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brown leather sofa from freedom with lots of cushions and a turquoise throw with pom poms

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.

stacks of cushions from freedom on circular staircase

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.”

coastal bohemian interior design with blonde timber sideboard and large indoor plant

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.

side table styling with brown and black homewares and mirrors from freedom

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.

fall in love with as many things as possible artwork in warehouse apartment with herringbone floors

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.

Cosy Bedroom with grey upholstered headboard and coral feature wall

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.

Images in the post come courtesy of Freedom, except Image six which is via Whoovie.


Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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29 Responses

  1. Thank goodness for common sense! As a society we have been bullied into believing minimalistic living and decorating is the only “right way.” I so disagree. We should be allowed to proudly decorate with items and colors that make us comfortable and happy. We should be encourage to decorate in styles that suit us and totally disregard the haughty declarations of those proclaiming what we love is outdated and in poor taste! Make your home your happy place!

  2. If you were to enter my home, you’d see furniture, pillows, rugs, throws, wall art, and decor. There would be closets full of clothes, shoes, and accessories. Studies containing books, art projects, and other crafty gear. You would never look around and say “WOW this girl is a minimalist!”. But I am. Because the clothing and shoes in my closet have all been worn at least once in the last year. The decor in my living room was carefully selected and placed there, keeping in mind the need for empty spaces in between. My kitchen pantry has plenty of food, but all of it was bought with the exact intention of its use. There is nothing here that doesn’t have a specific and valuable purpose. And when things lose their purpose or no longer make me happy, I let them go. Minimalism isn’t about having the fewest number of possessions, living in sterile white rooms, or ignoring the effect your environment has on you. It’s about keeping in your life only what truly adds value (physical objects or otherwise!).

    And if this article was written in response to The Minimalists (as I assume they all are), I think a very important note to take into consideration is that neither one of them are interior designers… so naturally, decor will not be what is most valuable to them! Minimalism is about KEEPING what is valuable to you and getting rid of the rest. So if you’re an interior designer attempting to go “minimal”, you obviously won’t be shedding 90% your decor. It obviously makes you happy, so keep it! That being said, do you get a lot out of your clothing? Books? Movie collection? Kitchen utensils? The ever-growing bin of winter scarves and hats? The point of minimalism is to bring your attention to the unnecessary in your life. The stuff you don’t really care about but is taking up both physical and mental clutter. When I went minimal, my donation boxes weren’t filled with things that made me happy, they were filled with stuff I didn’t use or need: Why did I ever have 2 can openers? This shirt doesn’t fit very well but I’m holding onto it for… some reason?? Here’s a bunch of books that I thought were really mediocre. A jacket that I’ve been keeping because it was a gift, but it’s not my style so I never wear it and just end up feeling guilty whenever I see it… WHY? These are the things that disappear when you go minimal. Not things that make you happy, whatever your happy is.

  3. Where fast fashion and commercialized holidays has gone is extreme and usually when extreme things happen in our culture or sometimes in our lives the human reaction often is to swing in the extreme opposite direction. In the case of minimalism people are so disgusted with the way things are that a happy medium is usually too close to the extreme they want to avoid so it becomes a case of wanting to have nothing to do with that extreme of materialism.

    But a happy medium it seems is hard for people to understand. As there are so many forms within one kind of extremism there are even more forms of lifestyle that are a happy medium. There are minimalists who get cut down all the time on-line for not being “minimalist” enough which is just mean and unfair. Some minimalists still have a passion for fashion and expressing themselves that way while others would say that you can’t be a minimalist if you love fashion and ascribe meaning to clothes. It becomes a case where a lot of minimalists are just like everyone else saying that their way of minimalism is “the” best way. Some may make statements to lead people to thinking that they have flexible viewpoints but then make very rigid statements about such things as collections being “dangerous”.

    I have a love for minimalist interior design only if it incorporates coziness and beauty. If it is designed in such a way to create a beautiful frame work to highlight particular objects so that they are not lost among the clutter. I like minimalist interior design when it focuses on a few colors that complement and contrast or with a pattern thrown in. But it isn’t the only kind of interior design that I love. Bohemian and Kawaii interiors are he opposite of minimalist design and I love them!

