Can Minimalism Go Too Far? Here's What You're Doing Wrong

Photo: Twenty20

Stuff: I've always had a lot of it. When I was looking at colleges, I made sure to buy a sweatshirt at each stop. I've collected birthday cards, books, and enough notebooks—oh, sweet notebooks—to keep me journaling well into the next decade.

But last year, after paring down my closet and launching my own capsule wardrobe company, I carried this living-with-less approach to the rest of my life. I started purging my space of meaningless items and saying no to that which I didn't need, discovering a refreshing sense of clarity and freedom in the process. You can imagine the surprise of my friends and family (not to mention myself!) when I took up this minimalist living.

When minimalism goes too far

But, for the sake of true transparency, I want to admit that I still have a ton of stuff. And after a year of living, preaching, and learning about minimalism, I've started to notice a disconnect. For me, the term minimalism implies a certain pressure to constantly focus on reduction, on counting and categorizing. It feels limiting and restrictive.

After all, I am not looking to minimize my life just for the sake of having less. Yes, I want to declutter. Yes, I want to surround myself with meaning. No, I don't want free branded T-shirts anymore. But I have 15 mugs that I've collected from my travels around the world, each one reminding me of a special time and place, each one bringing me joy, and darn it, I want to keep them all.

Lots of friends, colleagues, and internet strangers ask me questions like, "Is it OK to keep all my shoes if I love them?" "Does my capsule wardrobe need to be strictly 40 items or less?" and, my personal favorite, "Is underwear minimal, or should I abandon it?"

My answer: Do what feels good. (More accurately, I generally respond YOLO.)

Allow me to introduce intentionalism

So this year, I'm focusing on another word: intentionalism. If loving (certain) stuff is wrong, I don't want to be right. But loving stuff for the sake of having the newest, trendiest is no longer my way of being either. Each item I have will have a purpose, whether it is utilitarian or simply brings me joy.

Out with "minimizing" and in with living, collecting, buying, sharing, and existing with full intention. In with keeping all the items you truly care about. The ones that give you joy. The ones that have significance. That means intentionally surrounding yourself with the items and people that elevate who you are, that make you confident, that push you to succeed.

Fully embracing this intentionalism is liberating, and it has imparted me with an obligation to carefully curate my purchases, action, and time. Instead of living with less, I am living with purpose and intent. And that feels right. After all, the point of paring down is not to restrict yourself. It is to live a life of fulfillment outside of the "stuff" you bring into it.

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