How to Keep the Minimalist Movement Attractive to the Masses

Consider this my response to the 100-thing minimalist debate started one week ago. If you are not involved enough in the minimalist blogging niche to follow the debate, you have two choices. First, you can get caught up by reading a few articles: Why I’m Wary of 100-Thing Minimalism, Minimalism RethunkHow to Find Your Minimalist Edge, and 100 Things Challenge – Open Letter Rant. Or alternatively, you can skip the background and just continue reading. Either way, I wrote this post so that you could follow along.

I have withheld my thoughts on purpose (other than one comment and one tweet). I’m a family guy who enjoys living a simple, minimalist lifestyle. I have never sought out to become a leader or a voice in the minimalist movement. Secondly, Dru Pagliassotti may have been a bit blind-sided by the ensuing conversation (that began two months later) and was yet to further clarify her thoughts concerning the new developments. And since she wrote a post the following day commending this blog specifically on its approach to rational minimalism (Rules for Stuff)… I thought it would be courteous and worthwhile to allow her to speak first.

However, over the past few days, I have received numerous emails from readers and fellow bloggers asking for my comment on the topic. My hope is that this public comment will slow the number of private conversations that I have been having. Secondly, because Dru posted a thoughtful response two days ago, I feel ready enough to make some comments. Thirdly, I have something to say that I hope will encourage us to move on.

With that background, I would like to make some comments on How to Keep the Minimalist Movement Attractive to the Masses. But before I do, I should mention a few assumptions that my comments are based upon:

  • The Minimalist Movement is growing on the web and in society. When I began blogging about minimalism two years ago, there were very few bloggers focusing on the niche. But today, new blogs dedicated to minimalism are sprouting up everyday. This is an indication of society as a whole – minimalist practices are on the rise.
  • Minimalism will never go mainstream. Despite its growth, minimalism is always going to be a subculture. Society, consumerism, and advertisements have so fed the natural selfish tendencies of humanity… minimalism will never go mainstream. Environmentalism can go mainstream… industries can sell Green. Simplicity has gone mainstream…  industries can sell simplicity. But minimalism, by its very definition, can not be marketed to a world built on consumerism.
  • Minimalism should seek to attract the masses. I have been questioned if minimalism is something that should seek to grow itself or if it is better to keep the “true and faithful” small so that it does not become watered-down. I vote we throw the doors wide open and invite in as many willing people as possible! There are numerous benefits available to those who choose it and numerous benefits for society as a whole. It would be downright selfish to keep it to ourselves.

So then, to turn the page on this debate and move forward, how do we keep the minimalist movement attractive to the masses? I have identified some important keys to remember as we move forward and listed them below (more or less).

  • More communication of the benefits. At every turn, in every post, and in every conversation mention how the minimalist lifestyle has benefited your life. People outside the movement don’t know what they are missing. They are seeking a free, happy, stress-free life just like all of us. They are just looking in the wrong places. They are hoping that their next purchase will bring it to them. Unfortunately, it only takes them further away. Speak of the benefits of minimalism. Often.
  • More inspiration. Less competition. I realize that competition and inspiration are not mutually exclusive. And in many cases, competition may result in inspiration. However, it would be a more profitable pay-off to use your limited energy to inspire others (inside and outside the minimalist movement) rather than compete against them. Let’s remain a team… unified around a common goal.
  • More principles. Less rules. When I began the journey towards minimalism, I read two articles: A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home and How to Become a Minimalist. Both Leo and Nicole offered a succinct, simple approach to minimalism. The principles they laid out in those articles was all I needed. The rest is history (and splattered throughout the first 18 months of this blog). They did not offer rules or countless formulas. They just offered simple principles to get me started. People will always achieve more following principles than obeying rules.
  • More contextualization of minimalism. Minimalism is always going to look different from one person to another. A family of four in the suburbs is always going to experience it differently than a young couple living in the city. That’s okay. People should be allowed to adopt the principles to their lifestyle and find a rational minimalism that works for them.
  • More encouragement. More challenge. But mostly, more patience. There are times when we need to encourage one another. At other times, we need to challenge one another to find a new edge of minimalism. There is a time and place for both (this is where the benefit of the 100-thing challenge enters). But the one remaining constant is the need for patience. Patience with each other as we try to figure out minimalism in our own lives. And patience with those outside the movement who have yet to walk through the doors. Remember, a small step is still a step.
  • Less Over thinking. I am in favor of more blogs dedicated to the practice of minimalism. I am in favor of more and more minimalists sharing their experiences and inviting others to participate. But I am against over thinking minimalism and making a simpler lifestyle more complex. The danger of more and more blogs on the topic is that more and more words are needed to full the pages and posts. And I’ll freely confess that I am just as guilty as anyone else in trying to brainstorm a new slant on minimalism just so that I have something fresh for my readers. Offer new ideas. But don’t over think minimalism. Keep it simple and sweet.
  • Less harsh words, please. They are meant to communicate passion and emotion. Unfortunately, they just turn off most of your readers. Trust me, there are better adjectives to use.
  • No profiteering. I am not against using inspiration to make income. There are numerous e-books that have been published about living a minimalist life (A Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life, The Art of Being Minimalist, Car-Free Living). I even wrote one myself that I am quite proud of (Simplify) and have begun the initial outline for my second (due out this fall). I am not against making an income for your work. If you have invested time, energy, and effort to produce something that people want, you should be compensated. However, let’s be very careful. As the minimalist movement grows, there are going to be people who jump in just to make a dollar. Their motives will be selfish. And if the future voices of minimalism are in it for financial gain, there will be no winners.

