Why I’m uncomfortable being labeled a minimalist

labels.jpg

Before I get into some thoughts about minimalism I just wanted to thank you for all your kind comments and emails about my post on Monday. Writing about our journey to get Margs here safely is something I’ve been debating for quite some time. On the one hand, I don’t want to scare anyone because of what happened to me – I’m really a statistic and not at all the norm but words have the power to frighten so I’ve been holding off. But, ultimately I felt like I had to put the story out there because it’s such an important part of who I am and what is in my heart. I carry it around with me and it really has defined who I’ve become in the last few years. All this to say, thank you from the very bottom of my heart for being so supportive- it was rather scary to hit publish on that one. Also, I’m so sorry for all the typos in that post- I didn’t have it in me to reread it before I published and when I did decide to face it and read it again yesterday I was horrified by all the errors in the post. My apologies!


So, on to some minimalism stuff and a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over lately okay?

Recently, I’m finding it’s becoming more and more difficult to label myself a minimalist.

I still live a very simple and frugal lifestyle but actually identifying as a minimalist is something I’m really struggling with.

I read an article recently (I should have bookmarked it because I can’t find it now to share with you) about a woman who lives a minimalistic life but out of necessity and not choice. It got the gears going like the spatula debacle and the more I process her story the more I realize I’m just so so uncomfortable with the label.

There’s just so much inherent privilege that comes from choosing to be a minimalist isn’t there? I mean making the conscious decision to live with less stuff because you want to live a simpler life is really in itself a luxury right?.

My reality is such that I choose to have a small wardrobe, I choose not to clutter my home and I choose not to buy material goods that don’t bring joy to my life. My reality is that if there is a time in the future that I feel I need or want any of those things I can simply go out and buy them- not everyone has that choice available to them. The story might be entirely different if I were in a position where I didn’t have that choice ya know? Perhaps under those circumstances I’d gladly welcome more things into my life.

1722162147-632e8dbfebe9bb99a18954afa483eec7

The reality is that I’m an educated, white, middle class married woman who can make the decision to live with less stuff. I’m extremely privileged to be in a social class where I can make that choice for myself.

But how does the family who cannot afford to pay rent or buy food feel about middle classers patting themselves on the back because they donated bags and bags of things to goodwill in an effort to be a minimalist? How does minimalism as a movement make those who don’t have the choice feel? Does it disenfranchise them in some way? Does my choice not to live a consumerist lifestyle somehow take their agency away?

It all got me thinking about my grandparents and their journey here to Canada in the mid 1950s. They came with NOTHING and when I say nothing I mean absolutely zero in the way of goods and funds. I think they actually brought food in a trunk that they had confiscated at customs – dry beans and a few salamis (italian immigrants). FOOD – not cash, or clothes or any of the stuff we’d take on a trip. FOOD!!  Actually, they came here in debt owing a nice chunk of money to a man who loaned them enough cash to afford the tickets for their trans Atlantic trip.

My grandparents were minimalists by modern definitions. They had only what they needed and nothing more. The difference though is that the lifestyle they lived was not a choice – they lived that way out of necessity.

If my grandfather were alive today he’d likely tell me that I’m being an asshole by labeling myself a minimalist because from his point of view minimalism isn’t something to aspire to. It’s not something that necessarily brought happiness to his life. Minimalism for people like my grandparents meant poverty, struggle and inequality. He told me on more occasions than I can count how hard life was – how by not having much in the way of money or “stuff” he and my grandmother had to work extremely hard  for the most basic necessities they needed to make their home and life somewhat comfortable. My grandfather took on a job shoveling snow in our brutal Canadian winters where his feet got frost bitten from the cold because he only owned one pair shoes. Now, people who follow the movement create competition based on who has less footwear. It’s irksome I think. Well, it irks me.

There’s a lot of ideas in this post and I’m not sure I’m really articulating what’s at the heart of my discomfort. I know that in some respects, I’m somehow distancing myself from the whole movement because I’m not okay with somehow trivializing the reality that there are people living as minimalists out of necessity while there are others trying to decide which designer purses they want to do away with to keep up with the famous minimizers of the world. Minimalism as a label is just so incredibly loaded I’ve realized – loaded with inherent privilege and inequality that just makes me so uncomfortable.

I’m fortunate to be part of social class that allows me to make these lifestyle choices for myself. Having said that, the sociocultural and political forces at play that don’t give everyone that right are really something to consider in the whole minimalism narrative.

Do you feel that being a minimalist is a privilege? What are your thoughts on the issue? If you disagree with me please let me know! Let’s discuss!

