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The Minimalists want you to be happy with less (thecut.com)
64 points by fern12 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

I've always found the most joyous part of consumerism is the researching for a particular product pre-acquisition, rather than the product itself post-acquisition.

It is the most engaging part, but almost to the point of obsession to me. So much that I often have to tell myself, especially with electronics/technology, "just find a good product for a reasonable price".

Channel your obsession! I'm the same way and it grew into the most comprehensive database of flashlights around: http://flashlights.parametrek.com

That's very inspirational! I've often thought of putting my useless but extensive knowledge about something obscure to good use, but never did.

Oh that is awesome

It's one reason I especially like The Wirecutter (as well as a few other sites for non-tech stuff). Is their recommendation always going to be the absolute optimum for me under all circumstances? Maybe not. But I probably will be fine with it (especially if I take a quick look at closely related models).

I think this is a subset of "dreaming of what it'll be like once you've reached a goal tends to be more pleasurable than reaching that goal".

Wow, strangely it's the exact opposite for me. I wish I had something which knew my tastes and preferences so well that I didn't have to spend my time digging through the mountains of excess to find what I need, and it would just know "this is what you want"

I agree . I was shopping around for laptops for a week and it was addictive (like a game) . I ended up not buying anything but I still had a good adventure.

"An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit." -- Pliny the Younger

"Rarum id quidem nihil enim aeque gratum est adeptis quam concupiscentibus." : https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Younger

Definitely...to find the absolute best product for the least amount of money. Can spend days doing that. Often it also shows you if you REALLY want or need something and that is kind of rare. I doubt I do more than 5 purchases a year that are not food, includes clothing, electronics maybe once every 2-3 y if at all.

And I thought I was the only one that enjoys sitting back, opening countless tabs on my iPad and researching various options for hours, days or weeks (depending on the significance of purchase) as soon as I have decided that I in fact want/need the new thing.

It's easy to find the high end and the cheapest option of a product category, but there's always the sweet spot that provides fantastic quality for a reasonable price. Identifying that product is a task I love.

I like that, too, and since my discretionary salary is not very high, I sometimes spend weeks comparing products, just to make sure I'm not regretting it afterwards. It's a lot of fun and often surprising how huge the differences in quality can be within the same price range.

I built the same habit in childhood. What's interesting is even as an adult with a comfortable salary, I still apply the same framework. It's easy to overlook that part of the cost of buying something you don't like is frustration plus time to return it to the store and then do more research too along with the opportunity cost of waiting on trying the next alternative. Sometimes I just buy my top 3 options and return the 2 I like least to speed that up. I'd also consider myself a minimalist, so I think "Do I really want to own, store, and maintain this product for years to come? And can I spend a bit more now to find a BIFL version in the same category?"

Yes, all the warts become apparent after you have acquired something, the gloss soon wears off.

It's the same kind of panacea movement that takes root with every generation that's about to leave youth behind and enter their scary 30s. Today it's the Minimalists. Before that it was environmentalists, yuppies, conservationists, suburbia... The list goes on.

You reach a point in your life where you start to question what you're doing it all for, and think about what it is you really want and need. Your values become more conservative, and you feel the need to attach to a social movement of the times.

It's also interesting to note that this transition always involves a moral dimension, including the judgment of those not fully on board with your movement of choice, and also competition with those who ARE on board.

Southpark's "smug alert" is particularly apt. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXZeq9eXAys

> It's also interesting to note that this transition always involves a moral dimension, including the judgment of those not fully on board with your movement of choice, and also competition with those who ARE on board.

Sorry to call out your strawman here. I've followed the minimalism debate for a while and I hardly anywhere hear so often things like "this is no competition", "this is what I feel works good for me, but you don't have to do it", "if you like your books keep them" etc. What you claim is largely not happening, apart from maybe some fringes of the movement.

Hmm, ok, let's use a small sample from this very thread:

Karma judgment (the zen master): "What we call minimalism comprises people who maximalize meaning, value, importance, and purpose."

Competition: "My girlfriend and I are very minimalist (err... maximalist?) owning only a few outfits each (no accessories), and just the bare necessities of home items. If we find something has no utility, it gets donated or trashed."

The True Scotsman: "Just to note, 'minimalists' are almost universally hated in every minimalist community I've seen and I would really not take them as any soft of spokespeople for minimalism."

Moral goalpost: "It sometimes amazes you how little you need to be happy yet everything we do is to get as much as possible."

