Beware of Leo Babauta’s minimalist lifestyle

I was talking with Leo Babauta a few weeks ago. The topic of the conversation was his new book, focus. But of course I am not good at focus. So here is a picture of a book I just bought that is not Leo’s book, but I really like it: The Selby is in Your Place. It’s full of photos of people who turned their apartments into art. Totally eccentric, often over-furnished, but always totally interesting.

I would not have bought the book if it didn’t match my house so well. More on that later.

I told Leo I thought it was BS that he is Mr. Minimalism and he moved to San Francisco. I told him that the biggest cultural shift for me from New York City to the farm is the surprise shift to extreme minimalism. So I am sure that his move to San Francisco means he is tossing in the minimalism towel.

Leo has great resources on his blog about leading a minimalist lifestyle. But I think minimalism is lifestyle porn. It’s something that people think would be nice to dream about for their lives, but in fact, there is the dirty flip side to minimalism: It’s scary boring, which, I think, is why Leo moved his family to San Francisco—to expand what’s available to his kids.

I have thought often about the slippery slope from minimalism to boring even though I don’t write about my own minimalism issues that much. First of all, my own minimalism is totally accidental, so I didn’t even know I was a minimalist until recently. Second, I think a minimalist life is a product of many small decisions rather than a single big one. (For example, losing all my possessions to bed bugs.)

Plus, I discredit all straight men who do not have a wife or kids and claim to be minimalists. They are not minimalists, they are just bachelors, programmed over thousands of years to use sex to accumulate possessions rather than shopping.

And anyone who is doing minimalist experiments—like not buying anything for a year, stuff like that—isn’t really a minimalist. It’s like doing a dog trick. People clap, and then you go back to stealing from plates on the dinner table.

Sustainable minimalism requires a few things:

1. A job that does not require a lot of face-to-face contact. (For face-to-face contact you need transportation, clothes, and stuff that makes you fit easily in the flow of a business work day.)

2. Kids who are not exposed to a lot of advertising. My kids almost never ask to buy anything because they never see anything to buy. These same kids, living in NYC, asked for something in every window we walked by.

3. A social circle of people who are minimalists. There is no point in getting rid of everything if you must also get rid of your friends. So if not having stuff interferes with relationships, I don’t see the point.

Finally, before I tell you about my own minimalism, let me say that it’s not that fun to talk about because people get defensive. Like, if I tell people I have never had a TV, they need to tell me about their own TV habits or lack thereof. But I don’t care. I don’t have a TV because I never had one as a kid. I just don’t understand the TV thing. It’s not a high-and-mighty cultural decision.

You have never met a minimalist like the farmer, before he met me. He didn’t have a phone, or Internet, or a car. He seldom left the farm, and he hadn’t bought clothes for himself in maybe a decade. The result was extreme loneliness, and over-dependence on his parents, which were the only people who could make their way into such a closed-off life.

A lot of what we buy is stuff to facilitate connections. Like gifts, wine glasses, replacing a doorbell.

So, here’s what I do not have:

Anything that is not functional—no tsotchkes in the house, besides books.

Loose toys. Any toy on the floor I throw out. The kids are constantly asking me if I threw out something they are looking for. This will scar them for life.

I sometimes even throw out their books. Or mine, if they are a too ugly. I am starting to think of books as objects to look at.


I mean, I’ve already read them, and it’s easy to read them on a Kindle or, if you want to hold them, use the library. So the books have to be nice to look at in my house. I think we can no longer say books are functional, so I want them to be beautiful or fun and now I see them as an extravagance. But it’s not coincidence that the extravagance I allow myself is connected with exposure to new ideas.

On the farm it’s easy to own very little. I don’t miss it because we are on our own—no keeping up with the Jones. We have no blender, no microwave, no toaster oven. Our fridge is very small, and we have no kitchen cabinets because I didn’t want to fill them.

We each wear the same four or five outfits over and over again. If we haven’t worn something in a year, I throw it out.

If we bring something besides food into the house, we have to throw something out.

You’d be surprised how little you miss.

When I lived in NYC I felt a constant pressure to buy stuff. Keeping kids clothed like other kids, having birthday parties like other kids (great birthday party link here —thanks, Natt), having adult clothing like other adults. The reason you can spot a tourist in ten seconds in NYC is because people who don’t live in NYC don’t spend nearly the time and money that New Yorkers do on their appearance.

Life on the farm is slow. Very slow. No one here has an iPad. People don’t know who Jon Stewart is, they don’t know the difference between The New Yorker and New York magazine. The opportunities are very limited. I have to be very careful to make sure my kids understand the world beyond the farm.

