Has Minimalism Turned Into A Sick Game Of Keeping Up With The Joneses?

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“Simplicity is the peak of civilization.” – Jessie Sampter

A few days ago Naomi Seldin posted about going through her last 2 boxes of stuff, thereby finishing the process of uncluttering her life.

If you go there you’ll see I left a comment. Essentially, what I wanted to say was that just because she still has stuff (more than 100 things) doesn’t mean she is not a minimalist.

Note: none of this is not a knock on Naomi. She’s great! Her thoughts simply spurred these thoughts. :)

This is the part of Naomi’s article I’m referring to:

I still don’t consider myself a minimalist. I got rid of so much crap, but I still own about 100 books, 20 pairs of earrings and scores of CDs. I’m living lighter, but I’m also happy, and more appreciative, about what I chose to keep.

Minimalism is not about a number. Naomi and I had a brief e-mail discussion afterwards and she simply likes the numbers. It makes things tangible.

I completely understand.

But you know what’s more important than a number? “I’m living lighter, but I’m also happy, and more appreciative, about what I chose to keep.”

That is what minimalism is about. Pare down your belongings until you’re happy and appreciate of what you have. If something has no value to you and you keep it, you’re cluttering your physical and mental space with it. That is consumerism not minimalism.

There’s also the problem of determining what actually has value and what we simply think has value, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I’ve never counted my things. I don’t care. I have enough. If I decide I need more I’ll have more. If I decide I need less I’ll have less. If I had to guess, I probably have around 200 things. Guess I’m not a minimalist. :)

Quick mental count of just my guitar: guitar, case, extra set of strings, capo, 2 picks. 6 things already!

Bike stuff: bike, pump, allen wrench tool, lock, arm band light. 5 more things!

Toiletries: tooth brush, toothpaste (stopped using Bronner’s!), floss, Bronner’s, comb, deodorant, vitamin e oil (dry skin!), anti-itch cream (dry skin!), q tips. 9 more things!

Already at 20 things and we’re not even close to finished.

To get my life down to 100 would be an incredible hassle and go against living an extraordinary life. I have exactly what I need. Nothing more, nothing less.

What’s important is that my stuff doesn’t bog me down. Not just physically, but also mentally.

The Problem With Setting Arbitrary Limits

Limits are a different way to “keep up with the Joneses.” In the case of minimalism it’s only owning “100 things” or whatever other arbitrary number of things that you didn’t choose.

Remember Life Lesson #42? Define your own rules for success. It’s a lot easier to rule your world than someone else’s world.

My rules for minimalism are simple, and I already stated them, but I’ll do it again: owning exactly what I need, nothing more, nothing less.

The rules are different for you and me. For example, I need a guitar and a bike. If you owned these items maybe they would never be used and they’d waste valuable physical and mental space. I use them almost daily.

If you consider yourself a minimalist I’d like to know how you define your rules …

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{ 117 comments }

Henri

Yes! I’m not a huge fan of labels, because we all have different definitions of success, and different things make us happy.

I had fun doing my minimalism project and owning fewer than 100 things, but I quickly realized that it’s about much more than the numbers.

Funny how your posts always catch me when I’m in writing mode.

Keep mastering the puppets!

Karol

Thanks Henri!

Now that I think about it, the goal of 100 things challenge might be exactly what you stated … to get us to focus on the number until we realize the number doesn’t matter. I never got involved, because I simply sold all my stuff to travel the world. If I needed it, it was getting packed in my 32 litre backback. If not, it wasn’t.

Anyway, thanks for jumping in the fire. :)

Karol

P.S. I wonder if anybody else gets these metal references. ;)

P.P.S. Dave Mustaine’s autobiography is a must read. I don’t even like Megadeth.

Marilia

I just got rid of my car! Big step into minimalism. A car should be out of the scene, unless you work with it or share it with enough people to make it really useful.

Reading all this minimalism blogs like yours or Henri´s or Everet´s is really helpful. I wasn´t so sure of letting the car go two months ago, but useful resources like these really helped me make my mind.

The best part is that I´m really excited to go back to using the bike all the time!

Karol

That is a big step! Congrats Marilia! As long as you live in a bike friendly city you’re going to love it. :)

Carmen

There seems to be a big push among the minimalist crowd (or at least on the blogs I frequent) to get rid of one’s car. I considered this, and decided it would cause more problems than it would solve. I live in a city of about 200,000 people and while we’re trying to become more bike-friendly, we have a long way to go. There are some areas of the city that are simply innaccessible by bike. As well, we get several feet of snow every winter, and while I have seen the odd intrepid soul on there on his/her bike, it really isn’t safe to try and navigate snow and ice-filled roads on a bike.
Taking the bus might work sometimes, but it adds a considerable amount of time to any commute (and isn’t much cheaper than driving my car) and taxis are expensive, so neither of those options are particularly attractive.

So while I embrace the minimalist movement as a whole, I disagree that getting rid of one’s vehicle is one of the “essentials.” (I think that’s what your post is actually about, though, right? Every individual defining what minimalistm means to them.)

Thanks for another great post, Karol!

