The Downside of Minimalist Living


Yes, the mountains. YES. But uh, where do I keep my chapstick?


My Story

I’m a big fan of minimal living. I am. I love the idea of living out of one suitcase, even though I’ve never managed that (although I did manage about 2 and a half at one point).

I’m also a huge fan of the KonMari method of organization. KonMari focuses on keeping only what sparks joy, which means discarding anything that doesn’t, and in America, that means about 90% of your stuff. It did for me. I had clothes I didn’t really like, books I had never read and never would read, knick-knacks that had no value and papers from everywhere I would realistically never need again!

I love throwing stuff away, as I’m easily bogged down mentally and emotionally by clutter. Organizing makes me feel fresh and rejuvenated, and the less stuff I have, the better.

Or so I thought. In reality, a few years after I started living pretty minimally, my opinion has changed from “keep as little as possible” to “maybe I should have kept some more things.” (I tossed a lot of childhood stuff in a fit of unsentimental get-rid-ed-ness, and I’m beginning to wonder if maybe that wasn’t so…)

Because keeping only what brings joy isn’t as simple as it sounds. When you’re on an organization bender, and you’re a specific type of person (i.e – me), you might find that what brings you joy in the midst of cleaning is the throwing away of stuff. It was like that for me. I was ruthless. I was as unsentimental about old stuff as it was possible to be.

I had a bit of a special situation when leaving Korea – I was trying not to ship anything or bring a third suitcase home (both very expensive) and that meant really, really keeping only what I needed and wanted. I left behind books and a lot of shoes and a lot of stationery stuff, thinking at least I could replace that easily enough.

(Bit of advice; if you love stationery and you live in Asia where you can get all that awesome stuff cheap, keep it. I’d somehow forgotten that you can’t find stores like that in America, and the stuff you do find isn’t cheap.)

The Downside

We rarely hear about the downside of minimalism, because the idea is good. You don’t need all that stuff. You don’t need that storage unit. Well, we didn’t; we just thought so.

So when is it a bad idea? When you get rid of too much. When the pendulum swings from terrible over consumption and over buying to not buying enough. There are benefits to having certain things, and sometimes those things can feel like a lot of things, but aren’t really a lot. Of things. Um.

Example; I just bought a few books. I was hesitant to buy them because a) money, and b) they were solid, real, tangible books that would forever be in my care unless I donated them later. Stuff has psychological weight.

I almost didn’t buy them. But I wanted them. Specifically, these are books related to D&D, something I’m really passionate about. I will use these books a long time, possibly for decades. D&D is one of my major hobbies, and it’s OKAY to spend money on your hobbies. That’s what I had to keep telling myself. It’s okay to buy things you will love and use forever. It’s okay to buy real books again.

I had to buy furniture to furnish my office when I moved back to Texas, and that was also really hard because fuuuurrrniiitttuuureeee is also expensive and so REAL. Like yeah, you’re rooting down.

And I bought my first ever desktop computer. Before, I’d always used a laptop because I was always on the go; to college, to Taiwan, back to college, to Korea. A desktop would have lain dormant.

Now I have a desktop. And two new amazing desks and an awesome shelf system for all my cool, favorite stuff.

It rocks. It’s not minimalist. It’s not. I don’t have 10 books spread between the 16 shelf cubes with only a decoration or two. No, I have a lot of books and a lot of souvenirs. And it’s perfect.

It’s given me a sense of belonging. When you live in transience, in the mindset of living with less, it’s easy to merge that with the idea of impermanence. Living with less so you’re easier to move around.

That’s fine for some people. It was great for me for a long time.

It’s not great forever, for some people. I loved buying a desktop. It was like buying a car. I’m an adult, I thought, finally. I loved investing in those D&D books. I want to DM, and those will be valuable resources.

As Matt Colville says, one of my all-time favorite Dungeon Masters, he buys a lot of expensive stuff for his D&D sessions. Like, hundreds of dollars worth of minis and sets and books and stuff. But he says that’s okay. He’s been collecting this stuff for over thirty years. He’ll keep using it. It’s his passion and his hobby, and that’s what living is for. To pursue your passions.

Don’t let minimalism and the fear of settling down starve you of the stuff you really do want.

That’s minimalism gone bad.