So I’m not saying Leo’s move from Guam to San Francisco is bad. I get the reasoning. I just think it’s the antithesis of minimalism. I think that Leo’s latest book, in the wake of his move to San Francisco, is sort of an ode to what one gives up when one seeks out diversity, interestingness, and intellectual stimulation.

And I wonder, do we need a guide to minimalism, or do we need a guide to understanding where our own sweet spot is on the continuum between minimalism and interestingness?

189 replies
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    • Michael Feliciano
      Michael Feliciano says:

      I don’t necessarily agree with Ari…Throwing out ugly books is embracing aestheticism, not minimalism. I think we can turn anything into a dogma or a “lifestyle”, but realistically, a concept as broad as minimalism, means different things to each one of us, and at the end of the day, it better be serving us, rather than simply serving our ego as some kind of “I’m special because I’m doing this.” I sold my car 3 months ago and now am enjoying the freedom and simplicity of traveling primarily by bicycle – but I have 5 bicycles, and I love them. I don’t watch TV, and buy so little that we put the trash can out about once per month, composting most everything else. And yet, I like my dwelling to look nice, and I like to look good when I leave the house. Life is not so black and white as some might suggest.

      • K
        K says:

        I agree with Michael, a minimalist would only keep the book(s) that she/he is reading, following the rule of throwing (I personally prefer donating) something out when bringing something into the house.

  1. Will
    Will says:

    Thanks for writing this.

    Leo’s writing has been rubbing me the wrong way for a while. You may have put your finger on it.

    The “Zen Habits Top 10 Ways to _______”
    1. Breathe.

    Sorry, low blow. Yeah, I used to read Zen Habits a lot but somewhere along the line the advice started to repeat itself and become unrealistic.

    • Tony
      Tony says:

      Totally agree. I popped by Leo’s blog a few times in the really early days and thought meh. Not much to see here so I moved on. I think one of the great mysteries of the blogosphere is why and how Leo ever became so successful – it’s a complete mystery to me. I admire what the guy has achieved, I have nothing against him, and by all accounts he’s a really nice guy and all. But Time’s number one blog….hmmm. I think Penelope touches on it when she says “But I think minimalism is lifestyle porn.” – I think to many people it is – looking at Leo’s blog is like looking at porn in a way – easy to do and maybe gives people a quick thrill. The reality is minimalism is actually quite a useful tool – I’ve used it myself very successfully, but it is just that – a tool.

    • Littleengine
      Littleengine says:

      Hmmmm. I’ve read a little of this guy. He’s trying to make a living off the Internet telling other people how to make a living off the Internet. It reminds me of the people who (used to) make a living telling other people how to make a killing in real estate. He’s cynical enough about his enterprise that I’d be inclined to suspect he planted the above anonymous post. $25 a month to subscribe to the opinions of one person online? No bleepin’ way.

  2. Avat.R Koo
    Avat.R Koo says:

    You may be interested in reading Ev Bogue’s stuff. I think he’s going to delete his blog soon, but google “Far Beyond the Stars”. He started out in the minimalist movement, then insulted/alienated half his readers, went off the deep end, and now he’s so damn interesting (he talks about augmented humanity. ’nuff said) that I’m considering subscribing to his $25/month

      • Brigitte
        Brigitte says:

        Ev Brogue is a total phony. In a recent photo, he was wearing no less than 4 shirts! Minimalist? No. He’s an opportunist. That’s why he’s “moving on” and charging for it.

        • Tony
          Tony says:

          “total phony”…and according to his latest email on his mailing list broke too. He’s stuck in Berlin and has no money to get home. Of course, it could all just be a plan to get donations! ;)

          • Jane Trimble
            Jane Trimble says:

            I totally cracked up seeing dear old Ev beg for money on Google+ and other social networking sites. What a fraud!

            Step one: Sell book on Minimalist Business.
            Step two: Profit
            Step three: Ask strangers for money because you have no idea how to manage a business.

            What a tool!

          • Tony
            Tony says:

            @Jane: and the funny thing was he said in that same email his stuff was “bullshit” – but you could buy all three books for $99 if you wanted! Why would I want to spend $99 on bullshit? What kind of attitude does that display to customers? Having said that I’ve always thought Ev was an engaging writer, although I didn’t always agree with everything he said. I actually bought Minimalist Business and Untether to Evolve (reviewed on my site) because these happen to be areas I’m interested in. But when I contacted Ev with what I thought was a genuine query on Untether, I got totally ignored. OK, so be it, that’s not how I would deal with paying customers, so why value his business advice!? :)

      • z
        z says:

        @ Ari – awesome! I love finding these nuggets online. Really, people are willing to shell US$30-US$50 for an e-book written by somebody who describes himself as a “cybernetic yogi” with a straight face? I mean, The Onion couldn’t have written it better.