Yes, probably some drug or kind of simulation is enough. /s

The question is ill posed since our brains are not wired for consistent happiness. You are probably mistaking it with being contented which starts by admitting defeat.

And this is all orthogonal to efficiency or productivity which ate important social goals if not strictly personal ones. (Sometimes they partially coincide.)

Judging someone for (allwgedly) judging someone is interesting recursion. Relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/774/

Tu quoque

I've always wanted to join the non-conformists.

Before I left San Francisco for Asia, I had a studio apartment completely packed with stuff -- three giant suitcases full of clothes, an entire standing bookshelf full of books that I never read, IKEA furniture, and tons of electronics junk that I just never used (Xbox 360, MS Surface Tablet, old PC laptops).

I threw it all away. I must have thrown away $10,000 worth of stuff (well, mostly sold, recycled, gave away, and/or put in Schrodinger's "storage").

My digital footprint is much larger than the physical junk that I had. Now all of my belongings fit into one suitcase.

It was a very relaxing feeling getting rid of all of that junk. I haven't missed any of it.

It's not some hidden agenda that these Minimalists are pushing that they WANT you to be happy with less even though you actually are happier when you have more; I've found that I actually _am_ happier with less (after adopting the right mindset). In massively consumerist cities like SF, there is a ton of social pressure to show off that you have more trendy things than all of your neighbors and to drive that German car, etc. and you just have to use your willpower to not succumb to that pressure.

I'm not sure those two are mutually exclusive. You could always have the latest cell phone, laptop, watch, car, etc, without actually having too much STUFF.

Like most people, I have far more STUFF than I need, but even if I downsized to just the stuff I use virtually every day, and really enjoy, would be a total PITA to move.

Agree with this! I love researching and acquiring quality things. Doesn’t mean I have too much stuff. I love throwing stuff away, but will also enjoy spending a lot on stuff I care about. Quality above quantity.

How come 'minimalists' always want me to buy a their book, or go to their seminar?

Minimalists™ are like certified scrum masters. Minimalism might actually be a decent idea (noting the difference between minimal and less than you have, no matter what), but when left in the hands of "trainers" and "gurus" it either turns into a cult, or it turns into a product.

It's one of those things that, once it becomes a label, if it meets a certain critical-mass-like criteria, it will attract the very people that are incompatible with the ideas presented. ie. think for yourself.

Quoting from the article: "millennials with no hope of buying real estate, much less retiring, without stringent saving tactics, as well as families who need to downsize because of lost jobs or divorce."

These are people living beyond their means because they've no concept of the possibility that the future will ever present a worse situation than the present. Borrow, borrow, borrow and damn the future. What are consequences?

"stringent savings strategies" seems to be mentioned almost as an acceptance of failure of your life rather than a requirement of society. Having to downsize due to losing a job or divorce? Minimalism isn't going to save you from that, and neither, necessarily is a stringent savings strategy. Do they not expect any negative effects from losing a job or getting a divorce? Who are these people?

It's great that more people are being exposed to alternatives to 'buy everything so I can photograph myself in front of my extravagance', as a few people may be able to change their lifestyles. But wait a couple of years for articles about 'the failure of minimalism' because it was too hard for the average person / family to cope with. Such is the current culture of entitlement - with not much hope of improvement under Trump, the embodiment of entitlement. But post-Trump, there could be millions of reality checks in the mail.

Well, they've got a warehouse full of books. Seems like a great way to de-clutter.

Laugh. Out. Loud! XD

Plenty of minimalists don't. It's just harder to find them if your source of information is commercial in nature.

That's a projection on any author of any form of content. The basic form of all of the ideas are usually accessible for free in blog posts or podcasts. But then they make a book that organizes them better and ties them together. You could rent it from the library for free, which is often encouraged, or spend $15 and own it. And then from the book they offer seminars. And from the seminars they offer retreats.

It's completely up to you what level you want to engage with the material — maybe a student reads the blog post because they want to save money, maybe an adult buys the book because they want to get the information more efficiently and save time, maybe a company hires the seminar to disseminate the information to dozens or hundreds of employees, or an individual attends because they want specific advice to their situation, maybe an executive or passionate follower does the retreat to connect with the founders on a more philosophical level and get a very personalized experience.