I invite you to help me swing open the doors as wide as possible. If we don’t keep minimalism attractive, we are doing a great disservice to everyone we seek to inspire. Let’s represent it proudly.

And hey, I’d love to have you follow me on twitter.

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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Comments

  1. says

    Very poignant essay, Joshua and thanks for the link. I was wondering when you were going to weigh in. I’m with you all the way (except for the profanity part…I do love a good rant and it’s part of my personality).

    – Charley

  2. Di says

    What an excellent post….clear, straightforward, inspiring, reasonable, and compassionate. I especially appreciate that you took the time to consider your words before speaking out. You ARE truly a leader and a voice in the minimalist movement. Thanks!

    • di says

      I enjoy debates. They can also be unclear, vague, misleading, unreasonable, without compassion and unappreciated.

  3. says

    Thanks for this Joshua, I think you’re right on.

    Someone once said that one of the only aspects in life that you can control is how you react to things. In many cases it’s important to step back and breathe before reacting, this whole debate was probably one of them.

    It’s a simple matter to lash out at another blogger (Dru,) who I knew nothing about, just because they said something about us.

    I’m doing my best to do just that, amidst all of the reactions flowing around the work that I’m creating, the good and the bad. All the while trying to keep my message true to what I believe in –that minimalism can free you to live and work from anywhere.

    It’s definitely a challenge to balance it all.

    • di says

      The use of “emotional control” is contradictory as is the use of “true minimalism”.

      It’s all relevant…

      Everyone has their own potential in their own time.

      Imbalance is human nature.

  4. says

    “But minimalism, by its very definition, can not be marketed to a world built on consumerism.” this statement says it all for me. Which is why I will continue to write about minimalism even though my audience is very tiny, if any, and the any are not ready to listen to it. I do it without wanting attention for it, without wanting money for it and just because I think it is the right way to go in the world and it feels RIGHT to me. Thank you for this writing… it continues my inspiration.

  5. says

    Great article with tons of wonderful opinions and thank-ye much for the hat-tip. All those links must have taken a while!
    :)
    peace

    kiki

  6. says

    very beautifully said. I completely agree that the principles are what is of value – different people will take different paths for a multitude of reasons but the underlying principles are what allow each person to take action in ways that suit them and their individual situation.
    Thank you for your wise input to the whole discussion – I’ve been watching with interest and I like what you’ve added. :)

  7. says

    Great post.

    “Minimalism will never go mainstream. Despite its growth, minimalism is always going to be a subculture…But minimalism, by its very definition, can not be marketed to a world built on consumerism.”

    Exactly the reason I don’t understand the big debate over the so-called saturation of minimalist blogging.

    • di says

      It may only be a subculture, but it’s present. Minimalism is not a trend. It’s very real for the poor in our society.

  8. says

    To add something to what I said above.

    It’s also easy to forget that while we’re having debates about the simple preferences we have about being minimalist, most of our audience has no idea the debate is even going on. I imagine 95% of everyone reading us isn’t cross-referencing our posts for subtle nuances that, Charley would pick up for instance. It’s important to take in a slightly bigger picture with our (well, mine anyway) writing.

    I just tried to find Dru’s email to apologize for what I said, but I can’t. So Dru, if you’re reading this. I’m so sorry. Your response on your blog was incredibly thoughtful. Thank you.

  9. says

    What a great post. It’s so easy to get caught up and passionate and emotional about anything we believe in.

    I do think it’s funny that this actually has to be said: “But don’t over think minimalism. Keep it simple and sweet.”

    sj

  10. says

    Your writing and perspective is why I return daily to your blog. Thanks for writing with clear and reasoned words. Your 11 points are spot on and well thought out. Thanks!

  11. says

    But minimalism, by its very definition, can not be marketed to a world built on consumerism.