    • Littleengine
      Littleengine says:

      Oops. I replied to the wrong post. Here’s the reply in the proper place.

      Hmmmm. I’ve read a little of this guy. He’s trying to make a living off the Internet telling other people how to make a living off the Internet. It reminds me of the people who (used to) make a living telling other people how to make a killing in real estate. He’s cynical enough about his enterprise that I’d be inclined to suspect he planted the above post. $25 a month to subscribe to the opinions of one person online? No bleepin’ way.

      • Z
        Z says:

        Little Engine – that’s exactly my point. That guy sounds like a 21st century snake oil salesman. And apparently people fall for that kind of quackery. Incredibly amusing :)

  3. Angela
    Angela says:

    Please don’t get me started on Leo and Zen Habits. He doesn’t buy anything; his family doesn’t need anything but each other; his kids don’t have anything; they don’t watch anything; they don’t use anything; they don’t eat this; they don’t eat that; they don’t go here; they don’t go there; they don’t have paper; they don’t have cords; he doesn’t do email; he doesn’t accept comments; he’ll only accept one ad; he won’t have any ads. Give me a break.

  4. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I like your posts on minimalism. I’m not a minimalist, but I’m not a hoarder either. And because I’m at the very beginning of adulthood, I have yet to acquire any large possessions, or even really a place to put them in. So I’m beginning to think, perhaps all I need in my life is a big room with a bed, a tv, a desk, a treadmill, a chair, a fridge and a microwave (and even those last two are a push, because I am certain I could survive on Luna bars alone), and another room for a gigantic closet. I will never stop buying shoes and clothes, I’ve decided, even though I always say I’m going to curb my online shopping addiction. Last, of course, is a bathroom.

    My minimalism, I think, is the anti-McMansion aspirations of my mother, which never did complement my father’s entrepreneurial career.

  5. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Lol, who else organizes their books by color?

    I like your analysis here. Isolation requires making your own interestingness. Being in a sea of interestingness outside our homes make minimalism more possible. I think we have difficulty making life interesting without things.

    • z
      z says:

      @ Sarah – I’ve seen the trend of sorting books by color in many shelter magazines in the last 2 years. Mainly in british mags, though (like LivingEtc) so it’s not definitely for minimalist but more for more-is more-people (my kind of people-I’m a proud ‘Homo consumericus’, with no discipline whatsoever to try minimalism.)

        • TK
          TK says:

          I sort books by color. I have a ton of books, and I use most of them for my work. I remember books by their cover color, not by author, not by title. I have books grouped in each room by theme, then by color. Some of us have different ways of framing memory and the markers we use. The book _The Art of Memory_ is really interesting in this regard.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        I don’t have bookshelves and can’t afford them and don’t know how to build them so I started “decorating” with my books two years ago. Got the idea from the Pottery Barn catalog. Pottery Barn’s been decorating with books for quite some time now.

  6. Jean Gogolin
    Jean Gogolin says:

    I have only one reaction to Leo’s blog: It’s boring. I guess one could also add repetitive, which is pretty much the same thing. Read one of his posts and you’ve read them all.

  7. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    What works for Leo “minimalistically” obviously doesn’t work for you in the way your concept of the same won’t work for everyone else. There is no one way, but thanks for sharing yours. Now if only we can work on simplifying scattered minds… ;)

  8. Marti
    Marti says:

    Minimalism is some kind of continuum, isn’t it? I have always thought this whole issue has two sides of a line: We cross it and leave minimalism when our possessions begin to own us, when we consider ourselves less when we don’t have our full complement of ‘stuff’, whatever that full complement entails for each of us. There is some kind of workable medium for each of us. I have had nothing, and I have had entirely too much. Neither fit well or felt right. Somewhere in the middle works for me. The key, I believe, is the ‘interestingness’ of our lives, and whatever makes life interesting to us should be in our lives, whether it is shoes, TVs, internet, books, or lego toys.

  9. .Bryan
    .Bryan says:

    I for one don’t understand how you can embrace minimalism and interestingness at the same time? How are YOU obtaining your ideas of what to write? Where do you get your statistics? With whom do you interact to get your quotes? Obviously you’re not as minimalist as you might think you are…..or at least your minimalism hasnt caught up to your lack of informational input from wherever that might be….unless of course you have a separate stash of tv’s, ipads, books, stores etc that you aren’t telling us about…..

  10. Brett Legree
    Brett Legree says:

    On a personal level, I think Leo’s a nice guy, I’ve chatted with him a few times.

    I do still read his posts in my feed reader but there’s really been nothing new there for well over a year. You have to admit, he’s cleverly built this sort of “empire” and he has the market cornered on this stuff in many ways.

