The Drawbacks of Minimalism

I’ll admit I’m a little biased. I love the minimalist lifestyle, as I strive to live a life of simplicity. But even I can admit that there’s times when minimalism is frustrating…even damaging. I’ve been on this journey long enough to be aware of some of the pitfalls along the way. It’s important not to ignore the drawbacks of minimalism, but to be aware of avoiding them on our journey toward simplicity.

Minimal vs. Frugal

For the most part, frugality and minimalism can go hand in hand. There are other times when the minimalist style carries a hefty price tag. I’ve written a little on this topic already, and Josh and I have decided that when frugal and minimal clash, we will choose the more frugal option.

Sometimes we tell ourselves we’re paying more for quality, when really we’re just paying more because it looks more sleek and polished…and we just like it more!

True minimalism isn’t a style you pay more to buy, it’s a lifestyle of curating and simplifying. 

If I want a more minimal wardrobe, I don’t rush out to buy designer pieces. Instead I cut the fast fashion out of my closet and I wear what I already own in a more basic way.

It’s amazing how well frugality and minimalism can co-exist if we’re intentional about it.


Minimal vs. Durable

This is one of the most significant drawbacks to minimalism that I’ve noticed in my own life. There is a tendency when I don’t have many possessions to place too much value on the things I do own. While I think it’s awesome that minimalism helps us appreciate what we have, sometimes the pendulum swings too far and we become a little too attached to our stuff…because we don’t have much of it!

That’s the very thing we were originally trying to avoid. Oops…

Minimalists don’t usually have duplicates of things. This is mostly good, but it does put more pressure on me to take care of what I do have. If I love and wear everything in my closet, I’ll get more upset when something gets stained. If I only have one pair of shoes, I’ll be bummed when they start to wear holes in the sides. I’m in the middle of the Project 333 Challenge right now – to wear 33 items of clothing for 3 months. I’m finding that I’ve had to repair several articles of clothing because I’m wearing them so much. (But I also appreciate them more, and want to take better care of them.)

All in all, I think wearing things out and then replacing them when they’re no longer useable is better than the tendency to keep buying and accumulating new things and not wearing out anything. But it is hard to say goodbye to an item you care about because it was heavily used.

Minimalism becomes a snare if it makes me overprotective or possessive of my things. I have to fight the danger of becoming a “backward materialist” by remembering that sometimes things wear out and it’s okay to replace them.

Minimal vs. Multiples

Minimalists generally don’t keep things “just in case.” Usually keeping something “just in case” is a lame excuse for clutter.

But sometimes just in case happens!

Sometimes you lose the baby snot sucker in the middle of the night (something that goes unused 99.9% of the time) when he actually has a cold and you kinda wish you had a backup just in case.

Sometimes a band from Cali stays at your home while touring the Midwest in the dead of winter and you think, “Man if I hadn’t already minimized our coats, hats, and gloves I’d give you some to keep you warm on the road!”

Sometimes a guest asks for a toaster or a plastic spoon and you say “Nope, we don’t have those. Sorry!”

Sometimes there’s an ugly sweater contest at work and you no longer own any of those hideous 90’s sweaters you used to wear for entertainment purposes.

Is it worth holding onto these items just in case? Some, maybe. Others, no. Minimalism still wins most of the time!

Minimal vs. Preparedness

Some people like to stockpile and be prepared for any and every emergency known to mankind. I don’t stockpile, but I do hate running out of certain things I use a lot. So while it’s not excessive, and we buy many things week-to-week, I buy some items in bulk. This saves us money and trips to the store.

My bulk items right now are mainly brown rice, dry beans, and oats. I also buy lots of canned tomatoes at a time. If I have these things on hand, I can make many dinners before a trip to the store is needed! It may take up a little space and not feel “minimal” to store things in bulk, but in some cases it just makes sense.

Minimal vs. Specialty

Sometimes there’s an item that only does one specific little job, but it does it’s job well enough that it’s worth keeping. Certain tools fall into this category. They are irreplaceable once or twice a year when you need them, so it’s better to just keep them than buy new every year.

That’s not exactly minimal, but it’s okay. I get it. We all have those things!

Sharing is still the best option though! Things like camping gear, socket wrenches (unless you’re a plumber), baby items, maternity clothes, and specialty kitchen appliances are all great candidates for sharing with friends when not in use. There is no reason for everyone to own everything…especially the kinds of things that mostly sit in basements.

Reach out, form a community or neighborhood sharing group. You never know what might happen!

Minimal vs. Maintaining

My frugal mantra has become: Use it up, wear it out, make it work, or do without (or borrow!)

While maintaining our items is still best, sometimes we just need to be able to replace things…with no guilt attached! Once these other options have all been depleted, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy another item (unless you’re in the middle of a Buy Nothing Month!)

Used is still preferable, but sometimes I must buy new things. Minimalism is great as it helps us put more thought into our purchases, but it isn’t an end-all.

Shopping bans are great, but they can’t go on forever. The point of a shopping ban is to train yourself to not just buy things on a whim. If you have the self-discipline to use things up or wear them out and only replace rather than acquire, then there’s absolutely no guilt in buying when you have to!

My bread machine bit the dust a while back. I used it a lot, so going without wasn’t really an option. I was so pleased that I came across one at Goodwill for $4. It works great!

However, when replacing something, it’s important that you actually get rid of the item you’re replacing. Otherwise it becomes clutter. And if there’s still use left in the first item, don’t replace it yet!

Minimal vs. Material

The biggest hangups of minimalism often come in the invisible forms of pride and / or “reverse materialism.” Minimalists can unwittingly set themselves up with the ironic sense of: “I’m so much more minimal than that person over there.”

Sometimes the shrinking of possessions results in the enlarging of egos. I’m not immune to it either! I try to be vigilant in order to avoid this snare because it completely misses the point of true minimalism!

This is why I don’t advocate counting your possessions or playing minimal comparison games on the internet. There’s whole Facebook groups devoted to getting rid of things and tallying up the results. Some people on the internet have even called minimalism the new “sick game of keeping up with the Joneses.”

But for me, minimalism isn’t about who has the least. Playing that game is almost as bad (though not as wasteful) as the “who has the most / keeping up with the Joneses” game.

In the end, I personally think the benefits of a minimal lifestyle far outweigh the drawbacks. It does force us to look at our possessions a little differently, and to try to take better care of them. Minimalism helps us reduce waste and save resources so we have more to share with others. But the second it becomes about us – about about how little we have – we’re missing the point.

It’s important not to ignore the pitfalls. If we’ve become caught up in reverse materialism or comparisons, it’s time to opt out of the game and reevaluate our motives. I’m not striving for perfection here, but a desire to live simply, live intentionally, and do my best.


One Comment

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  1. That’s a great post. I’ve never thought about being “reverse materialism” as a thing but it makes sense. It’s like how you have radical factions of people who are straight edge, vegan, or only shop small businesses who act like they’re better than everyone else because they don’t indulge in what the masses do.

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