Less Isn't Always More: Why I Think Minimalism is the Worst
Though I don't have paranormal abilities or a medical degree, I'm fairly sure I know how I'll die: My husband and I will one day be crushed beneath piles of our stuff.
Our neighbors will probably be horrified. Our family and friends will perhaps feel guilty about bulky gifts they gave us over the years. For my part, I'm OK with eventual death by accumulation: What's the alternative? Minimalism is overrated. Boring. Literally (and sometimes figuratively) vacuous. As George Carlin once noted, "a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it." If that's true, one could argue that an empty house isn't really a house at all.
But...minimalism is so popular!
Stephanie Rau / Getty Images
Marie Kondo and her legion of fans beg to differ, of course. Since 2011, more than four million potentially-joy-sparking copies of the shelf-help guru's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up have sold in more than 30 countries, and she was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015. Sometimes it's hard to imagine life before people gushed about how satisfying it is to thank their old belongings for their service and then get rid of them. (Ducking out of those "radical tidiness" conversations at parties sparks joy in me.)
But...clutter is so unhealthy!
Scientists, in turn, link cumbersome stuff to stress: In a long-running project at UCLA, researchers found that women in working families who used "unhappy verbal characterizations of arrays of household possessions [chronically messy, cluttered rooms or unfinished remodeling projects]" had higher levels of cortisol, and that "women who characterize their homes as restful, restorative or tidy had lower stress levels." Other research has demonstrated that clutter can lead to depression.
The common theme here is that it's how we feel about our surroundings that matters. If you find an understated space like this London living room (above) relaxing, go ahead and pin it to your vision board! I would quake with fear if I came home to something like that. What if the burglars returned for the stuff they missed?
My happy place is more like Smaug's mountain lair in The Hobbit. That dragon knew how to live.
Less is not necessarily more.
When my now-husband and I moved to New York City from California, we left all of our furniture and most of our belongings behind. Our new space in Manhattan was minuscule, and we were barely able to fit our clothing and our cookware in it. (They actually shared space, since we had to keep our wardrobe in the kitchen). When we moved to a larger apartment six years later, I was ecstatic: I could finally get reacquainted with all of the beloved books I'd stashed in my mother's attic! Joe could have a proper record collection! We could support local artists and bring home tchotchkes and have more than one, big winter coat apiece! We were finally home.
It's worth noting that maximalism like ours isn't necessarily problematic: To be clear, as much as I dig my clutter, physical things will never mean as much to me as intellectual and spiritual things do. Minimalism, in turn, isn't necessarily virtuous — and as sociologists have noted, glorifying a certain kind of posh, empty room can easily devolve into social shaming. As Stephanie Land wrote in the New York Times, "[m]inimalism is a virtue only when it's a choice, and it's telling that its fan base is clustered in the well-off middle class. For people who are not so well off, the idea of opting to have even less is not really an option."
If I might revisit my title, minimalism as a posture is the worst. We all deserve spaces that make us feel safe and comfortable, and if empty ones suit you, why, follow your bliss.
I will happily take your stuff.