    Oh, the folks behind the Kindle do a pretty good job. :) And as long as there are minimalists drooling over tools for minimalism they’ll always have an in. That’s okay; it’s a rare pursuit that doesn’t benefit from using the right tools.

    Anyway, thanks for your calm and inclusive take on this exchange of blog posts. I’ll just keep reminding myself: the ideas and ideals behind minimalism can still have value to my life even if I dislike the style of some of their proponents.

  12. Jason says

    Your response was well-written. Just one thought about the debate which precipitated it.

    Isn’t spending time and energy debating about how to be a “proper” minimalist a violation of minimalist philosophy? Think about it.

  13. says

    This is a really great post.

    I think one thing that has turned off some of my loved ones towards minimalism is that they feel judged when I talk about my decisions. Now, I don’t think I’m being judgmental, but you do have to choose your words carefully. Just because you see something as useless crap, doesn’t mean your friend or uncle feels the same way. Being sympathetic and understanding towards other people’s choices will make them more willing to be sympathetic and understanding towards ours.

    Every movement struggles to define its own parameters as it gets bigger, and I think you are right about providing contexts and guidance rather than rules and keeping those parameters very broad and inviting so that everyone can join the fun.

  14. CD says

    “People will always achieve more following principles than obeying rules.” was my favorite line of this post.

    An individual’s Minimalist behavior will (and should) be as unique as a fingerprint. As long as you’re progressing, it shouldn’t matter how.

  15. says

    Thank you again for a wonderful post. You don’t judge us, but offer suggestions on how to live a minimalist life. That is one of the many reasons that I enjoy your blog so much!

  16. says

    I really like this post. I think it’s important for people to find their own way, in thier own time. I agree with Karo above. Just b/c I think something is junk doesn’t make it so. I was sent over here by Everett b/c his ideas didn’t quite fit with mine. But that’s ok. This is a good fit for me.

    ~janet

  17. Caroline says

    Well said. I think minimalism is kinda like limbo – how low can you go? The key, of course, is the YOU part. YOU get to decide.

  18. Sheri says

    Thank you for a thoughtful and balanced post on this topic. I’ve been lurking the recent debate with some dismay and appreciate your perspective.

    I hope that minimalists will collectively realize that, as you say, this is a subculture. It’s important to celebrate our common values and encourage each other in our personal development. No two paths are, or should be, exactly the same but I hope the community will return to a more positive, inspirational focus. I think your post is definitely part of that process.

  19. says

    I just made a firm commitment to living a more minimalist lifestyle. I’ve been puttering along on my own. Yours was the first site I came upon last night to read. Since I’m new at this, I’m glad, as it seems from your article that things can get a bit sticky. I’m 65 and disabled so my ability to give up an automobile is nil. It is obvious to me I will never be a pure minimalist by any standard. I worried that there would be rules and those who would disdain me because I wouldn’t be living “enough” minimalism. So it is nice to know that there are those who can see that for some it is a process to be attained, but perhaps never fully. If you have senior citizens in your lives, I’d like to know how they view minimalism, and if there are some who are very active in the movement.

  20. says

    I disagree. I think that a minimalist lifestyle should be nothing more than an aspiration for 99.9 percent of society.

    After 15 years of study I think I am mature enough to realise that minimalism is nothing more than an elitist exercise or game.

    Ever since the elite paid vast amounts for minimal, spare, art there has been a gradual migration of the ‘rules’ to other areas of their wealthy lifestyles.

    Take the current exhibition of John Pawson’s work at the Design Museum in London. In it you will see that only rich patrons can engage his services. A floor of super long Douglas fir does not come cheap.

    Just because I de clutter does not mean I live a minimalist lifestyle.

    Those elite people in their visually pared down houses often have more stuff than average. It’s just that they can afford to hide it behind vast amounts expensive cabinetry.

    Most of what I read regarding minimalism on-line is really about a kind of watered down voluntary simplicity.

    True minimalism is an intellectual exercise whereby one can ‘show-off’ to others how fabulously wealthy they are. That means expensive fit and finishes, nouvelle cuisine, and understated clothes.

    Close inspection of what most people call a minimalist home show that it has be stripped and painted white – all of the poor workmanship is on show – all of the defects exaggerated.

    I aspire to the real minimalsim.

    • di says

      Yes, most seem to view minimalism as a cool trend. They’ve never been poor, homeless or had to do without and probably never will.

  21. di says

    Likewise, the poor already know what they’re missing. They are not free, happy or stress-free.

    There will always be those that profit from the poor.

    Minimalism is not for everyone. Everyone is free to make their own choices.

    These posts are becoming more complicated and entailed.

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