Many people describe their life-changing experience with minimalism as “living with less.” But some people get confused and think it is the same as constantly seeking less. Unfortunately, this mindset detracts from the peace that comes with living minimally. And it can create new problems for minimalists. We can avoid these issues and experience greater benefits, when we align our practice with the true principles of minimalism.
Minimalism is not about constantly seeking less
Many minimalists experience incredible benefits once they realize they can “live with less.” But minimalism isn’t about “living with less” just for the sake of having less. We have to be getting something out of “living with less” for it to be worth our while. And that’s where the true principles of minimalism come in.
What is minimalism? Minimalism is the practice of evaluating the contents of our lives, keeping what serves us, and parting with what doesn’t. Ultimately, it is a tool that helps us free up our lives from what burdens us, so we can focus on what matters most.
To clarify, seeking “less” is not equivalent to having “just what I need, and nothing more.” Constantly seeking “less” is not a state you can reach; it’s an ever changing goalpost that you are always trying to get to: to have less than you have right now. This mentality is like being on a hamster wheel. It’s the opposite of living peacefully or simply. And when people get sidetracked with this mentality, they can experience diminishing returns on their practice and even run into new problems.
How minimalists start constantly seeking less
In the initial stages of minimalism, there are lot of easily identifiable items that can be removed. And we experience a lot of benefits of minimalism all at once. We feel relief from mental and physical burdens, we have more space, our unused items can be put to use by someone else, and more.
At some point, we reach a sweet spot in our practice: We evaluated our belongings, removed the things we don’t use, and use the items we have. Everything fits in our space comfortably. We continue this ongoing practice, performing multiple passes on our items to re-evaluate them. But now we are no longer presented with easy decluttering decisions.
Gone are the massive junk drawers of items we forgot about. Now we’re making decisions about the items we regularly use. After many cycles of decluttering, we are used to removing items, not keeping them. And people begin to feel pressured to consistently remove items.
Why? Maybe they believe constantly removing items is how someone actively practices minimalism. Maybe they are chasing positive feelings they used to get from decluttering. Or maybe they think extreme downsizing is what minimalism looks like.
People keep looking for items to declutter, and eventually they have to stretch their reasons why. They may begin to justify their remaining items as burdens. Thinking “Well I really don’t really need this.” Or “I don’t use this that often.” And “I could re-purchase this later.” These are all typical thoughts that occur when decluttering. But the issue is when we justify reasons to declutter items only for the sake of removing them and do so regardless of whether it will improve our lives.
Constantly seeking less causes new problems
When we constantly seek less without regard as to whether it will improve our lives, we veer away from the benefits of minimalism. And we can create new problems for ourselves.
A new mental burden
It becomes an intrusive mental habit to constantly look for something to declutter. We have to produce difficult justifications for removing items, and we toil over decisions that don’t feel authentic. We spin our mental wheels, without much gain from each declutter. And we start to experience diminishing returns in our practice. Instead of freeing ourselves from burdens, this mentality becomes a burden in itself, and it leaves less room for the thoughts that would better serve us.
Additionally, this habit can lead minimalists to new problems, like over-decluttering and decluttering regret. When we remove too much, we are not left with enough for our lifestyle. Repurchasing the items that were just decluttered is unnecessarily wasteful and expensive. Negative feelings associated with wastefulness (like shame and guilt) can discourage people from re-adding those necessary items back into their lives. And so they may feel like they never have the things they need to take care of themselves. This can lead to people fearing they will regret future declutters. The fear of decluttering regret is why many people hold onto burdensome items in the first place. And it can deter some people from fully embracing minimalism.
Note: In online communities, I have seen some minimalists mention the “constantly seeking less mentality” fuels their OCD tendencies. I am not a mental health professional, so I unfortunately cannot offer useful advice to anyone in this situation. You may find it helpful to seek professional help from a therapist.
How to avoid this pitfall
We can avoid decluttering regret and experience more benefits of minimalism in the following ways:
Change the way you view minimalism
It is difficult to find the peace that comes from “living with less,” when we are constantly seeking and in conflict with ourselves. Remember that minimalism helps us relieve burdens. You don’t have to constantly question the downsizing and decluttering decisions you recently made. As long as your are practicing authentic minimalism, and making authentic decisions, you can rest assured you are minimizing to the extent that is right for you at that time. And in between declutters, allow yourself to be present and at peace in your current state.
Focus on decluttering the influx
During the re-evaluation process, remember that the decluttering process will eventually slow down. As we move through our practice, we find fewer items that we benefit from parting with, and that’s normal. We can focus most of our attention on evaluating new items that come into our lives, like mail, gifts, and purchases.
Re-evaluate existing items on a schedule
Instead of constantly thinking about removing items, we can free up our mental space by re-evaluating existing items on a less regular basis. Try setting a schedule to re-evaluate existing items. We can plan to check in once per week, month, or quarter.
We can make more authentic decisions by intentionally evaluating the contents of our lives. We can evaluate with the purpose of removing burdens and improving our lives. Consider these questions when deciding whether to declutter something:
- Is this item really a burden in your life?
- How will removing this item improve your life?
Focus on decluttering other categories
We find greater benefits of minimalism when we extend our practice to other areas of our lives, not just the items we own. Consider the relationships you engage with and how you spend your time each day. Consider minimizing your digital space. Tune in to yourself about how these things impact your life and your inner being.
Ultimately, I hope this post helps you find peace and inner alignment in your minimalist practice.