Minimalism is downright harmful to you, your ambition and your business.
I’ll tell you why I believe this in just a moment, but first, let me say that I’ve allowed minimalism to grind my gears for such a long time that I just have to vent. And blogging allows me to rant away.
You also allow me that potential. As an audience, you’re so damn smart I can test my wacky ideas and enjoy knowing that you’ll share your opinions with me – even if you disagree. Dialogue makes us all smarter.
Let the rant begin…
For those of you who missed the memo, minimalism is more than the Wikipedia definition that focuses heavily on design and a sub-genre of classical music. In the lifestyle sense of the word, minimalism is the emerging philosophy of having less – of radically reducing the amount of stuff you own.
Minimalism experts believe in freeing yourself from modern “possession mania”. In practice, what minimalism most often comes down to is a live-from-a-suitcase lifestyle that prioritizes experience over objects.
I have several axes to grind here. When you dip your toes into minimalism it’s a feel-good anti-materialism vibe. But as you go deeper, the philosophy slowly becomes dangerous and destructive, particularly for business owners. Let’s begin in the shallow end and dive straight to the bottom.
Minimalism Sucks #1: Stuff
The core tenant of minimalism is “thou shalt own less stuff”. Maybe it’s my psychological leaning, but this just begs the question:
Why do we own stuff in the first place?
Owning stuff rocks. In fact, owning stuff began with rocks – our caveman ancestors drew a major line in the sand between themselves and animals when they not only started using tools (chimps do that) but started keeping them.
The psychological leap to keep a poking stick or piece of flint (versus finding a new one each day) moves us to the next major brainwave: that one piece of flint is better than another.
Owning the superior piece of flint (cherishing it, even) is vastly more efficient than finding a new flint each day. More efficiency creates more breeding opportunities (less time looking for flint equals more time making babies).
This means we’ve all evolved from the proto-consumers who had the best tools. Our ancestors loved their stuff!
Fast forward to neighbors comparing sizes of homes, keeping up with the Joneses and Cadillac versus Lexus debate. Trying to find meaning in your leather seats upgrade is kind of lame and sounds like mid-life crisis material.
So sure, materialism has its problems. Our obsession with stuff has made everything cheap and disposable. No one aims to invest in the best, longest lasting “tools” anymore. Ikea furniture, the Dollar Store and the notion of upgrading your car every few years are all pinnacles of the materialist crisis.
Material without function is a problem. Our closets and garages are filled with the collateral damage of failed hobbies. But is this the fault of materialism… or perhaps our own?
The problem is that no aims to invest in the best tools any more – few people buy tools that increase efficiency or add meaning to their lives. We’ve forgotten how.
Minimalism says we should clean our garages of junk – and by doing so, a cleaner mind will follow. I’m not so sure. Minimalism doesn’t fix the problem. In fact, minimalist-favorite services like AirBNB and ZipCar take the cycle of mindless consumption to the next level.
Instead of making long-term savvy decisions about which dwellings and vehicles to invest in, you can now have the instant gratification of a swell apartment and wheels. Without thinking. And of course, this costs a lot more in the long run.
Minimalism encourages short-term thinking and investing, which becomes financially destructive over time.
Minimalism Sucks # 2: Art
Some believe art is the pinnacle of human achievement and creation-of-meaning. It’s definitely pretty nifty.
But minimalists don’t own art. How can they? You can’t carry around a canvas or a piece of sculpture in your bohemian commitment to counter culture. And minimalists say materialists look for meaning in the wrong objects – that people shouldn’t find fulfillment in a new car.
But there are tons of people who do. I’ve a friend in New York who gets a huge kick out of buying and racing the latest ridiculous rocket made by Ducati. He has about seven of them and is one happy dude.
So should we shun expressions of beauty while basking in the white-walled nothingness of our possession freedom? Some minimalists believe that for every possession acquired, another must be thrown away – so do I have to ditch a pair of socks in order to hang a Salvador Dali print in my apartment?
John T Unger, artist and entrepreneur, regularly joins me in bitching out minimalism over large quantities of whisky. This guy makes extraordinary works of art that serve zero utilitarian function. John claims that if he had a bigger house, he’d fill it with even more art and books.
Stuff gives us meaning, like it or not. Not all stuff, and sure, not everyone is good at finding meaning in stuff. Nevertheless, stuff is meaningful.
Victor Frankl talks about the quest for meaning – finding it through creation (ours or someone else’s). And the quest to find and create meaningful objects inspires some pretty incredible human achievements. It’s built into our cultural history – our myths are filled with quests for the golden fleece, magic rings and more.
For John Unger, the quest is his entire life’s work. Steve Job’s quest makes your life a better place every time you check your email.
There’s also a ton of evidence that humans thrive in a materialist abundance. Kids consistently get better grades when their parents own a home. It’s psychological security, and you can bet your bottom-line that security is present in the mind of every entrepreneur too.
If you’re trying to do something bold and risky in the world, it pays to have a really comfortable nest. Resting and recharging is better when you own a good blanket or two.
Meanwhile, minimalists compete to own less. Some even go on digital purges, deleting old photos – erasing their digital past. You have to wonder… who wins in this race to the bottom of a void of meaning?
Minimalism Sucks # 3: The coup-de-grace
Minimalism makes us complacent. At the core of the desire to own less is the philosophy of doing less. Of finding happiness with what you have – and with even less than that.
It sounds good. It sounds like quitting the rat race.
The problem is that minimalism actually encourages you to reduce your ambition. It’s the ultimate teenage expression of “trying isn’t cool”. Instead of winning the rat race, minimalism would have you drop out of it completely.
Minimalism and minimal ambition can’t be separated.
Try explaining minimalism to a starving kid in the third world. It’d go something like this:
“I was born in the first world, with every opportunity I could ever want for. I never wanted for food, education, or anything at all, really. When I see something I want, I can have it. Because of living this way, life has become kind of meaningless, so I’m going to actively commit to shunning all of it, having less and doing less.”
The opposite of this what happens in western countries for third-world immigrants. They tend to radically pull themselves up by their bootstraps, often achieving levels of success FAR beyond what the incumbent population do.
This happens because they arrive in paradise and are grateful for it. They realize they now have access to resources and opportunity in abundance and they maximize this. They don’t minimize anything.
To these people, minimalism is a fucking joke.
At its dark heart, minimalism is the hobby of disaffected wealthy people, playing at philosophy and hip counter-culture. It’s toxic because it encourages you to only focus on having what you need - which means rejecting any opportunities to help other people with their needs.
Ultimately, minimalism is the selfish squandering of opportunity.
It’d be nice to see the wealthy 1% reject this pale imitation of piety and step into their power. They have the potential to transform the planet with the resources available to them. Sound good?
It should. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you possess that potential in abundance.
The question is, what will you do with it?