minimalism isn’t for everyone

The more I seem to talk, read, and write about stuff, the more I seem to position myself against minimalism. So I want to make something clear. I’m not opposed to minimalism.

I’m opposed to minimalism being presented as the ONLY solution for consumption, consumerism, and waste. I’m opposed to minimalism because it makes people who feel an attachment to stuff feel guilty for that.

I truly believe that there’s a number of people for whom objects make up a large part of the way we understand and experience the world. Objects lead to our physical and psychological well being.

This isn’t pure conjecture. I’m a huge fan of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which is backed by decades of rigorous scientific study. Gardner’s theory argues that humans have intelligences along a number of frameworks (such as spatial, music, and bodily-kinesthetic) and not just those that have been traditionally tested and valued (like linguistics and mathematics). One of my biggest complaints with minimalism is that it favors certain types of lifestyle and intelligence over others.

I want to take Gardner’s argument one step further and say that if we have intelligence along these multiple frameworks, then we also derive pleasure and fulfillment from these areas based on our own intelligence strengths.

In the MI framework, my husband doesn’t rank high in the linguistics category. English was not his best subject in school, and he is not a big reader. My husband’s intelligences lie more towards music, mathematics, and particularly bodily-kinesthetic, which Gardner defines as the ability to use one’s body in skilled ways and the capacity to work skillfully with objects. My husband’s career choices and hobbies track with these intelligences, including his tendency towards physically demanding and skilled labor jobs and a garage full of tools and a driveway full of vehicles, all of which he works on on a regular basis.

And while I do enjoy language and reading, I tend to be much more balanced across the multiple intelligences framework. (With the exception of music, never my strength.) I also have a tendency towards bodily-kinisthetic fulfillment, as evidenced by my choice of career (metalsmith) and my desire to understand the world through touch. (As I’ve been sitting here rereading this passage, I find myself unconsciously fingering one of the pull strings on my sweatshirt, an activity I am also known to repeat with long necklaces and any small object left on the table in front of me.)

Reading minimalists’ accounts of eliminating stuff in favor of reading and writing and spending time with friends and family makes sense for someone who shows strong linguistic and personal intelligences. These are the areas where the person derives pleasure, and would naturally lead to a fulfilling life.

But for someone who derives fulfillment from bodily-kinesthetic pursuits, particularly that part about interacting with objects, this would be a highly unsatisfying life. For these types of people (myself included), objects form a central part of the way we interact with and enjoy the world, and thus we would be completely unfulfilled without them.

My husband would be utterly miserable with a Kindle full of books and not much else.

If minimalism leads you to a more fulfilling life, then go with it. But if the thought of minimalism makes you uncomfortable, or worse, unhappy, join me on the other side.

I want to build a world where we can be conscious of the impact our choices have and STILL LOVE STUFF. I’m interested in a world where those of us who derive pleasure and fulfillment from objects can embrace that, rather than feel guilty about it. A world where minimalism isn’t the only solution, but one of many that allow us to be who we truly are.

12 responses to “minimalism isn’t for everyone”

  1. Marcia

    The key, of course, is balance. The “stuff” we chose to surround ourselves with should matter on some deep, satisfying level. It may be just the beauty of a thing, or the memory of a time spent abroad, or something that is part of a family heritage. (The teapot post you tweeted earlier says it well!) And we don’t necessarily have to “know” why something matters — that may be more heart than science!


    Thanks for that educated explanation .It makes me feel a lot better to know that i’m not alone in having problems going minimalistic. I do have way to many things but I am trying for a little balance .eventually we all end up with not much more than a bed, chair & the company of others in the same shape. (Then voila poof nothing and our new existence begins (you can’t destroy energy it only changes form)

  3. Jennifer

    I tend to “connect” more with minimalists who promote having fewer items of junky stuff but not necessarily ridding your home of everything of value/quality or of things you absolutely love. I feel most comfortable with having a few very nice things around me instead of a whole bunch of stuff that just makes me feel overwhelmed.

  4. Mary

    I love this post. I like color and textures and whimsy in my environment. I enjoy visiting minimilist spaces but I sure wouldn’t want to live in one. Nice to have some intellectual backup for respecting our differences.

  5. Claudine Kasprowicz

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  8. Juliann

    All my life I have said, “Some day I will just live in my studio.” Well, that some day came about 4 years ago when I bought this house I live in now. It is small-minimally to most of our society and the neighborhood I live in-but it is the right size for me. One room is my knitting/weaving room, one room is my sewing room, and the other is my spinning room. I use the kitchen and back deck for dyeing. I still have a spare bedroom that is always welcome to visitors, and, of course, my bedroom/bath. In the winter I use the hall bathtub for drying skeins of yarn. I have gotten rid of most of my “family” treasures, some to my son and some to auction. Last winter I have cleaned out the shed and two storage closets, and I took 6 carloads to Goodwill. So mostly what I have left is my “stuff” that I can’t live without-my yarn stash, my fleeces, my equipment, my fabric stash, etc. So, yes, I have minimized by home by ridding myself of “things”, but I still have plenty to make me happy.

    1. Ruth

      I love how you surround yourself with your stuff that makes you happy, you use and enjoy, but got rid of anything else…Nice balance!

  9. Tomi Tierney

    My mom was a collector of stuff – and my sister and I have fought the impulse to collect for years. But recently I learned to embrace my love of stuff rather than resist it. I no longer hide or try to cover up my need for stuff. With my etsy shop – I repurpose, upcycle, pass on, and display my treasures. This allows me legitimacy and a great creative way to deal with my stuff. I pass it on to others to love and appreciate, which allows me to continue to purchase and create.

    Thank you for this and all your thoughtful posts. You give voice to those of us who live and breath in a sea of stuff – happily.

  10. reveille kennedy

    In the middle of moving all of the “stuff” in the family room to other rooms so that we can have a wood floor installed, I find this blog. It makes me happy.

    Now I can carefully clean and put back all that I desire to keep and purge the rest. Our house is so filled with my art, but as Juliian above said, I am surrounded by what I love, including my husband!.

    Love your whole take on life!


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