Karol

Thanks for sharing Carmen. The car issue is a tough one. Selling my car was one of the greatest feelings in the world. But if I ever moved back to the area I lived in when I had the car I’d need to buy another. There is simply no public transport and it was a small suburban city. I had to drive 30 miles to hang out with most of my friends.

200k isn’t a very small city, but I know that most US cities are shit for bicyclists. The more people out there riding their bikes in these cities the more that will change though. I love the car-lite idea for these situations: http://rowdykittens.com/2010/03/car-heavy-to-car-lite/

Stephanie

I live in the largest city in America that doesn’t have mass transit. While getting rid of my car would be awesome since it is so expensive, it is also my ticket to freedom so I can drive to see faraway places and loved ones. My mind is less cluttered worrying about car expenses & maintenance than it would be trying to figure out how to get to places I needed go with no easy way of getting it done. My time is far too valuable.

Karol

Hey Stephanie,

Yeah, I mean if you constantly use your car to go to far off lands that makes sense. Again, in a city without mass transit and that’s not yet the most bike friendly I think car-lite is a great option.

Karol

Katrina

A few weeks ago I decided to take the 100 things challenge and started getting rid of all my stuff right away. I realize that 100 is a totally arbitrary number set for people who need to understand themselves in definitive terms. This is my opinion because I think I am one of those people. Saying “i’m a minimalist” means nothing to me without tangible evidence. I need to be able to say “I’m a minimalist because I live with less than 100 things.”

But yeah, why do I feel the need to define myself to others?

I’m no longer on the 100 things challenge. I have no idea how much I have, but it’s a fraction of what I used to have, and I feel confident that I don’t have any useless items!

Really great post!

Karol

Thanks Katrina.

“I feel confident that I don’t have any useless items” <– This is one of the most important aspects of minimalism.

Lumi

So true! I sometimes get the feeling that there’s a competition going on “I have 100 things” “but I have only 50 so that makes me a better minimalist”, regardless if you actually need these things or not. That’s hardly the point, though, if you ask me. Therefore, I really like your rules for minimalism.

Karol

Thank you Lumi!

Courtney Carver

Karol, I understand where you are going with this post. I don’t think it matters that people are counting. Sometimes it helps to have very measurable goals. I have read a few posts from minimalists lately that don’t like that minimalism seems to be a trend or goal that people are grabbing on to, but I love that!

Isn’t that the point of speaking out about living with less. I guess if it becomes too cool, the self proclaimed cutting edge minimalists will find something else to do/say/be. We should embrace the fact that minimalism has become so approachable.

While some may start on their journey focusing on the external “stuff” (counting things, reducing work hours), if it is meaningful to their lives, they will find the joy, start focusing on what is important for them and realize that minimalism is about living a very full life vs. living with less than 100 items.

Thanks for this thoughtful post!

Karol

Thanks Courtney! I just made this realization when I was responding to Henri’s comment above. The 100 things challenge is like an initiation, a stepping stone … but most of us realize it’s not about the number once we’re on our way.

“We should embrace the fact that minimalism has become so approachable.” – I agree. I love that there are so many people blogging about minimalism. I don’t really focus on it much on this blog, but it is at the core of my life.

Genna

I got very caught up in the 100 things minimalism game, it seemed like a fun experiment and I wont lie when I say it was really cathartic to de-clutter. However when it came down to it, I realised that I had done enough by getting down to 150 things. This in turn made me realise it aint about the number but more importantly about appreciating the things I do have and that I had de-cluttered my life sufficiently enough to live by my own minimalism rules.

I’m with you Karol in the mindset that we should create our own rules on this kind of thing, no point being a sheep!

Karol

Woohooo! Thanks for sharing your thoughts Genna! :)

Q

Funny, I tweeted this morning, “yeah, so, minimalism…jumped the shark?” Okay, maybe that’s a harsh assessment of the situation, and I’m sure it is clouded by my personal history of moving on whenever something I’m into gains in popularity, but recently I have felt at odds with the direction this movement is taking. As another commenter mentioned, it *is* great that minimalism is becoming such an approachable concept to a wider amount of people…yet, the trappings of the human condition still compel some of us to say, “Neener-neener! I was a minimalist first! I have less things than you do!” I’m guilty there. What’s life without a good pissing contest, right? :P

We’re smart. We’ll learn from this experience and be better off for it. Graduating from Minimalism 101, on to version 2.0 now…

Karol

Thanks for adding your thoughts Q. It might actually be good that it jumped the shark. Like Courtney mentioned (and you referenced), the more people that embrace it, the better it is for everybody involved. The competition for the sake of competition aspect of it is just a little depressing.

Jack

This reminds me of a discussion on spiritualism I had recently — on how if we find ourselves thinking we’re more spiritual than someone else, or not as spiritual, then we’re missing the point. The ego loves to strengthen itself through comparison. The same thing can happen with minimalism. If we start judging others on how many things they have then we’re missing the point. This has to be a personal journey.

Karol

Good point RE: this has to be a personal journey. I know it was for me. Slowly, but surely, it all came together.

Casey Friday

Thanks for the timely post, Karol. I’ve stopped reading quite a few minimalist blogs because they’ve become less about ‘healthy’ living and more about being trendy. I tried to get down to 100 things at one point, but I only got to about 220. At that point, I realized that it’s less about having nothing, and more about eliminating the superfluous. Our lack of things shouldn’t define us – the way we live should.

