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The Slavery of Extreme Minimalism


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The possession of stuff has been called slavery for years:

The things you own end up owning you.  It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.  ~Fight Club movie, screenplay by Jim Uhls, directed by David Fincher, novel by Chuck Palahniuk

The above is just one quote of many about how stuff=slavery. However, there is a different form of slavery that minimalists tend to forget about; the slavery of extreme minimalism

Can owning nothing make you a slave?

When you don’t own cookware, how do you eat? You have no way to prepare food and so must be dependent upon those who have the means to prepare what you want. You could go out in the woods and eat raw foods, or knock a squirrel in the head and roast him over a spit made of sticks, but in most areas of civilization that would be frowned upon, if not illegal.

If you depend upon restaurants for food, what do you do when the restaurants are closed? It does happen occasionally, due to weather, disaster or holidays. Do you appear at a friend’s house to bum off of them or go hungry instead?

If you have no transportation, do you walk everywhere? How can you ride public transportation in areas where there is none? While I have known friends who would walk the 20 miles to work each day, they spent so much of their time walking that they were exhausted when they arrived and worthless when they clocked in. We won’t even talk about what was left after they finally made the trek home!

If you have no clothing, what do you do when your current outfit gets dirty? Do you wash it by hand and sit around naked until it dries, or borrow someone else’s clothing in the meantime?

Consider this: whenever you borrow or use something that belongs to someone else, you become indebted to them in some form or manner. That debt will need to be repaid.

Sleeping on a friend’s couch might be fine, until that friend calls in the tab and makes you start cleaning the commode or watching their kids. I had a friend who ended up basically being a live-in housekeeper while waiting for an apartment. She was miserable and felt helpless at times while caring for the people who opened their home to her. They felt that she owed them the work, and she gave them back much more in labor than she would have spent on an apartment, while they got a live-in housekeeper for virtually nil. Who do you think came out on top of that deal?

No money? Nothing divides friends quicker than the mooch who is constantly borrowing money.

Or the mooch who always comes over to watch tv.

Or the loser who is too onery to buy their own microwave and constantly uses yours.

I have ended friendships in the past because I felt like they considered me their personal taxi service, their private computer tech—or their personal expenses-paid grocery store. Would you like that to happen to you?

While minimalism is a good thing, there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to minimalism, just like there is with excess possession. There is a point where less stuff becomes more of a hindrance than a blessing.

While that point may be different for everybody it does exist; how you handle it will determine not only how the world views you but how well you are able to function in this world.

Several bloggers have posted about the benefits of borrowing instead of owning, myself included. However, when you cross the line between reasonable borrowing in today’s society and mooching you will quickly become an anathema to friends and neighbors.

You will be the one looked at when they need favors returned, and if you are unable or unwilling to reciprocate you will eventually start losing even your most cherished relationships.

My name is Annie, and I am a minimalist. Like hoarding, minimalism can be taken to extremes and become detrimental instead of liberating and with all things needs to be taken in moderation.

The next time someone tells you to throw everything away, laugh. Laugh like you have never laughed before, because you know something they don’t. You know the wisdom of moderation.



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13 Comments

  1. Adam wrote:

    I agree with you that extreme minimalists take things to, well, an extreme degree. But I think that for some people extreme is necessary. Karol Gajda and Everett Bogue practice a brand of minimalism that would not work for me, but for them it may be necessary. I have found in my life that balance only works if you go as far out on one end as you have been on the other. From reading their books it seems that both Karol and Everett were perfect examples of people who owned everything but were deeply unhappy, and so for them to change this equation they had to give up (nearly) everything. I come from a family that was always frugal, so for me much of being a minimalist seems like coming home. I admire those who choose a life of extreme minimalism, but it isn’t for me. I also admire people like you, Leo Babauta and Joshua Becker who have taught me about minimalism in a way that is compatible with a family life. I appreciate all of you and the way you encourage people to examine their life and make changes towards sustainability and true happiness.

    By the way, I really like your new site design. It is great!

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 1:46 am | Permalink
  2. Annie wrote:

    Thanks Adam! I have learned a lot from Everett and Karol, and I respect them deeply; however sometimes I even need to remind myself that there are limits to everything, including minimalism.

    It is a challenge to have a family and be a minimalist, but it is not impossible. My happiest times are when I watch my daughter actually realize she has too much of something and make up a box or a bag to donate! THAT is what tells me I’m on the right path!

