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The Minimalist Living Movement is BS if you ask me

The Minimalist Living Movement is BS if you ask me

brown leather sofa from freedom with lots of cushions and a turquoise throw with pom poms

Minimalist living is nothing new. The concept has been around for decades. Most recently, though, it’s been on my radar because of a doco I watched via Netflix called Minimalism. In it, authors Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus are followed on the journey of their book tour, which focuses on – as you’ve probably guessed – minimalist living.

They spend the majority of the film showcasing how they themselves live minimally; less stuff, essentially. Less clothing, less furniture, less gadgets, less everything. And how they believe it impacts their lives for the better.

I spent some time on their website shortly after I watched the doco. I wanted to discover if my feelings around minimalism would change having reflected more upon their philosophy. And I must declare that it did nothing to change how I feel. Because minimalist living is not for me. A lot of the assumptions around it, in fact, I consider quite ridiculous and somewhat offensive (if we’re being frank, which I think we should be).

So let’s explore what the rather vague concept of minimalist living is, and why I don’t agree.

stacks of cushions from freedom on circular staircase

The Minimalist Living Philosophy

Here’s what The Minimalists website has to say about minimalism:

“Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves.

Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous in your life.”

coastal bohemian interior design with blonde timber sideboard and large indoor plant

My Issue with Minimalist Living

If this is your first time here, let me quickly tell you about my philosophy on living.

As an interior stylist, I believe that great design can be truly life changing. It’s why I decided to work in the world of design, why I partner with clients to transform their homes, and why I started The Life Creative in the first place. The world around you (and especially the immediate world) is full of objects that impact how we feel.

I believe that the room you wake up in, for example – and the space you exist in each day – dramatically effects how you take on the world. The ‘things’ that the minimalist movement suggests are stopping us from experiencing freedom, are important. These things contribute to the ‘life itself’ that they claim they find happiness through. There is nothing wrong with things making us happy. I believe they are often essential to happiness, in fact.

side table styling with brown and black homewares and mirrors from freedom

Your Surroundings are Important

A dark, empty room, for example, has an emotional effect on you. If you were to wake up each day in a small, dark space with no light or soft bed, it would effect your psyche. That’s why solitary confinement exists in our prison system; as a form of punishment (I’m not saying prison is like the minimalist living philosophy, but you get the picture).

On the flip side, if you were to wake up in a bright, sunny, cosy bedroom each morning – on soft sheets with the aroma of a scented candle filling the room – I believe you’d be given an environment far more conducive to happiness. Moreso than the person in the small, dark room, at least.

So let’s start there; the notion that possessions shouldn’t make us happy is ridiculous.

In fact, a study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science revealed that material purchases (like homewares or furniture) provide more frequent happiness over time, whereas purchasing experiences, like going to the movies or a day spa, provide more intense happiness on individual occasions.

artifical-plants-from-freedom-furniture-cluster-of-plants-in-garden

The insulting part

I also reject the notion that I do not experience freedom because possessions make me happy. The art on my walls at home makes me feel something. The table I sit at to eat dinner pleases me. The bed I climb into at night, surrounded by furniture I hand-picked, makes me feel content. To suggest I am somehow oppressed by these possessions, as the minimalist living trend does, is insulting.

And my health, relationship, passions and personal growth have never been forsaken because I enjoy good design. In fact, an interest in these ‘things’ (like interior design) is where my passion lies. Going into client’s homes and making a room work for them and creating a space that looks beautiful, is also my passion. In assigning importance to this ‘stuff’, we allow it to make our lives function more successfully.

I don’t feel trapped by consumer culture, either. I acknowledge that we live in a world that wants us to by things. To endlessly consume. To purchase something and then want to replace it in six months. I know that advertising and marketing is all about wanting me to lust for a better lifestyle. But I don’t get caught up in it. I am not overwhelmed by it, nor am I trapped by it. I know it’s there and my life is not shaped by it.

fall in love with as many things as possible artwork in warehouse apartment with herringbone floors

Minimalist Living vs. Decluttering

I’ve written on the blog before about the importance of decluttering and why I think hoarding (which is a very serious issue) can negatively impact your life. Having a home that is literally packed to the rafters with anything and everything – including garbage in some cases – also has a hefty impact on your mental health. Decluttering is different from minimalist living, though.