Karol

Thanks Casey. “Our lack of things shouldn’t define us – the way we live should.” <– Damn straight! :)

Meg - Minimalist Woman

The 100 Things Challenge is a game–nothing more, nothing less. It’s a fun game. I’m participating in a similar one this fall, living with 33 Items of Clothing from October thru the end of December. But I see it as a lark, not a moral imperative. If I end up wearing 50 things, I can laugh. If I end up wearing 333 things, well then I know I’m not even in the spirit of the game. But if I end up wearing just 13 things, it certainly doesn’t make me morally superior, it might mean I never had a reason to leave the house or something.

I say minimalism is a path, and a point of view, one that can affect many aspects of life, including work choices, relationships, free time, and health. There’s no end point. It’s a practice. That’s one of the reasons my minimalism blog is not like so many others–mine is not full of 10 Steps to Uncluttering for a Perfect Life type posts, but I look at all of life from a point of view which is grounded in minimalism, as opposed to Positive Thinking, etc. This approach is honest, uncommercial, and remains a full step back from any competitiveness.

Now look at what you’ve done, sent me on a long long comment! ;D

Courtney Carver

Well said Meg! This should a collaborative journey, not competitive!

Karol

I agree on all counts! Thank you Meg. Yes, it is a game. If the 100 things challenge gets more people involved in minimalism I’m all for it. It’s when they feel restricted and still stick with it that it loses it’s purpose/effectiveness.

Would I be an asshole if I said I’ve been living with about 20 items of clothing for a year? ;)

Meg - Minimalist Woman

Oh, c’mon! It’s easier for a young man to be sartorially minimalist, especially if he doesn’t sweat much ;D

Karol

I sweat a lot (ride my bike every day that it’s not raining), but I also wash my clothes a lot. :)

When I get back to the US I’m revamping my wardrobe a bit … and might even go up to 5 of each of everything! haha

Jaron

Slightly off-topic, but your mentioned it — why did you stop using Bronner’s for toothpaste? I’ll admit it’s kind of weird to use it that way, but it’s one more use for that product and one less thing to think about buying and packing. Any upcoming plans for another update to your lightweight (or not-so-much-anymore) packing list?

Sorry for drifting off the main subject. :)

- Jaron

Karol

Hey Jaron,

I started running out. I’m down to about 1.5 ounces and haven’t been able to find it (or an alternative) while here in Poland. Now I only use it for laundry or when I leave my home. I use regular vegetable based bar soap (which I think I forgot to mention above) for every day use.

Since the last packing list update there hasn’t been much change. But brace yourself. Big changes coming in January! (haha, long time to wait, huh?)

Karol

Jessica

Timely post, Karol! I wrote about this, too, last week. I’ve totally had it with the minimalism movement (or what it has become). My main issue with it is that people seem to be doing it just for the sake of doing it. If you’re killing yourself trying to get down to 100, or 96, or 23, then you are just as possessed by your possessions as someone who is a hoarder. Here’s to owning what you need, use, and enjoy (the real point of minimalism). Fuck the numbers.

Karol

“Fuck the numbers.” !!!! – that should’ve been my title. Dammit! ;)

Thanks Jessica. Casey Friday actually linked me to your article on twitter. Awesome, awesome!

Jessica

Casey Friday is a fantastic boyfriend. :-) You’ve actually inspired *me* to use the f-bomb more when appropriate. Sometimes, it just gets the job done.

Carmen Klassen

Jessica,
Just popped over to your blog and read your post on minimalism…love it! Few people have taken the time to define WHY we should practice minimalism, and I think you’re spot on when you say:

“Sell your stuff, get rid of your debt, clean up your house, sure. But do it for a greater purpose. Do it because you want to travel the world. Do it because a clean house is a happy home. Do it because it reduces your stress. Do it because you value beauty. Do it because you want to pay off your mortgage. Do it because you are moving into a tiny house. Do it because you want to quit your job and volunteer full-time, and selling your television gets you $1,000 closer to that goal.

Don’t just do it because some blog told you so.”

Jessica

Thank you so much, Carmen! I’m planning on an e-book on this exact topic, actually. I better get cracking on it!

Karol

Jessica,

Get that eBook done by mid-September and contact me if you want to be part of something fun. ;)

Karol

Jen Smith

Great stuff Karol and you’ve echoed thoughts I’ve had many times recently. The whole simplifying your life idea has always resonated with me and I have pared down a lot of my stuff recently (just because I felt like it) but as you said it can become another way to keep up with the mythical Joneses. Love this… sums it up I think:

“Owning exactly what I need, nothing more, nothing less.”

Thanks!
Jen

Karol

Thank you Jen! This article seems to have hit a nerve. :)

Greg

Karol, great post. You’ve focused on the principle rather than on the surface behavior. You can only carry so much–material things, activities, people–before they begin to bog you down. For me, it has been about choosing the interactions I engage in rather than paring down the numbers of things.

Karol

Thank you Greg. It’s important to pare down things as well. My point is that the specific number doesn’t matter and it’s not a competition.

Ali Dark

Hi Karol. The minimalism concept is really useful, but like all concepts they start to suck when they get rigid. Kind of starts to feel like China (oh shit did I just get your blog barred there?) like we should have a uniform or something. Like the “minimalist red army” or something.

