Is Minimalism Bad? Maybe … It Depends How You Look At It

Is minimalism bad? The short answer is … maybe. Like everything in life, there are nuances, and it depends on how you look at it.

For those who are new to Simply + Fiercely—hello! My name is Jennifer, and I’ve been living a minimalist lifestyle for over a decade now. As a former shopaholic and workaholic, it’s been a pretty massive shift.

But is minimalism right for everyone? What are the downsides and can minimalism be “bad” for you? 

My experience has been overwhelmingly positive, but I believe in offering a balanced perspective, so my honest answer is …maybe. As with many things, it all depends on your approach. Keep reading if you want to learn more.

"Is Minimalism Bad? Maybe ... It Depends How You Look At It" in a white box with a straw basket with leather handles holding a beige plaid blanket sitting on a wooden staircase in the background.

What Are The Downsides Of Minimalism?

First, let’s sum up the most common criticisms of minimalism:

  • Minimalism is elitist — it takes a lot of money to “live with less”
  • Minimalism is bad for the environment — things that no longer “bring joy” end up in landfills 
  • Minimalism is bad for the economy — if people aren’t buying things, the economy will suffer
  • Minimalism is boring — minimalists have no ambition and live boring lives in bland homes

Is there some truth to this? Possibly. Let’s look at each one individually.

Is minimalism elitist?

Some people in the minimalist community believe minimalism is about living with as few things as possible. They preach that you shouldn’t keep anything “just in case” because you can just pop down to the shops and repurchase it later. 

Personally, I think the people who genuinely believe this represent a small minority of minimalists. But yes—that view of minimalism is very elitist. Not everyone has that kind of financial security. Most people have to balance the desire to own less with the practicalities of … you know, having a budget and bills to pay! 

But here’s the thing: I don’t believe that minimalism is about living with as little as possible. 

Instead, I believe the minimalist lifestyle is about alignment. You have to find that sweet spot between “too much” and “not enough”, and that’s a line in the sand that will look different for everyone.  

It was Peter Walsh who said, “Clutter is not just stuff on the floor—it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living.” So let’s think about how that applies to our lives. 

Buying laundry detergent in bulk when it’s on sale is not clutter because I like saving money and having clean clothes. On the other hand, a closet full of clothes that I never wear is clutter because I feel sick with guilt every time I look at them (even if I might theoretically wear them one day). 

This is what feels right for me—although you better believe I’ll keep my favourite jeans if I gain a few kilos. At least for a little while because jeans are expensive. 

All this to say that I don’t think minimalism is elitist when you subscribe to the belief that “how much” is personal. It’s not about judging others for what they own. Instead, it’s about looking inwards and asking, “What feels right for me?”

Is minimalism is bad for the environment?

I think that minimalism can be bad for the environment if you take a half-hearted approach. 

After all, it’s easy to toss something in a black bag, drop it off at Goodwill, and wipe your hands of it. Your home is clutter-free and then next time you want something, just declutter something else. As long as you follow the “one in, one out” rule, you’re good, right? 

Not really. This type of minimalism isn’t great for the earth—and it’s not great for you either. 

Why? Because you won’t experience the true benefits of minimalism if you’re stuck in a cycle of shopping and decluttering. You might have less stuff in your home, but do you have more time, money and energy? Probably not. 

This is why I take a different approach to minimalism and decluttering. Getting rid of clutter is part of it, but what matters more is what you learn in the process. 

  • Where does your clutter come from?
  • What are the thoughts and beliefs that allowed these things into your home? 
  • Why is it hard to let go?

When you make these questions a part of your decluttering, you become a more conscious consumer. I can guarantee you’ll buy less stuff moving forward, which can only be good for the environment. 

And by the way, I’m not saying that buying things is terrible, but you want to be intentional with your purchases.

Related Post: Why Your Life is Busy + Cluttered (Plus What to Do About It)

Is minimalism bad for the economy?

So if we’re buying less stuff, what happens to the economy? 

If you’re wondering this, then odds are you’re confusing minimalist living with frugal living. The two lifestyles go hand-in-hand for some people, but minimalism does not always lead to spending less. 

Trust me—I am doing my part to keep the economy alive and healthy! I spend big on experiences, travel and food. These industries play an important role, and they’ve been hit hard these past few years. 

Of course, I’m not an economist, and I don’t know what would happen if everyone decided to be a minimalist, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re not there yet. If I choose to be a bit more purposeful with my spending, I’m sure that Target will survive. 

I’m more worried about individuals and families that are stuck, drowning in a sea of too much stuff and too many responsibilities, and struggling to come up for air.

Related Post: How I Became a Minimalist: My Story of Living with Less

Is minimalism boring?

Right now, minimalism is popular. People love the minimalist aesthetic, and they’re attracted to a minimalist life—probably in response to the stress and overwhelm. It’s calm and soothing, and I get that. 

Is it boring to some people? Probably. I’m sure that everything is boring to someone. 

But let’s also remember that the minimalism I write about, and the minimalism I live in my day-to-day life, is not “one size fits all”. There are no rules; you can love colours, be wild, ambitious, passionate—whatever you want out of life, you can have it. 

Minimalism does not mean living a boring life. Instead, it’s about getting rid of things that ARE boring (aka clutter) so that you have room for magic, wonder, and all the wonderful things that make you feel alive. 

So nope. Minimalism is not boring to me. Instead, it’s the key to a rich and fulfilling life, whatever that means to you.

Less might be more - but that doesn't mean you don't want a big beautiful life. And that's really hard to do if you're letting clutter keep you small.

