An illustration of minimalism with a thumbs down overlaying a candle and plant.
Illustration by Abby Yang, Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Why Minimalism Is Actually Overrated

Having many possessions doesn’t have to be a bad thing; personal collections often hold sentimental value and showcase our unique interests and personalities.

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An illustration of minimalism with a thumbs down overlaying a candle and plant.
Illustration by Abby Yang, Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Having many possessions doesn’t have to be a bad thing; personal collections often hold sentimental value and showcase our unique interests and personalities.

“More is less, less is more.” Have you ever heard that phrase before? Chances are you have in a few different situations. Maybe your mom told you that when you were learning how to do makeup or when you were learning how to use Google in school. No matter where you encountered it, you’ve definitely heard the phrase before, though you’re more likely to have heard it in the context of minimalism, a movement that encourages you to avoid bogging your life down with material objects.

While some may take it to the extreme, such as not owning a car and walking everywhere, it’s really a goal that centers on autonomy. In a blog post, The Minimalists define minimalism as “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry … Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around.” There’s an assumption that we can’t have freedom as long as we have our possessions, and in some ways, that is true. One can argue that our phones have become an integral part of our lives, even to an unhealthy degree. The term that best applies is nomophobia, or separation anxiety when lacking access to a smartphone, which certainly could interrupt a feeling of “freedom.”

Though it’s important to end the infatuation with our phones, minimalism isn’t always what’s best, especially when considering our other belongings. Sometimes our sentimental attachments to physical belongings are what guide us in life. Some use this idea to argue in favor of minimalism, insisting that that’s a bad thing, but sometimes what we own helps define us and our identities, and helps us realize our unique passions. I think of it as being healthy in moderation; in small doses it can be helpful, but as with anything, too much is detrimental.

Belongings remind us of what interests and motivates us. One hobby of mine is my record player. It would certainly take up much less physical space if I only listened to music on my phone, but I had wanted a record player for a long time and I bought one. While I don’t buy as many records as I did when I first bought it, the albums that I buy are purposeful purchases. I know that I will use them, treat them with respect and that they will bring me happiness when they are played. Not to mention that it’s a great reproduction of an old technology; even though it was created more recently and is not the same make as the originals from back in the day, it still evokes a time in history when people first fell in love with vinyl.

Another possession that takes up space is our personal libraries, at least if you consider yourself a bookworm! While technology has granted us digital access to books through apps on our smartphones, tablets, or through Amazon Kindles or Barnes & Noble’s Nook, nothing compares to a good old-fashioned book: a book where the paper smells, where the spine is gently and lovingly broken from reading the pages over and over again. Though e-readers weigh less, take up less room, and can hold a whole library, there are still some downfalls. Studies show that readers are more likely to forget some of the content when reading e-books as opposed to physical copies. An article from Time magazine discusses the phenomenon among students while studying: “What we found was that people on paper started to ‘know’ the material more quickly over the passage of time,” said Garland. “It took longer and [required] more repeated testing to get into that knowing state [with the computer reading, but] eventually the people who did it on the computer caught up with the people who [were reading] on paper.” Beyond struggling to recall content, you also have to keep your charger on hand, which might make eBooks less attractive.

There’s nothing wrong with having a physical collection of books unless it gets to the point where it’s hard to move around in a space. It can also be excessive if there are multiple copies of the same book or if you’ve been holding onto a book for several years that you said you’d read but never did. Recognizing that you have too many books and going through them is a great plan of action, but one should never feel guilty for having books. For the most part, reading is a healthy pastime, and investing in paperback and hardcover books is not only better for recalling the story but also makes those bookshelves more aesthetically pleasing!

One of the largest things that might take up space and harm our inner Zen is in our closets. With thrifting and fast fashion from cheap outlets like Shein on the rise, an argument can be made that too many clothes create clutter — and it definitely does if you find yourself needing to buy more and more hangers. Obsessing over clothes you never wear can be harmful; in this case, minimalism can pay off and will also help save the environment. But if you’re wearing all of the clothes you own, there’s no need to worry.

I don’t like minimalism because it makes me feel guilty for owning things. Part of what I enjoy in life is collecting. Not because I’m materialistic, but because of the meanings and memories associated with everything I have. Every possession of mine has a story, an associated meaning that I think about when I wear or use them. There’s a reminder of where I got them from, whether it was a shopping day with someone I love or a gift passed down to me; these reminders and stories define parts of me. I think our unique possessions help establish parts of our personalities. Our books are read in different ways, and we express ourselves in the clothes we wear.

I admit that there are two ends to the spectrum: you either let objects absolutely control you, or you live in harmony with them. I believe living in harmony with the things you own and the things you use and wear helps enrich and enhance your life, not encroach on it. While there are some promises of clarity from embracing a minimalistic lifestyle, I feel that fully engrossing oneself in it diminishes parts of our unique individual personalities that are somewhat rooted and reaffirmed in the objects we use to decorate our lives.

Writer Profile

Aly Walters

Michigan State University
English With a Creative Writing Concentration

I am a senior at Michigan State University who also works at MSU’s Writing Center. In my free time, I love working on my latest writing projects!

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