The Curse of The Minimalist Aesthetic

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  1. I got into minimalism in the early days over a decade ago, before the minimalist aesthetic took off. Back then minimalism wasn’t pictures of pretty houses, it was just words on the internet about feeling free with less stuff to look after. I remember my early decluttering being a pleasant experience that had nothing to do with superficial appearances. Later on when vanity took over and I was trying to achieve a certain aesthetic in my home and keep everything organized and pretty, my home was ironically completely dysfunctional and stressful to be in. Everything had to be hidden away in cabinets and closets, and that made the cabinets and closets too crowded and a pain in the butt to use. I told myself it must be because I needed to declutter more. Nevermind that I live in an apartment with 4 people and limited storage space and keeping everything hidden away is completely impractical. I eventually realized my home was never going to look like the cover of a magazine or one of those upper class moms on social media, and lets be honest, most people aren’t comfortable going into homes where the need for order and perfection is that high anyway. It’s like walking into a museum where you’re afraid of messing anything up, and why would I want to make others feel inferior anyway? I want people to feel happy in my home, not self-conscious. Now I store the kids toys in buckets in front of my fireplace where they are easy for them to access, we don’t have cute throw pillows on the couch (because they just get thrown on the floor every five seconds anyway), the coffee maker, toaster and blender are on the counter, things that are used on a daily basis are out where we can see them. Sure we have a few colorful paintings and decorations that bring us joy too, but for the most part our home is not pretty. Nobody visiting would say that we are minimalists, even though we probably own a lot less than the average person. But our home is a thousand times more comfortable and user friendly, and since I no longer have any nagging expectations for how things should look I don’t get bent out of shape when there are socks on the floor or something gets spilled on the sofa. We keep things that we like or are useful, nothing has to fit any kind of aesthetic to be valuable. To me that’s what real freedom is, not chasing yet another marketing fantasy.

  2. it doesn’t sound like you are a minimalist and more like you are a perfectionist which is a horrible and very negative trait.
    it also sounds you are constantly comparing yourself to others and this is your biggest hurdle that you need to overcome and not the actual stuff that you might or might not need

  3. I found minimalism online about 15 years ago. I got really into it for several years. I stopped shopping and owned very little, after getting married I was always really worried about what my house looked like and keeping it pretty and organized all the time. Instead of feeling any sort of freedom or increased satisfaction, I just felt really anxious, like my physical sourroundings were never good enough. Then I had a couple kids and read some books on the joy of living a spontaneous and messy life (The Idle Parent, A Perfect Mess: The Benefits of Disorder, Joyful: The Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, to name a few). I realized that 99% of people do not care one bit what my house looks like. They’re too busy thinking about work, or what they’re going to feed their kids and how they’re going to find time to help them with their homework, or politics, or health and fitness. Home aesthetics is way way down on most people’s list of important topics. So I let myself lighten up and just do the basics everyday. I’ve become a lot more comfortable with mess and clutter, which is a normal part of life when you have children. I play with them a lot more. I feel like I’m more in the present moment. It massively improved my mental health and life satisfaction.

    There are actually a couple little girls who come over to play with my kids. They have never been inside, but they always make a point of telling me in a very prideful way that my house is dirty and messy and their house is clean. I think I would have been horrified and very offended back when my identity was so wrapped up in what my house looks like, but now it just makes me laugh. I finally feel the freedom I thought that I was going to get from minimalism, which is really the freedom of knowing that aesthetics and material things just aren’t the important in the grand scheme of things.

  4. Rykma Baldowski says:

    I totally and completely agree. I reset my spaces every evening, upon waking it is tidy. Thank you for your thoughts, at least now I know I’m not alone.

  5. It’s been about two years now since my spouse agreed to go minimalist with me. I had done it before, but I wanted to give him a chance to seek out the lifestyle for himself. Our struggle has been the minimalist “look” or “vibe” that you’re seemingly supposed to have. (Ironically, it often comes across as modern Scandinavian decor.) People who aren’t truly minimalists — who aren’t in it for the philosophy or ideal behind it, and may actually own quite a few unnecessary things — will decorate that way for the “vibe” of the house: everything’s black and white, and maybe silver, with Ikea lamps, lots of plants, etc. Many legitimate minimalists opt for that style, as well. It’s often a very beautiful design and I’m glad it works for so many people! But it can make other minimalists feel like we aren’t really “in the club” if we don’t follow that style. For instance, my husband and I use floor pillows around a palette, instead of a couch, and we have more color in our home than most minimalists would. We have very few actual things (and what we have, we need!) but the look is so different. It’s a shame that people will often judge the quality of your minimalism based on the style of your home. Everyone has different tastes — even minimalists. And although we want to own only those things which bring value and fill a need, we also want to feel at home, and express who we are. And we aren’t all Ikea shoppers, right?

