Addressing Minimalism’s Misconceptions


“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius

Minimalists come in all sizes, ages, genders, races, nationalities, social classes, and religions. It is a growing movement that continues to invite others to live with less and define their lives in greater ways than by the things they own – and find freedom because of it. Yet, despite its recent growth, it continues to be misunderstood by a large percentage of the public.

With that mind, I think it would be wise to personally address some of the most common misconceptions about minimalism:

Minimalism is stark and barren. One of our first projects after becoming minimalist was to go through the house and remove every decoration that wasn’t meaningful or beautiful. But we didn’t remove all of them. In fact, by the end, every decoration in our home held significance to our lives. And because of that, our guests can immediately realize what is most important to us. Our walls are not barren. They are filled with life. But for more information on how minimalists decorate their home, check out Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff by Francine Jay.

Minimalism is boring. A minimalist life is not void of excitement or entertainment. In fact, minimalism removes many of the mundane tasks (organizing, shopping, cleaning) that rob us of daily excitement. And when unnecessary possessions have been removed, minimalists are free to choose for themselves what things will define their lives. Some will choose to travel the world, attempt impossible things, stay at home, or spice up their family life.

Minimalists don’t own nice things. Actually, one of the greatest unforeseen benefits of living a minimalist life is the opportunity to purchase possessions of higher quality. For some reason, many people don’t correlate owning fewer things and owning nicer things. But the truth is, they go hand-in-hand and are directly related. When a commitment is made to buy fewer things, our lives are opened to the opportunity of owning nicer things as well.

Minimalists are lazy. I’ll be the first to admit that some people use minimalism as a means to live a lazy, selfish, unproductive life. But that does not define the majority of minimalists that I know. Most minimalists that I know carry the same responsibilities (work, family, society) as those who are not minimalist. And while some have certainly embraced minimalism as a means to quit their day job (meet Joshua and Ryan), most do so as a means to pursue work they love. And I think that’s a great thing.

Minimalists are extreme environmentalists. Minimalism is good for the environment. Minimalists consume less resources and discard less resources. And that benefits everybody. But not everyone who embraces minimalism does so out of environmental motivations. Personally speaking, our embrace of minimalism was rooted in discontent with the path of my life. I was frustrated with the amount of money, time, and energy that was being directed to the stuff in my life rather than the relationships. And in minimalism, I found more opportunity to live out my greatest values… and contribute to the health of the planet along the way.

Minimalists are vegetarians/vegans. I consider myself a minimalist. I eat meat and plants. So do countless others.

Minimalists are young and single. Again, there are a large number of minimalists who are young and just starting out in life. Often, those of us who came to minimalism later in life, wish we could back and do it over. And while having a spouse and/or children can make the practice of minimalism a little bit tougher… they make it that much more important too.

Minimalists don’t appreciate books/information. Tammy Strobel loves books. So does Robyn Devine. Minimalists may have given up their desire to keep every book they have ever read, but they have not given up their love of reading or pursuit of knowledge.

Minimalists count their possessions. Some do. Some don’t. A few years ago, Dave Bruno publicly declared on his blog that he was setting out on a self-proclaimed 100-Thing Challenge to own less than 100 personal items. His proclamation earned some media attention. Soon, a grass-roots movement was born that consisted of individuals counting their personal possessions as part of the challenge. Leo lives with less than 50. Colin lives with 55. Sam lives with 33. Joshua lives with 288. That’s it. That’s the story. And while some care about the number, most of us don’t.

Minimalists are not sentimental. Less is different than none. Personally, my family finds more value in sentimental belongings if we pull out the most important pieces and keep them in a significant place. As a result, rather than a box full of sentimental things stuck in the basement or attic, we display the most important sentimental pieces from our past somewhere in our home… again, promoting the things that are most valuable to us.

Minimalists are condescending and pompous. Minimalists love their lifestyle and naturally sing its praises. Some do it in a condescending way. That’s really unfortunate. Because most are just kindly inviting others to experience the same benefits they have experienced.

