Why It’s Unwise to Be a Minimalist

When I first heard about the concept of minimalism many years ago, I was intrigued but also a bit hesitant. As I looked into it, I found that my hesitation towards it was well-founded, and I don’t consider it a particularly intelligent strategy for life or business.

“Less is more” can be an interesting heuristic to use sometimes, but it doesn’t work well for many classes of problems and challenges. Sometimes it will point you away from opportunities and solutions instead of towards them.

Human beings have invented a wide variety of tools and services, and many of those can be useful and worthwhile under the right circumstances. The key is to evaluate and assess these tools and their costs and consequences to see which ones we can maintain a healthy, productive, and appreciative relationship with. That assessment is going to be different for each person.

Sometimes a good solution will look like minimalism, sometimes it will look like maximalism, and sometimes it will be elsewhere within the spectrum of possibilities.

The Standard of Appreciation

A better approach than minimalism is to use the standard of appreciation, especially long-term appreciation.

Ask yourself: How much will I likely appreciate this over the next 10 years? This question can really help you size up your relationship with a tool or service.

For example:

  • How much will I appreciate using a cell phone over the next 10 years?
  • How much will I appreciate being active on Facebook over the next 10 years?
  • How much will I appreciate my home office over the next 10 years?
  • How much will I appreciate my car over the next 10 years?

For some questions, you may realize that the appreciation is low and that you wouldn’t necessarily miss having something in your life if you dropped it. When I ask people the Facebook question above, no one says they appreciate it very much on a personal level, at least not enough to feel committed to it for another 10 years, although some people do appreciate it for business reasons.

For other areas you may realize that you could increase your appreciation not by downsizing but by upgrading. For instance, I upgraded my home recording studio earlier this year by adding even more to it. Now I like it so much that I keep wanting to do extra work in there, even when I’m not actively recording, partly because I like playing around with the lighting to create different moods.

Less isn’t always more. Sometimes more is more. Sometimes better is more. And sometimes different is more. Using any one of these heuristics as your gold standard for all classes of problems is a mistake. Reach for the standard of coming up with intelligent solutions that generate long-term appreciation. If you realize that your solution isn’t satisfying that standard, go back and refactor your solution.

Fitting the Solution to the Problem

This standard of appreciation encourages us to look at the big picture and think about how to solve problems intelligently instead of relying on oversimplified standards like minimalism. Minimalist solutions are simply unwise to use with certain classes of problems.

When it comes to social media, I may look like a minimalist since I deleted my accounts with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter a long time ago. But I made those choices based on appreciation, not on any commitment to minimalism. The long-term promise of appreciation with those services just wasn’t compelling enough.

I kept my YouTube account, however, because I saw a promising path to long-term appreciation with that service. I also click “like” on videos that I appreciate in order to train the algorithm to get better at serving me, which does indeed work very well. YouTube has been a fabulous educational platform for learning about certain topics quickly. I expect that I’ll continue to appreciate YouTube, however it evolves, over the next 10 years, and I intend to invest more in this platform as a creator too.

Many years ago, however, I did turn off my YouTube account, and I regretted it. That was overly minimalist. So I brought it back.

With Facebook I also went on and off the service at different times, which helped me see that I prefer not having a Facebook account. That decision frees up extra energy, and I’m happier for it too.

For email I like to maintain the standard of inbox zero. I appreciate email when I follow that standard. I never ever let my inbox fill up with unprocessed messages because that would ruin my appreciation of email as a communication tool. So I didn’t need to downsize email. I just needed to use the tool in such a way that it doesn’t become burdensome. If I ever get “too much” email, I just don’t reply to as much. I prefer to limit it to 15 minutes per day or less.

I see minimalism as misguided. It’s a cutesy standard that works for some limited range of problems, but it’s not at all difficult to find problems where a minimalist approach actually makes things worse.

Maximalism Works Better Sometimes

In some areas of life, it would be fair to say that I’m closer to a maximalism. I like having excess well beyond my immediate needs. I like having access to more of the possibility space.

Sometimes more doesn’t feel too complicated. Sometimes it feels rich and abundant.

One area where I appreciate a bit of maximalism is with creative tools. I appreciate good tech. I appreciate having lots of colored markers and index cards. I appreciate having lots of drawers and shelves. I love the feeling of having way more than I need because it removes barriers and distractions. I prefer creating from abundance rather than from scarcity. I like feeling that I have better tools and more support than I need.

Sometimes I buy extra redundancy, so I can keep what I need accessible in different locations. I have duplicates of some tools in the garage and the house… or upstairs versus downstairs. Each tool has an assigned home, so I always know where I can access the closest copy.

I learned that when buying running shoes, instead of having to research for a good pair every time my old pair wears out, it’s more efficient to buy a few pairs together. Then I have backups for when one pair runs out. So I’ll spend $500 on running shoes and then not have to worry about buying more for a while. Somehow it makes me feel more committed to running too when I see fresh pairs of shoes lined up and ready to use when I need them. It serves as a message to myself that I’m going to run through pair after pair with many more miles.

I also like overpaying for more web hosting capacity and faster servers, so our websites are fast and speedy for people accessing our courses and the Conscious Growth Club forums.

I can think of many situations where a maximalist approach works better in practice than a minimalist one. More exercise (and more variety of training) is often better than less. More income streams are better and more resilient than just one. More skills and more education can be better too.

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Minimalism has its place, but be careful not to overplay it. You’ll be better served by intelligently considering how to match a solution to a problem or challenge, such that you create long-term appreciation. Sometimes you may appreciate a minimalist solution, and sometimes a non-minimalist solution will give you superior results.

Be especially careful not to self-identify as a minimalist because wrapping this narrow heuristic into your identity will constrain you to a limiting subset of the possibility space, guaranteeing that you won’t develop intelligent solutions for some classes of problems and challenges that you’ll surely encounter. Retain access to your full range of intelligence by regarding minimalism as one of many problem-solving tools in your toolkit. You are neither a minimalist nor a maximalist though. You are much more flexible.