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The Morality of Minimalism + a Few Words of Caution [Episode 13]

What are your thoughts about clutter? Do you think less is ‘good’ and more is ‘bad’? Whether conscious or not, beliefs like these have a significant impact—and might be what keeps you stuck with your decluttering. Listen to this episode of the Simply + Fiercely Show for an important message about minimalism and morality.

In This Episode:

  • The surprising way you’re holding yourself back from decluttering
  • How seemingly harmless advice can be hurtful
  • A powerful mindset shift that will change your relationship with clutter

Featured In This Episode:

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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.

Hi there, it’s Jen here, and welcome to The Simply and Fiercely Show. 

Today we’re gonna be talking about the morality of minimalism, or perhaps more accurately, the perceived morality of minimalism. It’s an interesting topic because our beliefs about clutter can impact not only ourselves but also those around us. 

It might even be what holds you back from following through with your decluttering plans.

When Clutter is ‘Bad’ …

I was inspired to talk about this topic after stumbling upon an anonymous Instagram account a few weeks ago. The account belonged to the adult child of a hoarder, who I believe had recently passed away.

I’m not 100% sure of the details, but the person is now in the process of decluttering their loved one’s home and is doing so anonymously because of the shame associated with hoarding.

The individual was quite nervous about being judged by the Instagram community but, in the end, was pleasantly surprised by the support they received online.

Of course, this is good to hear—but it did get me thinking about how there is a perceived morality associated with minimalism. There seems to be a prevailing belief that people with a lot of clutter are “bad” while those who live a minimalist lifestyle are “good”.

Now, I’m sure that some people may deny holding this belief, and I don’t think most people are consciously judging others. But still, I think there are strong undercurrents of morality, and with it shame, associated with people who have clutter.

The Danger of Minimalism and Morality

As someone who teaches people to declutter and simplify, I have seen firsthand how damaging this belief can be.

First of all, it’s unkind, and I hope this is obvious to most. You are not “bad” because you have clutter, and your worth as a human being is not defined by what you own.

I think we all understand this on a theoretical level, but in practice, I know how easy it is to succumb to the belief that your excess stuff is some kind of personal failing.

When I had a lot of clutter, I would read minimalist blogs and wonder why it was so easy for them to declutter but so hard for me. This led to negative self-talk: Why can’t I get rid of things? What’s wrong with me that I have all this stuff and they don’t?

I’d suggest a lot of this stems from the language people use when discussing clutter. I often read comments in Facebook groups for research, where there are many people offering support.

But sometimes, I think well-intentioned advice can come across as condescending and hurtful. For example, people say things like, “Don’t keep sentimental items. Your memories don’t live in your stuff. They live in your heart”.

And of course, this is true, but most people struggling to declutter already know this. Hearing it (and knowing they still can’t follow through) only doubles down on the shame.

It’s painful for them—but it’s so much more than that. I think the judgements we project out into the world are reflected back at us, so your feelings about clutter might be why you struggle to let go.

Why You Struggle to Declutter

As a fan of Brene Brown and her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I’ve learned that guilt and shame are two very different feelings.

Guilt is when we feel like we’ve done something bad, and it can motivate us to make things right. For example, if we overspend while shopping, we might feel guilty and decide to return the items we don’t need.

However, shame is a much more debilitating feeling. When we feel shame, we believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with us as a person. For instance, if we buy an expensive dress we can’t afford, we might feel ashamed and believe we’re terrible with money.

It paralysed us and keeps us from doing things that might improve our situation (like returning the dress). Instead, we shove it in the back of our closet where we don’t have to face it.

This is why we have to be so careful about our beliefs. If we judge other people for their clutter, we ended up judging ourselves for clutter, and the shame keeps us stuck.

A Different Way To Approach Clutter

We all must remember that no one is intrinsically better than another person. We all have our own innate value, and having clutter doesn’t make anyone a bad person.