Minimalists are being mean to their kids. Kids need toys. They play an important role in establishing intelligence, maturity, teamwork, and worldview. I have not met a single minimalist who denies their child the privilege of owning toys. I have met many who limit the number of toys that their children own… but teaching children the value of boundaries allows them to flourish.

Minimalists never entertain. Making a positive difference in our community and in the lives of others has always been important to my family and will continue to be so as long as we live. To accomplish that, my wife and I host groups of teenagers in our home twice per week. And often throw other parties in addition. In fact, we had 30+ people over for a party on Superbowl Sunday, which should also address one more misconception… Minimalists don’t own televisions.

Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts from it. It is a highly personal journey that forces you to identify and articulate your highest values. Because of that, it is always going to be practiced differently by each individual.

No wonder minimalists come in all ages, genders, races, nationalities, social classes, and religions. And no wonder it is a growing movement that invites everyone to own less and define their lives in greater ways than by the things they own – and find freedom because of it.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Spot on, Professor Becker. It’s funny, we go through a long explanation of minimalism on our site, and it starts of, jokingly of course, by stating that to be a minimalist you must live with less than 100 things, and you can’t own a car or a home or a TV, and you can’t have a career, and you have to be able to live in exotic places all over the world, and you have to write a blog, and you can’t have any children, and you have to be a young white male from a privileged background.

    And then we explain that we are obviously joking and go on to explain what minimalism really is (viz. getting rid of superfluous excess so we can focus on living a more meaningful life).

    But people who often dismiss minimalism as some sort of fad or trend usually mention some of the above mentioned “restrictions” as to why they could “never be a minimalist.”

    The truth is that minimalism isn’t about any of those things.

    Take care,

    Joshua Millburn

  2. says

    Hi Joshua!

    I totally agree with what your words. There are a lot of misconceptions about minimalism. I always feel a sense of fear in people that hear about minimalism, being afraid giving up things.

    The only problem I see: readers on your website most probably understand minimalism already in some way. How can we reach those that do not?

    • says

      Sure, a number of my readers do properly understand. But this site is always written with the non-minimalist in mind. And because of that, it continues to draw a large number of non-minimalists as well..

      That being said, conversations and personal stories will always serve as a better introduction to minimalism than blogs. Blogs are read by such a small percentage of the population… and minimalist blogs even less.

      Of course, the rise in media reports about minimalism is also helpful.

  3. says

    Great post! I really like the way you separate and identify each of the misconceptions. Even if these are things I’m aware of, it helps to read them in this format. I especially like your response to “Minimalists down have nice things”. Spot on!

  4. says

    Hi Joshua,

    I love the idea of this post but the Minimalism’s Misconceptions actually means misconceptions belonging to minimalism, not about it. Like a minimalist saying that you must have 100 things or less to be a minimalist, which I would say is a candidate for Minimalism’s Misconceptions but not what you are talking about.

    A title is crucial: perhaps “Myths about Minimalism”?

  5. says

    Thanks for this, Joshua! I’ll be sure to share it on FB and Twitter. As a new minimalist, I’ve already had to address some myths regarding what minimalism is and what it isn’t, and all the shades of gray in between. It’s a never-ending learning process, and I’m always excited to talk about it and help others understand that it’s something everybody can do, in their own way. Thanks again!

    Rick Rivera

  6. says

    GREAT post! Thanx – I tweeted it. As in all matters, I’ve found, there is more than one ingredient in the pot. Some add more, some insist on less. We are who we are: not someone’s idea of who we are. I don’t own a home or car. I live with my wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. I have one pair of running shoes and one pair of dress shoes (though no suit, but they work with jeans too). I own three surfboards and some clothes. That’s it. Even the computer I’m currently on is borrowed. BUT, I do enjoy cable TV, high-speed internet and central heat & cooling. Your article is simple and straightforward. Thanx, again. Peace and Love!

  7. says

    Having a limited amout of toys (or close to none) is actually good for children. This way, they are forced to use their imagination and fantasy to have fun. It is stimulating and an creative outlet for them.

