Extreme Minimalists are Missing Out–Or Relying on the People They are Criticizing

While we live a fairly minimalist lifestyle, with 5 people in a 950 square foot house that still has room for the kids to run and play and dance inside, we find many of the minimalist methods and constructs to be anything from silly to damaging.  

In this article, we will discuss

Why Having a Specific Number of Items is Silly

We’ve all seen the articles saying that you should have a specific number of something or highlighting a person who only owns 100 items.  Nobody’s situation is exactly the same, so why should their number of belongings be exactly the same?  If your hobby is playing Minecraft or reading, all you need is an electronic device and you’re set.  But if your hobby is bobbin lace making, you are no less a minimalist than a gamer while using up a quarter of your items just with the bobbins and pillow necessary for your hobby.  

If you live in a moderate climate with predictable weather, you can pack up your out-of-season clothes and not count them.  But where we live, we have dropped off the kids in shorts and sandals in the morning and brought winter coats and snowboots to pick them up in the afternoon because of an unexpected 6” of snowfall. Robin felt so ashamed until she got to the school and saw the whole group of moms standing there with coats and boots—she clearly wasn’t the only one who hadn’t realized the sudden change in weather predictions.   We’ve had blizzards for two days followed by 80 degree heat. 

If you have a children, it gets even more fraught.  Sure, we could get the kids a tablet and call it a day…but isn’t it better for them to be busily working with Legos and Snap Circuits, playing board games in the evening, creating artistic masterpieces, playing violin and piano?  And we would argue, that it’s better for adults, too.

Why Equating Less Stuff with More Virtuous is Damaging

More concerning to us are the moral implications that come along with this.  Even if they don’t say so, there’s a certain undercurrent to most minimalist articles, posts, shows, and movements that says that good people have less stuff and bad people have more stuff.  

But if you look at these people with so much less stuff that they end up being held up as example minimalists, they mostly fall into one of two categories.  They are either living a life of (voluntary or involuntary) poverty and are missing out on a lot; or they are wealthy enough to let money take the place of stuff. By equating these lifestyles with moral superiority, we’re banishing people who are not wealthy but prefer to be comfortable to the modern Hades of consumerism.

This is our treasured dutch oven, but it’s similar to the pot the couple used for everything.

Let’s consider the simple issue of feeding oneself and one family.  We remember watching a video of a couple who cooked every meal in a single pot.  They could bake a loaf of bread in it and then cook a pot of soup.  They ate a lot of bread and soup.  We suppose they could have made a small pizza in it.  They could have made egg rolls using it.  They could have steamed rice then vegetables.  Or even baked a cake.  But realistically speaking, unless they devoted all their time to cooking in that one pot, they were limited to a lot of bread and soup.  

Alternatively, we remember reading an article about another couple who didn’t clutter up their lives with kitchen equipment because they were true believers in minimalism–and they lived in a major urban area where they could easily walk to any number of food establishments or have food delivered.  They never said they were rolling in money…but to be able to skip the excess baggage of a kitchen is an expensive endeavor!  

We have found that the less money we have, the more important it is to have stuff.  When we can’t afford to go to concerts, pay for music lessons, take trips, or eat out, we are dependent on our own resources to entertain, educate, and feed our family. It was while we were in poverty after Robin’s strokes that we amassed a huge collection of toys from the thrift store.  What else were we supposed to do with our kids when we couldn’t afford gymnastics, ballet, music classes, a Children’s Museum membership?  And Robin wouldn’t get rid of any yarn she owned, even if she didn’t especially like it, because she knew she couldn’t afford to get more. So rather than following Marie Kondo’s recommendation to only keep what sparks joy (and buy new things to replace the old things that are no longer giving me all the feels), we kept anything that we knew we couldn’t afford to replace and might want or need later.

I used leftover yarn to knit an anxiety-sweater for our special needs kitty.

And having lived through poverty, even once Robin had the money to give away all my un-joyful yarn to friends and acquaintances who needed it more than her, we immediately spent as much as we could afford to improve our kitchen.  We now have a very well-appointed food-preparation workshop because we believe that we am better able to make food that is interesting, healthy, and affordable, if we have the right tools for the job.  We can certainly do without–Robin have baked a number of pies in a fire pit and even managed an angel food cake in a wood stove having beaten the egg whites with a whisk–but to work efficiently enough to do everything else too, she needs a workshop. We know now that if, heaven forbid, we were to ever find ourselves in poverty again, we could eat more interesting and healthful foods with less effort and we wouldn’t have to make do with a whisk that doesn’t spark joy…or wash our one and only whisk before we could make something else requiring whisking. Multiple lovely whisks are excessive for a minimalist but make sense for someone who is cooking for a family.

Summary

While many people would consider our main lifestyle minimalist in many ways, we are loaded down with excessive amounts of stuff compared to the minimalist rules.  Instead, we have focused on what adds value to our lives and what is merely extra baggage.

Your Turn

Where do you fall in the minimalist–consumerist spectrum? Or do you opt out from the labels?

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