    So as long as his readership continues to grow, there will always be more new people who haven’t encountered his ideas to replace those who have grown tired of the repetition and moved on. Clever.

    My thoughts? Minimalism is relative to me. I have four kids, two cars, a nice house, I live in a small town in Eastern Ontario, Canada, surrounded by forests and farms, I have easy access to organic food via a co-op, several normal grocery stores, reliable and clean water, electricity, etc.

    It would be pretty hard for me to be a “minimalist” compared with some folks in the world and what they don’t have.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. Just clarifying that I really like Leo too. That’s why I was on the phone with him, after all.

      So I guess this is a warning to all my friends: No one, not even the people I like, are safe from my complaining. But probably everyone already knew that :)


  11. Brigitte
    Brigitte says:

    I’ve met a few high profile minimalists in person, Everett Brogue, Karol Gajda and others. At the last minimalist gathering I attended, I got in a rather heated argument with some minimalists about car ownership. My husband and I live in Chicago, and we share a car. My argument is that in the year and a half we didn’t have a car, we spent too much of our time scheduling. When to get the groceries. When to catch the train to visit our families. And his family is just far enough into the country that the Metra doesn’t go there. So we either borrowed a car, rented one or asked them to come in.

    And that is exactly my problem with many so-called minimalists. They expect others to make up for their lack of resources. Maybe a minimalist doesn’t own a lot of dishes, but the roommate does. Or they don’t have a car, so they’re always bumming rides.

    Karol Gajda recently described his ideas about minimalism, reframing the lifestyle as optimalism. He described it this way: “Minimalism itself is not about the minimum number of things, but the optimum number of things necessary for my life. No more and no less than I need.”

    That’s a philosophy I can get behind, and I think it allows for interestingness.

    • thatgirl
      thatgirl says:

      everyone in chicago seems to feel they need a car, and it helps make for a vicious circle of complaining that public transport there doesn’t take people many of the places they’d like to go, yet finds many not patronizing the system so that it could be fiscally able to expand to meet needs. every four years or so, there’s a study about how to make the MTA solvent, more interconnected with metra, but as long as car ownership reigns supreme, it’s kind of a moot point. the result is often restrictive parking and unabated traffic.

      chicago’s also built like a suburb. many people can’t walk to the corner to get milk or another staple in many neighborhoods, or pick things up on the way home via a train or bus; grocery stores can be big destinations…with big parking lots, and the suburban mindset of needing to do one big shop weekly. for all the boasting of being well-planned, quotidian function seems to be an afterthought. the one exception is what people have done in making cycling more possible and practical as a transportation option, as weather allows. this facilitates some of the practical getting around for some.

      your criticism of “so-called minimalists” borders on politically conservative “bootstrap” criticism. sometimes people don’t make a lot of money doing what they love (e.g., teachers, artisans of various sorts, librarians), and find themselves happy with a minimalist approach, as a result.

      i share whatever i have with such friends, because it doesn’t put me out to give them a ride, squeeze another in for a dinner i’ve made, or share my dishes–that defines community. not everyone needs to own one of their own everything. other people make it possible for most of us to make a living; that compels me to share what i have. the pendulum could always swing in the opposite direction for any of us.

      • Brigitte
        Brigitte says:

        thatgirl – €“ your first two paragraphs seem to contradict each other. First, you take a swipe at those of us who have cars and then in the second, you make our case for us. My argument to the minimalists I met was that it can swing either way, depending on your personal situation. Having done both, sharing 1 car between 2 people works best for my husband and me.

        In the year and a half when we didn’t have a car, we were part of that cycling crowd, and you'd often see us out in snow or rain. Life doesn't stop for weather. Now that we have a car, I take the CTA to and from work every day, and he drives some days or takes public transit to work and runs home. My line (Blue) is subject to intense overcrowding, and it makes my commute miserable as I am literally pressed (full body) into my fellow commuters. I'm really confused by your comments that seem to indicate that most people don't take the CTA – €“ that couldn't be more contrary to my experience.

        My point is mainly this: if you start talking to minimalist bloggers, you see that many follow the movement with very little introspection. I've met more than one "minimalist" who owns more clothing than the average person. In the popular 100 (or 50) things challenge, you can count 20 t-shirts as 1 thing! My statement on using a roommates dishes was not saying that sharing is bad, but rather that minimalists can use really sketchy math to add up their belongings. If your roommate has a full set of dishes, and you use them regularly, then you need to count them in the list of items you live with. Sharing sets of dishes between roommates isn’t minimalism…it’s normal!