Save

Save

Save

Follow:
Share:

Leave a comment

  1. March 1, 2017 / 7:30 am

    You pose a very interesting idea. Minimalist by choice is a completely different concept than is minimalist by necessity. In fact, the more I think about it, the more disgusted I become knowing that all the documentaries I’ve seen on this were about people who HAD the means to be materialistic (often in excess) but decided one day to do away with all that. I never stopped to think about the people who HAVE to decide if they’re getting food this week or buying new shoes for their kids that are wearing shoes two sizes too small. I need to re-evaluate this part of my life because I know I can do better. Perhaps the true ideology of minimalism is parting ways with stuff you don’t need and then focusing that energy and empowering the ones that don’t have that choice.

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:43 am

      I think part of this is acknowledging how inherently privileged we are to be in a situation where we can opt to adopt the lifestyle. I think minimalism as an ideology and by consequence lifestyle has the power to be absolutely wonderful because it helps uncloud our lives from consumerist chaos. Somehow though, I’m struggling with the label if there’s not an acknowledgement that to be a minimalist you are essentially choosing the luxury of having less.

  2. March 1, 2017 / 8:22 am

    This idea has been presented to me before. I actually wrote a college research paper on it! You have excellent points and it’s true that majority of minimalists came from some level of luxury and privilege. After experiencing wealth and having it “all”, there is the realization that having everything does not make for a meaningful life. There is the idea that it’s only for the wealthy. The belief is that a wealthy person can choose to live deliberately because they have a safety net.  For those not as well off, they may need excess because they don’t have the convenience of buying things as needed, like you mentioned. In my case, I’m a broke college student who went from having the safety net of a full time job to full time school. I consider myself a minimalist. I use it as a tool to save money and time. I donate all of my belongings to people in need, and without the excess, I have the ability to help those less fortunate. If you’re uncomfortable with the label then don’t label yourself. Live the life that’s meaningful to you, call it what you’d like, and buy or don’t buy what you need.
    Thanks for sharing!!

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:44 am

      I think you nailed it when you said that there is a realization that having everything does not make for a meaningful life.

  3. March 1, 2017 / 8:24 am

    I know you said you felt like you weren’t articulating yourself well, but I think you hit the nail on the head. This is very well put, and I hope this makes people think about how fortunate they may be to have this choice.

    Your post has definitely made me think. Growing up we were extremely poor, like no hot water or electricity poor. But now I realize we were just like super ahead of our time and just minimalists! I’m kidding. But growing up this way made me envious of the basic needs and materialistic items others had. Once I was grown up, I surrounded myself with certain things that gave me the image of upper middle class. I wanted lots of clothing options, and a well decorated 3 bedroom home, even though it is just myself and my husband. I have since reprioritized my need for things and my home, but I’ve been able to as a choice and not a need.

    I am very fortunate I was able to escape poverty and can choose the lifestyle that makes me happy. So when I look around my home, I do not feel stress or disappointment in the lack of items. The same cannot be said for all people in their homes. And some of the stigma and disappointment impoverished people feel is due to the overconsumption and societal portrayal that more stuff means you’ve made it, or you’re wealthy.

    So while we are privileged that living with less is a choice for us, the fact that you’re aware of your privilege and willing to be a voice for those who struggle with basic needs is commendable.

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:48 am

      I think the point you bring up is very valid and interesting. I grew up in a single parent home and we lived well below the poverty line for most of my childhood and early adult life (I lived at home while going to school) and as I got older and I was privileged to have different opportunities presented to me I wanted more and more things. Perhaps it was some way to make up for the little I had as a child ya know? Ultimately, I was incredibly fortunate to escape poverty but I know that isn’t the reality for far too many people.

      • March 1, 2017 / 5:23 pm

        You make a very interesting point! This kind of thing can cross generations. My mother-in-law grew up with very little during the depression. As a result, the family never got rid of anything because they were able to reuse anything for a different purpose. Oddly, this somehow got passed onto my wife and it’s very difficult to get her to let go of anything. It seems to me that, sometimes, it’s not about showing off or consuming, but the desire (dare I say the “need”) for possessions can sometimes have other origins.

        I was financially fortunate enough to grow up with more than I needed. But I’ve noticed that some folks – some, not all – who grew up in need weren’t able to be free of the desire to acquire ever more possessions once they got older and achieved a certain level of financial success.

        Interestingly, if you know what to look for, you can always tell if someone comes from “old money” in Philadelphia. They don’t live very ostentatiously (and they’re very generous), but there’s always 1 or 2 items of jewelry or clothing which are frightfully expensive. In just about every case, these things are inherited, not bought: They only have sentimental value and aren’t meant for show.

        • March 2, 2017 / 7:21 am

          It’s a very interesting phenomenon I think. (I lived this way much of my adult life as well). Thank you for sharing!