    The giving a label to something often leads to people endlessly having to define and defend what that something is and is not, comparing it to something. And in this age of massive information sharing everyone has an idea about how themselves and others should live and often build it up to be fact, the solution and the way out of our difficult times to a kind of utopia. And with so many opinions spread around with pressure behind it to make a better world the potential for more people to be insulted grows because we can’t do everything that everyone says is right to make everyone happy all the time because it is impossible. People will naturally be insulted when people make their entire lives and sometimes careers around insulting people for not being good people who simply take pleasure in their surroundings and what it contains.

    While I have believed in de-cluttering and having a space where my eyes love what I see which has design my space is very important to me. I spend the most of my time at home and I am passionate about many things which does not lend itself easily to being a typical minimalist. I grew up extremely poor and I saw a lot of ugly things in my environment. Beauty, design and having things that support and reflect who I am has come to be very very important to me, full of meaning. There is a lot of psychology that goes into the things we surround ourselves with whether a person decides they shouldn’t have meaning or not. But to say things shouldn’t have meaning to people is to not understand human beings. Someone who has always been privileged and had the ability to rise and have superfluous amounts of stuff, those things perhaps could be meaningless to them because perhaps they had never been in a position to ascribe meaning and beauty to simple things. When you are poor you aren’t just hungry for food. You are hungry for beauty and for me I looked for it everywhere. In the sky, in the trees, buildings, the way light falls on an object. And discovering beautiful things second hand or brand new and then being able to have it gave me comfort. Perhaps some people would day that is vane, materialist etc but it is mean to expect a poor person or anyone who has been poor to erase the beauty of small comforts from their minds and hearts which are actually quite huge.

    People say that money and things won’t make you happy but that quote is often only used by people who have never been truly poor. And being poor does not mean having three meals a day, having a house and vehicle but not able to take a vacation to Hawaii every year or shop for extras when they want. From a standpoint of being truly poor that life looks very rich. As in the case of Anne of Green Gables sometimes when you are poor in more ways than one all you have is your imagination to dream beauty into your life and then when you actually have the beautiful things that express who you are or could be you feel what it is to be supported by your surroundings rather than deeply afraid by the flimsiness of it all. It becomes deeply meaningful to be surrounded by beautiful things because then you get to feel that you are in a good and safe place. Many people will never understand that including minimalists and I get that. I get what their ideology and way of life is about. But their mistake is to not take the time to understand more of how human psychology works. That there are many variables and reasons for why something may never work for a person in the way they think it should. In my case and for other people perhaps, minimalism does not decrease anxiety and depression but maybe cause it in some cases.

    If we are to question minimalism then the question could be ” If we have spent money on the object and it has been in our space, our space is not truly cluttered then why must we get rid of it?”

    Another question would be of how minimalism is good if often people go through monotonous binge and purge cycles of getting rid of and then taking back in year after year. This is a form of “minimalism” that is quite rampant and it does nothing to save the environment but actually works in favor of things like fast fashion and of not using things through.

    I could go on an on. But like a lot of things in this world I see minimalism as having a good and dark side. As being beautiful and interesting yet caught up in the same shackles of the very thing it is desperately trying to run from at the same time. I see it as trying to get closer to being human with deeper ideals yet forgetting to include other necessary points of our psychology that make us very human. I suppose if people were to focus on a midway point, a middle path then it would feel like less of a movement, less of something to make a lot of noise about and it just wouldn’t be a hot topic, a catch phrase flung everywhere getting a lot of attention anymore.

    There is addiction to things in our times but their is also an addiction to attention. Minimalism is just one way to attract a lot of attention. It takes a lot of effort obviously to sway people to specific ways of thinking such as the minimalist mind set. To me all of that effort is not very simple or minimalist. I want to change the world too but not enough to say that my idea or way of living or thinking is the answer to the worlds problems across the board because I know that the world is more complicated than that. It takes more than minimalism to make people happy and to cure depression and anxiety. People are not as “simple” as that. And I do not see simpleness in the co-dependency of changing the world with what “I” think the world needs to better itself when usually these solutions are too simplistic for human beings in all that we need as a species to thrive. It is dangerous to say to any human being ” You don’t need this. You need this. You don’e want this. You want this.” It is said that the consumerist culture does this already and so the obvious solution is to do the same thing? But no, that is ok because this time it’s being done for the right reasons.

    If we are to be sick of things being sold to us including superfluous ideas trying to control our minds then we should also be sick of the same behavior from minimalists. I for one am sick of everyone trying to sell me something all the time, including minimalists. If we are to not buy things all the time then we are to buy into a minimalist lifestyle and the ideas of the spokespersons for it. I will only listen to minimalists who are not speaking rigidly or selling it in any manner. When they simply talk about the ways it has been good for them that is fine. I am more interested when a person can discuss not only it’s good points but it’s down points as well. You know there is something wrong and screwy going on when a person focuses more on the perfection of an idea/ideal and fails to discuss the problems that can come up with it and why. That maybe the problems that come up with it come up for good reasons rather than the brainwashing and programming that people are under.

