Minimalism is undeniably growing in popularity, expanding from a fringe movement to a prominent theme in a hit Netflix show. Minimizing, tidying up, mindful living, call it what you want, but more and more of us are realizing that life is happier without quite so much stuff. We have subgroups like eco-minimalists and financial minimalists, depending on their motivation to minimize and what they minimize first.
We have books on concepts and practice, we have documentaries and podcasts and TV shows, we have pins and vlogs, we have debates on what minimalism is and isn’t and whether this or that is minimal enough. The problem is, we have become so obsessed with them that we’ve forgotten the entire point.
The problem with minimalism isn’t minimalism
The problem with minimalism is us. We take things too far, and instead of focusing on why we’re getting rid of distractions and stuff and what we want to fill our lives with, it becomes a challenge. How few things can we survive with? How small of a place can we manage to live in? How can we make everything less, fewer, smaller? We are ruining the entire purpose of minimalism by making it about less in and of itself, rather than less for a reason.
This is something that humans do a lot. As Michael put so well in The Good Place, “There’s something so human about taking something great, and ruining it a little, so you can have more of it.” He may have been talking about frozen yogurt, not lifestyle choices, but he has a point. At first, pursuing minimalism feels like a high. You feel lighter and happier as you drive away from the thrift store, with 2 boxes of donations left behind. You feel free after finally throwing out all those expired pantry staples that have been sitting around. You feel a little pride every time you pass your closet, because finally you love everything inside and aren’t trying to avoid opening the door for fear that all the crap you’ve stashed will come tumbling out. This is all fine and good, but we want more, so we keep pushing. Who needs these different kinds of chocolate? Just one is fine. Why get our clothing down to 40 items when it could be 30? Why have anything out on the counters, get rid of all the serving dishes, we have to store it out of sight so there’s less stuff and we can have that minimal aesthetic.
Because of the way these practices can become extreme, we lose sight of what we wanted in the first place. I didn’t move to a smaller apartment for the sake of smallness. I moved to a smaller apartment so it would be easier to maintain and navigate, and so I could have people over more often because there is nowhere for clutter to get a foothold. I didn’t get rid of a bunch of clothes to have fewer clothes. I got rid of clothes I don’t love so it’s easier and quicker to get ready in the morning and I spend less time doing laundry, so I can spend more time sipping my coffee and reading books. Chances are, if you’ve taken steps toward minimalism, you didn’t take them so you could get less from life. You want more. That won’t happen from a continual, relentless, vicious purge of anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
That’s where hygge comes in
Hygge, pronounced hyoo-guh (I know, I got that one wrong at first too), is a Danish word and practice that has a lot in common with the roots of minimalism. It brings us back to that mindfulness, that enjoyment, that inspired many of us to try living with less in the first place. The concept of hygge is about intimacy with others, joy in the present moment, and a certain coziness and feeling of being content. It’s about that feeling of falling into bed after a long day, the breeze against your skin on an autumn walk, flopping down to talk with friends you’ve missed. It’s about simple rituals that don’t take a lot of time or effort, but that enhance our lives.
Is there anyone that doesn’t sound appealing to?
Your moments of joy don’t have to be instagrammable
We act like self-care and time at home has to be this great production, or we’re wasting our time. After all, if you don’t have time or equipment for a long bubble bath, a glass of wine, a mani pedi, and the perfect journaling prompt, then why bother? Did it even happen if you don’t have the perfectly curated Instagram post to prove it?
As minimalists, you would think we would try to get away from it, but instead it seems like we’ve added our own rules. Instead of needing the bubble bath, we need to have a bubble bath that is multi-purpose. Are you even a minimalist if you don’t have a bubble bath that also works as dish soap, shampoo, and rat repellent? Instead of the perfect journaling prompt, we have to avoid being wasteful and make it digital, or at the very least it’s recycled and compostable right? We pile on these extra worries and fears and rules because we have taken away the joy from minimalism and replaced it with over-the-top structure.
Let yourself off the hook. I don’t care of your toes look ugly, mine probably look worse. That doesn’t mean you can’t throw on some fluffy socks and get cozy. You don’t need the whole production – if you can and really want to, go for it, but don’t feel like it isn’t enough if you just throw some frozen store-bought cookie dough in the oven and watch something on Netflix. Don’t feel like you aren’t minimal enough if you keep 4 different hoodies that you love and use or if all your kitchen counters aren’t perfectly clear at all times. Let’s stop creating and following arbitrary rules, and get back to the reason we started all of this. Life is too short to wait until the timing is perfect and follow rules when we could be following conversations and storylines.
The problem with minimalism is us, our rules, our restrictions, our fixation on making everything perfect instead of enjoying the good. Let’s get back to what started it all: less of what doesn’t matter, to make more room for what does.