  4. March 1, 2017 / 8:25 am

    YES! I really feel what you’re getting at here. While excess and over consumption are not the ideals, being dramatically, self indulgently sparse isn’t either.
    This really reminds me of when i spent six months in India at 19. We were in a group doing voluntary work. One of the guys with us decided not to wear shoes. i think it came from the right place-the kids didn’t have shoes. But it was bizarre to the locals that he would choose thing. One rickshaw driver actually offered him his shoes. And when this guys returned to London he went on the Underground with bare feet.
    Choosing to reject some level of comfort can almost become an insult to those who don’t have the choice. But at the same time, should we eat all the food because we can, buy all the clothes because we can? the biggest house we can afford? I don’t know where the balance is, but hopefully we can both find it.
    Also i do love the saying: labels are for jars not for people-it fits nicely with some of the exclusivity and snobbery around minimalism I think

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:52 am

      This is basically a tangible experience describing what I was getting at. Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. March 1, 2017 / 8:55 am

    Why are you living small? Is it to help others or yourself? Are you searching for happiness in small? Maybe all that is brought to fruition by reaching out to the uncomfortable minimalist and helping. To find the answer search why you are doing this and be true to it.

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:55 am

      Interesting question. I suppose I’m happiest when I’m surrounded with less because it allows me to focus my very anxious energy on appreciating the things that are most important in my life.

      • March 1, 2017 / 11:25 am

        Go with that! Nothing helps anxious like a sunset or a walk by a stream!

        • March 1, 2017 / 11:27 am

          Absolutely!

      • March 1, 2017 / 5:28 pm

        Bravo! What is most important in life? That’s the real question! It’s the question most worthy of chasing.

        • March 2, 2017 / 7:20 am

          Exactly that!

  6. March 1, 2017 / 9:03 am

    Thank you for sharing this perspective. I agree with you, we do tout our privilege (inadvertently) by talking about all the stuff we choose to give away. You’re right, so many don’t have a choice at all. I recently wrote a post on privilege and your piece so wonderfully compliments the point I was making, people don’t have to fear losing their privilege but should instead share it, which is what you’re doing. Thank you for this thoughtful perspective! If interested, my post is at: https://pjtemple.com/2017/02/27/the-definition-of-privilege/

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:53 am

      Thank you for sharing Patty! I’m off to have a read!

      • March 3, 2017 / 10:38 am

        Thanks for reading 🙂

      • March 3, 2017 / 10:39 am

        Thanks for reading! 🙂

  7. March 1, 2017 / 9:30 am

    My POV is that minimalism is about refocusing and relearning to appreciate things and value more than possessions in life. The minimalist lifestyle is a choice, and obviously not everyone has that option. (if they only have one option, there’s no choice there)

    Minimalism, to me, is about truly improving your life and the world you live in. Minimalism has brought me to wiser spending habits, it’s led me to creating less environmental waste, it’s given me MANY opportunities to bless others through gently-used donations, monetary assistance, and my time. The reality is, some of us WILL experience privilege… How we choose to manage that privilege says a lot.

    The amount of stuff one has doesn’t determine their level of decency and compassion in either direction. Minimalism is about “becoming minimal,” but it’s also a big lesson in excess, frivolity, and yes, privilege.

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:51 am

      It absolutely is. I don’t doubt that minimalism can really help refocus life into something far more focused on meaning and less on the need to be dependent on things. You’re absolutely right it is a huge HUGE lesson in excess and frivolity.

  8. March 1, 2017 / 10:43 am

    Minimalism by choice means that you are comfortable enough with yourself to not need excessive materials goods to help keep your focus on things other than yourself.

    I personally live my life with the mindset that as long as I have the three basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter), all else is excess. I grew up without and have found that excess is not needed to be complete.

    Just my humble opinion.

    • March 1, 2017 / 10:45 am

      This is absolutely fair and a very valid point. I also grew up in similar circumstances so I live much like you with basic needs (food, shelter and clothing).

      • March 1, 2017 / 11:16 am

        Along the same lines, I have an aphorism that goes “Wealth is not determined by the amount of worldly goods you amass while you are here, but by how long and how fondly you are remembered after you are gone.” If one lives their lives by doing good for others rather than living goods for themselves, it is a life that is meaningful.

        • March 1, 2017 / 11:18 am

          This is just beautiful and on point. Thank you so much for sharing <3

  9. March 1, 2017 / 11:47 am

    You give a good point about how some people are forced to live a minimalistic lifestyle while there are others who choose to do so (even though they don’t have to). At the same time, we don’t hear stories about people who are forced to live with less. I think we need to change the way we express minimalism. Eg. If we donated a bunch of our stuff to purposely have less, there’s no need to announce it.

