I only started caring about minimalism during a particularly rough time in the last 18 months. My partner and I were having a hard time adjusting to living together, and our space was crowded by our clashing collections of things, making the situation feel stressful.
The stress doubled when our friend temporarily moved into our second bedroom. He was a collector of just about everything (clothes, computer parts, knick-knacks, etc.). I saw one of my worst fears laid out before me: repeatedly and spontaneously sinking money in the form of a few dollars here and there, gradually filling up my space and yet never leaving me satisfied (and, as a result, wanting to spend less time at home and more time at bars, cafés and any other place I could spend more money).
It was no wonder minimalism started calling me. Over the course of a year, I cleaned out my closet and developed a reliable system that helped me curb my clothing collection. I committed to actually using up all the soap and personal care products I had before buying another one simply because I wanted to try a new scent (I’m ashamed to say it took more than a year). I donated a lot of my books and decorations to charitable organizations, and encouraged my partner to do the same. We’re finally starting to see the effects now, and we have become a lot happier in our space.
However, there are elements of minimalism — the “minimalism-as-an-aesthetic” lifestyle you read so much about online — that continue to disturb me. This advice isn’t just concerning because I disagree with it on a personal level; it’s advice that to me destroys the entire concept of minimalism and perpetuates the toxic cycle of caring way too much about your things. Worst of all, I fear that this counterproductive advice will result in fewer people actually trying out the more useful elements of minimalism.
These are some pieces of “advice” you should take with a grain of salt.
1. No labels
The first time I saw this piece of advice, I thought it was a joke, but time and time again, lifestyle and decor bloggers have peddled the notion that labels on household products clutter up your vision and present a non-uniform view of the room. More astoundingly, the most common remedy I’ve seen recommended is to transfer as much as you can into label-free containers, such as pure-white plastic soap dispensers and giant mason jars. This technique is not only futile — you are no closer to achieving calm and steadiness in your life because the shower you spend 20 minutes a day in is free from “distracting” labels — it is incredibly wasteful and inefficient. Instead, you should work at reducing the amount of packaging you’re actually bringing into your life (if possible) rather than swapping every package for a prettier package.
2. Don’t own more plates and cutlery than you need
As someone whose cupboard was once overflowing with ugly novelty mugs gathered from every convention and bridal shower she’s attended, I understand the appeal of just trashing 90% of it. Here’s some advice: stop. Breathe for a second. Excessive plates and cutlery are indeed a source of clutter, but you should always keep at least four of everything on hand. And instead of getting rid of all of our extra plates and special utensils, we ended up storing most of them instead. Having people over for meals is one of the simplest pleasures in life (and can be a huge motivator for keeping your place orderly and making delicious food), so don’t take that away from yourself because you’re obsessed with only owning two plates.
3. Only spend on things you absolutely “love” or “need”
This is one of those rules that is great in theory. The problem is, if you’re a person who already buys too many unnecessary things, you’re probably already expert at justifying these purchases. In my worst of times, I could tell you why I absolutely “loved” or “needed” to buy that $30 bottle of Lush bubblegum-scented body wash or that extra cookbook that I’ll make two salads from before it starts to gather dust. How you sort out your issues of overspending and desperate justification will differ, but overall, this is an ideal, not a rule.
4. DIY everything
For some reason, we have come to align “simple living” with countless DIY projects that are usually anything but simple. Buying bath bombs is bad, but making your own is apparently just fine. And hey, a good DIY project can be fun — when you know what you’re doing. A lot of DIY projects are either completely futile in terms of functionality, or the higher-quality projects end up being costly, time-consuming and messy. Just look up the expense and complexity of making your own soap and tell me that it’s better than buying a bottle from the damn drugstore.
5. Clutter is the devil and you should avoid it at all costs
Short anecdote: when I was 18, my mom and I were living on our own and trying to sell our house to join my dad in another town. For the first time in our lives (having gone through the selling process several times), we were introduced to the concept of staging — clearing our home of every bit of clutter, including books and magazines we had lying around, family photos on the wall and old projects. This almost completely mirrors a lot of minimalism advice: bare walls, collections hidden away, a sense of “openness.” When I think of this, all I can think of was being a teenager living in a sterile house with my mom where I couldn’t even have a picture of my parents on my bedroom wall. Excessive clutter is annoying and a habit you should nip in the bud, but a little bit of clutter is just practical. Even if it means that my home will never look like a crisp and modern art gallery, I would rather not have to hide away the little bits of my partner’s and my personalities. There’s really no benefit other than aesthetic. When you’re decluttering, if it starts to feel like you’re simply hiding things, it’s time to pull back.
6. Neutrals or bust
I’ll admit I’m a big fan of neutrals. I have probably worn color about a half a dozen times in the last two years, and the sight of a sleek, black-and-grey bedroom set makes me drool. And while there’s a case to be made that it makes the laundry process a little more efficient, when it comes down to it, preferring a neutral aesthetic has nothing to do with minimalism. I can’t think of anything more pretentious than insisting upon replacing every thrifty piece of furniture and well-loved piece of clothing you own with an overpriced, square, black or white version of it because it creates a “cleaner” look. Again, the idea that visual distraction is un-minimalist fails to get at the heart of why some people need minimalism in the first place: because they have too much shit. Owning a cool grey couch instead of an ugly green one isn’t going to fix that.
7. Spend more on fewer things
Again, this is a great ideal to hold. Spending very little on a lot of things is the mentality that often results in a closet full of fast fashion castaways and a cluttered collection of unnecessary living room accessories. But this mentality often frames “luxury” as a necessity — that your life will be better if you replace those four poorly cut sweaters with one $200 super-sweater. The main problem with this being a guiding principle in minimalism is that it’s just a different side of the same materialistic coin. There’s a fine line between investing in quality and turning your life into a showroom. You can simplify things like your wardrobe — or your furniture, your kitchen, your makeup — without placing a cultish emphasis on high prices. Find a middle ground where you can ensure that you always have what you need without bleeding yourself dry to own the bare minimum.
So what can you do to create a more minimalist life and habitat? I’ve already talked on TFD at some length about some things I’ve done to lighten up my life and minimalism principles I do agree with, but in general you should focus on finding ways to create more discipline and moderation in your purchasing and collecting. Evaluate why and when you buy things. Throw things out more often. Apply the “capsule” concept to as many things as possible (not just your wardrobe). Take walks, have quiet time, do whatever it takes to appreciate what you already have around you, rather than spending all of your time adding to your countless collections.
And don’t be afraid of a little clutter.
Bree Rody-Mantha is a business journalist and dance teacher living in Toronto. In her spare time, she enjoys sport climbing, lifting and running the vegan food blog, Urban Garlic. Follow her on Twitter here.
Image via Unsplash