    Getting overly stuck in one mindset means that a persons perspective becomes skewed and they become less able to see the ideas from a different viewpoint, from the outside. Some people get real cozy by being enmeshed with ideas like minimalism because to some people having absolutes is the only way they can feel safe or like a good person. The freedom and flexibility as human beings means mistakes and chaos, imperfection. There is a place for order but there is a place for the order to become dis-ordered. The mind becomes less healthy when all there is is disorder and chaos but also when all there is , is order. We as human beings need more than one or the other because we need flexible minds in order to adapt, grow, have compassion and to feel a sense of abundance. Being in that middle ground may not feel as “official” or “pure or ” cool” and ” rebellious”. But the middle ground takes into account all of what we need as human beings as well as what other people coming from a different place who are the same but different from us may need.

  4. The only reason I can see to live a minimalist life is from an environmental stand point, less consumption, less waste etc. But I love my stuff, making a place your own. Having photos of your loved ones around you, surrounded by comforting items. I couldn’t imagine living any other way!

    1. Same here Melissa. I totally agree with you re the environmental standpoint. I think balance is essential, and being really mindful not to buy things without serious thought as to whether you’ll actually use them or not.

  5. So glad I stumbled upon your blog via Pinterest. Could you kindly tell me what the pink or coral color of that bedroom wall is? With the gray headboard… your design is eye candy. Thanks in advance. 🙂

    1. Oh Arianne I wish I knew. So sorry I couldn’t be of more help. That image is not owned by me so I didn’t handle the paint myself. I reckon if you show the image to a paint/colour consultant at your paint shop they should be able to point you in the right direction. Hope that helps 🙂

  6. I think some of the message of minimalism is getting misconstrued here judging by your piece and the comments.
    Minimalism (the lifestyle) is a spectrum. Not everyone chooses to be radical; like other concepts in life, we take what makes sense and should discard the rest. Most people who consider themselves minimalists are never going to be Bea Johnstons or have a hanky jar instead of a box of tissues. Myself included. That’s okay!
    Introducing any degree of minimalism into ones life (even adopting only 10% of the tips for example) can have a dramatic effect on our carbon footprint, because minimalism goes hand in hand with Eco-living and using things responsibly. Just something like commiting to use non disposable grocery bags, for instance, is a step in the right direction.
    I think there’s been a mix up in terms of esthetic minimalism. Many minimalists are not esthetic minimalists. Only a fraction enjoy or find peace from having a stark white space with no art, and a stark white/black/grey wardrobe. That is not the definition of minimalism, but because some of the most visible minimalist faces we see are esthetic minimalists, people assume we all have to be, or want to be. Not true.
    One CAN enjoy beautiful, meaningful decor that makes you happy. A wardrobe every colour of the rainbow. What makes minimalism unique is more about excess. Not having a closet with 100 pieces when you only wear 15. Having “just in case” items in case you gain weight, lose weight, get pregnant, get sick, get invited to a funeral, dancing, etc. Same with having 5 sets of bedding when we can only use one at a time. Are all 5 necessary? Could you bless someone else while lightening your load just a bit?
    Also, I wanted to clarify what was said about minimalists saying that changing their lifestyle gave them freedom. You took offended because you don’t feel bogged down by your stuff. First, minimalists are the first to admit the lifestyle is not for everyone.
    But more to the point, the freedom they speak of is the freedom to pick up and travel out of home for six months. They could put everything they own into their car (save for enough furnishings that they could rent out their home on AirBNB for example). In fact, many minimalists seem to travel often and stay away a while. They don’t want to feel bogged down. I’m at a stage in life with children and chronic illness that I know I couldn’t just pick up and travel half the year, so I don’t feel a lack of freedom from having things. However, I still embrace many of the principles. I don’t need 3 bags and a dresser full of makeup and toiletries. I’d like to cull my wardrobe, and I’d really like to cut back on disposable plastics. I’m starting slow , and while radical minimalism isn’t for me, I’d love to. Be able to get my family’s waste down to one small kitchen bag every 2 weeks. Right now it starts with examining regular offenders in the garbage can and examining alternatives.

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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