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?

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189 replies
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  1. Jacque
    Jacque says:

    Claims not to judge or like people judging yet judges Leo’s ability to be a minimalist in San Francisco.
    Attaches herself to things like a house and books that match it or look good in it, instead of attaching to and caring for the relationships in the house. Truly caring for a relationship means you respect others enough not to throw out things that may be important to them. These decisions are made together. What if your kids threw out all of your non-functional frames hanging on the walls of your house becasue they happened to not particularly like them? Would that be okay?

    Leo may live in San Francisco so his family has more activities to do together, but that does not mean he is not a minimalist or that he advice on minimalism or zen habits are any less valuable.

    You are on the farm, but get up at 4 or 5 am to work alone. You feel isolated and alone, the police are on speed dial, the kids are where when you bash your head with a lamp, and you’re worried about where you’ll go if you’re husband dies or you have leave? I’m not sure what you seem to be touting as the “real” version of minimalism is working well. Maybe you need more stuff or more activities to get outside of yourself, not feel as lonely, and not worry so much about the farmer and what used to be his stuff.

  2. imelda
    imelda says:

    Penelope, I love this post. Thank you for articulating what has bothered me for so long about the minimalism movement — it is “lifestyle porn” (great phrase) for people with boring lives. All of those 1-year “experiments” are exactly like dog and pony tricks, with no lasting substance behind them. Ugh.

    That said, I love Leo’s blog, and I think he has a lot of wisdom to share. I’m not being contradictory — his blog is great, but I also accept your valid criticism.

    Likewise, while I enjoyed this post, I wish you would be a little less judgmental and aggressive in your posts about other bloggers, even if they do help you get readers. I think about a blog like Get Rich Slowly, where JD Roth maintains and gains readers through consistently good content; he never relies on inflammatory titles or stirring up controversies.

  3. The Everyday Minimalist
    The Everyday Minimalist says:

    Penelope you are so right.

    This is why even though I am a ‘minimalist’ in the conventional sense, I see the need for stuff.

    Probably the better explanation is that I’m someone who is a modern girl, who hates owning and holding a lot of stuff because she HATES moving from city to city with it.

    More like a modern nomad. Minimalism is part of it, but for me, minimalism is more about focus. Simplifying your life down to what you need, what you want, and not what you don’t want or need.

    This sounds so banal, even stupid… but you’d be surprised how many things I did and how many people I kept in my life who were just negative and dragging me down mentally and physically.

    I simply don’t do what I don’t want to do. I only do what I want to do. I keep what I want to keep. I buy things. I wear different outfits. I have more than 5 pairs of shoes or 5 outfits. I don’t own a TV, I only have a cellphone between my BF and I, and I want kids. Lots of them. I know they come with toys and things and I’m okay with that.

    I just don’t want to waste my time or energy on things that I don’t find useful or beneficial for –my– life any more.

  4. The Everyday Minimalist
    The Everyday Minimalist says:

    I think the last point I want to make is that “minimalism” is such a broad term. Everyone picks on it either positively or negatively.

    Frankly, why should anyone care what you do with your life?

    It is YOUR life, right? Not theirs?

    That’s the real question you should ask yourself. It is only once you let go of what other people think or care about what you do, and you bloody do what you want to do… that makes it all make sense in the end.

    It’s the same as with personal finance, or even frugality (another hot topic that comes under fire a lot).

    So what if people make their own soap? Or don’t use detergent at all?

    Just know that these people exist in the world, are happy doing what they do, living their own lives and WANT to do those things.

    There’s no need for anyone to conform one way or the other, but only to see that there are different viewpoints and alternatives if you choose to change (either way).

  5. Rachelle Mee-Chapman
    Rachelle Mee-Chapman says:

    Loved this line:
    “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…”

    Thats how I feel when I read Ev Bouge. I thought his ebook on Miminalism was a good kick start, but most the time I think “Tell me about how you only have two pairs of underwear when you are potty training children.”

    I’ve been on a “less” kick lately. I’m finding that certain possessions drain me of my energy, and I’ thinning, thinning, thinning. My kids and parenter won’t let me get rid of the books tho, which is what drives me the most nuts. The books, and the dvds. (Why? There’s Netflix.)

    Everytime I shop I say this mantra:

    “Everything that enters your home requires your care.”