    • Casual Surfer
      Casual Surfer says:

      Optimalism – I never heard of that before but it is something I can wholeheartedly get behind. I need to practice optimalism – when I try to practice minimalism I end up re-buying half of what I got rid of (especially tools, I’ve decided to never get rid of another tool because 3 months after I do is exactly when I need the special saw to trim the bottom of a door casing).

  12. Vangile
    Vangile says:

    I loved this blog post. I cannot believe I read it as I was meditating on how to help my business partner declutter because he is a hoarder and I now work 3 days from home because I cannot write in that space. It feels claustrophobic. We used to date and hated that I gave away everything or just threw it out and told him the universe would send it my way when I need it. I have spent the last few months reading books on why people gather things and I do agree that it is partly circumstantial – I do not think I would be so minimalist if I had not spent 3 years traveling and living in 3 different continents. Traveling forces you to be a minimalist or lose most of your money to the airlines.

  13. Katie
    Katie says:

    I liked that this blog was a different take on minimalism. I’ve been reading Zen Habits and such for a few months now and had to feebly nod my head in agreement when you said it turned into some sort of minimalism porn. I’m not a minimalist, but I do enjoy thinking outside of a hyper-consumer culture and attempt to apply those ideas on my own terms. I’ve always felt that minimalism is a continuum. That everything is really–there are uniform extremes, well they are rare. How many people do you know actually do the extreme minimalist “in the wild” kind of lifestyle? I do agree that many of the minimalist blogs are repetitive, I’ve gotten tired of the “how to” lists, but there’s no reason to insult Leo, he’s doing what he genuinely believes in.

  14. Bill
    Bill says:

    You have me laughing. This whole concept (and well, your too) reminds me of so many people who “move to the simple life”, escaping the ‘establishment’ ONLY after securely amassing more than enough filthy lucre to live very comfortably no matter where they are or what their new lifestyle.

    Do the big six-figure thing for long enough to let it set you up for life, then thumb your nose at that hurried lifestyle. Nice deal if you can manage it… but do you suppose all the millions of people who can’t bankroll that sort of idealism see it the same way?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a valid point, Bill. I have not amassed a ton of stuff myself. But as a child I had every material thing I wanted. And I think that enables me to be not so impressed with the material world now. I do think it’s easier to go without when you have already lived with everything.

      Interestingly, though, the farmer was much more impoverished as a kid than he is now, but as a child he never felt poor, he never felt like he was being denied material things. So I think a lot has to do with environment as well. There is just not a consumerist mindset in farmland.


    • Joe Therobot
      Joe Therobot says:

      Bill has nailed it exactly. I’ve seen so many people that have made big money as lawyers or doctors, models or TV hosts adopt a “simpler way of life” because they now had the means to do ANYTHING they wanted, simple or not. This reminds me of the late Sam Walton, who drove old, beaten-up pickups because that’s what he liked to own and drive; with his money, he could have been driving Bentleys for a day, then giving them away. After you have the means, then fewer and fewer choices are foisted upon you; unlike “Joe six pack”, who is being forced into more and more corners with each passing year.
      Now that times are hard economically, it has become all the rage to tell people to stop wanting this and that, in the service of “being green”, “being environmentally responsible”, or “using sustainable products and energy.” These are just thinly veiled ways of telling average people that the things they really want are now unobtainable, because they will never again have the disposable income to afford them. The governments and corporations are going to suck the average person dry, with little means left for the masses to enjoy things they could count on just ten years ago, like health care, new houses, cars, vacations, college educations, and cheap, wholesome food instead of processed junk.
      People that have made tons of money and then opt out of the rat race are jokes; especially if they tell others how to conduct their lives in a more restrained manner.

    • Tony
      Tony says:

      I don’t think the simple life is restricted to people with 6 figure incomes is it? I switched to a simpler life when I was £150K in debt – it did wonders for my bank balance, and helped me become debt free. Maybe the sanest thing someone with their back to the wall in these hard financial times can do is switch to the simpler life.

  15. heather
    heather says:

    I thought you met the Farmer because he emailed you after reading one of your columns… how’d that work if he didn’t have internet?

  16. Stephanie Fox
    Stephanie Fox says:

    I smiled when you wrote that you only bought the book because it matched your house well. A man would say typical woman.:D
    Anyways I am interested in that book. Would be interesting to turn my little flat into art. lol.

  17. Ron G
    Ron G says:

    Penelope’s final line resonates best with me:

    ” – do we need a guide to minimalism, or do we need a guide to understanding where our own sweet spot is on the continuum between minimalism and interestingness?”

    I think finding your personal sweet spot on the continuum is key. My wife is a hoarder and so are her mother and sister. I trend towards minimalism and this is partially a reaction to my wife's tendencies to buy and hold onto stuff (some useful, most not).

