The Trouble with Minimalism

Minimalist decor

Minimalist decor

Minimalism is a lovely thing… and it’s also a big can of worms. “At its core,” writes one of my favorite bloggers, Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist, “minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” So…identifying the things, people and activities that we most value. And clearing clutter. Sounds good, right?

Although I definitely believe that less is more, I do not call myself a Minimalist. Share on X

So what’s the problem? Here are a few issues, as I see them:

Public Perception

For the sake of discussion, let’s divide people into three general categories: Minimalists, Organizers, and The Public. Sometimes The Public shies away from Organizers, fearing they will be forced to get rid of all their stuff (Organizing Myth #4), which is bad enough. Then there are Minimalists, by whom The Public often feels looked down upon for not having parted with all but 10 things. Or 50. Or 300. Certainly fewer than the average 300,000 things estimated to exist in our homes.

Industry Bickering

Some Organizers call themselves Minimalists, and some of them are more minimalistic than others. In 10 Silly Things Organizers Argue About I wrote: “I suspect most organizers are just like me in that purging is so much a part of the organizing process that they see no need to separate it, or to call themselves Minimalists.”

The Minimalists —  Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus — were the opening keynote speakers at the NAPO2015 conference in Los Angeles. In their article, Organizing Is Well-Planned Hoarding, they state: “We need to start thinking of organizing as a dirty word. It is a sneaky little profanity that keeps us from simplifying our lives.” Really, Joshua and Ryan? And you know how all professional organizers operate, and the benefits that are, or are not, realized by their clients? I’m not saying they don’t have a point at all, but I do think they make broad generalizations in an unnecessarily click-baity way.

Degree of Minimalism

Most Minimalists, in order to encourage simplicity, will concede that not everyone is starting at the same point and has the same goals. But there are, indeed, many articles that encourage one to pare down to 30 items of clothing, or 100 possessions, or whatever. I think The Public is confused about what Minimalism is and isn’t.


Some see Minimalism as the exclusive domain of single, rich white guys. That’s just silly. Althought I don’t agree with them on everything, I do like The Minimalists’ 20/20 Rule as a guideline for getting rid of just-in-case items. It goes like this: Anything they can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from their current location goes away. They do not get rid of things they use every day. These are only items they are saving just-in-case that are cluttering their lives unnecessarily because they might never need them. For more help in deciding what stays and what goes, check out my free “Keep or Toss?” chart.

Blanket Statements

Even my favorite Minimalist, the aforementioned Joshua Becker, goes too far, in my opinion, when he gets critical about things I enjoy such as TV watching. (Click to read his several posts about that.) I agree that mindless and non-stop TV watching is detrimental to mental peace and productivity. Just like other forms of activity clutter and physical clutter are. But mindful and selective TV watching – what’s wrong with that? People have worse hobbies. I submit that the TV you watch is no different from the company you keep. If it is uplifting, or educational, or entertaining, why not? If it is making you sad, or anxious, or distracting you from your work, friends, and family….then, by all means, clear the TV clutter!

My view?

Although I definitely believe that less is more, I do not call myself a Minimalist. I help you realize how much your clutter is costing you. Then we determine what you love, use, and need to keep, and store or display it in an organized manner. The rest — the things you do not love, do not use, and do not need to keep – is clutter. Decluttering frees up space – and time — for the life you really want to live.

What are YOUR thoughts on Minimalism?

Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on August 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    This is very well-researched, Hazel. It opened my eyes to a number of things I wasn’t aware of or hadn’t considered.

    Having recently discovered that I had paperwork that was more than 25 years old, as well as memorabilia of which I had no recollection of the origin, I can relate a bit to the Minimalists’ statement. Because my stuff was neatly tucked away, I had room for it, and I could find anything quickly, I’ve always considered myself organized, but I’m starting to question my methods!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 14, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks! I’m not saying they don’t have a point at all….in fact you’ve inspired me (as has happened before) to add a line to my post.

  2. Seana G Turner on August 15, 2016 at 7:37 am

    Very interesting, Hazel. There is more to minimalism that one might initially perceive. I am pretty much like you: stuff should align with our priorities. If you have a hobby you love, you might have a lot of gear to go with it, all of which brings you joy. Good for you! Just don’t hold onto the supplies from something you did 10 years ago and no longer pursue.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 15, 2016 at 10:24 am

      Exactly. And if you do have a lot of gear for a hobby you still love (or office supplies for your home business, or whatever stuff you DO decide to keep) it just might need some degree of organizing! Thanks, Seana!

  3. Linda Samuels on August 15, 2016 at 7:40 am

    The Minimalist movement has been a source of ongoing fascination for me these past several years…from the purists (as in only keeping 100 things,) to the more flexible (like Joshua Becker.) But the thing that IS true is that while there’s an overall philosophy, how it manifests itself is truly individualistic. I like that.