    There’s nothing wrong with living with less. Less junk in the house = less cleaning in my view. Some stuff ends up getting thrown out over time so why waste the money?

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:27 am

      See that right there is my issue. There ARE plenty of people who are forced to live with less and we don’t hear about it ya know? Maybe (just putting this out there) the solution would be not to glamorize it?

  10. March 1, 2017 / 1:04 pm

    Great post! I’m a minimalist because of my meager budget haha
    I think it’s cool you are aware of how blessed that you are
    Xxxx

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:25 am

      Thank YOU for reading Jessica 🙂

  11. March 1, 2017 / 1:16 pm

    What a great post. You’ve put a spin in minimalism that I haven’t heard before. All your points are valid. Very interesting and ponder worthy.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:25 am

      Thank you kindly!

  12. March 1, 2017 / 1:48 pm

    Hi Jenny, I just wanted to say how thought-provoking and humbling I found your blog post. It provides an insight into the privilege and choices of the majority of our lives. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, Lol xx

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:24 am

      Thank you for taking the time to read 🙂

  13. March 1, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    I think to some extent I am choosing minimalism for the very reason that there are others who can’t choose. Buying stuff because I can and then abandoning it for something newer is so wasteful and it is that feeling that brings the guilt for me.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:24 am

      This is such a valid reason.

  14. March 1, 2017 / 2:30 pm

    interesting food for thought. i have not looked at the choice of minimalism in this way. i am not a minimalist, but have great respect for those who make the choice to live a more simplistic life.

    i have not read many of your posts yet, as i am new to your blog, but i can see already you often take chances when you write. that is quite brave for you never know how someone else might perceive what you are saying – – at times each person will hear/read something a certain way simply because of what is happening to them at that particular time, and that, sadly, can mean they may miss the actual message.

    i think you have opened up an interesting topic for conversation. good job.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:23 am

      Thank you Elinor. 🙂

  15. March 1, 2017 / 2:38 pm

    This so reasonates. I feel this when I start to complain about all the stuff we have and too many toys. I stop myself because we are lucky to have that good problem.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:22 am

      It is a good problem!

  16. March 1, 2017 / 4:50 pm

    Jenny, what a great topic! Given the “likes” and “comments” you’ve gotten, you really seem to have hit on something here. Bravo!

    I think I might write something about this myself. There’s just so much to think about and say. However, I think “label” is a good term for it all. For myself, I live the best that I can and strive to leave it to others as to what to call it all. I know who and what I am. I don’t know what to call it, but I can describe it all reasonably well.

    When I read your entry, some things came to mind.

    “I live simply, so that others may simply live.” (Gandhi)

    “Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity!” (Henry David Thoreau, “Walden Pond”)

    Finally, I want to mention something that Philadelphia Quakers believe. Note that I’m spiritual, not religious and I’m not trying to preach or push anything. While Quakers don’t have any rules or doctrines, there are a few things which they meditate on and try to keep in mind. One of these things is called SPICE, meaning: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship (Environmental Conservation). For our purposes, just remember the “Simplicity” part. (I don’t mean to push religion, the idea just seems to apply here).

    Perhaps, if your looking for a word to describe what you seem to be doing, that word is “Simplicity” or “Simple Living.”

    I don’t know the differences or intricacies of people who live a Minimalist lifestyle by choice or because of poverty. But you make a good point, one which strikes me as being important to consider and think about. For myself, I try to do the best that I can for myself and be as available as I can in the support and assistance of others. You could probably fit all my worldly possessions into 2 suit cases. I’m not being noble, that’s just the way things are.

    I’m troubled by poverty. I’m intensely angry I’m not able to do more about it. But I do what I can, as I’m able. When I’ve had more than I needed, I’ve given what I could to someone else. I raised my son the same. If he has 2 of something, he’s glad to give (and has on many occasions) 1 to someone who doesn’t have it.

    I don’t know. There’s a lot in your entry to think about and I’m very grateful to have read it. I need to mull this over more.

    Just know that the fact that your troubled by this says a lot about the grace, beauty and compassion of who you are. From where I’m sitting, you’ve figured “it” out and I admire you greatly. There are no answers, only questions and it’s the pursuit of those questions which makes us who we are.

    I’m so glad to have found your blog!

    Be Well, My Friend
    Theseus

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:22 am

      Thank you! If you do opt to write about it please give me a heads up so I can head over and read!

  17. March 1, 2017 / 4:56 pm

    One more thing.