Instead, I’d like to suggest that instead of thinking of clutter as a mistake or a sign of our moral failings, we see it as a symptom.

It reminds me of an Instagram post I wrote a while back where I likened clutter to scars. Clutter can be proof that we’ve overcome difficult circumstances and survived.

So maybe we should take a different approach to thinking about clutter. Let’s shift our focus from shame and judgment to kindness and understanding. By doing so, we can create a more compassionate and supportive environment for ourselves and others.

My Experience with Shopping and Shame

As a former shopaholic, I used to have a lot of clothes, and I felt so ashamed of my stuff that it was hard to change my habits and declutter.

However, I realized that taking a more compassionate approach was much more effective. Instead of focusing on my shame, I asked myself why I had so many clothes in the first place.

In a recent podcast episode about my minimalist wardrobe and self-acceptance, I talked about how my insecurities led me to shop excessively. I hated my physical appearance and bought clothes as a way to feel better.

Ultimately, when I looked at my clutter, I had two choices. I could beat myself up for making mistakes or be compassionate and recognize that I bought those clothes because I was dealing with something difficult and didn’t have the skills or support to cope.

I didn’t have anyone in my life who could recognize what I was dealing with or help me work through it. I didn’t have enough self-compassion to ask for help or the knowledge to see the patterns of my compulsive shopping.

My clutter wasn’t a reflection of being a materialistic person who couldn’t stop shopping. Instead, it was a sign that I needed help and didn’t know how to get it.

When we shift our approach from shame and judgment to compassion, it becomes much easier to let go of clutter.

Your Clutter Doesn’t Define You

When it comes to decluttering and minimalism, it’s important to recognize that letting go won’t fundamentally change who you are as a person. You won’t suddenly become a better person after decluttering your life.

However, there are still tons of benefits to be gained from creating space and freedom in your life.

Decluttering gives you the time and energy to experiment and solve your problems. It can help you step into who you really are by removing distractions and allowing you to focus on what’s truly important. But it’s important to approach decluttering with the right mindset.

You’re not holier than thou or better than people that still have clutter. They may just be at a different point in their journey or have things they still need to work through.

By recognising that decluttering won’t change who you are as a person, you can approach it with a more realistic and compassionate mindset. You’ll be able to appreciate the benefits of minimalism without getting caught up in the idea that it will make you a better person.

So go ahead and create that space in your life – just remember that you’re already enough as you are.

Minimalism Is Not About Owning As Little As Possible

One last note about why it’s important to avoid assigning moral value to the amount of stuff we have.

For me, minimalism isn’t about how much or how little you own. It’s about finding alignment in your life by defining what “enough” means for you and living accordingly. This may not be the most socially accepted definition of minimalism, but I stand by it.

For example, I recently wrote a blog post about six rules of minimalism that I’m not afraid to break. One of these rules is keeping sentimental items, which some may argue goes against the idea of minimalism. However, I don’t believe that minimalism is a contest to see who owns less. It’s about creating a sense of balance and alignment in your life that feels right for you.

I received a lot of positive feedback on the post, with many people resonating with the idea of keeping sentimental items. The point is not to get rid of things for the sake of being a minimalist but to create a life that feels aligned with who you are and what you value.

Minimalism isn’t about blindly following rules or trying to fit into a certain mould. It’s about finding what works for you and creating a life that feels fulfilling and authentic. By defining what “enough” means for you and living accordingly, you can create a sense of balance and alignment in your life that brings you joy and contentment.

Don’t worry about judgment from others, as this is about living life on your terms and creating a sense of balance and alignment in your life.

I hope you all have a wonderful day and happy decluttering.

Thanks for listening, and see you later!

Thank you for listening to The Simply and Fiercely Show. If you want to learn more, you can download my free mindful decluttering guide and learn all the secrets that helped me go from shopaholic to minimalist using the form below. Until next time, thanks again.

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