    • says

      I didn’t have this realization so much when we were raising our kids, though we did limit to a degree, simply because we did not have the money. My daugher now has 6 kids, ages 2-10. While they do have toys, one of the best things they like to play with is each other. They make up games and play pretend and imagine. What a much better way for a child to learn and grow! I love her kids (even though I am biased!) but people always comment on how well behaved they are, how well they treat others, and how well they interact with adults (and they DON’T even homeschool).
      10 steps to learning for life

  8. says

    This is great and perfectly true! I have long felt that your particular manner of minimalism was very much tune with mine. I live in a house with three other non-minimalists, the most recent being the addition of my mother-in-law. Yesterday we went through her boxes and boxes of stuff together – she was overwhelmed and had made little progress over 3 weeks. I was not upset, just a little weary of the boxes piled up in my family room. I made certain that she did not feel as if I was pushy or intrusive as we went through them. It was a beautiful walk down memory lane for her – some things she said “oh that’s junk, just throw it away”. Other things are going to charity. A few really nice things we put around the house, making this her home too. Other things were saved to go through another day – boxes of cards, photos, mementos. As to the rest, I found places to put it all, organized and where she could find things. Naturally, I have lots of big empty cupboards due to my minimalist habits. Seems it was meant to be. Minimalism makes me happy, compassion for others makes me greatly happy.

  9. says

    Josh, thanks for giving me something to share on Facebook. My friends and family think I’m a wierdo…but I could be so much more extreme than I am. I don’t count my stuff, I have three televisions, and I have six storage totes in my garage. I also just paid off a credit card…and paid cash for a Taylor electric acoustic guitar for my husband. I love that I’m only buying what I need and love and have my weekends free to hang out on the porch with a cup of coffee instead of dusting and cleaning my unnecessary items. I love my new path…and thank all of the above mentioned bloggers for their assistance in changing my world view.

  10. Bill Owen says

    Josh, I have been a minimalist nearly my entire life. I found growing up that everything I owned placed a demand upon me for my time and attention. That forced me to put a value on my belongings and discard those I didn’t find useful. I either sold or gave away those items. Many non-minimalists define themselves by what they have (keeping up with the Jones’). Minimalists define themselves by who they are. I also find minimalists very pragmatic in their purchases: extraneous expenditures make no sense. Once a year I review my possessions and make the cut. There is no predetermined quantity to my selections, just what I feel I need. I have discovered over the years true joy in this practice. When I travel, even abroad, it’s a carry-on bag for me. My friends end up dragging all manner of baggage around with no apparent benefit. Who needs the hassle? A minimalist philosophy has other advantages. I know where everything is, so I never spend time looking for misplaced keys, etc. I gave up smoking because cigarettes were just another wasteful “thing” to occupy my life. The Swedish have an expression for “just enough”. I call that the essence of minimalism.

  11. says

    Hi Joshua,

    I just found your blog today. This is a really helpful post. I’ve just started exploring the world of minimalism after discovering that many of my dreams and inspirations are in line with a minimalist lifestyle. It’s nice that you acknowledge in your post the wide range of definitions for minimalism. It’s different for everyone.

    I have a house, a husband, two kids and far more possessions than I “need.” Even so, I try very hard to practice conscious spending every time something new makes it’s way into our home. A new rule I’m thinking about implementing is that for each new thing that comes into our house, one or two old things move out. We’ll see if my husband and sons are up for the challenge. :)

  12. says

    There are an awful lot of misconceptions. The main benefit I believe minimalism brings to our family life is ‘Choice’, bu owning, spending and committing to less we can make higher quality decisions and choices.
    The TV misconception I felt so strongly about I posted about it last week at 11.45pm – I had been in bed 5 minutes and got up to blog.

  13. says

    This is an awesome post Joshua! Does a great job of explaining what it is and what it isn’t, and all shades in between.
    I love that you mention that minimalists DO buy stuff, and many happen to buy nicer, higher quality pieces that will last a long time. Quality over quantity.
    And life is not boring. We, personally, would rather have experiences than things. Hubby and I had a great date on Friday. We spent over 2 hours wandering around a “museum”. It was actually a flea market/antique mall. The interesting thing was my change in perspective as we were walking around. Previously, I would’ve been looking for stuff to purchase to add to our home. I made the comment that something would have to majorly speak to me, heart and soul, for me to spend money and bring something home. We enjoyed looking and reminiscing at things from our childhoods, but we didn’t have to bring any of it home. It was a lot of fun, and a real eye opener too.
    We did end up buying 2 small stainless steel pieces for the kitchen, something you can’t even find nowadays!
    Will definitely be sharing this post!
    Reach out and take a hand