    I hope this doesn’t seem too flippant, but whenever my son or I “lose our cool” about something, we always catch each other and start singing “First World Problems”, by Weird Al Yankovic. Remember, even Buddhist masters try to maintain a sense of humor about even in the most dire of circumstances.

    Hope this doesn’t seem too irreverent.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:21 am

      I often say the exact same thing! 🙂

  18. March 1, 2017 / 5:32 pm

    As I’m reading through the other comments another quote, from Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to mind. It was from his eulogy to Thoreau:

    “He chose to be rich by making his wants few, and supplying them himself.”

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:20 am

      That is a very a propos quote! thank you for sharing!

  19. March 1, 2017 / 7:45 pm

    Yes! These are some thoughts I have also been thinking lately that I think you communicated so well here. However, I don’t necessarily believe that choosing to have less stuff is a bad thing. Living simply leaves our lives to be less cluttered both emotionally and physically which then leads us to have more productive lives where we can actually have the time, money, energy, and head space to go out and be effective change making people in the world – that makes living simply worth everything in the world.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:20 am

      I don’t think that having less stuff is bad either – it can be such a great thing! It’s just the label that irks me. I think simple living is probably far more accurate (for me) and far less loaded (for me).

  20. March 1, 2017 / 9:43 pm

    A wise man once said… when you are looking to the material wealth on this land, look for the person having less than you and while you are looking for spiritual wealth, look for the person having more than you….! (it solves allot of anxiety and distress of falling prey to the system of continuous race of “gathering more”)

    “Indeed life was a blessing when apple and blackberry were only fruits”

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:18 am

      I love this!

  21. March 1, 2017 / 11:08 pm

    When your feelings get hurt by other people it is because you have all the tech like cell phones computers etc and people you don’t know and will never see invade your life who are rude and idiots. Just don’t read their mean blogs.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:17 am

      Thanks for stopping by.

  22. March 2, 2017 / 1:37 am

    I think what bothers me about the label minimalist – and the whole movement – is that it’s defining people by their possessions, or lack thereof. It’s assigning a moral quality to the “stuff” we have – lots of stuff is bad! Little stuff is good! Similar to the whole clean-eating movement, where they’ve assigned a morality to food choices.
    It bothers me because it’s a styling trend more than anything else.
    And it bothers me because it doesn’t help poor people for us to have less, unless we are donating the money we would have spent on “stuff” to the underprivileged. The act of having less stuff in your house, or a smaller wardrobe, doesn’t necessarily help anyone.

    • March 2, 2017 / 7:17 am

      This is an extremely important point about moral quality. Food for thought for sure. Thanks for sharing Madeleine!

    • March 2, 2017 / 8:26 am

      thank you for sharing!

  23. Britney
    March 2, 2017 / 8:59 am

    Hi, Jenny. I don’t know you, and this is my first time visiting your blog. It seems like you’ve given yourself quite a bit to think about! I think my brain often works like yours as well, constantly questioning and wondering.
    Something like choosing to live with less is very simple and straightforward. There isn’t any reason you should feel bad about your choice just because other’s don’t seem to have the choice. I definitely would encourage you, however, not to swap the label of “minimalist” for “privileged.”
    Again, I don’t know you or the details of your life, but you mention that you’re educated. You probably worked hard in school, not just showing up, but studying and learning. Then you probably got a job, which earned you the income that affords you to buy things if you need them. Nothing wrong with that. You work hard and you’re compensated for that. You’re married, I don’t know for how long, but that’s probably a relationship you work hard at too. Moreover, it seems as though your grandparents and your parents made choices in the past that set you off on the right foot. Is that privilege, or the result of hard work and dedication?
    It’s a beautiful thing when we recognize our blessings. Sometimes life blesses us just because. Other times our blessings in the present are a result of our parents working hard to give us a better life. My grandparents worked very hard. My grandmother’s family was poor. She got a job in high school and would sneak bills when her father wasn’t paying attention and pay them for the family. Her family was a little better off because of her sacrifices. My parents then worked hard to give my siblings and I a better life. My mom was the first to get a master’s degree in her family. I was the first grandkid to finish a college degree on that side of the family. It was a blessing to attend college, but I’m still paying for it. I hope to help my future children, Lord willing, with the financial cost of college. There’s no crime in working hard for a better life. For some people, a better life includes more things. For others, like yourself, it includes the essentials only. There’s nothing wrong with either way. I’m sure you deserve everything you’ve worked for. I admire your minimalist approach to life, and it’s something that I want to strive for in my life as well. We shouldn’t feel bad about choosing a life with less.
    If you do feel additionally blessed, then share your blessings with others. Share your home with family and friends over a shared meal. Share your time with volunteer work. Share your finances through charity.
    This comment turned out to be more of a book, but I hope it encourages you not to feel like a jerk for choosing to live simply! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I’m sure it will be something I think about all day as well. 🙂 Cheers.