    It’s helping me stick to the very basics.

    Thanks for the intriguing thoughts.


  6. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Getting rid of your stuff = being boring? This is a great piece but I don’t agree with you.
    We’ve moderately downsized/embraced minimalism and I’ve found the opposite is true. Instead of working more to buy more crap, I read (mostly from the library). I joined Crossfit. I’m getting to know my city better. I spend more time with friends and family.
    Spending hours browsing stores and dreaming of owning a bigger home, a newer car and more expensive clothing is what I consider boring. And working at a job you hate to pay for all if it is even more boring. The epitome of boring: listening to your friend complain about the job/boss they hate and how stressed out they are from work.
    Oh, and now that I’ve found your site I can tell the job haters to come here for career advice.

  7. Jaryd
    Jaryd says:

    I think the author, and many of the commenters here have missed the point of minimalism. Either that, or the minimalist community is doing a bad job at articulating what minimalism is all about. I’m leaning towards both being true.

    When Karol Gajda talks about optimalism, he’s really talking about minimalism. Minimalism is different for everyone, and it’s about finding the right stuff for your situation. It’s not about the least stuff, it’s about the right stuff. If a person claims that minimalism is about hitting a certain number of possessions then they too are missing the point.

    There is nothing inherently boring about minimalism. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Minimalism is about finding what’s important to you – €“ what excites you – €“ and making room in your life to do that. What’s boring about finding your passion?

    I agree that Zen Habits has become repetitive and somewhat stale over the years, but that might be due to the fact that Leo’s audience is still growing, and new readers might appreciate the ‘beginner’ stuff.

    There’s nothing wrong with moving on from a blog (or job, or lifestyle, or whatever) that you’ve outgrown. I’m just thankful to Leo for helping me grow!

  8. Jeremy Ryan Palmer
    Jeremy Ryan Palmer says:

    I have read my share of minimalistic viewpoints over the years, and the almost romantic idealism that most of it is tinged with really catches me, but I am not meant to be a minimalist to the extreme. I enjoy Leo’s work because he has family commitments. I can certainly understand the desire to move to San Francisco. I’d go in a heartbeat if it was just myself, but I have a wife, kids and a job that rely on my being here. Being an art director for a printing company means I can be out of the office sometimes, but when there is a color to be matched, I can’t just guess at it via webcam. Oh, and I enjoy my job (most days).
    So many minimalists are writers by trade, and more than a few are globe-trotting couch-surfers to boot, that it seems that you have to be a writer to make it work. But these writers making minimalism work often fail to see how having laptops and relying on frequent use of public transport and commercial airlines hardly qualifies as living minimally. The form factor of your possessions might be small, but the environmental impact of your lifestyle isn’t really tiny when compared with mine.
    I am not a green fanatic by any means, but my point is this: it is easier for some to claim how good it feels to dunk a basketball and that we should all do it, but when the rest of us come up short (for real) we shouldn’t feel badly about it. The globe-trotting minimalist needs the people who keep regular jobs, otherwise there’d be no public transport or Starbucks to rely upon. We are all a piece of the puzzle of humanity, and the global economy. Mindlessly emulating someone else’s shape will leave you with no place to fit, and a hole where you should be.
    Consumerism certainly holds sway over the populace, as it did me for many years, and sometimes still does. My goal with my kids isn’t to hide it from them, but teach them to deal with it in a reasonable fashion. I’d hate for them to end up as an adult in this world, inundated by life’s options and not have had the lessons already learned.

  9. Jody
    Jody says:

    Excellent, well written piece! Everything you’ve stated is just how I feel about minimalism. My family lives a simple life, but feels no need to count anything, subscribe or read the insanity that spews from Bogue’s mouth or worry about whether it’s OK to drive the truck into town for food. (We live in the country.)

    Well said!

  10. Deyse
    Deyse says:

    You seem to care too much about what other people will think of you if you do this or that.

    But minimalism is not about other people or the place you live, it’s about you.