The number of things is sooo not important compared with the mindset. It’s just simple living high thinking rehashed for a new era.

The ism really sucks though. As a word. It’s the natural way to live, and the only sustainable one.

Karol

I’m already banned in enough places, don’t need to add a whole country to the list. ;) haha

I think rigid is a good word. Limits, numbers, are rigid. But, as we’ve already established in the comments, they can be useful. :)

Sandra Hendricks

I stay away from labels, but I live in a minimal lifestyle. I have more than one-hundred things. To me, it is about wanting what you have and having what you want in your life. If I want cable television, the statement each month should be something I am grateful for and delighted to pay. If I have a cell phone that interrupts my life, where is the thankfulness in that? Minimal living is about how I feel and what I need. It is about letting go and exploration. It is about managing rather than coping, and it is not about micro-management. A few years ago I exchanged my car for a tractor. I still have the same number, although something far more useful in my life. Minimal living to me, is about becoming more in-tune with your needs, not about becoming less attached.

Karol

Hey Sandra,

Thanks for your thoughts. While I do believe cable television is a waste for life … that has nothing to do with minimalism. :)

Also, I love that you have a tractor!

Karol

Sandra Hendricks

Perhaps I misunderstand the concept.

Ali Dark

I think Sandra you’ve hit the nail right on- it’s about being in tune with your needs, – I might add, your “real” needs!

The tractor example is perfect.

However I have to say that the minimalists are generally coming around to this – the counting things thing seems to have been a phaze.

Aisha

I understood minimalism the same way you did; I don’t think you misunderstood anything.

Jennifer Barry

Hi Karol, this article was very interesting since I never heard of the minimalist trend until a month ago, and the 100 item challenge is new to me. I am working on having less stuff for my own peace of mind and satisfaction but I won’t be counting the items!

I find it weird that some people are upset about more people embracing minimalism. I think that giving your extra items to someone who doesn’t have enough is great. If more people quit working 80 hours a week to pay for a big house they hardly see, I think Western culture would be much improved.

Karol

Thanks Jennifer. I agree with you. Work less, own less, love more! My new temporary motto until I come up with another one. ;) (Also, as for the work less part: I work a lot, but since what I do isn’t “work” it’s not work. huh?)

Stanley Lee

Labels are useful…only if they don’t take up too much time due to over-hype about them. If you can’t keep track of where certain item is located in your inventory, you know you have too much stuff b/c you bought something you don’t need or you bought something that you don’t care enough about to place properly.

Karol

That’s a great indicator. If you’re constantly looking for stuff you have too much of it. :) Thanks Stanley!

Rabah Rahil

I totally agree with this post. At the beginning of my journey toward minimalism I needed some tangible goal e.g. 100 things or less. However, now as I grow more of an understanding of minimalism I have weighted this metric less and put more energy into getting rid of crap that has no use to me. I think lifestyle concepts, such as minimalism, are relative and should be used to increase your quality of life and happiness and not be absolute in terms aka You are only a minimalist if you own less than X Things. Great stuff Karol! P.S. I can’t believe Rock You Like A Hurricane is out of your range :)

Karol

Thanks Rabah, and I fully agree with everything. :)

As for Rock You Like A Hurricane: yeah, it’s out of my range … that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t karaoke it up though! :)

Naomi

OK, I’m really enjoying reading these comments.

I do want to stick up a bit for the 100 Thing Challenge because it’s what inspired me to start getting rid of my clutter two years ago. I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t downsize that much without getting rid of too many things, but in the end, it was still the spark that led to where I am now.

The 100TC is really an exercise in mindfulness, I think. And the real point for me was to stop the cycle of mindless consumption, to get rid of the stuff I wasn’t using, and to focus on using and enjoying what I do have instead of constantly looking for new things.

One of my theories about why people are posting lists of how little they own on their blogs is because it’s a tangible way to identify yourself as part of a group and prove you’re a hardcore minimalist. I also find it kind of interesting to see what other people decide to keep. It’s natural to be curious, especially about things that may seem extreme.

Numbers aren’t always a bad way to mark your progress, either. Getting rid of one thing a day or 10 things a week can be helpful if you feel overwhelmed by how much stuff you have to deal with. And 100 is a nice, round number. I gave away 100 things I didn’t want over 100 days last year, which was fun and challenging and helped me find new homes for my things.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Thanks, Karol, for sharing your thoughts on all of this. Oh, and you should definitely start working a reference to how little clothing you own into every post. Just drop it in casually. Don’t forget to mention that you don’t own a TV. Man, I hate you already. ;)

Naomi “Happily Uncluttered” Seldin

Karol

:) Thanks for stopping in Naomi. And I agree … the 100TC is a great starting point or introduction. I don’t remember hearing much about it until after I started this blog and after I sold all my stuff. But I can see how it can be useful.

As for lists: yes, I love lists as well. That’s why I have my packing list posts. And I love reading other people’s packing lists! :) Those are all good. It’s just the one upsmanship that is unnecessary.

The TV thing is easy: impossible to own a TV when traveling! Although I haven’t had cable since 2006, I did have a TV (and DVD player and Wii) until 2009.