Decluttering is about removing unnecessary items from an untidy or overcrowded place. That’s the official definition. I myself love to sort through my drawers and throw away unnecessary items, or things that no longer hold any meaning for me. The process is therapeutic and I feel a sense of reward in doing it.

That doesn’t mean I wish I didn’t buy these possessions to begin with. It doesn’t mean that I’m trapped by them, or that I’m not experiencing freedom because those items were in my life for a fleeting moment and not long-term. I understand that it seems odd to buy things, fill our homes with them, and then experience joy in removing them. But that is the human experience. We’re odd creatures. I’m OK with that.

Cosy Bedroom with grey upholstered headboard and coral feature wall

Where do you sit?

Minimalist living is just not for me. It goes against my general approach to life. It insults my philosophy; that surrounding yourself with beautiful things that make you happy is important to your wellbeing.

Maybe there is more research to be done on my part to better understand minimalism and minimalist living. But I’m not entirely interested. I feel quite content with all of my things, my want for possessions and helping people fill their homes with stuff as well.

If that’s a trap, then I’m quite pleased to be in it. Lock me up and throw away the key. Just make sure the cage I’m in has a throw rug, scatter cushions, stationery set and reed diffuser.

I’d love to know what you think of minimalist living. Drop a comment below if it’s helped you live a better life. I’d love to get your take on it. Or if you’re equally baffled by it, sound off also.

Images in the post come courtesy of Freedom, except Image six which is via Whoovie.


Outside of his work as Editor of The Life Creative blog, Chris is also an interior stylist, presenter and author. His first book, Sydney Precincts, is out now. If you'd like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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  1. Anna Kenny

    18 February

    Hi Chris – what a brilliant article, I totally agree with you. I’ve always followed 2 of my fav. quotes, William Morris who said, ” have nothing in yr home that you dont consider to be useful or beautiful” – so that covers my cushion and quilt addiction and a fav. poet Tennyson –” If of thy worldly goods thou art bereft and to thy store 2 loaves of bread are left, take one and with the dole buy some hyacinths to feed your soul” . Man or woman doesnt live on bread alone and we sensitive people who love art and beauty are always hungry, We have nothing to feel guilty about, weve worked hard for it and if it makes us happy and joyful and we are not hurting anyone, out with minimalism even the word sounds depressing and dreary

    • Chris Carroll

      19 February

      Thanks a lot for your comment Anna, and I really love those quotes. And yes, I find the very notion of minimalism depressing too. As though we as humans are not meant to be stimulated or enjoy anything outside of ourselves. It’s got me completely baffled. Enjoy your decorating 🙂

  2. Annie

    18 February

    Ive seen the show and actually it made me feel sad and lonely, as I believe our home and what we have in it should make us feel happy (and safe). So I personally love colour, and lots of it, and I know it’s not for everyone in terms of decorating, but it makes me happy to look at it and every piece I have has a story that makes it belong to us. I don’t support just buying heaps from Kmart (sorry Kmart lovers) but everything I choose whether it is big or small has some meaning. It doesn’t mean I don’t love a good de-clutter, but all in moderation. I get you Chris!!

    • Chris Carroll

      19 February

      I am glad you get me Annie! 🙂 I’m also totally on-board with your approach that purchases should have a story. I love looking around my home and remembering where I was when I purchased a piece of art from a second hand store on a road trip, for example. You are so right, too; what we have in our home should make us happy! Thanks for commenting and reading.