  11. Meg
    Meg says:

    Cracked up at “lifestyle porn.” Probably is. That being said, minimalism is a great lifestyle, and makes everything SO much more interesting and enjoyable. I like not being about all my old useless stuff that used to lurk in the corners of the basement, or shopping recreationally. But as in any other field or topic, there’s good stuff and there’s BS ;D

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think maybe all things are like this — that is, we make big decisions about our life, and we want to believe we make good decisions, so we end up ranking everyone in our head, but really, there’s no right answer. Still, I always feel compelled to weigh in on what I think the right answer is. Life is more pleasant for me when it’s black and white.


  12. James Dyas Davidson
    James Dyas Davidson says:

    The fact that we have the time to write about, read about and discuss such trivial matters as minimalism, has made me realise what a bunch of shallow, spoilt brats we have become.
    People in Sendai now have nothing; a nuclear meltdown might be about to occur and we talk about books sorted in colour!
    Time for me to rethink for sure.

  13. Joe Campbell
    Joe Campbell says:

    Penelope, soon you will become the “farm” and run short of metaphors to write about just as you point out about the “farmer” living in a closed system. You too have now stepped into that [closed] world and it is starting to show in your writing. So which will you choose, happiness or interesting?

  14. Marvin
    Marvin says:

    Minimalism is the polar opposite of extreme consumerism. Rather than focus on what defines minimalism(in its extreme, mild, or other forms), would we not benefit more in understanding that aiming for minimalism moves us closer to the middle ground? (e.g. optimalism)

    The beauty of Leo’s brand of minimalism is not so much in its definition of what minimalist is. It is the momentum that it creates in stirring a person to take action towards a middle ground. Sure, lots of people swing back and forth between the extremes…but this is not a perfect system.

    What we want is a bell-shaped curve, where most of us will find ourselves without owning or wanting too much, nor too little. If you have things just right, you should neither feel deprived(over-minimalized?) nor burdened(over-consumerized?). Content, happy, and able to serve and co-exist with our fellow people. Isn’t that a worthy goal to aim for?

  15. Annie
    Annie says:

    I disagree with your opinion of Leo’s move, but I honor your right to have it. You are correct that in some ways it is easier to be a minimalist in the country than it is in the city, but country life has needs of its own. I’ve lived in both and know from experience.

    Minimalism on a farm can be horribly boring if you are used to going out and doing things. In the city you can go to the park, the library or other places without it being a big excursion to get out of the house. If you aren’t the outgoing type you can get by on a farm with a good internet connection, and if you can limit the farm animals, tools, tractors and other equipment it is much cheaper (if you don’t have a house payment). If you run to town a lot it can get scary expensive in gasoline alone!

    Thank you for sharing your viewpoint on the subject. You have given me something to think about.

  16. Darby
    Darby says:

    There is no set path to minimalism. There are no “rules” that define this lifestyle. It’s about your own personal journey to define and achieve a less materialistic life. To think otherwise is egotistical.
    Leo’s posts simply provide food for thought for those looking to discover their own way to achieve a life that is more about experiences and relationships than stuff. There are a multitude of ways to achieve minimalism and it’s a personal journey all the way. Having websites to read about how others have achieved a minimalist lifestyle is helpful in giving one a place to start and the tools to move you towards your own definition of a minimalist lifestyle.
    The fact that Leo (and others)have been able to parlay this into a way to make a living for his family lends truth to the fact that people are looking for something other than materialism to make their lives meaningful. How to achieve that life can only be defined by the one making the commitment to go there.

  17. Christy
    Christy says:

    Perhaps I’m the lone romantic… the sole bohemian who reads your blog. Minimalism is a nice aspiration but I find that when I enter friend’s homes who are truly edited to this degree, I find myself longing. Where are the pictures, the treasures, the momentos of who you are? I am not a hoarder, but I really do like looking at certain objects every day. Taking things down and saying to my kids “This belonged to your Gee-Gee (Great-Grandmother), this is what she played with when she was a girl”. I feel I may be too sentimental to ever be a true minimalist.

  18. Layla
    Layla says:

    I used to be a packrat, decided to be a minimalist for a few months (mostly based on daydreams or “lifestyle pr0n”… would’t it be great to go live in another country for a month with only a thermos and moleskine notebook…)

    What I do now is similar to what you do: make a conscious decision of what goes in my apartment, and don’t get sentimental about the decoratoins. If I wanted to decorate with books, I would do it. If I wanted to decorate the remaining shelf space with kinder-surprise toys, I would. As long as it has a net positive effect on my life and doesn’t interfere with putting away things or finding my keys in the morning.