Minimalism Is For Everyone

Ultimately—if you let go of the labels, trends, and controversy—the minimalism I love is about being true to yourself. I had enough of trying to do everything and please everyone. 

I just wanted to find my way back home, to who I am and what I want, underneath all the crap weighing me down. And I think everyone can get on board with that.

If this resonates with you, here are a few stories and resources that will help you get started:

What do you think? Is minimalism bad? Let us know in the comments!

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14 thoughts on “Is Minimalism Bad? Maybe … It Depends How You Look At It”

  1. Thanks for this article. Regarding the economy we’ve been brainwashed into thinking unless we buy a lot of stuff the economy will falter. The truth is our overconsumption is killing us and the planet. There are sustainable models but no political will – the circular economy for example (read Zero marginal sum society by Jeremy Rifkin). Realising that buying stuff is not the answer when we feel lonely, sad or happy like adverts would have us believe is key. A book I love is Lost Connections by Johann Hari- he talks about junk food and junk values. Really recommend it!

    Reply
    • Thanks for those book recommendations, Connie! And yes — one of the biggest things I’ve learned since experimenting with minimalism is that my “stuff” is often a reflection of my inability to deal with tough emotions. Buying more provides a temporary high, and I can avoid the real reasons I feel sad, lonely, etc. (at least in the short term). Also agree re: political will!

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  2. This is a very good article, like always Jennifer. The issue of starting from where does clutter come from my life is the trick. Does decluttering leave me with more time, energy and money. Your approach is very practical and has helped me to deal with many limitations just from mere understanding and awareness.

    Awareness is Empowerment. Thank you for the goo articles you share with us

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  3. If anyone is worried about the economy and how minimalism can effect it, you can read Less is More by Jason Hickle. He explains that maximalism is destroying our beautiful planet Earth and unless we cut back on our greed we will be in all sorts of trouble. We all need more minimalists.

    Reply
    • I will add that to my reading list–thanks, Jill! It sounds a bit like Deep Economy by Bill McKibben, which was one of the first books I read about minimalism (although it’s not a typical “minimalist” book). Very inspiring! And yes, I agree that we need more minimalists — for the earth and for everyone’s wellbeing.

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  4. I used to worry about the economy, but I don’t any more. We don’t need to purchase “things” (unless it’s for your hobby!), but go to the movies, take the trip, help someone out with something they cannot afford, etc. Even a couple of well selected what sewists call ‘fast sewing’ from Target may be just what’s needed to give some semblance of fitting into what is ‘current fashion’. It’s the stuff we really don’t use, purchased in the past, that gets us into trouble. Those are what we donate. Well-selected, even if it costs a bit more or supports artisans, may be the watchword.

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  5. I love this post Jennifer. It hits so many good points. I am a very ambitious and colorful minimalist who doesn’t have a lot of money and cares for the earth!
    I have found that minimalism can be a key to happiness and survival when you don’t have a lot of money and it dignifies simple living.
    Living with less means that I save a lot of money and I am much happier when what I have. It also means that I can spend my money on things that matter to me and on businesses that are more sustainable. I am learning and growing in every way because I have less stuff to worry about and more time. To me, minimalism is the key to a NON-boring life!

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    • I love what you said here, Jessalynn: “I have found that minimalism can be a key to happiness and survival when you don’t have a lot of money and it dignifies simple living.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  6. This post is right on target. This is the reason I am taking my time about deciding what to toss. So far, I don’t miss anything I have tossed. I did toss one dressy item I had purchased, envisioning dinner parties where it would be just the thing. However, my visions failed to recognize that I neither host nor visit at such dinner parties. Everyone among my family and friends goes exclusively casual and comfortable for dinner parties. Swirling fabric and complicated hairstyles are nowhere to be seen. So that item simply had to go. It was a relic of little-girl days when I dreamed of dressup parties. Doesn’t fit today’s world.
    The other things I have tossed to date all represented important facets of the past. However, volumes and volumes of books, magazines, and other documents I will never touch again simply fill space that might be better used for current interests, or for nothing at all. I am starting to like being able to see unused space. 🙂
    I love the way you emphasize that everyone needs to find her own path to the “minimalist” within. My minimalism includes imaginative portrayals of cats doing all sorts of things. Somebody else’s minimalism might actually be bare walls. It all works.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Katherine! And yes — I think an inclusive approach to minimalism is so important. It’s not a competition and it’s certainly not about judging others. Just slowly, steadily, consuming less. (And by the way, I LOVE your dressing up analogy. This was 100% me for a very long time.)

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  7. I really appreciate this kind of self reflection, and I think the negative aspects of minimalism is something we also need to talk about instead of just rejecting them.

    One thing I regret deeply is getting rid of several personal memories/items when I started my minimalist journey. These are items that are irreplaceable and I will never get them back – and I wish some brave minimalist had dared mention these kind of “minimalism darkside issues” in the literature and blog posts I was reading at the time. Instead, I almost feel like I was lured into getting rid of everything I wasn’t using on a daily basis.

    Reply
    • I’m sorry about your loss, Mads. But thank you for sharing your experience! It really drives home my belief that we need a holistic approach to decluttering.

      Letting go should feel good– maybe not easy but good, if that makes sense. It’s like the difference between not wanting to exercise, but knowing it will make you feel better vs. knowing that you’re injured and need rest, but “pushing through” it anyway. One way is about being disciplined in a way that still honours your values, and the other is about ignoring your inner voice.

      Reply

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