This doesn't seem as egregious as a typical cult that is about getting you in the door on the cheap so you can spend the real money on staying in "the club." They sell a few books and run a few big shows (whose tickets are very modestly priced --- tickets for their stop in Dallas are $27 bucks), but that's it.

From what I can tell, they are doing the same thing as Mr. Money Mustache but on a much more public stage and without the focus on early retirement/financial independence. Good for them!

They still have to pay rent and buy food...

The minimum might be a non-zero positive value.

I make it a ritual. Every year on the same day, I go through all my stuff. Everything! If I haven't used it in the last year, it goes on Craigslist. It's amazing what you can talk yourself into keeping perpetually because "just maybe" you'll need it one day!

My problem, as a tinkerer, is that I almost always do end up using something I have laying around one day.

I agree. My interests shift back and forth, somewhat unpredictably. I'll work on a given project for a few months, then abandon it for about 2 years. Things that I haven't used in a long time often find themselves imaginatively re-purposed.

I'm not a minimalist but I do try to consume less. I see it as some sort of personal hygiene. Just like I barely drink soda anymore or avoid junk food. I see consumerism as a pitfall of our society and at least I try to be aware of its mechanisms. I also try to give a new life to my old things by giving it to less fortunates.

I love getting rid of things. I don’t care if anyone else does, but I do. I also like acquiring things- but I usually regret acquiring things more than I regret getting rid of things.

Same. I also enjoy refactoring code and removing legacy crust.

I'm gonna pretend you really mean crust.

If you have day old bread it's "legacy crust". And, who wants legacy crust.

It sometimes amazes you how little you need to be happy yet everything we do is to get as much as possible.

Maybe I'm the weird one here, but I use everything I buy. The only time something I own goes unused is when somebody else buys it for me.

Right now I'm looking to move about 700km. Sure, what little I own is a bit of trouble to move, but it is almost all useful. I'm at the point where having less stuff would mean doing fewer things.

I think the problem is drift over time. Maybe you would have used an item, or did use it, but your life has changed--as lives inevitably do--and now you wouldn't use that item under any circumstances. But the thing has become part of your environment, you're used to it, and there's the possibility that the part of your life which motivated you to buy the thing in the first place might come back. So through inertia you acquire more and more stuff, and it starts to quietly sap your energy as you begin to associate subconscious feelings of guilt and frustration with it.

In my book, "minimalism" is often a treatment for the symptom rather than the disease. The real cure is to actively remove items that have a negative emotional connotation, and to hold onto only those things that you either use or otherwise affiliate positive feelings with. (For example, I almost never use my flashlight, but it feels good to know I have it on hand in case the power dies out. That's worth keeping.)

> The real cure is to actively remove items that have a negative emotional connotation, and to hold onto only those things that you either use or otherwise affiliate positive feelings with.

Is this basically the same idea as "spark joy" from Marie Kondo's books?



I took it from "10 Minute Declutter," but it seems like the same idea. It's the only principle I used when cleaning up my own spaces and I'm amazed at the difference just a few months made. My whole state of mind is better.

Minimalism is the "being reasonable" of the 21st century. But yea in this consume-oriented world it's very rare and thus news worthy.

I second this but would phrase it slightly differently:

Minimalism is critical thinking applied to the ownership, maintenance, management, and lifecycle of objects.

There was one line about cutting down the kitchen but the facebook group is private - do these people cook much at home at all? I don't need a lot of gadgets but at minimum one needs a couple of shelves of different pots unless one goes for camping style cooking for every meal - though I would be happy to be corrected.

do these people cook much at home at all?

I love to cook and I have a kitchen full of stuff, but if I'm being honest with myself I have most of that stuff because I like to have it rather than because I need to have it. I could throw out most of my knives and and pots and pans and basically all of my kitchen machines and still cook some pretty good food. It would just be a bit more work and a bit less fun.

You can cook a very wide range of food with one pot and one frying pan.

And at least one cutting knife, a set of utensils, some dishes, a place to store long-term products, spices and leftovers...oh look, I need a shelf now.

Poor families need space to store stuff, because they stock up during good times to go through the bad. My family had a huge basement stocked with pickled vegetables and fruits, bought during harvest when they are cheap to use during winter when everything is expensive. We also had tons of bookshelves, filled to the brim with aged books from parents, cousins and other relatives, because we could not afford buying school materials every year and school libraries were usually picked clean. You need a place to store all the stuff from your parents - your crib, clothes, toys, so you can use them for your kids too...

