The Little-Known Pitfalls of Minimalism You Should Commit to Memory

There’s a dark side to everything.

Wear the same thing every day. Donate or sell what you don’t need. Love people use things. Reduce your carbon footprint. Make space for what matters in your life. Focus. Lesser drama. More freedom. Travel light. Financial freedom. Better relationships. Mindfulness….


The benefits of minimalism are difficult to list down. Indeed over the last decade, the number of minimalist bloggers, YouTubers, and other content creators have shoved the idea into our brains.

Even the worst of shoppers who buy things every time they feel low is now thinking about minimalism.

Gone are the days when it only referred to pieces of art no one understood but everyone appreciated because they felt grasping its excellence is “out of their league.”

Nor does it only refer to the hotshot web design of the latest silicon valley startup or the modern marketing agency in town.

It’s become a lifestyle. Perhaps a borderline cult. A cult I’m happy to be a part of!

I can’t get enough of minimalism. Every day I read articles with the tag ‘Minimalism’ on Medium. And before I blocked YouTube on my laptop for 17 years, I used to binge-watch people like The Minimalists, Matt D’avella, and basically any video that featured the decluttering process I loved.

In the early days, my idol used to be James Altucher. I read a post on how he cut his possessions to two backpacks. Before coming back from a business trip, he’d commissioned his friend to go to his house and either sell, donate, or throw away everything.

He gave her one important instruction — “Don’t call me to ask anything.” Yet, his friend couldn’t resist calling him for one thing among others — his college diploma.

“James, you’ve worked hard to get it. Are you sure you want to throw it away?” she asked. “I’ve worked hard for many other things since then,” said James, which made me think “Ah what a great perspective!”

After that episode, he had no house, moved from one Airbnb to another, and lived his life that way. His daughter was afraid thinking his father is homeless.

That’s an extreme decision. And still, I was inspired by it.

I’ve always been inclined to extremes and people who take it to the extreme. Think Steve Jobs with a mansion without furniture for nothing fit his perfectionist standards.

Whenever I start any habit, I try to push the limits. For instance, when I started fasting, I immediately attempted a 16 hour fast with no experience. And soon after that a 24-hour fast. These were tough, but I also learned a lot.

When I started meditation, I pushed myself to sit for 30 mins or more. This time, however, my habit of pushing the limits backfired. I found myself losing enthusiasm and had to start all over again — this time with smaller steps.

The same has been the case with minimalism. My habit of pushing to the extremes has been one of my challenges on the journey. Let’s explore that (and others) in detail.

Decluttering Obsession


I didn’t have a lot of stuff when I first started on my journey. I was certainly not one of those people who would’ve qualified to feature on Marie Kondo’s Netflix documentary.

But, still, there was stuff. Stuff I needed to get out. So I rolled my sleeves and got started. I donated books, toys, sports equipment, threw out notebooks, papers, e-waste, etc.

I’ll not lie — it felt good! It was almost addicting. And thanks to my habit of pushing the limits, I was curious to see how much stuff I could take out.

“What’s the least can I live on?” With this thought, decluttering turned into an obsession.

Whenever I was free for even five minutes, I’d sit in my room and look at different cupboards and drawers thinking “Is this really required?” “Can that be given away?”

And I still do that from time to time.

But there’s a limit after which it becomes impractical.

The whole purpose of minimalism is to make space for things that matter. But by decluttering beyond rational limits, you end up wasting time because you can end up giving away the things you need.

I know hardcore minimalists would scoff at me for keeping a printer that I only use once in eight weeks. But when I need it, it’s a big lifesaver.

If I’d sold that printer, I’d have to go out to stationery shops just to get one print. And there’ve been cases when I only remembered to print documents late at night — when no stores are open.

And so it was important for me to learn where the boundaries lie and where my comfort level stands. No one is impressed that your cupboards are empty or have only three shirts hanging.

There’s no ‘Minimalism Court of Approvals’ that judges you on the basis of the stuff you have.

The truth is it the urge to declutter is endless. Diogenes used to carry a cup to drink water. Once, he saw a child drink water from the well using his hands, he threw his cup away thinking of it as an extraneous possession.

There will always be stuff you can do away with. But you have to weigh the consequences.

And I don’t know about you, but if I have to think so much about whether to keep a printer or not — I’d just rather keep it.

Frugal Not Cheap

One of my friends once bought a couple of dresses. As she told me about it, she said “I know you’re judging me right now.”

“Why?” I asked surprisingly. “Well, because I know you think buying clothes is a waste of money and they don’t give you satisfaction.” I humbly explained, “It’s true that they don’t give me happiness. But clearly, they mean more to you than to me. So there’s no need to judge.”

Life is bland if the focus is always on lack of consumption. There’s no rulebook titled— “Do’s and Dont’s of Minimalism.”

It’s for you to decide. Each of us gets to write our own rulebook.

Minimalism doesn’t mean being cheap and starving yourself. It means being frugal.

And what exactly does that mean? Spending less on areas that don’t give you happiness and spending lavishly in areas that do.

For instance, I would think twice before buying a shirt for Rs 800 but I’d happily buy a productivity software or an app blocker for the same amount because I know it’s worth much more in the long run.

Similarly, I think a lot whenever I buy something for myself but I never hesitate to donate to causes I believe in. Because I know that it gives me joy.

Hitting Extremes Will Burn You Out

The central theme in this article is to not take minimalism to the extreme.

I’d be the first one to say that extremism works in some cases. It can help you make a strong case against your own bad habits.

If you’re too deep in consumerism, it can give you an initial push. Plus, being radical is fun too!

But a moderate approach will work better in the long run. It’s a continuous balance you need to figure out.

When I first started out, I thought I’ll just donate all my clothes except a few, buy 12 pairs of white T-shirts, and call myself a minimalist.

That didn’t work. So even though I became a ‘normal’ person like everyone else, the principles of minimalism did change my life.

I was already making fewer, mindful purchases, spending my time on things that matter and far better than the average shopaholic. I didn’t go back to fill the voids in my life with stuff.

So what if I can’t be a digital nomad? Who said that’s the north star of life?

Finding a balance took time, effort, and constant adjustment. But that’s what we need to do — because the journey is different for everyone.

Other Challenges

  • People really think you’re weird after a certain point. Even though no one cares about you repeating your clothes, they can be a little skeptical about your life choices.

  • You can end up being obsessed with the very things you’re trying to get rid of. Only this time, you’re obsessed with their absence!

  • It’s easy to get caught up in counting numbers. You don’t need to compete with anyone. Get inspired but don’t pride yourself on the mere absence of worldly pleasures in your life

  • It can be unsettling for you as you come to terms with your motives behind collecting stuff all throughout life. In any case, growth is difficult but always worth it.

  • People often feel that your life choices are a comment on their own. They feel you judge them for being ‘worldly’. Make sure to reiterate (no matter how strongly you believe in minimalism) that it doesn’t work for everyone and you accept your friends/family as they are.

The Takeaway

10 years ago, no one would’ve written such a post. People were so deep in collecting stuff that preaching moderation would be useless.

But today, with the advent of all the content we consume on minimalism, it’s important to realize that it’s more than the Instagram influencers make it look like.

You can make your own choices. You can decide where you start and stop. No one is judging. No one is looking except you.

Don’t make the path so narrow that you can’t walk on it.

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Written on January 20, 2021