  14. says

    Excellent article. Thank you for pointing out the misconceptions and your response to them as I was bothered by some articles on minimalism by other writers. I think it is important to find the value in embracing minimalism, (why it is important to you), while balancing and adjusting it to your own life style and stage in life. I am a working mom with 3 kids so it is really a challenge to stick to the basics of living a “full life” without taking away the convenience of modern life.

  15. Chris Henderson says

    Excellent post Joshua: Just wanted to encourage you. I found your blog site a few months ago and really enjoy the articles. Would like to share a process with you that might be of some use. Being a book lover and also wanting to cut back on amount of books in my home, I have found myself going to a bookstore with pen in hand. I love spending time browsing and then will write down title and author when a readworthy book is found. Once home I will then look these up on my Library’s computer. At least 90% of the books are found. This is a fun process and helps keep my book stash down to those that I really and truly gotta have in my collection.

  16. Paige says

    I love this post! Great way to describe minimalism. I’ve become very interested in minimalism recently and this post is a great way to describe how I feel and think to friends and relatives that don’t really get it.

  17. says

    Joshua- stumbled on your site a few months ago and have been loving each bit I gleam from it. Thank you for keeping this for newcomers to minimalism and to those familiar with the lifestyle alike! Your words: “…rather than a box full of sentimental things stuck in the basement or attic, we display the most important sentimental pieces from our past somewhere in our home… again, promoting the things that are most valuable to us.” really struck a chord with me. You’ve said something similar before, and I’ve read it also on other minimalist blogs, but it is just so true. I’m just beginning this journey, and finding that if I don’t display what is most important, how do people know it’s the most important? :) Thanks again.

  18. says

    Really interesting post Joshua,
    I definitely think of minimalism as a mindset rather than a label. I think things started to get carried away when people wanted to define exactly “who” got to be called a minimalist.

    “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts from it” <– Well said sir, well said.

  19. says

    Joshua…very perspicuous. You have a way of capturing the essence of what many of us dream of saying. There is crossover and overlap in everyone’s life. Minimalism and green simple living is a different formula for us all.

    I’m pleased you noted we should not put everyone into little homogeneous boxes. Each of us offers a distinct and unique approach to the world. That’s what makes it such a wonderful place. Thanks.

  20. pal says

    well done post, methinks this has to be the way of the future. I don’t mean to sound condescending or anything but its hard to imagine a worse economic model than ‘ work your tail off for decades so you can buy a big house and do more work to fill it up with piles of (often) cheap disposable stuff so corporate shareholders can make a lot of $’

    To find a new working model people have to find new lifestyles. I sure hope a lot of minimilists are committed young people because I see the best hope for change is with the young. Life and work should be enjoyed and when our time is up we should mostly leave behind memories of good love and good effort.

  21. says

    Great post! So good I “starred” it in my Google Reader feed. I’m a budding minimalist and struggle to convey to others – my wife included – what minimalism is all about. The why part isn’t that difficult but it’s tough for people to get past some misconceptions they have about this anomalous concept in their heads called “minimalism”.
    Now instead of trying to describe in my own words what this isn’t I can just refer them to a post stated more eloquently than I could put it.
    Nicely done!

  22. modern_minimalist says

    Us minimalists usually have more money, nicer things, and are happier with what we have and value. I have so much money right now, it’s bugging me. It comes in through selling unused possessions and work, but it doesn’t go out. I also have few possessions – but they are XLent quality and will last forever. I have a family of 3 and a dog, i work and I’m a university student. If I can do it, anyone can!!! Promise! And technically, we live on the poverty line in the UK… but I’d never know, and neither would anyone else!