I don't know how you get around all that with minimalism - from my POV, owning a big house is the best investment a poor family can make.

One idea is to not hold onto all of the things. An implication that stems from poverty is an understandable hoarding mentality. I would ask instead, "How could I possibly know whether my child will even want this same thing 5–20 years from now?" then donate it to a thrift store or sell it. And focus on free activities like going to the park over object ownership.

I don't consider myself a poor person but I grew up lower middle class and practiced habits like stocking up on consumables in bulk when they're on sale that you'll definitely use before they expire — things like soap or shampoo or toilet paper. I still practice that today because to me it's fiscal responsibility, but it is easy to go overboard as well. I just always try to optimize for reasonable unit economics which can vary quite a bit from thing to thing. Sometimes buying the cheap disposable version makes more sense than a BIFL.

unpopular opinion: poor people shouldn't have big families to begin with, it is highly irresponsible to have children without proper financial savings and a good career

owning a big house is the best investment a poor family can make.

You'll notice that it's mostly rich people preaching minimalism.

But some people have a family, and sometimes we cook for 20, most times for 8 or 10, occasionally for 1 to 4.

You don’t need a couple of shelves. Pots with different sizes can be stacked together. I can’t think of anything that needs more than 3 pots. Add maybe two small ones and you’re at 5 pots stacked together in a shelve.

Another topic is knives. Everyone tries to sell you sets of 5+ knives. For 90% of the tasks the chefs knive will do. For the rest a small knife and a bread knife will mostly cover you.

I'm in agreement with most of the anti-consumerism argument. And having spent my adult life living in tiny apartments in NYC and London and moving internationally a few times, I certainly understand how possessions can be a burden.

But still, whenever I read about "minimalism", and people bragging about how they can fit everything they own into a single carry on bag, I can't help think that these are really boring people. It just doesn't seem like a lifestyle that would make any sense for all but a small number of people that fit some very narrow conditions ("pure" knowledge worker, no pets or children, no interest in whole swaths of hobbies and activities).

Eg, I'm a professional software developer to pay the bills. RSI is a potential career ender for me, so I have an ergonomic setup a good chair, desk, monitors, keyboard and trackball. I can't just work on a macbook air in a cafe all the time without risking my livelihood. When I'm not working, I like to do oil painting (which requires an easel, paints, brushes, cleaning supplies, sketchbooks, etc.), I play and record music (so I've got a bass, a couple guitars, a couple amps, pedals, mics, etc), and I like hiking and camping (so backpack, tent, etc. etc.). My partner teaches electronics and builds hardware games and art installations, so our flat is full of soldering irons, heat guns, reflow stations, and stockpiles of components. She's also a musician so she has a small collection of synths and music gear of her own and she likes to do woodworking and build furniture (we don't have room for large power tools in our flat, so she has a membership at a maker space for that) and she likes gardening so we have a ton of plants.

When I think about all the most interesting, creative people that I know, none of them could do the "minimalism" thing either. They do things like arc welding, hardware reverse engineering, homebrewing and distilling, electroplating, restoring vintage motorcycles, sewing, 3d printing, quilting, farming, baking, cosplay, etc. All of which require having a bunch of stuff.

Minimalism is fine and if it works for you and your lifestyle, fine. But I really don't like how it always seems to come along with an implicit disdain for physicality and interests that aren't completely in line with that knowledge worker on a macbook on an empty desk aesthetic.

At some point, your shit owns you.

A few years ago, I was forced to move in with my gf (long story) She owned a house, filled with her own stuff. I was left with no option but to dispense with furniture etc. Some was sold, some given away, some donated. I moved in with my clothes, some memento's and heirlooms and some kitchen utensils (just in case it didn't work out).

I moved everything in two loads of my truck. Over the years, theirs been times where I was considering moving out. Not having to deal with all that STUFF is intensely freeing. Call it an awakening through involuntarily minimalism.

NYTimes had a decent critique last year of minimalism and the minimalists: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/31/magazine/the-oppressive-go...

It's literally the same author - ha!

The family cloth for toilet paper seems less sanitary than not using toilet paper and washing.

The correct answer to washing your butt is a "bum gun" or bidet. It's more sanitary, quicker, more environmentally friendly, cheaper in the long run, and less likely to cause irritation. I would never go back to paper.

Or just using the shower.

Not hygienic IMO.

Just to note, 'minimalists' are almost universally hated in every minimalist community I've seen and I would really not take them as any soft of spokespeople for minimalism.