  6. Hi,
    Ive been reading alot of articles on becoming a minimalist and Ive read alot of people going through the same thing. I think you are getting caught up on the label of “minimalist”. There is nothing you get from being considered a textbook minimalist so why strive for the label? Why not adopt the minimalist ways into your life as much as suits you? Think of the minimalist ways as advice on how to help you live a more intentional life. If some of those things dont suit your lifestyle just skip them. Not that I encourage it, but this is how many people treat their religion. They participate in the stuff they want and drop the rest of it. I dont think thats right when it comes to religion but minimalism isnt a religion. We have to remember that minimalism is something people begin to make their lives better. If it isnt working than do what makes you happy. Its okay to live your life alla carte.

    1. exactly… it’s becoming as bad as vegans

  7. Hi Ace, thank you for sharing your story and for taking the time to comment. Love your version of a minimalist space—that what it should be like. It is personalised to what’s important to you, not bound by the standards of the internet.

  8. What a relatable post. I agree that we are all different and shouldn’t compare ourselves with others. I don’t aim to have the perfect aesthetic that a lot of minimalists “sell” out there… I do the best I can according to my personal values and interests. Thanks for sharing this article!

  9. I purchased your book this morning. I look forward to listening to it. I think that minimalism means something different to esch person. For me, it really means less STUFF that I have to tend to and it means open SPACE in my home, my car, my backpack, etc. All of this results in an overall calm feeling for me. Great article.

  10. Dear Masa,
    thank you for this post! I am not a minimalist, in the sense that I did not make a vow to become one, but I’ve always been curious about the subject, as I don’t own too much stuff. Just few days ago I made a research on the Internet to have a look to minimalists’ houses and I was struck by what I saw. They all looked like as if they lived in an Ikea catalogue, I felt a sense of coldness and fake. I could never live in a place where it seems there is lacking of real life. I surely appreciate order and cleanliness but still there must be evidences of life in one’s home!
    What you say reassure me about the honesty of your journey in this minimalist adventure and make me feel more “normal” about the visual of my house, that is very old and will never look like what I saw on the web.
    I would like to thank you for your posts that are very inspiring for me and helped me get rid of stuff I didn’t deserve anymore. That made me feel better and with more space, outside but most of all, inside.
    Warm greetings from Italy!

    1. I love how you added that there must be evidence of life in one’s home! That’s so true. I do find myself sometimes trying to make it looks a display home more than a home that has been and is lived in. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this Simona and glad to hear that you’re making these positive changes 🙂

  11. Great post! I am in a very similar mindset – I could never sleep if there were dishes in the sink or the house wasn’t tidy. It caused great anxiety in me! I have since converted my life into a pursuit of hygge, which is less minimalism and more intent with my home in order to minimalise my anxiety and be content in my home. But I find myself constantly desiring to clean in an almost OCD way to keep that peace.

    1. Thanks for sharing Courtney. It’s so hard not to slip into it and to just pretend like it’s not there right? Good on you for addressing and bringing them to the front of your mind.

  12. After reading this, I’m struck by how much energy we all seem to invest in measuring ourselves and measuring others — and judging, judging, judging! Seems like way too much focus on whether or not we’re failing. Why not focus on our successes on the path of life, little or big? Minimalism is a journey and not a destination. My version of minimalism is making a daily effort to choose everything in my life by my own standard of it’s value in my life. There’s no emphasis on “white space,” a count of the items I own, a measure of how often I use something, what someone else will think. Since I’m on a path to become live more of my life like a “digital nomad,” my measure is “will I want to take it with me” when I move to my next home?

    1. Thanks for your insight Linda. It’s such a tricky thing this judging business. We all know well to tell others not to do it or to be kinder to themselves, but should really be listening to our own advice. Good on you! Best of luck on your journey 🙂

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I, too, have often felt like I wasn’t minimalist enough after a Pinterest overload. Your words have helped re-inspire me to continue the journey and appreciate what I am doing.

  14. Thanks for the post Masa.
    It seems that people today confuse minimalism as the end instead of the means. On Pinterest and other social media you will hear about how you can’t own more than 500 items or other ridiculous objective standards if you are a ‘real’ minimalist. Instead we should focus on how minimalism is the means to reach the end of living intentionality, which will always be different for everyone.

    You could also take this concept and apply it to veganism. Again, veganism is not the end, but instead the means. The end is to eliminate or at least reduce the suffering in this world.

    Anytime you feel enormous pressure to meet a certain standard ask yourself if this ideal is being treated as the end when it should be the means to a more important end.

  15. Great post thanks. I am very new to this and have not really started my Minimalist journey. I have purchased your book and will read this when I get it and start putting things into action. I am looking forward to tweaking my lifestyle to be less materialistic. I live in the country and have cows, sheep, horses, pigs, chickens and dogs (all Vegan) so I will not be aspiring to the look at other’s homes but will have it to suit our environment and life. Thanks again for writing this and I really appreciate that you write these blogs etc.

    1. You’re so welcome Michelle! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Hope you enjoy the process and create the simple life for you and your beloved animals.