The Limits of Minimalism
to own nothing is the endgame, bois

Author's Note: This was the first article I've ever written for the public eye, posted on my portfolio website, but I've taken it down from there since then. The opening sentence may not apply to my site as of now, and it's because I've made no changes to the original writing back when I first written it in 2019. I am way too lazy to make changes to it, especially when it's already in a completed state.

~

I love minimalist design, as you could probably tell from how I designed my site.

The clean aesthetic very much appeals to my already convoluted and messy brain. However, I do have some gripes with the minimalist "lifestyle," not necessarily the aesthetic.

The definition of “minimal” shifts constantly in society. Arguably, minimalism slowly shifts to accommodate new inventions that is essential in modern living. I’d say that having a computer is not necessarily anti-minimalist; how else will those minimalist Youtubers gain an audience if they don't have the tools to make videos in the first place? Internet is arguably unneeded in terms of having home access, but that really depends on the use-cases of the individual. On paper it would sound like no internet would be great for productivity (I know I'd probably benefit from it), but I’d claim that for many things, moderation is more powerful than pure abstinence.

What causes division in minimalism (and in human relations in general) is elitist attitude. Humans are very much inclined to boast about anything if given the chance, even to the point where people are prideful about owning nothing. Think about it: we are reaching levels where people are flaunting about how little they own. Arrogance is not reserved for maximalists: it plagues the entire human condition. It starts approaching unhealthy levels when people start defining minimalism by the amount of items that they own.

So for example, a group can set the standard that owning more than a hundred items does not make you a minimalist. Doesn’t seem too bad on the surface, but what stops us to push it even further? Ninety items is definitely more “minimalist” than a hundred items, so what is barring us to move the threshold over to ninety? How about eighty? Seventy? At extreme levels of minimalism, you can be approaching the deep recesses of ten items or less. That doesn’t seem too bad, until you realize that most people probably have more than ten pieces of undergarments in their closet, ignoring other pieces of apparel. I can imagine living with a hundred items or less, but ten? Taking into account hygiene products, basic cooking supplies, and the many other things that we deem “essential,” it seems entirely unpractical to own less than ten items. There are people who are living this life today (nomads, ascetics, etc.), which shows that it is indeed possible, but that doesn’t refute the notion that it’s impractical for a majority of the population. Of course, we can get into the semantics of what falls into the category of “possessions”, whether that includes consumables as well, but that is opening another can of beans that is not worth getting into.

What gets me real sad is when people start enforcing their personal standards of minimalism onto other people. I’ve read cases where individuals consulted others about what to get rid of, and the essence of their response is basically “everything.” I recall one particular person asking if they should keep their collection of books, going on about how they read from it all of the time and is torn about making the decision. A person who was responding decided that their standard of minimalism is above everyone else’s, and it resulted in a response that fell along the lines of “get rid of it all or else you're not a minimalist,” which was definitely heartbreaking to read.

To get all of your belongings, including the things that one values most, completely negates the purpose of the movement in the first place. The goal is to cull out the things that add no value to your life, not to get rid of everything you own, valued or not. Indeed, it is great that people are being informed that having everything is not a source of happiness, but the other end of the spectrum does not boast that many advantages either. Maximalism may not be the source of happiness, but so is not owning anything. Prime critics of minimalism are those who are forced to live the lifestyle, particularly those of lower socioeconomic class. Advocates of the movement often have enough money for a backdoor just in case things go awry, but for those in lower economic standing, they may have nothing to fall back on. So to say that we should get rid of everything that we own basically becomes an insult to those who had nothing in the first place.

It also goes without saying that some people end up using minimalism as an excuse to buy more expensive things. I wholeheartedly agree with buying things of quality that will last long, but minimalism sometimes ends up being a platform on which people can justify buying unnecessarily expensive stuff, just from the premise of being "cost-effective." I may not be able to justify purchasing a $1000 pair of shoes normally, but if I am a minimalist I might justify it on the grounds that "it's probably the only pair of shoes I'll get, so I might as well." Minimalism may possibly be used as a guise for materialism and greed; it is just shrouded by the fact that you are a "minimalist."

I will say one thing: Minimalism is good in making the point that owning many things doesn't make you happy, but we must look at the reverse as well: it is not a source of happiness to own absolutely nothing. I believe that life isn't solely based on the items that we own, regardless of how much or how little we have. Your identity is not on how much you own, but neither is it on how much you don’t own.

Jump back to top