Ali Dark

Techonology is helping us be minimal! We can do so much on a laptop, including watch our fave shows after the fact. I don’t have a TV but I love downloading the Big Bang Theory.

I think you’re getting a consensus here – that counting the stuff is not essence, but it’s somewhere to start when we’re taking stock of our life.

Danby

Karol, I’m glad you aren’t taking a completely rigid stance on the subjective utility of numbers. I’m assuming it was useful for you to aim to help “One Hundred (100) People Achieve Ridiculously Extraordinary Freedom”. You could have set your goal at “many” or “a lot” of people — but you aimed for a number. I can see why Naomi also finds numbers helpful — “minimalism” is such a subjective concept that some frame of objectivity is necessary. Human nature and all that. So kudos to you both for balancing a somewhat concrete goal with the spirit of the goal itself.

I largely agree with those who are pushing back on the idea of one-upmanship. But we don’t have to participate in that side of minimalism. We can like a band Pitchfork recommends without completely subscribing to their lofty standards. I have no intention of whittling my things down to what can fit in a backpack — yet I can also read Everett Bogue’s blog and appreciate his perspective.

Anyhow, great post, Karol.

Karol

You’re comparing apples to oranges, but it’s cool. ;)

Amy

I think it’s part of the human condition to get all worked up over being the first person in your circle of influence to do something, like something, or be part of some movement. Why, I don’t really know — insecurity, perhaps? Trying to impress other people?

That being said, the 100 thing challenge got me started on a good path. But as others have mentioned here, it served more as a talking point for me to assess everything in my life (objects, relationships, work, hobbies) and toss out the crap. I’m more free every day, in every way, as a result.

Nice article, and timely, too. Thanks, Karol :)

Karol

Thanks Amy.

“I think it’s part of the human condition to get all worked up over being the first person in your circle of influence to do something, like something, or be part of some movement.” That’s a good point. And that’s kinda what I mean by keeping up with the Joneses although you put it 10x better. :)

Amy

I suppose there is some satisfaction to be had in coming across as more experienced than someone else — it places you in the alpha-dog (alpha-ape?) position, if only briefly…

PS Chicago has some nice races and running trails – and vegan restaurants! If you’re ever in the area and want some suggestions, I’m happy to help.

Karol

I loooooovvveee Chicago. Mmmm, Chicago Diner.

I have a flight from DTW > ORD > LAS on Oct 14. I’m going to see if I can skip the DTW > ORD flight and head to Chicago a day or two early to hang with one of my best friends. If that happens let me know if you’re around.

Amy

Sure, send me an email if you end up here. I’ll be around in October.

Chicago Diner makes me giddy, it’s so good…

Reggie

I think for me – living a minimalist lifestyle is just a means towards living a life with more freedom. As a relatively new “minimalist”, I am using minimalism and everything that comes with it to live freely. The goal is freedom, minimalism is the vehicle to get there. I see what your saying about setting an arbitrary number to declare “your officially a minimalist now” type of thing. I think for beginners, knowing how many possession you have is important as a guideline. I counted all the things I have and it really helps to just be AWARE of what I had.

But I think if minimalism and its components begin taking control of somebody’s life on the opposite side of consumerism, then it really isn’t adding value. And I can see how that happens to some people.

Karol

Thank you Reggie. I agree minimalism is a great vehicle to freedom. It’s not the only way, but I attribute a lot of my life to minimalist practices.

“I think for beginners, knowing how many possession you have is important as a guideline.” Great point!

I almost feel like this article needs a follow-up article consisting of all the awesome comments!

Danby

Reggie — I love your perspective. You totally nailed it by pointing out that the “goal is freedom, minimalism is the vehicle to get there.” Beautifully put.

Reggie

@Karol – I think you should definitely make a follow up post. This post seems to have struck a cord with many people. This is the first time I visited your site and I found it from other people talking about this post. I’d definitely read a follow-up.

@Danby – thanks a lot for your words. I’m glad you could feel what I was getting at. I’m going to try to elaborate later maybe in a future post!

Elizabeth

I am not a minimalist, nor do I desire to be. I love to make stuff too much and enjoy others’ handmade beautiful things. But I am working on decluttering my life and just keeping what’s important, for 2 reasons. One, to have mental/phyiscal breathing room for new creative ideas. And 2, b/c I don’t want to be one of those people who say they care about those that have nothing, but have too much.

I think you might find this article interesting – http://jezebel.com/5615112/the-next-locavores-people-who-get-rid-of-all-their-stuff

These comments in particular intrigued me, “It terrifies me to think that some upper-middle class New Yorker on an anti-materialism kick might compare their situation to people who are truly poor and without. These folks first had to get to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to realize that stuff didn’t make them happy. In other words, if they had never had stuff to begin with I doubt they would be happy with having nothing.
After going through a major “Buy Nothing” phase in my 20′s, I have transitioned into believing in having meaningful possessions. My embarrassingly large book collection represents my interests and curiosities over time (plus I give a lot away), I have a few instruments that I love, and vintage pyrex is just too cool to part with. But if I don’t feel like it’s an extension of my true identity, it goes.”

There’s some other good ones there, too.