    I also agree with Penelope’s point about wanting fewer things if you don’t see / hear about them. After I got a PVR and stopped watching TV commercials I found didn’t want to shop as much. By skipping the mall and other retail opportunities I further reduced my desire to buy stuff. I know I’m not just cheap because if I see something I like online I often buy it – even impulsively.

    I plan to continue finding my sweet spot on the continuum (and hopefully nudging my wife in the same direction as mine).

    • thatgirl
      thatgirl says:

      when hoarding runs in families, one has to wonder what drives it, emotionally. i don’t disagree with some psychs who accredit it to those who are trying to fill some sort of gap in their lives. i had a grandmother who was one, and the result, after her passing, was the sad sight of someone who thought things were more important than people (not to mention the months it took me to clean out her home).

      how to compel that in a spouse seems quite a challenge. good luck!

      otherwise, i’m so with you on cutting commercials out of our lives as a way to simplify, calm the noise. after a career in marketing and advertising, i rather hate listening to/seeing it all. we’ve elected to drop cable all together and simply get viewing entertainment via whatever streams, and DVDs…and more reading for pleasure!

  18. Grace
    Grace says:

    I dunno. I rather like “Focus”. If you dismiss the ideas because they seem too simplistic, then maybe you don’t appreciate the power of ideas. This isn’t about just one technique, not having stuff or placing yourself in a position where you are forced to live with less. It’s about seeing life differently and making those choices wherever you live.

    I don’t know if this is about minimalism as much as it is about simplicity. (

    The philosophy of stoicism which is brings in a lot of the same ideas.

  19. Dana
    Dana says:

    I guess technically every college kid living in their own apartment is a minimalist. I remember living in a two room apartment in New York City with no furniture but my futon – which was my bed as well as sofa. No TV, no radio, no phone, no computer, no internet. The super brought me two folding chairs after he came by once to fix a window as he was so appalled at the sparseness. I did get a land-line eventually at my mothers insistence. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I needed anything else. I had clothes, food, my puppies, and a place to sleep. Life was good.

  20. Steven A. Lowe
    Steven A. Lowe says:

    Your article on minimalism was interesting, but had too many words in it.

    As a “true” minimalist, I can only read 50 words per day.

    And I can only type 32. :-)

  21. Erica
    Erica says:

    Penelope, if this means you are no longer flying to LA for a haircut — great, I agree, yon might qualify as a minimilist and I think that’s great. Otherwise, I’m having a really hard time with the concept.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Still flying to LA to get a haircut. But I don’t think I’d do that anymore if my hairdresser weren’t also my best friend… I’d probably go to Chicago — only two hours away. Minimalist or not?


      • Margaret Goerig
        Margaret Goerig says:

        Not. Not, at any rate, if you’re following the idea minimalism as you’ve described it: not keeping up with the Joneses. I think you’d learn to cut your own hair or have the farmer do it for you, because you would not care what it looked like in the end. Or maybe you would just stop cutting it altogether.

  22. dstallma
    dstallma says:

    I put all my multi-colored items, including books, in the 2 guest bedrooms. I keep the living area and my bedroom in monochromatic shades of grey with splashes of cobalt blue. It’s nice to know that others color coordinate their spaces to the extent I do.

  23. Doug
    Doug says:

    “And I wonder, do we need a guide to minimalism, or do we need a guide to understanding where our own sweet spot is on the continuum between minimalism and interestingness?”

    That quote is on the mark. It is not about duplicating another person’s sweet spot. It is about finding our own.

    I too have wondered about Leo’s concept of leaving Guam, with it’s imposed minimalism, to move to SF. I’ve been in SF many times and the minimalistic life it isn’t.

    • JBee
      JBee says:

      I was going to reply to Pen’s post to say that Leo would have a much easier time being a minimalist in San Fran than on Guam. I’m from Guam, and Guam does not encourage minimalism.

      For the record (speaking up for my homies on Guam), Guam is isolated but has a better shopping selection than many places than in “The States” (as people from Guam often call the U.S.) This is particularly true of luxury goods and anything made in Asia. I’ve been to several cities in the midwest and south, only to be disappointed in the shopping. I love West Coast shopping and long to re-visit South Coast Plaza, anyplace in San Fran, Vegas, Seattle, etc. I’m no minimalist!

      On Guam, minimalism (material minimalism, anyway) is impractical and irresponsible because of the supply chain. There are always typhoons that cut the island off from essentials–sometimes for just a few days; other times for weeks if the harbor gets damaged. When K-Mart and Cost U Less run out of toilet paper or canned goods, or Home Depot runs out of plywood for boarding up windows, residents are pretty much S.O.L. This results in a sort of forced hoarding. It is considered foolish and irresponsible to NOT keep a few weeks’ worth of essentials in your home!