    I deeply love being a minimalist; at times I get frustrated with the “I’m down to x number of things” posts–and the sad part is, I’m guilty of bragging too. All of us have to walk a fine line between moderation and insanity :)

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Permalink
  3. Interesting post Annie! It’s my first time here on your blog and you captivated my attention with this one. Hmmm, the paradox of extremes. I consider myself a “fairly” extreme minimalist. That’s after being a “fairly” extreme packrat for most of my adult life. Perhaps I’m seeking the extremes of the pendulum before balancing out to a nice comfortable level?

    All I know is it feels right to me for where I am in my life right now. Funny about the points you raise. I have a strong aversion to asking people for help and would consider myself the opposite of a mooch. Given that, I still don’t have a problem borrowing tools from a friend. In turn I’ve let them borrow tools they didn’t have.

    I think of it like rebuilding community. The neighbor has a pressure washer. We’re going to borrow it soon in preparation for painting the outside of the house. But…. we just got done doing a lot of trimwork on the fence line between the two properties. When we were done on our side we hopped over on her side and trimmed all the vines that straggled on her side of the fence too.

    A give and take? A sharing? A community energy? Or am I a delusional mooch for borrowing that pressure washer!

    You’ve brought up some really intriguing points here and I’m going to have to ponder them.

    Cheers,
    Tanja

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  4. Annie wrote:

    Hello Tanja!
    Nice to meet you!

    I also have close friends that I lend to and borrow from; in fact when I no longer needed my printer I passed it on to my sister in exchange for the ability to use it on occasion if the need arises.

    Give and take is an excellent thing, but if you reduce your things to an extreme level, what do you have to lend in exchange? Also, if it is an item that you need/use on a regular basis, is it practical to eliminate it from your life, and is it fair to expect others to share if you don’t have an equitable exchange?

    There will always be two sides to the issue, I wanted to raise what I considered valid points. Thanks for your comment!

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  5. Minimalist Wannabe wrote:

    I agree with you… I’m on a path to declutter my life (and my family’s) and call myself a “practical minimalist” ;)

    Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  6. Skyler wrote:

    I am an extreme minimalist (30 items), and I haven’t once asked a favor since I became so.

    I don’t walk a bajillion miles to work. I walk around the corner. Church around the corner, too.

    My work is a grocery store. Limitless things to buy from the produce, bakery, deli, and dairy departments. Buy when hungry. Better diet than most people with their processed foods. No plates. Diet improved since I became minimalist.

    I don’t need to borrow a TV. I have hulu on my laptop. And netflix. and games.

    I sleep on a bed. Not the couch. In a furnished apartment. No roommates, because I don’t want anyone mooching from me.

    I wear a pair of shorts when I do laundry, when those shorts need washed, I wear the pants. I don’t walk around naked.

    My name is Skyler, and I am an Extreme Minimalist. I have completely balanced my life, and in only 30 items. It is a lifestyle that fits me best. Next time someone makes an article bashing a lifestyle that they themselves can’t control, laugh. Laugh like you have never laughed before, because you know something they don’t.

    Don’t bash the extremists, we’re happy, and we’re not trying to outshine anyone or burden others. Although, like every faction, we do have our black sheep.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 12:07 am | Permalink
  7. Annie wrote:

    Thank you for your input Skyler. I am very glad to hear from you!

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  8. Chris wrote:

    You are missing the point of minimalism. Minimalism is about a reduction of possessions so that one can focus on what they really want out of life. So most will get rid of time-wasting sources of pacifying entertainment, like the tv and books. It’s about creating less things to do, not more. Living in the forest and scouring for squirrels is not what minimalists do because that requires more difficult , time-consuming endeavors. Minimalists just keep the necessities around that so that life can include significantly more time to do what you really want.

    What you are describing is called survivalism.

