Note: This is a guest post from Sophie Clarke of Intentional View.
I’ve grown to embrace failure on my journey towards minimalism. It gives me valuable clues as to where I still have work to do, helps me course-correct when I start wandering in the wrong direction, and constantly realigns me with my personal values.
However, there are definitely a few pearls of wisdom that would have made my budding minimalist journey a whole lot easier. So I want to take this opportunity to celebrate my mistakes with you and what they’ve taught me—as silly, frustrating, and blindingly obvious as they may be.
Minimalist Mistake #1: You’re stuck in a neverending cycle of decluttering
Five bags of clothes are prepped for the charity shop and two are already on Facebook Marketplace. Everything left is ordered, tidy, in its right place. You breathe a contented sigh of relief. This is your minimalist life now.
Or so you like to think. Because bits and bobs start creeping back in again after a week or two. And before you know it, six months have passed and you’re staring in mild disbelief at the exact same overflowing wardrobe.
I’ve certainly found myself in the decluttering rut more times than I’d care to admit. What I’ve learnt is that it’s easy to focus all of your attention on treating the symptoms rather than diagnosing the root cause. This means that you’re constantly firefighting.
I was wildly optimistic that I could maintain a minimalist lifestyle without critically examining my buying habits, or in effect, what I was actually bringing into my home. But to make lasting changes, you’ve got to address your addictive compulsion towards owning more stuff. This is the real work.
Minimalist Mistake #2: You don’t fully understand your ‘why’
The benefits of minimalism are lucrative: the promise of a simpler life, a tonic to the destructive effects of modern-day consumerism, and reclaiming your most precious resource… Time.
That said, I speak from experience when I say that sticking with minimalism for the long haul can feel hard. And this is why I’m a big believer in taking the time to really boil down your ‘why.’
Remember that as much as you want to embrace change, your habitual thoughts and beliefs have been hardwired over time. This blueprint is established by your parents, well-meaning teachers, friends, and further cemented by society at large.
Minimalism is counter-cultural. In a world where you’re routinely judged on your possessions—the make of your car, the size of your house, and whether or not you’ve upgraded to the latest iPhone—it’s a long road to stop seeking external validation and turn inwards for approval.
So you need to be 100% sure of your own individual reasons for pursuing a minimalist way of life. You’ll likely be revisiting them often.
Minimalist Mistake #3: You think you have to go extreme
If you’re sleeping on a mattress on the floor because you sold all your bedroom furniture then… I sympathize.
Okay, so I’ve never actually gone this far! But if you disappear down enough YouTube rabbit holes of extreme minimalism, you’ll probably end up watching a guy explain how he sold everything in his house apart from a duvet and a frying pan.
Joking aside, I have every respect for people who choose to live in this way. What I would say, is that minimalism isn’t a competition as to who can own the least amount of stuff possible.
Minimalism has a somewhat extreme reputation to the uninitiated. But you don’t have to live in an empty apartment, own a prescriptive number of items, or go off-grid and take a vow of silence for a year as a Tibetan monk.
I still own enough things that people may question my minimalist credentials. And it’s taken me a while to arrive at a place of acceptance with this. My version of minimalism will be different from yours, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.
Minimalist Mistake #4: You’re imposing harsh restrictions on yourself
Leading on from the last point, minimalism doesn’t need to feel like a punishment or a death sentence. I promise, it can actually be enjoyable!
Hands up if you’ve ever introduced a 3-month shopping ban and you simply can’t WAIT until it’s up? In your mind, you’re already planning what you’ll spend all that money you’ve saved on.
But… isn’t this missing the point? As Socrates so eloquently puts it:
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
Having a restrictive mindset will only cause energy blocks and make you pine for your old consumerist ways. So try to think instead about how you can focus all of your attention on the new. For example, you could look to:
- Build a consistent morning routine
- Develop a creativity habit, i.e. create more, consume less
- Learn to prioritize experiences over things
Minimalist Mistake #5: You assume that minimal equals simple
Steve Jobs couldn’t have said it better: “Simple can be harder than complex.”
If, like me, you naturally assumed that a minimalist way of life would equal instant simplicity and deep fulfillment, then be prepared for some harsh realities. While the benefits of minimalism are absolutely worth it, you’re going to have to put in some initial time and effort to build the systems that will improve your life.
For example, this might mean batch-cooking all of your weeknight meals so that you’re not so much of a slave to the kitchen. This requires more time upfront being organized with your grocery shop, doing your minimalist meal prep, and portioning out your dinners for the week. But your future self will definitely thank you for it.
In short, minimalism creates simplicity, but expect to do some hard graft in the short term to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Minimalist Mistake #6: You’re entirely focused on the physical stuff you own
My minimalist journey began with Marie Kondo’s bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I’d recommend it as a good introduction to anyone interested in pursuing a life free from unnecessary clutter.
In it, we broach the psychology of stuff—how it weighs us down both physically and emotionally, the ways in which we cling to it, and how we can let it go to make space for the important things. A tidy house isn’t just a tidy house. It’s a mindset, an attitude, a way of being.
Things are a tangible place to start. But it took me a long time to realize that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Minimalism is more of an all-encompassing life philosophy.
It’s not just the things you own—it’s everything you choose to consume. The fast food you mindlessly shove in your mouth. The time spent scrolling through Instagram or binge-watching another trash TV series. It’s the steady stream of emails cluttering up your inbox. It’s even the people you choose to spend your time with.
It’s so much more than simply stuff.
Minimalist Mistake #7: You treat it like a destination to be reached
Minimalism may be the promised land, but a word of caution: you’ll probably never reach it. Just as you learn one lesson, another appears right around the corner. I’ve realized that it’s best to be humble and accept that minimalism is a constant education.
The real wins are in the journey—they’re in the failures and the subsequent realizations. Gradual improvements, mini epiphanies that hit you quite out of the blue; these are the true benefits of a minimalist lifestyle.
So if progress ever feels painstakingly slow, or that you’re taking one step forward and two steps back, then take a deep breath. You’re exactly where you’re meant to be.
Embrace Failure On Your Minimalist Journey
I’ve made all of these minimalist mistakes in my pursuit of an intentional life (plus a whole lot more I’m sure!) so let this provide you with some much-needed reassurance and guidance on this sometimes maddening but entirely necessary path.
Your minimalist journey will always be your own. But, if you ever feel lost or stuck, I hope this gives you a well-trodden path in which to follow.
Sophie is the creator of Intentional View, a website that encourages others to start their own individual revolution. With weekly articles on mindfulness, productivity, minimalism and veganism, you can learn to take back control of your habitual thoughts, beliefs and actions.