  3. This post really resonated with me as I have a real thing against the minimalist fad… I spent 11 months quarantined in the house while undergoing treatment for cancer and it makes you really really look at your home when the only things you see for a year are a hospital room or the inside of your house… even the garden was out of bounds, so it was quite the thing… the idea of facing that if you are living minimally is horrifying…happily I have recovered physically and am doing better than they ever expected and have been cancer free for 2 and 1/2 years now, but it is only recently that I have started to recover mentally and that is because we have been going through a major renovation. I realised during those endless months stuck here that the house was not a nourishing place. It didn’t bring happiness into our day or reflect our lives, it was just somewhere we parked stuff as we rushed onto other things. That made me unbearably sad to tell you the truth. So we are creating a home that reflects where we are as a family now, it’s all about integrating the things that are precious and meaningful from the past into the fresh and calming space that it is now. We did declutter but not viciously, and we certainly didn’t take a minimalist approach, and as time goes on and we are finding new items that we love, we are letting go of other things but I can’t see how that could be anything other than positive… my daughter recently came home with a print she found in a little gallery because she knew it would suit a grouping of other prints perfectly, and it was so special seeing her embracing creating a great environment. Even if it wasn’t perfect I still would have embraced it and used it, because she chose it which certainly isn’t minimal and we do have some glorious haphazard areas, but it is evolving and this renovation journey one of the best things to come out of that hellish year… now we all wake up feeling invigorated and safe and inspired by our environment… it is amazing how much difference it has made to me and quite frankly that has given me a mental freedom that I never thought I would have again.

    • Anna Kenny

      18 February

      Hi Tracey – I just posted earlier on and loved yr heartfelt letter – and it really resonated with me too Though not as serious as yr health scare I am housebound for 2 years now with an Inner ear prob, that causes dizziness and vertigo and my home and my things around me are my haven and sanctuary also – I love colour and art and mementos that mean a lot to me and cannot understand the total minimalist concept and find the idea depressing, Wishing you good health joy in yr home and prosperity xxx

      • Chris Carroll

        19 February

        Thanks for sharing Anna. I hope your home is (or becomes) the sanctuary of your dreams. There is no greater feeling than being in a room and feeling it completely reflects who you are and what you love. Sending good vibes your way on the health front, too 🙂

    • Chris Carroll

      19 February

      Oh Tracey – thank you SO much for sharing your story and for being so open. I’m so glad you’re on the mend and I’m so glad you saw your home in a new light. Decorating is, I believe, an endless journey, because things are always coming in and out of a home. To me, a home is not meant to be “complete”. It is always evolving. I’m so pleased your home is evolving and really starting to serve you and your family. And I am SO excited that your daughter is getting involved too. Nothing better than when kids appreciated designer and decor. My six year old niece once said to me, “you have a beautiful apartment. And I really mean it”. Best compliment ever! 🙂

  4. Chon

    19 February

    I agree with everything you’ve said! I find the whole concept of minimal living incredibly bland and soul destroying and actually another way of stressing us because we want to have nice things! My house of my things makes me happy! I believe most people who are overwhelmed need to declutter and organize their life. Take care of themselves. I for one am not getting rid of my cushions any time soon!

    • Chris Carroll

      19 February

      haha Chon I am with you! Nobody is taking my cushions (or 45 candles) away from me! Thanks a lot for stopping by, reading and commenting – it’s much appreciated. Have a great day enjoying your possessions 🙂

  5. Kerry

    19 February

    Chris, I actually don’t agree with your viewpoint and whilst I love the decorating ideas you give on your blog, I apply them purely to the items I already own. What I think these guys are saying in the documentary is that people don’t need 2 or 3 or 4 of any one thing. I asked myself the question ‘do I need 4 quilt covers’? No! Having 4 didn’t make my life happier – i actually felt weighed down by the many things I had, duplicates and triplicates of the same things, just different colours or styles. They were not junk or rubbish either. They were all good quality items, but I constantly felt overwhelmed by having so much. Finding adequate space for ‘just in case’ moments where I have 4 guests staying overnight at once or 10 staying for dinner where I got to use all my dinner settings (which never happened). I think you miss the main point in this documentary – and of course let’s face it you make your living out of selling ‘on trend’ styling ideas that like clothing fads change very frequently. Of course, there’s a market for that in today’s society. I found this documentary totally uplifting and refreshing and I now enjoy far more the wonderful ‘fewer’ things I own. I wake up in a very bright bedroom , my happy place with one side table, a lovely print above my bed 1 throw and 2 cushions, 1 set of nice sheets (and a spare). You mistakenly think that having less means I will wake up in a dark and dingy bedroom. Not true. All it’s saying is we don’t need 10 of one thing or to believe that we can’t be happy without another item if the social trend changes.

    • Chris Carroll

      19 February

      Hey Kerry. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I was hoping someone who didn’t agree with me would take the time to leave there thoughts here, so this is great!