Karol

Thanks Elizabeth, I actually read that article a day or so ago. :)

Congrats on being in the process of decluttering!

Rosa

Some people will focus on numbers and some will make their own rules. It’s all good :)

Karol

I think you’re focusing on the number 5 a lot lately. ;)

(And for anybody reading this, I’m referring to a 5K Rosa and I are running in Michigan on Oct 10. If you are interested let me know!)

Elizabeth

I’m interested and live in MI. What’s the run?

Karol
Maggie

I think you definitely did hit a nerve with this one. I blogged about the same thing a few weeks ago – as someone else mentioned here in the comments, it seems like so many people are going minimalist just for the sake of doing it. So I kind of gave up on the formal concept of minimalism and now I just try to get rid of things I don’t want or use, and try not to buy things I don’t need. I have too many other goals in life to bother living under a belongings quota!

Karol

Haha, good point! –> “I have too many other goals in life to bother living under a belongings quota!”

Eric Spears

I minimize rules.
Maximum pleasure counts most.
Keep what is helpful.

Moderator, please remove this line and the previous post. Thank you.

Karol

Hey Eric,

The Moderator is I! ;) And I’m leaving that line. Although I did remove that mistake post.

Minimalist Haiku!!!! Love it. :)

Karol

Cori Padgettc

Define your own rules for success. It’s a lot easier to rule your world than someone else’s world.– I LOVE this… so true. It’s not about how much or how little you’ve got, but what sort of value what you’ve got holds to you. If it’s useless crap you’ll never twitch an eye over again.. get rid of it..it’s wasting space and dragging you down. If it’s something you adore and get warm and fuzzy over on a regular basis, keep it!

My rules for minimalism are simple, and I already stated them, but I’ll do it again: owning exactly what I need, nothing more, nothing less.— So well said…nothing more nothing less, just exactly what you need. I think that’s the ultimate definition of a minimalist lifestyle.

Karol

Thank you so much Cori!

paurullan

When I noticed the 100 challenge I began doing the list and found I had more than 50 things just for photography! And believe me, I use them almost every day and the whole set in a fortnight.

So Karol I completely agree with you; numbers may be useful but that do not have to beat the very purpose of all this: be happy.

Karol

Thanks Pau! Minimalism = be happy. I like it. :)

Niall Doherty

I definitely see the “sick game” side of minimalism every now and then, and I’m grateful for a post like this to get people questioning their true motivations.

I’ve been getting rid of stuff slowly for a few months now, with the goal being to leave the US with only carry on luggage in December. That will make me very happy.

Thanks, Karol.

Karol

Nice! That’s awesome Niall. It was a slow process for me as well. I bought my ticket to Australia about 6 months before I actually left. I had a lot of stuff to get rid of and it took a while … and it came down to the wire. :)

Jonny | thelifething.com

Yes. (Thats my minimalist answer)

- Jonny

Rosa

Nice :)

Reggie

LOL, good one.

Jeff Gardner

Minimalist Materialism?

I was vegan (now vegetarian) for 12 years or so and conversations with other vegans about who was the most vegan vegan were endless and very tedious.

I find the quest of ‘minimalism by the numbers’ a bit the same.

Karol

Yeah, they are tedious. I’ve gotten a bit of backlash for my vegan article. :)

Tom

yes, couldn’t agree with you more. I wrote about the same thing on my blog in June: Do you think too much about goats? http://yamayamas.com/goats/

Basically, obsession with not having things is materialism too, the whole point is to go beyond the need for, or the need for the lack of, things …

Karol

Thanks for the link Tom.

André Klein

Hi Karol,

nice article. it inspired me to write up my own take on it. I cross-referenced your post. you can check it out here: http://learnoutlive.com/minimalism-spiritual-materialism-in-disguise-or-the-new-religion-of-living-with-100-things/

keep up the good work

André

Karol

Thanks André!

Carrie

This article was SO validating to me. I am very new to the minimalist movement. I always had a stereo type in my mind regarding minimalism, and also an unhealthy attachment to too many material things. Moving to a small island a year and a half ago (and only being able to bring less than half or our possessions) helped to set me free. It’s been like peeling back layers during this time, but I’ve had so many fantastic experiences (and also some serious family events which reminded me what was important) that the stuff is just a burden, really. But I still felt like I couldn’t truly be a minimalist…and ridding myself of the stuff that (I believe) is holding me back seemed too overwhelming. Long story short, I decided to start a blog (another blog) strictly for the purpose of documenting my journey of setting free ten items a day…which is totally do-able for me…and also writing about the lessons I’m learning on the way. We are a family of six (eight, if you count the dog and cat) with LOTS of stuff, even after cutting it in half…so this will take some time. But I actually look forward to what ten items I’m going to choose each day. I think about “stuff” completely differently. I’m only two weeks into this and I already feel the difference. And rather than being minimalist(ish)…I guess I can say, I AM a minimalist!

Karol

Hey Carrie,

I love your idea of getting rid of 10 items/day. You’ll have exactly what you need in no time. :)

Cheers,
Karol

Victoria

Why is it that people must turn something meaningful…like simple living into something superficial? I’ve been living this way for over 15 years, and there’s nothing superficial about THAT. More like a very committed journey. Thanks for mentioning this…I had searched for an article to send to a friend who tells me it’s all some kind of fad. I suppose it is for those who “follow the herd”, but for the rest of us, it’s real & satisfying. Like greenwashing, I think we must be on guard to not become a cliche’. Anyhow thanks for the great article for my touche’ email, as you really bring the point back to Earth, because that’s where we are!

