An illustration of personal items like a mirror and brush arranged to fit the messy minimalism aesthetic.

What Is Messy Minimalism and Why Does It Work?

It might be time to give up the idea of perfection. This trend helps you prioritize what you really need to find your inner joy.

To different people, the word “minimalism” can conjure up any number of images. They may even range wildly: cross-country travels in vans, renouncing worldly possessions, an art/design movement from the 1960s and ‘70s (this one more likely to resonate with art history buffs), IKEA’s whole inventory and neutral colors. Minimalism has amassed many connotations, but the chief commonality among them is the intention to live with less. More recently, minimalism has taken on a certain aesthetic marked by a distinct color scheme. Its design principles evoke sterility and practically encourage an absence of personalization.

Consider the glossy pictures scattered across Instagram, snapshots of living rooms and kitchens that resemble the entire inside of Kim Kardashian’s house. While such a look may bring tranquility to some, like Ms. Kardashian, to others, it can feel like being in a museum: immaculate but impersonal. A striking lack of disorder is also a lack of character. Adding “messy” to the word “minimalism” changes the meaning — and, presumably, the look as well. It is now an attitude that frequently makes allowances for a reasonable amount of slack. Goals are based on consistency rather than pure motivation. It’s not made with social media in mind and instead uses mindfulness to create realistic and sustainable habits for a busy lifestyle. Finally, it emphasizes the value of joy.

In 2021, Rachelle Crawford published a book titled “Messy Minimalism: Realistic Strategies for the Rest of Us.” The subtitle demonstrates a refusal to indulge the status quo of aspiring to live in the unattainably eternal perfection dispensed by social media. At first glance, I thought it was solely about home organization, so I checked it out from the library, thinking I might find some valuable insight for keeping my living space a little neater. I would discover that while it does deal primarily with cutting down on physical clutter in home environments, it is also a self-help book. It analyzes how and why clutter accumulates, why it doesn’t leave so easily and what can be done about it. It also focuses on how to clear out excess and pare down to the essentials. Indeed, the essentials (the “ol’ reliables”, for instance) bring, at the very least, satisfaction and, at the very best, joy. The messy minimalist ideology would change my outlook in small but important ways. I even found myself applying it to mundane routines and found that I could not unlearn it.

I’m an avid reader and enjoy reading as many books as possible. In fact, my Want-To-Read shelf on Goodreads has been — and will always be — overflowing with hundreds of books marked to be read at some point. Previously, when I decided to select one from this expansive collection, I would frequently default to books with the least number of pages, even if I didn’t want to read them as much as I did another book that was longer. Yet, I felt like I had to read them solely because their page count meant they’d be finished faster. Keeping the messy minimalist ideology in mind, I now remember that I don’t have to delay reading a book I’m excited to read just because there’s a shorter book available. What matters is that I read a book when I want to. While this example may be simple and banal, it shows how this mentality can extend beyond just clutter threatening to burst out of closet doors. Its teachings are rooted in aiming for what sparks joy.

Hustle culture” is a major culprit in provoking the need for messy minimalism. It relentlessly enforces the idea that people need to work nonstop to consider themselves valuable and efficient. According to hustle culture, only by producing tirelessly can we live life to the fullest. In subscribing to this attitude, joy becomes even harder to find because “hustling” does not regard rest to be as important as work. Instead, it encourages striving to the point of burnout. Hustle culture then dovetails a little too nicely into the accrual of clutter.

People collect so many things that it builds to a point of excess, resulting in stress over if and how to manage it. If a slower, more methodical approach were favored over the rapid rhythms of hustle culture, it might better inform how physical clutter can be acquired and managed. If people only kept the things they used frequently and that gave them joy, they might discover a simpler way of life.

Yes, it’s an extravagant ambition for life to only consist of only material possessions that supply joy; it just isn’t possible. What is possible, however, is recognizing it and reaching for it whenever possible. When pursuing this goal, start by evaluating what actually does work. One example is gauging what physical items are truly needed, and which ones are collecting dust because of prolonged convictions they’ll be used or worn “someday.”

People on social media have jumped on this trend, and the results have been abundant. There are many readily available methods, life hacks and products for simplifying clutter. What many of them don’t seem to understand, however, is that one size does not fit all. What works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else, so it takes a deep level of understanding to assess what will prove consistently useful. Becoming more aware of your individual needs is the most important component of being a messy minimalist.

Crawford’s clear, rousing delivery of messy minimalist values makes them easy to adopt. Her application of these methods is based on her experience as a mom — and it’s understandable why it would be particularly appealing to busy parents — but it should be noted that messy minimalism is useful to people from all walks of life. Its versatility broadens its appeal. No matter the individual circumstances, life is never tidy. The main concept of messy minimalism is to constantly acknowledge this fact and spend life embracing chaos rather than fighting it. It prioritizes pleasure and adaptability over rigor and immobility.

Consider Marie Kondo, whose joy-based organizational habits kindled fascination and anxiety not so long ago, who recently admitted that the chaos of life doesn’t agree with strict adherence to the life-changing magic of tidying up. Crawford makes this observation in a January piece on her website. Suffice it to say that cutting down on clutter, be it physical or even mental, remains an admirable goal, but it isn’t achieved through grand gestures. It’s achieved by consistently making small gestures that facilitate functionality and joy. The latter of which is perhaps the only necessary form of excess.

Julia Concepcion, Virginia Commonwealth University

Writer Profile

Julia Concepcion

Virgina Commonwealth University
English with a minor in Professional Editing and Writing


  1. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  2. Harika bir paylaşım, özellikle konunun önemli detayları oldukça net bir şekilde açıklanmış. İnsanları çeşitli karmaşık anahtar kelimelerle yormak yerine, okumaktan keyif alacağı içerikler her zaman daha iyidir. Kaliteli paylaşım adına teşekkür eder, paylaşımlarınızın devamını sabırsızlıkla beklerim.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Don't Miss