      P, I was shocked when you said you have no cabinets in your kitchen. I know from one of your tweets that you live in a 1 snowplow town. Where do you stockpile food for when you get snowed in? I’m not talking nuclear war-level stockpiling, but just a couple of week’s worth of food for your kids.

      • JBee
        JBee says:

        Duh. I bet you have a pantry. Please say you have a pantry and some way (other than visiting the Farmer’s parents) to feed your kids if you get snowed in for a long time.

        When I first saw one of those, my eyeballs fell out of my head! A room. Just to hold food. What luxury! I actually took photos!

        In my defense, that was pre-internet and pre-food channel. It’s been 20+ years and I still remember exactly how I felt at that moment. A room. Just to hold food. What luxury!

  24. Tatiana
    Tatiana says:

    Personally, I don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with consumption; I buy books and DVDs because I want to enjoy them multiple times at my leisure. They’re about learning and if I love something, I want to keep it in my possession for as long as humanly possible. The concept of minimalism (if it really is a Buddhist concept) is about letting go of what you don’t need, what burdens you. It’s why Buddhism says that attachment brings misery, and that by letting those attachments go, you’re no longer basing your happiness on the condition of that particular thing or person. Minimalism is an extension of that; throw out what you don’t need or use, and only get the essentials. It’s about living within your means versus bursting at the seams with items that you’re afraid or too lazy to toss out.

    But to be minimalist is also very much about being mindful. A lot of people hold on to things in anticipation of using them in the future, or thinking that they’ll need it in some random situation. It’s about living in sustainable comfort, so unless you’re traveling all the time, you don’t have to live like a vagabond with almost no items, but just enough that you use everything that you own on a regular basis.

    But minimalism is not just about physical items, it’s a mentality as well. Not feeling that you have to overextend yourself, not just at work, but socially as well. Knowing what your emotional and mental needs consist of is equally important.

  25. tiff
    tiff says:

    When I saw your books stacked in the nook by the stairs, I smiled and thought of Samuel Pepys. He shelved his 3000 books by height, smallest to largest, to efficiently use storage space.

  26. Mariane H Tveter
    Mariane H Tveter says:

    Great post. I live like this as well, in a way. give a great peace of mind and lots of time to be creative. which brings me to my point for writing-

    The ugly books:
    I sympathise. Let me share what I do.
    if the content is really cool you can always put on a more interesting cover;) do a collage, use giftwrapping paper, paint it… the sky is the limit! and it is a fun thing to do;)

  27. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    I read focus and maybe I am forgetting some huge chunk of the book but what I got out of it had absolutely nothing to do with paring down our possessions. If it was indeed about minimalism, it was minimalism of the mind: scheduling in moments to disconnect; weeding the good ideas out of the plethora of noise; trying to do a few things well, rather than scattering ourselves thin. I don’t remember Leo talking about getting rid of stuff; it was more like he was talking about how to live with so much stuff.

    Also, when you say this: “Plus, I discredit all straight men who do not have a wife or kids and claim to be minimalists. They are not minimalists, they are just bachelors, programmed over thousands of years to use sex to accumulate possessions rather than shopping.”

    You’re not talking about Leo; are you? Because last I heard, he has six kids and a wife.

  28. Jake
    Jake says:

    I would love to have enough cash flow to go minimalist in Haight/Cole valley with a family of 8. The cost of 8 one-way tickets from guam to San Fran would be more than I have spent on any car purchase.

  29. kerry
    kerry says:

    all fascinating! love both of your blogs — fun to see the “mash-up” here. my take on minimalism (and such blogs) is that minimalism can be a broadstrokes foundation of one’s thinking rather than a prescriptive list of what should or should not be in one’s home. so while I might not limit myself to 20 things, minimalists like Leo remind me that most thing I think I need to get are really just bonuses.

    i totally agree that NYC makes one prone to consumerism because of peer pressure, which you cited, and also because it is so easy to shop here! in LA, for example, there are so many barriers to shopping: driving/parking/finding a space/picking a store to drive to that one must select this activity.

  30. H
    H says:

    Look at the SEO gold in this post: Leo Babauta, Focus, The Selby is Your Place, minimalism, San Francisco, New York City, porn, bed bugs, Kindle, iPad, Jon Stewart, The New Yorker, New York Magazine.

  31. littlepitcher
    littlepitcher says:

    As someone who once lived in a pickup truck topper for two years, I understand minimalism–I just can’t practice it without the financial pressures of unemployment.
    Aesthetics, function, and efficiency make more sense than minimalism. Combining these three values will enable us to toss out the mental and physical clutter, along with the dust mites and cobwebs.
    Electronics does the rest. I only purchase books, now, if they’re secondhand and under a dollar. E-books, electronic downloads, and paperless office and purse are my eventual goals, and bedbugs are not known to hide in laptops, tablets, or i-implements.