Karol

Thank you Victoria. Glad you enjoyed the article. It will be a fad for some. Just like how people go on diets for a week or however short period of time. That’s OK though. :)

Vanessa

Golden Rule:
“Have nothing in your houses that you do now know to be beautiful or believe to be useful” – William Morris

Karol

:) That doesn’t work anymore. Flat screen TVs are beautiful. Extraneous kitchen appliances are beautiful. Lots of clothes are beautiful. And so on.

Vanessa

The quote says whatever YOU believe to be beautiful – so if that’s where you find beauty, then load up on the TVs and toasters! ;)

Karol

I mean it doesn’t work for a minimalist lifestyle. The definition isn’t so broad that you can own a million things just because they’re all beautiful. :)

Vanessa

..I messed up the quote… lol – it’s “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” – that’s better!

Emily Peterson

Having to get to X number of things is like being in competitive yoga. I’ve been downsizing my stuff with all the goals in mind that everyone has mentioned – travel, beauty, debt… Karol, what stuck me in your post is this sentence:

“There’s also the problem of determining what actually has value and what we simply think has value, but that’s a discussion for another day.”

I posted yesterday about downsizing my clothing and that was a way more emotional process than I had initially thought. I’d love to hear your feedback on actual value vs. perceived value.

Here’s my post:
http://www.thegourmandandthepeasant.com/2010/08/26/unstuffing-my-clothes/

Karol

Thanks Emily! I will write about real value and perceived value eventually and I’ve already written about it in Luxury of Less (coming Oct 4). Also, this might help a bit: http://www.ridiculouslyextraordinary.com/how-to-be-congruent/

alwaysLovely

Hi Karol,

I’m like you, I don’t count (even though I’m someone who’s great in Maths).
Ever since I was introduced to the concept of minimalism, I have read so many posts of things like less than 100, 50 possessions… Well it does give a clear indication but personally I guess I was too lazy to do the counting and more importantly I think I would be ‘discouraged’ should I own more than the ‘standard’ number of possessions minimalists should have.

What I personally do is to be conscious of my spending, be honest with myself (most of the time, tsktsk). I do still give in to temptations. But I should be proud that of my effort so far; being less and less attach to material wants.

CHEERS

Karol

That’s a good point. I think Number-focused Minimalism scares a lot of people away from it. Hopefully we can all work together, get rid of extraneous junk from our lives, and be mindful of buying more. :)

Ivan

great post my friend…a few thoughts…i feel that the main issue is just that people don’t really understand themselves and who they really are at a deep level..so then when an idea like minimalism (any idea or ideal) comes around….everyone jumps aboard… because obviously its easier and a lot less stressful to not have a ton of crap….but unless you understand your self and your motives…your actions are simply reactionary…your going from one extreme (excessive materialism) to the next extreme of owning as little as possible…externally things appear to have changed…but if you really take a deep look..inwardly your still the same..you will see that your deep unsconsious tendencies are still running the show…you have not yet understood the causes…you can’t see the causes…you don’t know how to really look at yourself as you are…you have only switched the objects of your desires….so whenever you get tired of playing with minimalism…you will react and move to another extreme later on down the road…in my opinion…the “real” minimalism is living with awareness….living with “awareness” you use whatever is needed and whatever is not needed falls off on its own…with out using any effort or will power…the question then is how do you become aware and live with awareness….everyone needs to go into it themselves…discover what that even means.. because my description will not be the described..find out what prevents us from being awake and alert in the world…..you will realize that almost everyone is asleep…just blind leading the blind…this is how people who show up with “solutions” to your problems are able to profit from the people who are asleep and unconscious…. because they need other people to tell them the “right” way to live..how to live….sorry for sporadic comment…I have just been thinking on this topic lately as well :)

Karol

Thanks Ivan. You make many great points. I definitely agree with the going to extremes and things not really changing. I also feel like if people are forced into minimalism (i.e. because of losing a job or something to that effect) it won’t stick once they start making money again. (There are exceptions, of course.) That said, it’s all good. Even if it’s just a fad for a lot of people, the simple fact that it’s getting publicized will bring on more people who truly want to make positive changes in themselves and the world.

Meg - Minimalist Woman

Even if one doesn’t stick with it, a nice long stint with minimalism is an experience which will raise one’s consciousness about a lot of things. I think it increases the likelihood of more mindful consumption and of true minimalism later on in life. It’s all good. It’s been interesting to follow all the comments in the post, too.

The Community Fundraiser

Karol,
I’m so glad that you wrote this post, it is something that I have been thinking about as well. There are some bloggers that are becoming so focussed in the slightly self-righteous “I have less possessions than you, therefore I am a better/cooler/more honest… person than you” that they have begun to miss the point.
It’s not about how much or how little stuff you have, it’s about having enough for what you want in life.
An example would be that many of these bloggers advocate getting rid of all your physical books and just buying a Kindle. They site environmental benefits to doing away with paper books. I’m sorry but I really disagree there. Sure having useless books or those that you don’t need anymore is wasteful and cluttering. But paper is NOT the environmental bogeyman. All these e-books require energy, servers, electronic devices to read on and all of this adds pollutants, heavy metals etc.
Decluttering is a good thing, but when you’re doing it to meet some arbitrary target, that’s being imposed by other bloggers or people who think they’re just SO cool, well at that stage it’s not good as it is another rule, imposed by others, to control your actions. And that is not freedom.