    Monday, July 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  9. Bryin wrote:

    It is not having things or not not having things that makes a person happy or unhappy. It is their involvment in the world and their relationships that make them happy. Giving up possesions will not change a person’s relationships and create happiness. But if giving up things allows someone to quit work and focus on relationships then it can creae happiness. It is not the “things” that were in the way of happiness, it was working too much fof those things.
    I wonder how why anyone would count the number of things they own? That seems weird as if reaching some number will allow them to attain happiness. Own the things that allow you to live the life you want to live and be the person you desire to become. If something is not necessary then discard it. But to endevor to own a certain number of things is not going to bring happiness.
    I question what is most important to a minimalist, the number of things they own or having a happy life.
    Minimalism can become restrictive and to some point unproductive. Take for instance, shoes. I own 3 pairs of black dress shoes. which to any hardore, “I own 50 things” minimalist is not minimalism. I own 3 pairs of black dress shoes becasue I wear black dress shoes to work every day and if you wear the same pair of shoes every day they wear out much faster. The oldest pair of black dress shoes I own is 8 years old and they hardly look worn out. But the money I save by not buying new pair of shoes every 8 months or so makes it well worth it to me to keep my 3 pairs of balck dress shoes around. To me frugality is more important than minimalism. Which is a decision every person must make for themselves.

    Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  10. Annie wrote:

    Bryin what a thoughtful comment! You are right – so very right! Each of us has our personal limits for what is enough or too much. I consider my life a journey into practical minimalism – I want what is practical for US without the excess. That means what we have may be much more than traditional minimalists but just enough for us.

    Thank you so much for your comment, I do so appreciate it!

    Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  11. Dante Iscariot wrote:

    I consider myself a minimalist (or at least, on the road to it – I’m not done getting rid of what I don’t need yet) but I think I have realistic ideas about it. For example, while I’ve got rid of near a thousand DVDs and hundreds of books, and want to pare down my kitchen appliances to what I need (my mother insists on keeping a halogen oven despite having a regular oven below the hob, for example), I have no desire to get rid of EVERYTHING.

    To me, minimalism is keeping only what you need to truly want, not about having NOTHING. The idea of getting rid of kitchen utensils and cookware to me isn’t minimalism, that’s something approaching voluntary poverty.

    Monday, May 28, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  12. Annie wrote:

    Hi Dante!
    I agree with your belief that Minimalism is about paring the excess, not the essential. I also believe that for each of us what stays and goes will be different.

    I pretty much started over when I moved here – all I owned fit in a single van load. While I didn’t miss the majority of what I left behind there are a few items that I did miss like a washing machine. I acquired another one happily and learned from the experience.

    I still don’t have a cookstove. Instead we use a 2-burner hot plate, a toaster oven and a microwave for our cooking. I don’t miss our full-size refrigerator at all and the dorm-size refrigerator and small chest freezer suit us much better than the full-size refrigerator did.

    I’ve thinned out our DVDs but currently have no intentions of eliminating them. They are safely stored in binders for when we are ready to use them or pass them on.

    As with you I don’t want to own Nothing. I want Just Enough. Thanks for commenting.

    Monday, May 28, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  13. James wrote:

    I do believe there is extreme minimalism when any given person can no longer do what they wish to do because of it. I read where someone gave away some winter clothing they needed when winter came around. That would be minimalism going too far.

    Now if someone can have a hand full of items go months or longer and never have an issue it is likely not extreme to them.

    I have read blogs about borrowing everything, no thanks, that can go too far, you are not really changing what you need just how you get it.

    I have a cabinet of tools, all items in there are useful and will likely use at some time yet maybe not even once a year yet if and when I need to use it I want it here. That is based on how useful an item can be. Personal items? I have everything I really care about in a small room, I think I could fit all personal items in a small car.

    Three or four pans of the same size? For one type yes because I need them for cooking. If someone cooks differently or not at all then no issue there. I really do like the idea of thinning out what is not needed not be about stuff. Even if I had a few million dollars I would basically replace cheap items will high quality and live in a small simple house because I do not need anything huge. Money is also a tool to me, and not just for buying a bunch of stuff. It allows someone to have a stable life and afford what is most important.

    There is a lot of cool stuff out there, however that does not mean I have to own it.

    It can also be taken too far by over thinking it, like always thinking what and how many of something one should have.

    I thinned out my electronics by selling them. I really did not need a tablet, tablet pc, desktop and a netbook. A Smart phone and a laptop does just fine along with a television for movies and such.

    Media is another thing I try to control, I am quite the fan of movies yet if I just keep going year after year it will get to a point where they cannot be used often, plus the more you see something the less it needs to be seen again anytime soon.

    Media is stored in a space saving manner, so no real reason to worry or over think something that hardly takes up any room.

    And a few personal items are always nice to have, no one wants to lose all their history (if they have good history to remember)

    Keep things practical and all will be well.

    To get an idea, I wish to live in a 400-600 sq ft home. Everything right to the point.

    Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

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