    All your comments are amazing!
    Catrin x

  23. Katie says

    I really hadn’t ever heard of “minimalism” until I stumbled across this blog by mistake. I am a freshman in college, relying on scholarships and loans and I haven’t been able to find a job yet, so I’ve got money going out, but none coming in. I’m terrified by the prospect of turning up in the world, thoroughly educated with empty pockets and loans that demand payment. So I’ve begun to examine my own horrendous spending habits. Suffice it to say that I am NOT happy with myself. As a result, I googled ways to stop needlessly spending money and it led me here. The minimalist lifestyle so precisely sums up my ideal future. But even as enlightening as this post is, it leaves me with a lot of questions. For example, once I do manage to get my spending habits under control (which is the most immediate concern), how do I deal with my current belongings? I regard everything as potentially useful. Every item I think “oh I don’t use that, I should get rid of it,” I get totally caught up in the fear that I might need it in the future, at which point I may not have the means to buy another. I own very few clothes, relative to the standards of my peers, but even the ratty old t-shirts or clothes I don’t particularly like end up staying because I anticipate potential future use. Where does one find a balance between potential and practicality? I’d love to gain further insight into the minimal lifestyle, and this seems like a good place to start!

  24. Mariah Steele says

    Really enjoying your page – thanks! The posts are a great connection and source of inspiration for me… :)

  25. SusanFL says

    I’d like to add that there is such a thing as an extreme minimalist and I believe that is as damaging a disorder as hoarding. I can give some examples. A woman who boasts that she only owns jeans and some T shirts (black and white) and one black dress. If I attempted this people would think I was mentally ill. I also read about women who take two week trips and only pack a tank top, shorts, and a pair of pants and a dress and a jacket. (She hopes to get rid of the jacket somewhere). I’m sure the person next to her on the flight home hopes that she is a frequent launderer. Another woman owns so little that if a few guests come for dinner, they must bring dishes and chairs. Yet another woman, showed photos of her minimalist home online. It looked like someone was either moving in or moving out. In one photo her children are sitting on a bed draped in white (a sheet maybe?) and are waiting for her to start a DVD for them to watch on a small TV cart. There is nothing else in the room but the curtains. Extreme minimalism complicates life for the minimalist and all those who would be spend time with them. As in everything else, minimalism is a balance.

    • Sally says

      If they are comfortable with those choices, don’t mind washing clothes frequently, how is it damaging? I don’t think it can be compared to hoarding, the tv shows I’ve seen on hoarding have uncovered dead rats, dead cats, and so much dirt, which is less likely when a place is so easy to clean due to minimal contents. And these minimalists are certainly much less likely to have a stack of stuff fall on them and smother them, as has sometimes happened with hoarders. Each to their own.

  26. brittney says

    I was wondering if you could talk about digital minimalism. I find emails that are years old that I will categorize someday and documents that need organizing. I am wondering if you have addressed minimalism when it comes to our computerized devices. How do we decide what to keep/toss when it comes to things in digital form that don’t take up space- yet do cause clutter?!


  27. says

    Having literally said two times this week alone that “minimalism is not the same as asceticism,” this is very timely. I’ll be sharing it a great deal with people in my life.

  28. Ian says

    Hey dude, I appreciate the post to help me get started on plans for my future lifestyle. The reason why I can’t gain the benefits of this yet is because of the fact that even though I’m a recently converted minimalist, I’m also not much of a fan of materialism; which makes me laugh. I mean like, how am I gonna choose what I’m going to own in the future if I’m not really a materialistic person? Heck, to tell the truth when I move out after graduating from high-school I’ll sell and donate all of my unneeded possessions and keep what’s of value, but I’m gonna donate my whole wardrobe and start a new one (Plus, I’ll probably out grow all the clothes I have currently till then). When I’m in college, I’m still planning to keep the lifestyle. I’m also into the whole self-sustainability movement, too. This means that with this combination of minimalism and self-sustainability I can generate my own electricity, gather my own graywater supply, et cetera in order to save even more money. As a matter of fact, I’m currently saving money to buy land too, as I am going to build my own home from reclaimed and locally harvested materials. I’ll even grow and farm my own food, yeah now? Anyway, thanks for the blogpost man, keep’em coming.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Minimal leben | Journal Emanuel-S | February 20, 2012
  2. We Are All Minimizing Something | September 27, 2012

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