      Like you, I don’t consume a massive amount of the one item, either. I own two pairs of jeans, a few pairs of shoes, two winter coats. I think what hit a nerve for me the most (as their website clearly states) was the notion that having possessions means you don’t have freedom. That’s quite a blanket statement and it’s rather insulting to people who have the restraint and wherewithal to consume considerately and avoid ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

      I also have to clarify that I don’t make a living off selling the latest fads and trends. On the blog, I love to look at, share and comment on imagery of beautiful homes and products. I don’t advocate spending tonnes of money on expensive fads. I have written several articles here that state I don’t agree with that approach to living. It makes me extremely happy to look at these things and hopefully inspire others, but I don’t condone that people go out and buy everything I showcase.

      When I work with my interior design clients, I also go in with the mindset that items should be for the long term – and I advise them to steer clear of pieces they might tire of within a few years.

      I love that you’re living with fewer pieces though and I love that you found the process of letting go of some things uplifting and worthwhile. I love that you find yourself completely smitten with the items you have now. And you’re right; those ‘sometimes’ moments where you have 10 people over for dinner really never happen, so I’m totally on board with decluttering and purging yourself of the things you don’t need.

      Thanks again for your comments, they really are appreciated.

  6. Kerry

    20 February

    Thanks Chris for your honest response and clarification. Like many things, there’s no ‘right or wrong’ viewpoint. Minimalism is a way of life that works for some and may not work for others. However, it is a way of life that presents an individual with serious questions to answer – I took comfort in what it offered me. Duplication of one thing is not healthy for me or the planet and having less frees me up to devote more time to experiences – putting more focus on people, animals and contributing to society as a whole. only seeing value in ‘things’ and material possessions was not bringing me joy. And by the way, I loved cushions, had so many I was referred to as the girl with the cushion fetish but gee, making a bed now with less cushions Takes less time that’s now reinvested in spending with my son. I don’t really miss my cushions and I still get joy from looking at the few I have left. Win Win in my book.

  7. Laura

    20 February

    I think everyone agrees that there is such a thing as ‘too much stuff’. My issue with the “minimalism” movement is that it seems to discourage – if not prohibit – keeping anything that is not in constant, or at least regular, use. It’s as though they see “things” only as an end, and never as a means. There’s no box of spares, bits and bobs, odds and ends etc. in the life of a minimalist. This is tragic. I don’t see that stuff as junk, but as a resource. It’s empowering to know that I have the means to fix and repair most of the things I own, without spending two hours -shopping – to acquire a screw and the correct size driver.

    • Chris Carroll

      22 February

      Yep – I hear ya Laura, and I agree. I think it is perfectly reasonable and normal to enjoy being surrounded by things and possessions. As you said, a lot of them come in handy! I also think that sort of minimalism (where you outsource all of these repairs, for example) is only for the wealthy, or at least well off. Which seems completely unfair.

  8. Lydia

    22 February

    Interesting article. Where are the images from? There’s no crediting and I’ve scrolled through twice.

    • Chris Carroll

      22 February

      Oh crud, Lydia. My bad. Thanks so much for letting me know. I’m usually ALL over the crediting process. I think I got so caught up in writing about my dislike of the minimalist movement that I forget lol. All amended now. Thanks again. Majority of shots are from Freedom.

  9. Shirley

    26 February

    Hi Chris, this is a very interesting topic and good to get your views on.

    I am a Graphic Designer by trade who has always been passionate about interiors and after 16 years in my career, have finally started studying Interior Design. I fully believe our surroundings have a huge effect on how we feel about ourselves and our lives.

    Around 4 years ago my husband and I immigrated from South Africa to New Zealand. We owned a household full of stuff which we had to give up in order to make the move – although we put a small amount of our “treasures” on a cargo ship and had to wait for it to dock and clear through customs – quite a process! For the first year in New Zealand, we lived pretty much out of a suitcase each because we just couldn’t afford to replace all our furniture. When our small amount of things arrived after being without them so long, I had two reactions – why did I pack all this junk, and oh boy it’s nice to have a few familiar things around!

