Minimalism Isn’t Perfect, but Is It Really All about Flaunting Status and Wealth?

tide pool at Yaquina - minimalism isn't perfect

“Reducing a wardrobe down to a few painfully elegant cashmere-cotton blend tops is only really possible if you can put down at least $1,000 in one go for the creation of your ‘capsule wardrobe’.”

– Chelsea Fagan

Ok, some minimalists are jerks, and minimalism has its issues. But “I hate minimalism” seems a bit strong. Chelsea Fagan, author of Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy, hates all forms of minimalism.

Fagan must hang out with a whole different crowd of minimalists than I do. I’m not saying the pretentious minimalists she’s dissing aren’t out there, but most aren’t like that. The minimalists I know live in normal houses, often a bit smaller and less expensive than typical for their income level.

If they like the minimalist style (and not all do), they buy furniture from Ikea, not $4000 handmade dining room tables.

Far from having less stuff so they can say to the world, as Fagan alleges, “Look at me! Look at all of the things I have refused to buy, and the incredibly-expensive, sparse items I have deemed worthy instead!” they’re afraid of being judged by others for their minimalism – for not appearing successful enough.

Nor do the minimalists I know get rid of all the clothes they have and go out and buy a new capsule wardrobe. Heck, I’m not buying anything extra – just being more mindful about what I purchase as I replace worn clothing.

Sure, there are advertisements and fashion articles about starting afresh with a closet full of new clothes, but that’s not inherent to minimalism or capsule wardrobes. That’s advertising and fashion.

Should we hate cooking because some food bloggers and magazines are posting recipes that take all day to cook and use insanely expensive and hard-to-find ingredients?

“You’re not unable to afford basic home goods, you’re choosing to pare everything down to a single cardboard box!”

– Chelsea Fagan

Fagan says, “The premise of minimalism in this way is very vague, and ever-shifting to accommodate the tastes and stomach for consistency of the individual practitioner, but the overall theory is the same: by paring your life down as actively as possible, you are almost guaranteed to appreciate what remains more, and are likely to pick up some serious wisdom in the process, which usually makes for excellent self-serious Medium content down the road.”

Really? I see (and post) a lot about how getting rid of all your stuff isn’t enough. Instead, the bloggers I read talk about how we must work at intentionally living more meaningful lives. They keep gratitude journals, learn to meditate and work hard to create new habits.

They try to spend at least some of their free time in more meaningful ways than they used to, for example, volunteering and participating in community activities.

I’ve never seen anyone claim that having no stuff by choice is morally superior to having no stuff due to poverty, and I’m baffled by the statement that “minimalist spirituality is a great way to get all the gold coins of poverty without ever having to be one of those icky poor people.”

It’s true that you can’t “choose to ‘declutter’ if you are already living in a sparse home you cannot afford to furnish,” but I’ve never seen anyone suggest that you should.

The greater problem for minimalism in terms of class is suggesting that people living in poverty who do, in fact, have a lot of stuff, get rid of it. This is because (among other reasons) they may not be able to afford to replace the items if it turns out they did need them after all, or they really do lose that last 10 pounds. Also, they often cannot afford better quality, more durable items that will last longer.

“[T]his spiritual minimalism has essentially become yet another competition for who can be the best at whatever you’ve chosen, even if that ‘whatever’ is literally ‘having less shit’.”

– Chelsea Fagan

Fagan also suggests that minimalism is sexist:

“Even ignoring the class angles, this idea that any “decluttering” in your life is automatically a positive thing is simply an aesthetic choice being reframed as a moral one because, let’s be honest, it’s really easy to look at a lot of what (mostly) women own as being totally frivolous. Makeup, more-elaborate wardrobes, cozy home decor, art, supplies for hobbies, nice home goods – it’s not a coincidence that most of the stuff we’re being told to flush away from our lives happens to be stuff that women mostly accumulate.”

Again, maybe there are a few minimalists out there somewhere suggesting this – but it’s certainly not common. Instead minimalist writers urge us to declutter items we don’t use and don’t like. Who has suggested we give up clothes we enjoy wearing? Art we love? Hobbies that enrich our lives?

It’s true, some minimalists “are still conspicuously consuming in mind-boggling ways,” and it’s valid to criticize this type of minimalism if it’s being touted as anything more than an aesthetic minimalism.

Then there are others who aren’t consuming that much, but are rather pretentious, seeking attention more than contentment. But is this special to minimalism? I’m thinking there are a**holes in every walk of life.

Many minimalists use the money and time they’re saving by simplifying to help people living in poverty. Others donate to and volunteer with charities for the arts, education, environment and other causes.

Minimalism isn’t perfect and won’t solve all our individual problems, much less world problems. But it can help us live more lightly on the planet and build stronger communities, along with increasing our contentment.


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