    • March 3, 2017 / 6:10 am

      Hi Britney! Thank you so much for stopping by and for taking the time to read! I think that you make some very valid points here. I don’t think we should necessarily feel guilty for choosing to live a simpler maybe more minimalist life but ultimately I think we need to acknowledge the privileged that fuels our ability to do so. I think this whole thing is a very loaded topic but ultimately as long as you find a lifestyle or point of view that you’re comfortable with then you’re on your way to enjoying the simpler pleasures in life.

  24. March 2, 2017 / 1:25 pm

    Well, this sparked some discussion, didn’t it? Way to go! This is a topic that I’ve thought about at some length, so it was great to read your post (and the comments of other readers) and see that I’m not the only one giving this a whole lot of thought. Maybe we’re overthinking it? It’s possible. But I’ll add some of my thoughts to this discussion anyway.

    I don’t think minimalism itself is privilege or that it’s only a lifestyle for the privileged, but the option to make that choice is a privilege. It’s one that I don’t take lightly. My “minimalism” came out of necessity (long story that I won’t bore you with here), but through the life changing hardship (albeit first-world hardship) that resulted in my “minimalism” I’ve embraced this new simple lifestyle fully and I love how owning less stuff and living tiny has opened my life up in ways I couldn’t have imagined before. I think the bottom line is that being aware of the privileges we have that others don’t is a very good start – being aware and not taking it for granted. Ever.

    Someone mentioned in the comments that it bothers them that minimalism has become a trendy thing and there are those who are all about the designer stuff they’ve given up, etc. This bothers me too. I hate labels. I am reluctant to give my lifestyle that or any label, because as soon as you attach a label to something, someone inevitably comes up with a set of rules one must apply to it: you’re not a minimalist if you own more than three pairs of shoes; you’re not a true minimalist if you make a lot of money; etc. As soon as there’s a label attached to what you are or what you do, there will be people out there who will tell you that you’re doing it wrong, or you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, or those who resent your choices and ask things like who are you helping by living this way? And that REALLY bothers me.

    Take The Minimalists (the two guys from the now famous documentary), for example. People criticize these guys harshly because they were wealthy, successful business men who chose to ditch most of their earthly belongings and embrace minimalism. They also get flack because their book and documentary have made them a lot of money. I’ve talked with people who are very angry about this. But why is that? These are guys who were ambitious, corporate ladder climbing business men who reached their corporate goals and found that it didn’t fulfill their lives at all. So they chose minimalism and their lives are now filled with meaning.

    Someone in the comments asked the question, who are you helping by being a minimalist? I’ll throw this one back: who are you helping by living in a huge house full of stuff? Who are you helping with any lifestyle choice you make? It made me think of this quote I saw by Howard Therman (whom I know very little about, but I liked the quote): “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    If you’ve watched the Minimalist’s documentary, you can see that these guys have come alive because of their lifestyle choice (at least that’s the impression I got). And they’re helping a lot of people do the same.

    A life of simplicity and minimalism has definitely made me come alive. Living in a tiny space with very little stuff is not for everyone. It’s not going to make everyone come alive. That’s not what I’m saying. But if you find that thing, whether it’s a career choice, something you do in your spare time, yoga, a new religion, atheism, collecting rare, first-edition books, whatever floats your boat – I mean REALLY floats your boat, do it. Don’t label it, or worry about the rules, Don’t force it on someone else just because it’s right for you. Just do what makes you come alive.

    Holy moly, that turned out to be really long. Sorry about that! And I sincerely didn’t mean for any of that to sound preachy! But thanks for a really thought-provoking post. 🙂

    • March 3, 2017 / 6:06 am

      I actually was nodding my head while I read this. So many very valid and important points were brought up here. I think you’re 100% right when you say that minimalism should help you come alive. How that is expressed can vary but as long as you achieve the end result I suppose you’re on the right track right?

  25. March 2, 2017 / 4:58 pm

    Love this. I have felt a lot of this same way. My grandparents would be killing it as minimalists and not because they wanted to. I refer to myself as an “essentialist” because of these feelings. It makes me feel better about having a label at least.

    • March 3, 2017 / 6:05 am

      I’ve mulled over the term “essentialist” too and I think for me, I’m just far more comfortable with “Simple Living” – I think anytime you attach that “ist” at the end of a word it takes on a new shape which can include rules and whatnot. Simple living just feels far more comfortable to me – it allows itself to be expressed in so many non competitive ways.

