The Minimalist Living Movement is Flawed
Minimalist living is nothing new. The concept has been around for decades. Most recently, though, it’s been on my radar because of a doco I watched via Netflix called Minimalism. In it, authors Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus are followed on the journey of their book tour, which focuses on – as you’ve probably guessed – minimalist living.
They spend the majority of the film showcasing how they themselves live minimally; less stuff, essentially. Less clothing, less furniture, less gadgets, less everything. And how they believe it impacts their lives for the better.
I spent some time on their website shortly after I watched the doco. I wanted to discover if my feelings around minimalism would change having reflected more upon their philosophy. And I must declare that it did nothing to change how I feel. Because minimalist living is not for me. A lot of the assumptions around it, in fact, I consider quite ridiculous and somewhat offensive (if we’re being frank, which I think we should be).
So let’s explore what the rather vague concept of minimalist living is, and why I don’t agree.
The Minimalist Living Philosophy
Here’s what The Minimalists website has to say about minimalism:
“Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves.
Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous in your life.”
My Issue with Minimalist Living
If this is your first time here, let me quickly tell you about my philosophy on living.
As an interior designer, I believe that great design can be truly life changing. It’s why I decided to work in the world of design, why I partner with clients to transform their homes, and why I started TLC Interiors in the first place. The world around you (and especially the immediate world) is full of objects that impact how we feel.
I believe that the room you wake up in, for example – and the space you exist in each day – dramatically effects how you take on the world. The ‘things’ that the minimalist movement suggests are stopping us from experiencing freedom, are important. These things contribute to the ‘life itself’ that they claim they find happiness through. There is nothing wrong with things making us happy. I believe they are often essential to happiness, in fact.
Your Surroundings are Important
A dark, empty room, for example, has an emotional effect on you. If you were to wake up each day in a small, dark space with no light or soft bed, it would effect your psyche. That’s why solitary confinement exists in our prison system; as a form of punishment (I’m not saying prison is like the minimalist living philosophy, but you get the picture).
On the flip side, if you were to wake up in a bright, sunny, cosy bedroom each morning – on soft sheets with the aroma of a scented candle filling the room – I believe you’d be given an environment far more conducive to happiness. Moreso than the person in the small, dark room, at least.
So let’s start there; the notion that possessions shouldn’t make us happy is ridiculous.
In fact, a study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science revealed that material purchases (like homewares or furniture) provide more frequent happiness over time, whereas purchasing experiences, like going to the movies or a day spa, provide more intense happiness on individual occasions.
The insulting part
I also reject the notion that I do not experience freedom because possessions make me happy. The art on my walls at home makes me feel something. The table I sit at to eat dinner pleases me. The bed I climb into at night, surrounded by furniture I hand-picked, makes me feel content. To suggest I am somehow oppressed by these possessions, as the minimalist living trend does, is insulting.
And my health, relationship, passions and personal growth have never been forsaken because I enjoy good design. In fact, an interest in these ‘things’ (like interior design) is where my passion lies. Going into client’s homes and making a room work for them and creating a space that looks beautiful, is also my passion. In assigning importance to this ‘stuff’, we allow it to make our lives function more successfully.
I don’t feel trapped by consumer culture, either. I acknowledge that we live in a world that wants us to by things. To endlessly consume. To purchase something and then want to replace it in six months. I know that advertising and marketing is all about wanting me to lust for a better lifestyle. But I don’t get caught up in it. I am not overwhelmed by it, nor am I trapped by it. I know it’s there and my life is not shaped by it.
Minimalist Living vs. Decluttering
I’ve written on the blog before about the importance of decluttering and why I think hoarding (which is a very serious issue) can negatively impact your life. Having a home that is literally packed to the rafters with anything and everything – including garbage in some cases – also has a hefty impact on your mental health. Decluttering is different from minimalist living, though.
Decluttering is about removing unnecessary items from an untidy or overcrowded place. That’s the official definition. I myself love to sort through my drawers and throw away unnecessary items, or things that no longer hold any meaning for me. The process is therapeutic and I feel a sense of reward in doing it.
That doesn’t mean I wish I didn’t buy these possessions to begin with. It doesn’t mean that I’m trapped by them, or that I’m not experiencing freedom because those items were in my life for a fleeting moment and not long-term. I understand that it seems odd to buy things, fill our homes with them, and then experience joy in removing them. But that is the human experience. We’re odd creatures. I’m OK with that.
Where do you sit?
Minimalist living is just not for me. It goes against my general approach to life. It insults my philosophy; that surrounding yourself with beautiful things that make you happy is important to your wellbeing.
Maybe there is more research to be done on my part to better understand minimalism and minimalist living. But I’m not entirely interested. I feel quite content with all of my things, my want for possessions and helping people fill their homes with stuff as well.
If that’s a trap, then I’m quite pleased to be in it. Lock me up and throw away the key. Just make sure the cage I’m in has a throw rug, scatter cushions, stationery set and reed diffuser.
I’d love to know what you think of minimalist living. Drop a comment below if it’s helped you live a better life. I’d love to get your take on it. Or if you’re equally baffled by it, sound off also.