, is selfish. 

Just as my recent post in response to The Minimalists’ first podcast, I write this at the risk of losing some followers, especially those who practice extreme minimalism. But I believe we need to look at minimalism, like anything else, with some constructive criticism.

If Someone Eats Too Much, We Call Them Extreme

When people buy more than they need, we consider them selfish. After all, why does any single person need a 3000-square-foot house, several cars, and hundreds of luxuries and toys? They’re just consuming, wasting resources, hoarding the wealth. But what about extreme minimalism?

I believe in hospitality. I was raised to consider others’ needs and to serve people when I’m able. This is where I have an issue with some of the values of minimalism. Minimalism teaches us to primarily consider our own needs before the needs of others.  

What Does A Minimalist Do For Someone In Need?

If you only keep enough items in your home for one or two people, how will you serve the needs of potential guests? Will you ask them to bring their own dishes, their own chairs, their own towels? Where will they sleep? 

If someone needs your help with transportation and you only ride a bicycle, you won’t be of much service. What if a friend is in trouble and needs a simple tool such as a screwdriver, a flashlight, or a shovel? “Sorry, buddy, but I don’t own those. I’m a minimalist.”

The Other Side Of The Argument

Minimalists aren’t selfish because we consume less. We’re helping to save the environment. Minimalists aren’t selfish because we share our love and our talent instead of material stuff. That’s much more thoughtful and sincere. Minimalists aren’t selfish because… uh-oh, I’m running out of examples.

Thinking Back To My Trailer Days

Perhaps, like anything else, even minimalism is a vice when taken too far. When I lived in a trailer and rode a bicycle as my only mode of transportation, I was a taker. I couldn’t accommodate guests, but I could be the guest. I couldn’t offer others rides, but I sure would depend on others to give me a ride when in need. I was financially strapped in those days. I didn’t have much to share. Now that I have a little more, it’s my turn to give.

I agree that there’s something special about sharing our own skills and talents. A homemade gift is a wonderful thing. (Of course, homemade gifts take equipment and materials to create.) But I also believe that we should be willing to share our space, our homes, our belongings.

This doesn’t mean that we need to practice over-consumption. We should limit how much we own. But if we limit ourselves so much that we only have enough for ourselves, we might, in fact, be selfish.

If you’ve bought into the idea of extreme minimalism, I would urge you to check your reasoning. Is it really a noble cause, or are you just subconsciously finding ways to care only for yourself?

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Dan Erickson
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