      • March 3, 2017 / 9:39 am

        “Non competitive” that is resonating with me right now. You’re right, none of this should be a competition. To compete at being less material is counter intuitive and just adjusts the meaning of “keeping up with the jones’s”. Thank you.

        • March 3, 2017 / 10:11 am

          Thank YOU for sharing your ideas! 🙂

          • March 3, 2017 / 4:34 pm

            I elaborated a little on my own blog. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • March 3, 2017 / 6:02 am

      Thank you kindly for the link back 🙂

  26. March 2, 2017 / 7:54 pm

    What you said is very true…They may have had less because of circumstance and you by choice but here is my wacky theory. Things were better when we grew our own food, preserved our own food and put family first. I have heard the stories about how the whole town would shut down on Sunday after 1 or 2 and the rest of the day was devoted to family. I remember Sunday dinners with my grandparents but only because my parents were divorced. I think part of the minimalist movement is the desire to get back to those simpler times. It’s just a theory….

    • March 3, 2017 / 6:02 am

      You’re right! Minimalism as I see it is geared at enjoying moments and being more present which can be difficult if you’re constantly chasing the dream and trying to keep up with the joneses.

  27. March 2, 2017 / 9:19 pm

    That’s why I’m not a fan of labels anyway. I don’t label myself as a minimalist because there are a lot of things that I’m just not willing to part with, and in all honesty they aren’t necessities. I like my Himalayan salt lamp, I like my new iPod, I enjoy having two TVs and an xbox to go with each so I can watch Netflix. I really don’t like the people who act all self-righteous because they threw all their stuff away. It’s just like how I don’t like people that have to plaster it everywhere when they help someone out or give to charity. Do what works in your life, whatever that is. I like to think that minimalist mentality could lead to better things in our society, like people wanting to help each other and being happier with what they have instead of constantly wanting more. Unfortunately it has just become another trend that divides people. The thing is, a minimalist mentality is great, because how many people going through hardships have gotten that way because at one time they were trying to “keep up with the Joneses” and ended up getting themselves into big trouble? Also, there are so many people who are absolutely miserable just because they don’t have certain material things in their life. I don’t think that “being a minimalist” is as important as having a “minimalist mentality.” I see a “minimalist mentality” as being present in the moment and actually thinking about the choices you make and the products you buy. Don’t just run out and get something because you saw an ad or your friend had it, actually think about how it will impact your life. Is it going to make your life easier? Is it going to give you more time to do something you are passionate about? Is it going to make you a better person? Hard hitting questions might help you decide if it’s really worth it. I don’t have a lot of extra money, so I rarely buy extra things, but sometimes I really want something and I earned it. A couple years back I worked a second job for 6 months to get my car paid off early (a car I was forced to buy and didn’t really want to pay for in the first place–long story). I was working 80+ hours a week and it was horrible. Needless to say, I got the car paid off and I had my last paycheck from the second job all to myself. I spent $400 on a Bluetooth speaker like the one my friend had (not because my friend had it, but because I was literally blown away at the sound and music is a big part of my life). These trendy minimalists would probably be upset with me for that, but in my opinion I worked darn hard to get there and I deserved something that I wanted with no strings attached. It made me happy to be able to buy it and I use it just about every day. Sure, I could have bought a cheaper one, but I wanted that one…and honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with that!

    • March 3, 2017 / 6:01 am

      Thank you for sharing this.

      I think that you bring up an important and very valid point when you discussed “minimalist mentality”. I think that the mentality is what truly makes it a lifestyle choice and not necessarily the physical display of having or not having things.

  28. March 3, 2017 / 6:47 am

    I’m so happy to have found your blog! This is so interesting, I had never thought about this, but it makes a lot of sense.

  29. March 3, 2017 / 9:02 am

    Wow, you have a lot of comments here. You made a really good point in you post, though, something I’ve been thinking of too, lately. As much as I admire minimalism in some ways, I can’t describe myself as one. And not only because I like a lot of unnecessary things I don’t want to part with. There’s a ton of things I would like to throw out at home we got, to make our appartement less cluttered. But the thing is, I can’t afford to throw out everything I would like to, because I can’t afford to buy anytime anything I want. On the other hand though, it teaches me not to buy unnecessarily things I don’t really need that much, which in the long run is kind of a good thing I think…

    • March 3, 2017 / 9:22 am

      Thank you so much for sharing this with me Liv. This is such an important and valid part of what my posts was about.

  30. PipsNaude
    March 4, 2017 / 2:21 am

    Hi!

    Interesting post. I don’t know if I quite agree with you though… My thoughts are also not very clear on this, but let me try and share what I think.

    I think it depends how you define minimalism. To me it is a mindset of focusing on what is important to you. (For this reason, I think EVERYone should practice it, as by this definition, surely it is the only way to live your life?)

