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.
My main motivation for reducing my belongings is that’s I should be dead in a year or two with my illness. All my belongings left are my best earthenware contemporary ceramics and my best prints or paintings, few books, I am giving away my jewelry – not wearable in hospitals – I am rather proud of myself. I am thinking of my mother in law and my mother who’s houses I had to empty qickly, it was so much work! My children have already taken what they really want ( very little actually). Like for every travel, the last will be without anything. It give me joy to have done it myself.
For me, it is not only time but it’s space. Space for things but space to move around. Not so much furniture but just enough to feel my needs
I totally agree about the furniture! Having too much clutters up a space just as badly as other “stuff.”
Sorohan Margaret says
Thank you. It’s a constant struggle for me to STOP buying. I grew up with and still have or suffer from a huge Lack or Want – I was finally diagnosed with severe ADHD. But I had no Attachment as an infant to my mother, and major Childhood Trauma experiences… So always addicted to something and trying to fill a hole. Ironically, I grew up in a 70s magnolia minimalist new build. I hated it. No stimulation; couldn’t touch anything. I craved warmth, clutter, coziness, twee. Periodically filled my little house fill of it til I couldn’t deal with it – tried to intentionally sort it out – Repeat. Sigh.
I’m on a constant journey downsizing. With each passing year or season of our life we see items we no longer use or need. Someone can use them so we donate. It’s an ongoing process.
I’ve been on my minimalist journey for several years. This article motivated me to organize my dresser. Because I’ve done it before, it only took about 30 minutes. Found 13 items to donate and about 6 to trash. Very satisfying! Still pondering how long I should keep these masks. 🤨
Yeah…most places that require them supply them…so, I’d say, toss ’em!!
This is a great article. At each point, I raised my hand, “guilty as charged”. Big help. Thank you.
For me, minimalism is all about reducing stuff to the point that house cleaning is much easier. When young, my husband and my focus was on activities like going to the beach. He surfed. And going to church and out to eat. I cleaned our small home during the week so the weekends were free. I worked a full time job but we had so few possessions, cleaning was much easier. When we started our family, we did not buy all the latest greatest baby items and not a lot of baby clothes. They outgrow them too fast! Midlife got a little messier with stuff but it did not take long to feel yucky so we reduced stuff again and again. Seasons of life change. What was actually needed or used in the last season does not always fit the new season. Stuff has to be fluid and serve us, but go when it no longer does. I don’t feel like anyone would walk into our home and think, they are minimalistic. I hope they walk in feeling invited by our surroundings but not feel visually overwhelmed by too much stuff. I love when they walk in and sit down automatically like they feel comfortable.
We live in our house and we make messes with cooking, hobbies, etc. but we clean up afterwards. Donating things has become a fun project for me the last 20+ years. I try to get rid of one item when I bring a new item in. Example is when I buy an article of clothing, I let go of something in my closet. It makes me think before buying and I shop less. When buying a larger item like a piece of furniture, I have to know exactly where it will be placed in our home and why I need that piece of furniture. That keeps rooms looking nice. Recently we bought a beautiful large cupboard for a pantry. We really needed that storage space but I also revisited how stocked up on food we need to be and have downsized that amount. I do inventory of foods and staples before I grocery shop. The cupboard is one that could be used in a kitchen, living room or bedroom. It was important to us to have it be multipurpose to serve us for years to come wherever we might live. I make regular donations at a little resale shop that uses proceeds to help people in the community.
June Rairick says
Andrew Flick says
This is a great read , I am sincerely wanting to begin a new chapter with n my life , one that is everlasting and now a fad, thank you for the insights and hard truths
Btw, where is the photo taken? It looks like Czech Republic! 🇨🇿
Joshua Becker says
Near Vienna in Austria. :)
Great post – I really needed to read this today, I am definitely making a couple of these mistakes and needed to be reminded. Thanks.