Perhaps by 'minimalists' you mean 'The Minimalists', i.e. these two dudes, because that statement is otherwise very odd.

But maybe you thought the article and capital letter weren't adding value to your life.

Yes, I meant that, sorry that it was not clear.

Minimalism is misnamed: http://joshuaspodek.com/minimalism-misnamed-maximalism

If someone doesn't value stuff, does value meaning, and gets rid of the former to maximize the latter, why call attention to and name them by what they don't value?

What we call minimalism comprises people who maximalize meaning, value, importance, and purpose.

My girlfriend and I are very minimalist (err... maximalist?) owning only a few outfits each (no accessories), and just the bare necessities of home items. If we find something has no utility, it gets donated or trashed.

That being said, "minimalism vs. maximalism" really seems like splitting hairs here, as I don't think one implies something better than the other or is inherently clearer.

But such a form of minimalism won't work unless other people are non-minimalists.

For example, if you find you need a trilobed screwdriver to repair one of your few possessions you'll either have to borrow it from a friend or rent it[0]. Both those options require that someone else be non-minimalist for your benefit.

If all people were strongly minimalist this would have the effect of moving nearly all gadgets into the service domain. Screwdriver-as-service, ironing-as-a-service, yard-brushing-as-a-service. Is that scenario really less consumerist and less stressful than just going out and buying a screwdriver and keeping it in a box in the garage?

[0] or buy it and then sell it when done, which i'll categorise as renting here

This is easily solved by tool libraries or tool rental services or borrowing from a neighbor that builds stuff. Another solution is buying one, possibly used, and reselling it after you're done. Most minimalists heavily encourage borrowing or renting things that aren't in your personal definition of minimal (but might be in the next person's).

Because each person defines their minimal set of possessions differently, I don't follow to your conclusion that minimalism is dependent upon non-minimalists.

That's an interesting argument I hadn't heard before. It's a good point. Is it less consumerist? Probably, because you're paying for only precisely what you need, and the odds of getting something you don't need (and never will use) are far lower.

Alternative idea, if everyone were minimalist then we could develop a system of communal tools and goods.

if you find you need a trilobed screwdriver to repair one of your few possessions

Pay someone to come and fix it or just throw it out and get a new one. Being Minimalist doesn't have to mean being frugal.

Then the only difference is that you do not keep things you do not use. However it is a misnomer until you minimalize number of possessions to which implies frugality to a point.

Not perhaps in the "buy cheapest" but "buy least".

I actively share the goal of seeking "meaning, value, importance, and purpose", but I haven't found that the amount of stuff I own makes much impact on this goal (and the impact it does make is at least ambiguous, not clearly negative).

We call people who drive cars to go places "drivers" instead of "arrivers" because driving is the most significant difference between them and people who seek to go places as pedestrians, bicyclists, or train, boat or airplane passengers.

There are plenty of people seek to "maximalize meaning, value, importance, and purpose" but one subgroup emphasizes the significance of the absence of stuff, and so it makes sense to distinguish them by this, rather than the goal which they share very broadly.

Wow, I really didn't know my natural state of being was catching on.

It's interesting to read how people actively push themselves towards minimalism. I have the opposite problem: if everything I own doesn't fit in an airplane bag, I feel bogged down.

I truly dislike buying things. Furniture shopping is just the worst.

I guess it partly depends on what you value. I value experiences, like travel and live music far more than I value a shiny thing or piece of clothing.

I've been asked advice on how to live without stuff... "How do I start throwing things away?" I don't have an answer. I just don't want whatever it is.

I could certainly get rid of a few things. And I often feel that accepting gifts is somewhat of a burden. I enjoy owning things that I have even occasional use for, though.

If I have a lot of things that I can't name a solid use for, then I feel bogged down. If there are a lot of things that I want to do that I don't have the equipment for, then I'm unhappy. It's less about the objects than what the objects let me do.

> I've been asked advice on how to live without stuff... "How do I start throwing things away?" I don't have an answer. I just don't want whatever it is.

The konmari method has worked a bit for me but I don't know if it's for everyone. There are probably other books on the subject.

Do you have a family or are you single ? Life changes when you are responsible for others.

This is such a bad excuse that comes up every single time on such topics. Your life is what you make it. You can perfectly have a modest family life with a limited number of posessions : how about all those families who travel or sail the world ?

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