Minimalism and the minimalist lifestyle - why it is not as good as it seems...

by - May 03, 2020

Living minimally seems to have become a lot bigger recently, especially across social media. After coming across a lot of content on minimalism, I want to demonstrate why a minimalist lifestyle is not as great as it may seem at first sight. Although a minimalist lifestyle may work for some people and I have no problem with those who choose to lead a minimalist lifestyle, minimalism also presents problems that often get ignored. 

What is minimalism? 

A minimalist lifestyle is a lifestyle consisting of having only what you need (it is mainly applied in a material sense, but it can also be applied mentally). I have seen different people incorporate it into their lives in a variety of ways, but at its core, it is keeping what you strictly need. 

Whilst minimalism may seem appealing, there are various problems in practice. 

Minimalism encourages combating consumerism with another extreme - owning hardly anything. 

Minimalism encourages you to combat one extreme, consumerism, with another extreme, getting rid of almost everything you own. The main issue with minimalism is that it asks people to drastically change a style of living - to go from a consumer culture encouraged by society where you can never own enough possessions to owning only what you need. It is unrealistic to attempt to go from having many personal belongings to only what is strictly essential. Whilst we shouldn’t focus solely on materialism, certain belongings that aren’t strictly "necessary" can bring joy, and can bring us some entertainment and that doesn’t have to be bad. If you like something and get use out of it, even if it is not essential to your life, why shouldn't you be able to own it? There is nothing wrong with keeping something if it makes you happy. 

Is it really a "stress free life"?

The associated claims attached to minimalism that it is a "stress-free life" and "changes you for the better" are generalisations that ignore personality and individuality. Minimalism simply does not work for everyone. 

Too often, the fact that a minimalist lifestyle takes commitment and that not everyone’s personality fits into this is ignored. Minimalism will not "transform" and destress your life suddenly and for some people implementing a minimalist lifestyle can sometimes be more stressful. What do you with all the belongings you own that you have realised you no longer need in pursuit of minimalism? How do you go about gaining back the money you spent on said belongings if you are in a financially tight situation? Can you afford to replace the item in the future if you later discover you need it? What criteria are you going to use to determine whether it is a necessary possession? Is it that it is necessary for your day-to-day life? Necessary for your happiness or mental health? What do you do when you are not sure or for items that may be useful but are not strictly necessary? I find that the very process of having to work out whether something truly brings me joy/ is meaningful or something I 'need' gets me more tied up in knots rather than helping me and making me feel less stressed. 

There is nothing wrong with keeping something if it makes you happy. 

I tend to naturally be a person that keeps more possessions than I need, mainly because of the sentimental value - tickets from plays, sections of wrapping paper... This is why I love scrapbooking. Not something the minimalist lifestyle condones.  Why should I feel like I have to get rid of belongings that bring nice memories simply because they aren't "necessary" in my life? Many small elements that aren't essential can actually really contribute to your overall well-being. Happiness isn't correlated directly to a minimalist style of living - there are many external factors that influence how happy you are. 

Minimalism as a trend and the money-making side to it... Maybe not so minimal after all...

I have lost track of the number of accounts I have seen on social media stating that you should downsize ridiculously in order to achieve zen... There is now a niche for minimalist living and promoting this lifestyle has become a way of making money. It has become an aesthetic presented on social media that appeals to people. I have seen multiple influencers talk about living a minimalist lifestyle, which is somewhat ironic when you consider how most of these influencers are making money. Some influencers claiming to be minimal actually make a living from promoting other products that you "need" in order to be "minimal". This feeds into the very consumerism that minimalism is supposedly against and meant to combat. I have seen posts on how to create a capsule wardrobe, which encourage you to get rid of almost everything you own to then buy another item of clothing that is supposedly more versatile and 'wearable'. Not so minimal after all given you are purchasing another item... Is it not more minimal to keep what you own and donate what you no longer use? 

Decluttering and being more conscious about what you own is NOT minimalism.

Decluttering and buying consciously is not the same as minimalism. It seems to be that sometimes being more conscious of what you buy and own is now being rebranded as minimalism. Tidying and decluttering is not a new concept and it is not equal to being minimal. You can own more than you need, regularly declutter and be more conscious of what you own and not be a minimalist. 

The aim should be to be more conscious about what you own, not to own less/ only what is strictly necessary. 

We shouldn't feel guilty for being able to enjoy possessions that are "unnecessary". If we are in the privileged position to own more, we should feel lucky we get to enjoy these possessions because not everyone can. What we should be encouraging is more conscious buying and being more conscious of what we choose to keep and how we dispose of belongings when they no longer serve us purpose. Not encouraging downsizing just for the sake of owning little and only what you need. 

Minimalism can be bad for the environment if not done responsibly. 

Some people may argue a minimalist lifestyle is more environmentally friendly long term, but that depends on how you incorporate minimalism into your existing lifestyle. Minimalism is bad for the environment if not done responsibly because it encourages disposing of items you don’t strictly need. If you are downsizing in extreme ways, you are essentially creating more waste, which is detrimental for the environment unless you manage to donate/ find another home for everything in a responsible manner. 

Is it actually all bad? 

No. I  don't disagree with all aspects of minimalism - there are values to it which I think are positive. I think there is beauty in simplicity and in focussing more on what you need. I think the fact it rejects buying lots of products for the sake of it and rejects owning just for the sake of owning something is a good thing. However, the problem with minimalism is the extremes the concept is taken to - to the point where I have seen people sell most of their belongings and downsize to very small spaces that surely can't be comfortable

Maybe I will incorporate some elements of this lifestyle and I will be open to learning about it, but I can't see myself fully committing to it any time soon. Minimalism is a lifestyle only certain people will find fulfilling and I certainly for the time being am not one of those people. 

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