Karol

I’m one of those bloggers that espouses the benefits of the Kindle. ;)

Victoria

Very thoughtful comments here and it’s uplifting to see so many people are aware on a deep level. Great post, Ivan and I love your videos at youtube.

The minimalist idea doesn’t stop with your material stuff if you’re really serious about it. It extends to all areas of unhealthiness: distractions, unhealthy thinking, toxic relationships, your diet, etc. If you turn off your TV (or decide to recycle it) you’ll understand why you turned it on in the first place. It’s there to distract you. From what? You will find out!
As the community fundraiser pointed out…being “cool” doesn’t last. In order to stick with being minimalist (as a way of life) one has to tailor the path in a way that works for them. You’ll get overwhelmed if you try to meet some imaginary goals of “better than them” or “gotta do it all NOW”. Mindfullness is key. That’s how I managed for 15+ years. As time goes on, it becomes a habit. If you ask yourself “where do I want to be when I’m 50 years old”? as that will give you an idea of whether you’re kidding yourself, or being authentic. It’s a challenge to keep going and face the pressures of family members & friends who don’t understand, as well as a world that’s moving in the opposite direction. If you’re ready for that you have a much greater chance of succeeding, as well as creating a more meaningful life.

Reggie

Hey Victoria. I agree with your post 100%. I hope more people get a chance to read your post and let it sink in because, to me, it rings so true. Mindfulness is hard work, at least in the beginning. It’s much easier to just stay on auto-pilot but mindfulness is really the only true way to use minimalism to life a free and meaningful life.

The Community Fundraiser

Karol, I know you espouse the Kindle (wink) and I’m not attacking it (I’d quite like one myself actually but being British they are only now offering them)
It’s just when people paint anyone who doesn’t have one and likes real paper books as some form of old school, polluting, not cool, materialist that my blood begins to boil.

p.s Loved What Victoria wrote!

Genny Ross-Barons

Sold pretty much everything I owned, quit my job, and moved to the Island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. Pretty easy to live a minimalist life here. Not many stores to buy “stuff” and if you don’t use things often enough they go mouldy or corrode from the sea salt mist. Besides I just want to be outside enjoying the tropical breeze and watching the sunsets.

The Roatan Vortex pulled me in and I never want to leave!

Karol

Whoa, that’s fantastic Genny! :) Sounds like a great place to live.

Red

This is great! I started out on the 100 Thing Challenge. Personally, I do better with anything when there’s a tangible goal for me to reach. I quickly realized that if I was being honest with myself (listing out things like makeup instead of grouping them together), I’d realize that I was way over 100 things.

Once you get down to really counting your things, it does become about keeping up with the Joneses and sometimes giving up meaningful possessions just to meet a number. So now I’m hovering at 135 and don’t care.

BUT I will say that I think the 100 Thing Challenge’s overall purpose is solid. It made me question the things I was keeping just for the sake of keeping them. It forced me to examine my relationship to stuff in a way that saying “Ok, just get rid of everything you don’t ‘need’” would have done. I feel 100% happy with my stuff now. Before I make a purchase, I question what impact the item will have in my life. I’m appreciative of 100TC! :)

Karol

Thanks Red…yes, I like the 100TC as a starting point or introduction. But nobody actually lives with 100 or less things. They just cheat the numbers to make it so, as you touched on.

“It made me question the things I was keeping just for the sake of keeping them.” <– great point!

KLair

This is an old post now, but formulating a response to the article and comments helps me on my journey. I am not a minimalist, nor do I think I will ever be one. I didn’t know the concept existed until earlier this week, and I’ve gone through several blogs now on it. For me it comes at the right time in my life. I graduated from college in 2010 and will enter grad school this fall. Moving across the United States, I won’t be able to take much with me. So that’s one incentive jettison things. My current room is really small and I’ve been dealing with clutter for several years now. Emotionally, I’m ready to let go of some of the things I treasured in childhood. I’ve been reading several other books including Julie Morgenstern’s SHED your stuff, change your life, which focuses not just on physical stuff, but time commitments and habits that are holding people back. This and minimalism have provided me with inspiration and helped me reexamine my relationship with the stuff I own, and truly ask if it is what I want or need. As other commenters have said, it is really about being mindful. The goal is not a certain number of things, but really evaluating its position in my life. Some concepts I am learning to embrace, simplified: by getting rid of old stuff, there will be room in my life for new things, ideas, and people to enter it in the future; separating stuff from who I am; pulling away from the “but it might be useful someday” mindset; freeing up my mind and energy to focus on other things, and living in the present. Going through papers from high school and college, it’s helped me deal with some negative feelings that I had, accept them, and begin to move on, so that I will be ready to engage in my current life and future opportunities. From now on, I will also be more conscientious when purchasing things.

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