Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Vincent Nguyen of Self Stairway.
In a society bent towards consumerism, minimalism is counter-cultural. It uproots assumptions and challenges behaviors we’ve learned from others. It can be scary and mysterious—most new things are.
My mother is the exact opposite of minimalist. She makes good money, but still finds herself in financial debt because of her spending habits. When visiting, I find it difficult to avoid jamming my toes or scraping the sides of my feet against some sort of box when I enter her house. It’s cluttered.
My personal journey into minimalism started with the realization that my mom wasn’t any happier every time she bought a new technological toy. Neither did she feel any better about a house filled with stuff. I began to notice that I got along just fine—even better perhaps—with fewer possessions. I began cutting down more and more. It became part of who I am.
Still, people don’t always understand why my room has only functional things inside, why I don’t have tons of clothes, and why my room is always so clean. I have found that people are drawn to the idea of tidiness, owning less, and finding contentment without buying, but they still hold objections and concerns about minimalism.
My hope is to address some of the most common objections I hear. Hopefully, you will find minimalism is much easier than you think. And perhaps the many benefits will persuade you to make the leap.
10 Common Objections to Minimalism
1. I don’t have the time to start.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t take too long to start the process of cutting down the possessions that you own. In fact, there are tons of creative little tricks you can implement that can start the process, eventually having significant impact.
For example, every morning make it a goal to get rid of one small item you know you don’t need. Maybe every time you do the laundry, you can remove one article of clothing. Pick something out and toss it away as you go.
If you have a lot of clothes, the simple act of turning around all your hangers can get you started. When you wear an item, hang it back up with the hanger facing the opposite direction. After a few months, you’ll probably be surprised with how many clothes you never wear.
Know it’s a process. You don’t have to complete it all at once.
2. Buying things makes me happy.
I’m sure you noticed that after buying something, you feel slightly happier for a short period of time. But soon, you begin gravitating back towards your previous levels of happiness.
There is actually a phrase for that cycle. It’s called “hedonic adaptation,” and explains why we are only temporarily happier after acquiring something new.
Shortly after their winnings, even the biggest lottery winners are often found to be just as content as they were before they hit it big. New purchases don’t have the same thrill anymore. We buy more and more, hoping to achieve happiness. But it’s more like running on a treadmill—never fully reaching our destination.
We know it’s true because we’ve all experienced it before. Keep that feeling in mind next time you start to think buying things makes you happy. It is very short-lived.
3. I’m too used to having ______.
Again, minimalism should be considered to be a process. It starts with only one step at a time. Make small changes. Adapt at your own pace so it’s digestible. Remove the picture in your mind of an overnight shift in lifestyle.
It is always a process and you can tweak what you’d like. There are no hard and fast rules, guidelines, or obligations. And you don’t have to get rid of something you genuinely hold important. Minimalism is about cutting the excess, not removing what you love or use.
4. I may get rid of something I need in the future.
Ah, yes. The “what if?” question. Know that you are not alone. In fact, this is one of the most common struggles we all share. It is interesting that we always try to predict the future, even though we are horrible at it.
Get rid of things that are easily replaced and you won’t have that discussion with yourself.
If you get rid of small things that are inexpensive (yet still manage to take up a lot of room), you can always replace them in the future. Most things can be replaced with minimal expense and minimal effort nowadays. But most likely, you’ll find yourself to be far more resourceful than you imagined. Take your time removing large, expensive items—that should make the process easier.
5. I would love to simplify but my ______ wouldn’t agree.
Sandy Kreps wrote an article on this website about the very topic of getting on the same page with your spouse. She recommends you find common ground, focus on the positives, seek input, start small, and start with yourself first.
Joshua Becker, the founder of Becoming Minimalist, is more committed to minimalism than his wife, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get along. They find the line that makes the other uncomfortable and make sure not to cross it. It works well when you work on figuring it out together… just like everything else in life.
6. I have too many commitments.
Harvard Business Review created an excellent article in early September about how people compete against one another over how “busy” they are. Many of us are caught up in believing we’re being productive or busy even though most of it is in our heads.
If you are feeling an overwhelming sense of busy, minimalism is actually a great opportunity to start practicing time management. Segment your time. Remove the unessential. Become more productive at the things that actually matter. That, in a sense, is minimalism.
To regain focus, I have found the Pomodoro Technique to be very powerful. The technique teaches you to work in bursts while allowing you the freedom to take breaks. The standard practice is 25 minutes of driven productivity followed by 5 minute breaks fostering both intentional productivity and intentional rest.
7. Minimalism is easy for you. It’s your personality to live with less. But that’s not me!
Though there may be some truth in that statement, it’s certainly not all personality. Minimalism is a conscious decision to pursue less. Many of us have made it and almost none of us had it completely easy.
I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to be minimalist!” For me, it happened through a series of realizations and struggles. A lot of thinking and sacrifices took place.
I didn’t decide to love less because of my personality. I decided to live with less because I saw value in it. There may be some people out there who desire less since birth, but they are a small minority. The rest of us struggled through it. Eventually, we thanked ourselves for doing so.
8. The math doesn’t add up, how could someone be happier with less?
It sounds bizarre, but having less can make you a lot happier. When you have a lot of possessions, you have extra worry. You have more to clean. You have more to manage, more to organize, more to repair, and more to replace.
When you own less, you find more freedom, less stress, and less worry. And that doesn’t even begin to mention the financial benefits of owning less.
There are so many problems that can be solved by subtracting. It’s almost surprising more people haven’t discovered it.
9. I’m an overthinker and there’s nothing I can do about it!
Simplifying your thoughts isn’t easy, but it certainly isn’t impossible either. I used to be an over-thinker.
Every single social interaction would leave me anticipating what would be said, how I should respond, and of course what I did wrong once it’s over. This bled into every other aspect of my life where I tried to control all the variables.
Without a doubt, meditation has become a common solution for over-thinkers and is a valuable step towards minimalism.
10. I don’t want to be judged by others.
In a society where we are evaluated based on what we own, it can be scary to break free and purposely seek less. People still don’t always understand why I don’t want things.
I get asked a lot of questions about my choices. I may even be seen as an outsider for a while, but none of it matters. They ask. They move on. Typically, I don’t stay on their mind for long because they’re more concerned about what others think of them anyway.
I spoke with Joshua a few weeks ago. We drank coffee. We talked about life and we talked about minimalism. We discussed how others perceive minimalism. People eventually notice he purposefully owns less. And when they do, one of two things happen: 1) They forget about it and no longer make a big deal of it, or 2) they admire his simplicity. It’s usually that simple. It never occurs to most that they could find contentment with less.
So what’s holding you back from exploring what minimalism has to offer?
Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and currently lives in Arizona. He writes on personal development and helps other people find the self-confidence in themselves to pursue a content life. Follow him on Twitter.