    For me, when I have done this I have realised that yes, I want fewer and nicer things, but also that I want to only buy things that have a positive back story. For example, products that are Fair Trade, made by a small local business, from an NGO that empowers disabled people, sustainably sourced, and so on. By doing this, I feel I am – in a very small way – having a positive impact in the world. By supporting organisations that are doing good, they can do more good (and often this is helping uplift people from poverty). And conversely, by avoiding unnecessary, cheap products that are made in factories where workers work in shocking conditions, are paid terribly, and where environmental degradation is the true cost of these industries, I feel I am also doing a good thing.

    Yes, being in a position to think about these things is a privilege and a luxury that many people cannot afford. I do agree with you there. However, I also think that if you have privilege you should use it to do good. I am stealing this idea from an amazing woman I heard speak, and she said that, although she had had a terrible experience that made her become an activist, she knows she is still incredibly privileged because she is white, wealthy, skinny, educated, etc. But she said this very privilege is what makes it imperative that she tries to help others who are less empowered, who don;’t have the platform / voice / money to help themselves.

    SO although you might feel unfairly privileged to be able to think about minimalism, I also think minimalism can be a responsible life choice. I don;t think rejecting it is helping anyone. Yes, maybe don’t be smug about it – I get how annoying some minimalists can be! But use your privilege to make the world better. (However you see fit – if not through minimalism that’s ok too, but use your privilege somehow!)

    Also, side note, poor people are just people, like you and me. I live in a third world country and am surrounded by people who are far less fortunate than me. And you know what? They want nice things just as much as anyone else. Yes, they want food and the basics, but don’t think they don’t envy the nice clothes and fancy things. Marketing sells an idea that drives materialism, and it makes me sad because I do think at heart materialism makes everyone dissatisfied with their lives. It makes you feel like you never have enough, because there is always something shiny and new and better… And for this reason, I like minimalism for it’s anti-materialism ethos, and focusing on people and relationships. I believe this kind of focus is more likely to make us compassionate and kind and do good. (What’s that saying, “Love people, use things. Not the other way around…”)

    And that’s why, for me, any minimalism I practice is so much more than just me following a ‘cool’ lifestyle trend.

    • March 4, 2017 / 6:14 am

      Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this.

      I agree with basically everything you’ve written. My post was geared more with dealing with the label of minimalism than the actual lifestyle. Sorry if it appeared that I’m in someway dismissing the movement.

      I actually believe that minimalism as a lifestyle is a wonderful thing. I live very simply and after years of living with too many things and really buying into the whole keeping up with the joneses thing I’ve sort of found myself again. My issue isn’t with the actual living as a minimalist, I suppose I take issue to people who have the ability to adopt the lifestyle and don’t acknowledge what an enormous privilege it is to be able to live that away.

  31. March 4, 2017 / 1:43 pm

    Good point, Jenny. I thought about it too. Yes, I guess we are privileged to have a choice. But is choosing materialism benefitting people that are “minimalists out of necessity”? Maybe yes, since consumption creates jobs. And in many other ways no. I guess the main question is, why do we make the choice for owning less. Is it to shift our focus from things to people, to relationships, to building a better society? If I put it this way, we have not only the privilege, but also a big responsibility in this confused world.

    • March 5, 2017 / 4:48 pm

      Great points!! Thank you so much for sharing!

  32. March 6, 2017 / 9:09 pm

    A few years ago I helped a friend who’d been working as a waitress pack up to move halfway across the country to a well-paid job. It was so funny to watch her go through all the sort of ok clothes and semi-broken items she’d held on to because she couldn’t afford to replace them, but now could choose not to lug cross country. Then a couple years ago we did the same thing, moving from grad school to a grownup job and shedding our hoarded “in case of emergency” stuff. I can choose to give away clothes after a child outgrows them now because if no one gives me handmedowns, I can afford to buy (or at least thrift) replacement ones. It’s new territory to me after years of being broke.

    • March 9, 2017 / 8:46 am

      Thank you so much for sharing this with me Katherine <3

  33. March 7, 2017 / 10:16 am

    I am considering the idea of becoming a minimalist myself, and this post has given a new perspective to the whole movement for me. I love your article. great writing.
    And thanks for reading my blog, I really appreciate it.

    • March 9, 2017 / 8:45 am

      Thank you so much for popping in and taking the time to read!

  34. March 29, 2017 / 4:53 am

    Great post!! I agree with your discomfort with the label and egoic feelings of superiority that are sometimes attached with it. Although I think the movement itself away from mindless consumerism is a needed and helpful one in our middle class white privileged society.

Share your thoughts: