What Simplicity And Minimalism Isn’t About…

Posted: November 8th, 2010 | 33 Comments »

It’s not about “inbox zero”.
It’s not about owning only 100 items.
It’s not about living in an empty house devoid of any personality at all.
It’s not about perfection.
It’s not about having a complicated system in place to deal with your email.
It’s not about buying a $1,000 “minimalist” watch when a $50 one will do fine.
It’s not about riding a bicycle with no gears or no brakes.
It’s not about claiming you are a minimalist who doesn’t even own a bed yet needing to crash at various friends’ houses every night.
It’s not about sitting in the dark under your only light bulb.
It’s not about bragging about how minimal your life is.

However, it is about finding a comfortable balance where you don’t feel overwhelmed by your belongings but you also don’t feel as though you are going without only for the sake of doing so. Way too many simplicity and minimalism websites encourage readers to ditch everything, live out of a backpack, keep only 1 fork/knife/spoon, and forego anything that may involve owning something. I call bullshit. That is not what trying to live simply or minimally is; everyone should have their own definition of it. If you tread too far in a direction that a website is telling you to head in, you won’t be comfortable if it’s not the right one for you. What works for me may not work for you – and that’s ok. That’s the way it should be. My aim here is to share what does work for me and maybe inspire you to start thinking about what may work for you. You don’t have to subscribe to the “I only own 1 pair of socks” school of minimalism to succeed at living a simpler life, so please be wary of those preaching about it. Take stock, look for advice, ask questions, and do what works for you. THAT is living simply.

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33 Comments on “What Simplicity And Minimalism Isn’t About…”

  1. 1 Natalia said at 11:54 am on November 8th, 2010:

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! This underlines what peeves me so much about the (mainly online) ‘simplicity culture’ that is around at the moment. Your comment about the watch made me laugh out loud – why is so many of the people who take to listing their ‘very small list of belongings’ on the internet find it important to tell me they don’t just own ‘a notebook’ but ‘a moleskine notebook’ or some such – many of these people seem as wrapped up in consumerism as those they decry.
    Thanks for bringing some sense to the table.

  2. 2 Tim F. said at 1:17 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    One more thing:

    It’s not about Apple products.

  3. 3 David said at 1:36 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    It’s about Apple products if that’s what works for the person – but no, it’s not a requirement as some make it out to be. Personally, I prefer them, but others prefer Windows.

  4. 4 Leslie Cao said at 4:32 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    Eff yeah! *strong fist*

  5. 5 Keira said at 6:28 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    Thank you for saying this! The “100 Things” concept has really been pushed by a lot of mainstream minimalist bloggers lately. While I’m happy that works for them, I’m just not interested. I like having books, jewelry, artwork, houseplants, enough dishes to host a small get together, and a spare set of sheets.

    I don’t want to live out of a backpack. I’m sure that it’s liberating, but I enjoy coming home at night to the sanctuary that my boyfriend and I have created for ourselves and our cat.

  6. 6 Matt said at 6:34 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    well said sir

  7. 7 Nathan R. Hale said at 9:22 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    I agree. I choose Linux for simplicity, believe it or not! :)

  8. 8 Niclas said at 11:50 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    I totally agree. I find minimalism very interesting but some of the popular blogs today are a bit extreme. Minimalism is all about balance .. to give you a chance to focus on the things that are important to you.

  9. 9 Johnny Mean said at 12:27 am on November 9th, 2010:

    Thank you for making it not such a crystal gazer hippie thing!

    The extreme of any behavior contains its opposite.

    It’s about being in balance with your needs and your drain on the system/environment.

  10. 10 Miguel de Luis said at 1:48 am on November 9th, 2010:

    And the audience stands in applause :)

  11. 11 Volker said at 5:29 am on November 9th, 2010:

    Thank you! For me it seems that minimalism going more and more wrong… and you name it! :)

  12. 12 Stef said at 5:48 am on November 9th, 2010:

    I think it IS about “sitting in the dark under your only light bulb” if all you need is one light bulb..

  13. 13 Steve said at 6:48 am on November 9th, 2010:

    I think that a minimalist lifestyle should be nothing more than an aspiration for 99.9 percent of society.

    After 15 years of study I think I am mature enough to realise that minimalism is nothing more than an elitist exercise or intellectual game.

    Ever since the elite paid vast amounts for minimal, spare, art there has been a gradual migration of the ‘rules’ to other areas of their wealthy lifestyles.

    Take the current exhibition of John Pawson’s work at the Design Museum in London. In it you will see that only rich patrons can engage his services. A floor of super long Douglas fir does not come cheap.

    Just because I de clutter does not mean I live a minimalist lifestyle.

    Those elite people in their visually pared down houses often have more stuff than average. It’s just that they can afford to hide it behind vast amounts expensive cabinetry.

    Most of what I read regarding minimalism on-line is really about a kind of watered down voluntary simplicity.

    True minimalism is an intellectual exercise whereby one can ‘show-off’ to others how fabulously wealthy they are. That means expensive fit and finishes, nouvelle cuisine, and understated clothes.

    Close inspection of what most people call a minimalist home show that it has be stripped and painted white – all of the poor workmanship is on show – all of the defects exaggerated.

    And yes, a $1000 minimal watch is exactly what it’s all about.

    I aspire to the real minimalsim.

  14. 14 JorgeP said at 9:45 am on November 9th, 2010:

    Thanks for pointing it out. Being frugal and simple is not the same as being cheap. Sometimes buying things that are a little more expensive or having an extra something (of any kind of items) can be simpler and less expensive in the long run. All extremes are bad because they enslave in one way or another. I totally agree with you.

  15. 15 Anna said at 2:58 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    Yes yes yes. I saw a video of a famous minimalist blogger in his apartment. It looked like an abandoned prison cell. There’s a weird, competitive, attention-grabbing aesceticism developing and sometimes it feels a bit skewed. And when men advocate getting rid of their washing machine in the name of minimalism, I stop reading. As a mother of 2 boys who like to get muddy, I want to spend time playing with them, not washing their clothes by hand. Minimalism as I understand it is a life-enhancing habit, a way of thinking that helps us to be more conscious and to live with intention. It nurtures creativity, presence and ingenuity. It’s not an end in itself: if it becomes the end, then it’s just showing off.

  16. 16 Sayz said at 7:24 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    Well written. Sometimes we just need to blow off some of the people mind. ;)

  17. 17 Zengirl @ Heart and Mind said at 7:45 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    I am so glad you wrote this as I too think minimalism media frenzy has changed how it is looked upon.

    I also wrote similar post long ago, that was missed by many. Minimalism can not be a race to see who has less. We can all do our part in sustainable living.

    A few of us with kids can not live in 50 things and do not have to.

  18. 18 Brad said at 9:21 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    I think those things are a great guide, but I doubt many take them literally. I think it’s super that people set a framework but people should set their own limits/ceilings.

    I am a vegan, and I do eat fish from time to time. Yes I realize many Vegans will get upset and say “How dare you call yourself a vegan!” true… I am a human, and so are you. We all make mistakes and do things based on our own moral codes. I do the best I can and so should you.

  19. 19 Tricia said at 5:25 pm on November 10th, 2010:


    I find minamalism appealing, but I also like my home and my belongings to mean something to me and I dont feel comfy in emptiness.

    I was thinking I cold never be a ‘true’ minamalist, but after reading this i’ve realised I can be. I’ll have way over 100 things – but each and every one of those things will mean something to me. They won’t be lost in amongst all the meaningless clutter.

    thankyou x

  20. 20 Kaala said at 2:06 pm on November 13th, 2010:

    “I call bullshit. That is not what trying to live simply or minimally is; everyone should have their own definition of it.”

    Easy there… I get your point but, for the record, how can you call bullshit (strong word?) on me for subscribing to all the things you don’t like, then say we should all have our own definitions? How ’bout less stuff (as you understand it) and more love (also as you understand it)?

  21. 21 Kathy said at 6:40 am on November 14th, 2010:

    Why not have a discussion on what minimalism is vs voluntary simpicity/living a more simple life? Living out of a knapsack was fine for me when I was a young woman, I traveled light but didn’t think of it as minimalism at the time (I was just poor and underemployed). I though I was living high when I found an apartment to share with 2 other roommates (I basically had a bedroom and a place to keep some food in the kitch). It was infinitely easier to ditch my current McJob and take off somewhere.

    The trouble started when I became married and family members started foisting all their unwanted junk on us. Then I was pregnant and thought we needed all kinds of baby equipment. We naturally felt we needed a safer newer model car, a safer neighborhood and home … a better paying job… which needed more training and education which was paid for by student loans… well, you can see how it grows exponentially.

    When I read the family minimalist blogs there always seem to be another adult in that equation who is working some traditional job which holds expensive things like healthcare benefits and provides a steady income.

    As we get older, we then shed more items. My elderly mother’s possessions all fit in one room now. She has little need of anything and is happy. She lives in my brother’s house so has family around daily to interact with. Who knew she was so cutting edge?

  22. 22 Create My Mind Movie said at 9:58 pm on November 15th, 2010:

    I have been hearing and reading a lot of different articles on Minimalism. I find this so fascinating!

    What I’m beginning to realise is that practising minimalism can be like going on a spiritual journey aswell. Its about the ability to let your attachment go to “things” and to really keep in mind what is truly important to you.

    Like with anything that allows you to evolve spiritually, sometimes one can go to the extreme of it. Eg your example of living with one spoon and no bed.

    I’m so glad that you wrote this post, to people who have lost it down the rabbit hole.

    In the end I think it is about having a sense of balance in all parts of your life.


  23. 23 Living the Balanced Life said at 8:37 pm on November 16th, 2010:

    I think that the biggest thing that all people who consider themselves minimalists need to realize that it is a personal choice how much to rid themsleves of. It is about having “enough” for them. It is about intentional living. And it has lots of different faces.

  24. 24 Travis Webster-Booth said at 4:06 pm on November 21st, 2010:

    Wow! What a refreshing perspective on what minimalism truly is. I’m only just beginning to explore this concept in earnest, and I love your emphasis on BALANCE and UNIQUENESS. Can’t go wrong with those…

  25. 25 Hillary @ ThisTinyHouse said at 9:20 pm on November 21st, 2010:

    Thank you for sharing this list. Very nice perspective.

  26. 26 Inga said at 2:38 pm on November 25th, 2010:

    I have recently been researching the simple life more. The concept of 100 or less things appeals to my mind, not my heart. In reality I would cry, a lot, if I did that. I am trying to reduce my clutter, sell what I don’t need or use and attempt to have a more streamlined life. Do I need four pairs of closed toed black stilettos? No. But I feel like my love of froufrou skirts, ornate goblet style wine glasses and my massive carved oak and walnut wardrobe prevents me from being able to be part of the minimalist ‘club’ as it were.

    This is not meant as a criticism to those who can have clean, white furniture and who can manage 100 or even 50 items only, but I feel like perhaps streamlining is more suited to most rather than minimalism, which feels extreme.

  27. 27 Tanja from Minimalist Packrat said at 9:04 pm on November 26th, 2010:

    Great post. I just got turned on to your blog and this was the first post I read. To me, minimalism should be whatever a person is comfortable with. I’ve been enjoying living with very, very little but that doesn’t mean everyone would enjoy it! (It’s a relief after spending so many years as a packrat).

    My thoughts are that people should do what is comfortable for them, what enriches their lives, and what makes them smile in the morning when they’re walking out the door.

    If that means living out of a backpack, great. If that means reducing from 10,000 things to 5,000 things, great! If it means anything in between, great!


    latest post: Life Without Whisk: Minimalist Thanksgiving Kitchen

  28. 28 Tony said at 12:58 pm on December 30th, 2010:

    I must confess to having being very skeptical about the whole “100 Things” concept. However, I set myself the goal of striving towards living with much less in 2011. This is mostly for practical reasons such as I will be selling up, and spending some time traveling, and generally living a more flexible life. I’m pretty certain I won’t be able to live with less than 100 things as I have nearly that many books (after a major sort out), but I think there’s value in setting a goal and striving towards it. So far my decluttering has proved an interesting and useful experiment. Minimalism to me is not an end, it’s a means to an end, and everyone needs to define that end for themselves.

  29. 29 Jonathan said at 3:24 pm on February 15th, 2011:

    Each to their own. The ultimate minimalist was Gandhi. I believe he owned 5 things when he died. A true “minimalist” would be overwhelmed by 100 things. I personally own less then 100 things, however I live in a very nice house (3,000 sf) which is not mine with all the amenities that I also do not own, and although I do not use them all (ie-TV – “The Evil Beast”), I am very comfortable with how I live and my standard of life. And no, I do not live with my Mommy and Daddy. Most people who call themselves “minimalist” have no idea what it truly means. No matter how hard they try they are still caught up in the consumer driven society we all live in. You are not bad people but you are also nothing even close to what resembles a “minimalist”. Read Gandhi and educate yourselves if you truly aspire to be a “minimalist”. And by the way, one of the items I do own is a $6,000 Rolex, and no, I did not buy it nor did i steal it.

  30. 30 pranav said at 4:49 am on July 31st, 2011:

    very well said sir

  31. 31 Oliver Nielsen said at 2:14 pm on January 8th, 2013:

    I’m a minimalist and rarely read any books about it. I just need to be a minimalist, to cope with my ADHD;-)

    (yes, the true, diagnosed kind)

    One has to find him/herself what works best to achieve ones objectives. Reduce it to the max!

  32. 32 Laurie Buchanan said at 6:48 am on June 18th, 2013:


    For me, minimalism is the intentional promotion of my greatest passions and the removal of everything that distracts me from them.

  33. 33 Craig Grimm (@craiggrimm) said at 10:24 pm on August 23rd, 2013:

    Well said. I agree that you don’t have to scale your life back to a point where you can no longer function. If you have something and use it frequently, keep it! Just make sure you have a place for everything. Less is generally better, but if you truley need something keep it. I thinks its a little nutty to get rid of items just so you can stay below a number of items, say 100. It does not matter exactly how many items you have, what matters is that you are striving to live simply to the best of your ability. No one can do you better than you!

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