    When my dad died last year the family went through the usual throes of divvying up his “things”. As I wasn’t able to return to South Africa I was given just two of his possessions – two small paintings he did when he was young. That is all I have left of him. And yet, they are absolutely perfect little reminders of him. After much soul searching, I realised I actually didn’t need any more of his things, what I have is enough.

    In my view, I think minimalism is great for people who wish to use it as a vehicle to drive their passions and priorities – if you don’t fill your home with furniture you can afford to travel, if that’s what you ultimately want. For me personally it means paring things back so only what I love is in my space (which as a recent immigrant with not much money, is pretty tiny) and hopefully a bit of money left over to explore my new country. I think creative people have a natural tendency towards curating collections of beautiful things, so full-on minimalism will never really suit us. And yes those beautiful things take money and time to accumulate. And it’s up to us all to decide how we want to spend that money and time. But I do admire those that chose adventures and travel over things, and if it means not being tied to a desk job and more time to do what they want, then power to them.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here Shirley. I really appreciate it. It sounds like you have a really good sense of balance here, and some real perspective on the issue because you’ve lived through having to pare back. I think it’s always about balance when it comes to these philosophies or mindsets. I think it’s easier to market these ‘movements’ to the public when they are extremes, but I don’t think people are happy existing in either extreme (complete minimalism or hoarding) completely. I hope you enjoy your exploring 🙂

  10. carole pixton

    2 April

    I am not and never will be a minimalist. I have just redecorated my home and have introduced a lot more colour. I now sit in my lounge of an evening with all the lovely lamps on, with the light shining on my newly acquired possessions and I love it. I wake up in a newly decorated bedroom with newly painted furniture and colourful accessories. I am hap hap happy!! Having things around you that you get pleasure from is uplifting. I know that my mood has definitely improved since my new look.

  11. Tara

    10 April

    I think some of the message of minimalism is getting misconstrued here judging by your piece and the comments.
    Minimalism (the lifestyle) is a spectrum. Not everyone chooses to be radical; like other concepts in life, we take what makes sense and should discard the rest. Most people who consider themselves minimalists are never going to be Bea Johnstons or have a hanky jar instead of a box of tissues. Myself included. That’s okay!
    Introducing any degree of minimalism into ones life (even adopting only 10% of the tips for example) can have a dramatic effect on our carbon footprint, because minimalism goes hand in hand with Eco-living and using things responsibly. Just something like commiting to use non disposable grocery bags, for instance, is a step in the right direction.
    I think there’s been a mix up in terms of esthetic minimalism. Many minimalists are not esthetic minimalists. Only a fraction enjoy or find peace from having a stark white space with no art, and a stark white/black/grey wardrobe. That is not the definition of minimalism, but because some of the most visible minimalist faces we see are esthetic minimalists, people assume we all have to be, or want to be. Not true.
    One CAN enjoy beautiful, meaningful decor that makes you happy. A wardrobe every colour of the rainbow. What makes minimalism unique is more about excess. Not having a closet with 100 pieces when you only wear 15. Having “just in case” items in case you gain weight, lose weight, get pregnant, get sick, get invited to a funeral, dancing, etc. Same with having 5 sets of bedding when we can only use one at a time. Are all 5 necessary? Could you bless someone else while lightening your load just a bit?
    Also, I wanted to clarify what was said about minimalists saying that changing their lifestyle gave them freedom. You took offended because you don’t feel bogged down by your stuff. First, minimalists are the first to admit the lifestyle is not for everyone.
    But more to the point, the freedom they speak of is the freedom to pick up and travel out of home for six months. They could put everything they own into their car (save for enough furnishings that they could rent out their home on AirBNB for example). In fact, many minimalists seem to travel often and stay away a while. They don’t want to feel bogged down. I’m at a stage in life with children and chronic illness that I know I couldn’t just pick up and travel half the year, so I don’t feel a lack of freedom from having things. However, I still embrace many of the principles. I don’t need 3 bags and a dresser full of makeup and toiletries. I’d like to cull my wardrobe, and I’d really like to cut back on disposable plastics. I’m starting slow , and while radical minimalism isn’t for me, I’d love to. Be able to get my family’s waste down to one small kitchen bag every 2 weeks. Right now it starts with examining regular offenders in the garbage can and examining alternatives.

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