The toxic side of minimalism

“Living more richly with less” is a lifelong passion of mine. That said, “minimalism” is not a one-size-fits-all thing. Similar to what I say in my book and blog about low-footprint living, it’s a thing you personalize to your own needs and circumstances.

I always try to reassure people that it’s about each person deciding what does and doesn’t add value to their lives, and pruning away the latter.

On that note, a lot of the minimalism depicted in glossy magazines (or the online equivalent) doesn’t seem to deal with the fact that some occupations need a lot of tools and supplies.

Like, my art and craft supplies will always take up more space than my writing supplies, since the latter are just pens, notebooks, laptop computer, phone. No matter how well I strive to keep my colored pencils, paints, and other art supplies organized, they will never look or be minimalist.

I am a big fan of continuously organizing my work tools and supplies, for sure. It’s an ongoing process and flow, not a destination.

Also: We can be minimalist as in “less is more,” and still have hobbies. In fact, I would say one of the benefits of a less-is-more type lifestyle is that it gives us more time to enjoy our hobbies. Sewing and embroidery are more of a hobby for me than an occupation, but I’m not getting rid of my threads and needles just because it’s “only” a hobby.

Same with my beads, beading supplies. Since I’ve gotten more focused on writing over the past few years, my business of making and after-marketing jewelry has been on a back burner. But I still want to keep my beads because I enjoy it as a hobby.

One way I enhance the joy of a hobby is by sharing. So I might bring my embroidery supplies to a friend’s house and we stitch together. Same with my massive inventory of beads: Lately I am thinking of new approaches to my ongoing efforts to form a craft/beading group.

My label for myself is “ornate minimalist.” I’m very choosy at what I choose to keep around, but I’m not a fan of the super-sparse aesthetic per se.

One thing that I think has turned people off of minimalism is the same thing that turns people off of low-footprint living, the Degrowth movement, and other anti-consumerist movements: People feel like they have to be perfect, do it perfectly. This is an artifact of the same toxic, perfectionist, competitive culture that prompted us to get into reduction in the first place!

The fact is that we live in an imperfect world. And most of us find it easier to make reductions in some areas than others. For example, I’ve found it easy to minimize my use of water and electricity, but always find it a bit more challenging to reduce my transportation footprint and food footprint.

I wonder if another thing that has made some people unhappy on the minimalist path is that they forget to deliberately use their freed-up time and space to pursue their creative arts, activism, or other passions. Our creative passions benefit our communities and the planet as well as ourselves, and we would do well to give them a prime place in our lives.

Also, very important point regarding “getting rid of no-longer-wanted stuff”: I strongly believe I have a responsibility to people and the planet for the stuff that I’ve chosen to buy over the years. (And I even feel this way about stuff that I have rescued that other people were throwing away.) So I always do my best to find good homes for things I no longer want.

And by offering decluttering and organizing assistance as part of my permaculture design services, I strive to help other people do the same, in order to create more joy and meaning in their lives.

This 20-minute YouTube video “How Minimalism Got Toxic: The Dark Side” offers some really good critiques of the minimalism movement. I would love to hear what you think of the video, and would also love to hear about any experiences of downsizing, decluttering, minimalizing that you’d like to share from your own life!

minimalism, downsizing