  32. Ilana
    Ilana says:

    Penelope, you are such a troublemaker with that headline!

    I love reading your blog. It always wakes me up and even though once in a rare while it makes me angry (not this one) I still recommend it to everyone I know because it always shows another side of things that is worth thinking about.

    Minimalism is interesting and I think about the concept when I am making a decision about whether to buy something.

    I don’t judge people who are more or less minimalist. Those who do remind me of people who are religiously observant and feel superior to those who are less observant. I feel the same thing about religion as I do about minimalism (a sort of religion): what you do is more important than what you say or what you have.

  33. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    You can sell your old books on Amazon. I’ve sold out-of-print books there for anywhere from $30 to $275. What you think of as ugly others might actually be looking for.

  34. betty in munich
    betty in munich says:

    In 2000 a fellow colleague moved to Germany to work for the same company I was working for. He had a “house warming” party at his apartment and my husband and I were invited. His apartment was on the top floor of a wonderful old building in downtown Munich full of wonderful angles and large windows as well as a tiny balcony. As I looked around I saw barely any furniture so I assumed it hadn’t arrived. He walked up to welcome us and I said all cheery, “the place looks great when is your container arriving with all your furniture?”. He looked around puzzled and said, “Um it already did, I unpacked last week”. Ooopps, he was truly a minimalist and upon closer inspection his place literally had 3-4 pieces of furniture including a bed and a sofa and that was it. No decorations, nothing…but it looked very nice.

  35. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    I’d be careful with throwing out your kids’ stuff if I were you. They should, and most likely will, resent that control. I suspect that you are raising future hoarders, not future minimalists.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      Hmm, I tend to agree Steve! Kids will mostly swing the other way when left to their own devices.

  36. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    Minimalism is easy for an individual, hard for a family, especially if the members disagree on what’s essential to keep.

    You can throw away your kids’ toys because you’re the mom. Imagine what would happen to your marriage if you threw away your husband’s books. (Or X-Box, plow, whatever fits)

  37. maximillienne
    maximillienne says:

    fucking A…its why i gave up minimalism…its so boring…

    also, agree with lifestyle porn…its so OCD to have that as an ideal aesthetic…

    so when are you going to move back to civilisation…you’ll get bored eventually…

  38. Connie
    Connie says:

    3. A social circle of people who are minimalists

    Oh, so true–peer pressure is not just for kids!

  39. c
    c says:

    Have you considered giving the books to the library or thrift store, and the clothes too. Rather than going to a landfill pass them on!

  40. Theresa Quintanilla
    Theresa Quintanilla says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. It help me confront my conflict between simplicity and stimulation. No WONDER I felt ambivalent. You put your finger on it. I AM ambivalent about things. I want variety without accumulation. Things must be replaced and not collected.

  41. Sasana
    Sasana says:

    You have an editor, yet this sentence was published: “The result was extreme loneliness, and over-dependence on his parents, which were the only people who could make their way into such a closed-off life.”

  42. Fuji
    Fuji says:

    If you are really steadfast in your convictions, isn’t it possibly to be a minimalist and remain focused on something else rather than consumerism even in NYC? I agree we tend to become one with our peers and something like eyebrows might suddenly become earnestly important, but isn’t the beauty of NYC the sheer diversity of people? I would think NYC allows for individual expression more than probably any other city in the world. Some NYC folks might care if you are wearing the same clothes for 5 days and your eyebrows are askew, but just as many won’t. – right? The pressure to conform to local standards is greater where there is less diversity.
    Additionally, isn’t it a good thing to have interesting/diversity/stimulation external to your living space? Wouldn’t living in SF like Leo provide further impetus towards minimalism; so much stimulation available it isn’t needed at home? I always think the reason NYers wear so much black is the visual landscape is so stimulating already. A city seems like a great place to practice minimalism (IF you have the steadfastness I mentioned above)

  43. barbara de vries
    barbara de vries says:

    A book you would enjoy: Spaced Out, radical environments of the psychedelic sixties:
    @ Amazon of course. Not just for pix but a great cultural history.
    The simple lifestyle was of course very sixties – build your own with whatever available, grow your own (as you practice) and do not consume unnecessarily. The form- genuinely creative architecture- that evolved from this function fits your notion of modern/simple better. The “joke” the sixties and hippies have become was a conscious effort by the powers that be to keep us in line consuming and dependent on the status quo. Off-grid and self-sufficient are the enemy of capitalism.

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