    As you mentioned, we each start from a different place with a different set of goals. I see minimalism like I see vegetarianism. If you’re a vegetarian you don’t eat meat, right? But in fact, some vegetarians DO eat fish and eggs. So the line is a bit blurry. And so it is with minimalists.

    The part I like is about questioning the stuff of life. What’s meaningful…keep that. What’s not…release. And shifting the focus to being and doing, vs. saving and acquiring.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 15, 2016 at 10:19 am

      That’s an excellent analogy, Linda, comparing Minimalism to vegetarianism. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Miriam Ortiz y Pino on August 15, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Well, you make some good points. I’ve been practicing Voluntary Simplicity for 30 years. Minimalism is just the latest incarnation, and to a point it is a marketing ploy to sell books and blogs. However, at it’s core it is about conscious consumerism – at what ever level you are at – and getting rid of the stuff that is in the way of doing what you really want to do.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 16, 2016 at 6:03 am

      Thanks + agreed! At its core Minimalism is a good thing.

  5. Sarah Soboleski on August 15, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Love this post, Hazel! I, like you, believe that purging is a natural part of the organizing process in my life and don’t see it as separate at all. And I’m with you on the TV watching! 😉

    • Hazel Thornton on August 16, 2016 at 6:03 am

      Yay, another unashamed TV watcher! 🙂

  6. Liana George on August 15, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    You’ve made many good points and definitely offered food for thought. I think it’s all about balance really. Sometimes we can take things to extremes – like hoarders and, as you’ve pointed out, minimalists. It’s finding what’s best for you and your situation rather than what others define. Thanks for your bold and honest post!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 16, 2016 at 6:05 am

      Yes. Balance. And not judging others for “doing it wrong”. Thanks, Liana!

  7. Sabrina Quairoli on August 16, 2016 at 4:49 am

    I like the idea of getting rid of things that are less than $20 and that you can easily get. It eliminates a lot of clutter just doing that.

    I personally don’t use the word Minimalism in any part of my admin or organizing advertising. But, I do minimize a lot of clutter in my home because we live in a smaller home and my husband prefers only having around things that we use. I feel it is an extreme and scary way of looking at organizing for potential clients who just need to get rid of clutter.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 16, 2016 at 6:07 am

      Yes, I suspect there are some who overreact to what they think Minimalism is and just hang on to everything. Thanks for commenting, Sabrina!

  8. Jill Robson on August 17, 2016 at 7:00 am

    I think being Minimalist is different for everyone, we all have our comfort zones. I would live a more “minimalist” lifestyle if i live by myself, as i am lucky to have a family i also learn to accept their different levels of their comfort zone.

  9. Cassie on August 17, 2016 at 8:36 am

    I love this so much! What great insights and information. I love the core of minimalism but I do believe that to each person getting rid of clutter looks very different and if you have more than a certain number of things that make you happy and aren’t causing stress or clutter embrace it….and the TV 🙂 everything in moderation right 😉

    • Hazel Thornton on August 17, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      Exactly. Everything in moderation…including moderation! 🙂

  10. Olive Wagar on August 17, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for your enhanced perspective on this topic, Hazel! It is good to mindfully keep what is “useful & beautiful” as well as to mindfully donate or toss what no longer serves a purpose in your current season of life. I don’t want to live someone else’s life–I want to live mine. And so I appreciate having the freedom to find my unique blend of this minimalist prescription. Thanks for posting this with the P.O.B.C.!!

  11. Jamie Steele on August 20, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I think so many people get hung up on the “rules” of minimalism not realizing that it is different for everyone. The minimalist perspective has helped me to look at what I am bringing into my home and think twice about the purchases I make, but I would never call myself a minimalist. Great post!

  12. Anna on September 1, 2016 at 11:22 pm

    Hazel, thank you for sharing!

    You are right ‘Most Minimalists, in order to encourage simplicity, will concede that not everyone is starting at the same point and has the same goals’.

    I found a very good article written by CEO of Software House – he mentioned that he will deploy minimalism into his teams. For me, it is a huge surprise. I think that in every area of our life should be simplified.

    • Hazel Thornton on September 4, 2016 at 7:21 am

      Thanks for sharing, Anna! The article you linked to — key phrase: It’s time to admit to ourselves that we’ll never do it because we don’t want to. — reminds me of my blog post called Is it Really Worth Doing?

  13. rosie on September 24, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Very interesting. I wrote an article called ‘why you should stop being scared to call yourself a minimalist’ which you might like.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 1, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Rosie, you’re right. I did like it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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