    Hmm…. I wonder if i could travel with only a thermos and moleskine notebook. And passport in a money-belt, and small backpack with a couple changes of underwear, a guidebook, a jacket… now I’m daydreaming again…

    • Joe Campbell
      Joe Campbell says:

      I’m here to say yes you can, while I have a beautiful 3,000 square foot home for my wife and I, my time however is not spent there. It is spent traveling the world for business in fact I’m writing this post from Malaysia on my iPad. Last year I spent 46 out 52 on the road with only a briefcase and airline carryon bag. That’s it no more no less, in addition one of reasons I’ve pointed out iPad is I no longer will own a paper book or periodical. So set your self free…

  19. Christian
    Christian says:

    After reading these comments, it occurs to me that it is inherently “unminimalist” to over-discuss what it means to be minimalist, and especially to argue about it.

    Minimalism is relative and can be done anywhere (contrary to Penelope’s assertion). I believe true minimalism means limiting yourself to the essential, the “essential” being what you believe to be necessary for your ideal lifestyle, and nothing more.

    It is the antithesis of clutter. It is the antithesis of waste. And it is the antithesis of over 100 comments mostly centering on a discussion of what minimalism really is.

  20. walter schmidt
    walter schmidt says:

    I just discovered this site and the passion from all points makes interesting reading. But lots of judgments and assertions. Hmmm. Guess I will undiscover the site.

    • Celticlegra
      Celticlegra says:

      So true. Some people can’t just state what they like, but are compelled to state what they don’t like. There’s a problem with focus and intention. And I feel very sorry for Penelope’s kids….throwing away all the toys that aren’t picked up sounds a bit obsessive-compulsive to me. Maybe it was the bedbug experience that sent her over the edge. I hear that can be quite traumatic.

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  22. sean
    sean says:

    Interesting points, I am building a camper van and a mobile shop in a cargo trailer. Everything I will need will be in it. I am divorced with a son since you mentioned bachelors don’t count. I could fit comfortably a family of three. I have been working on simplifying my life in this direction. I don’t consider myself to be a minimalist but I don’t want any object unless it has a useful purpose that eases my life. If something takes more energy to posses than it creates its got to go. I never know until I try it out though so I am willing to give the object a trial run. I also am looking into connecting circles. The trailer has my tools much like a garage and contains my motorcycle. If I need to work on the van trailer or bike I can do so with little outside help. Solar panels batteries and small wind generators along with gas generators for power. Anything to help the system sustain itself is the goal. Any extra money can go into improving the efficiency and or quality of the system including quality of comfort. Its only minimalist in that the small space only provides so much room for extras. Space saving technologies are of great interest to me. Besides sounds like fun having the freedom to move about and travel with minimal effort. Although gas prices are getting bad. I am working on that also. we will see thanks for your insight.

  23. Tracy deSouza
    Tracy deSouza says:

    What a insipid post. It seems to me like you’re only riding on Leo’s publicity here. There’s no reason to belittle someones’ way of life just because it does not suit you. You could very well have written about your own life here without mentioning Zen Habits.
    Some of the things that Leo writes, for example the ‘Productivity Hacks’ are extremely good advice. He isn’t asking you to buy his book or his advice, you should simple read it all and then take away what pertains to you instead of insulting what does not.This is very imature, at 21, I can tell you that. I’m highly disappointed with you attitude, but that only proves how much publicity and reader involvement you’re getting out of this.
    The truth is, you should find your own balance, no matter what anyone tells you about your life, you still have to find your own way. And try and do that without criticism.
    Have a nice day.

  24. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    “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 seem like an idiot with this statement.

  25. Monica Ricci
    Monica Ricci says:

    As an organizing & productivity expert I am absolutely FASCINATED by the discussion here! What a rousing bunch of varying opinions and I think that’s the point. Between my years in business (13) and reading from and about minimalism, I’m coming to some things I’ll refer to as conclusions.

    1. Minimalism is RELATIVE. There is balance to everything. And as such…

    2. There’s not ONE right way to “be a minimalist.”

    3. I LOVE the term “optimalist” – that I can get behind! That is how I view myself & my family of two. We try to keep around only the things we use and love. Does that mean we only have a few sticks of furniture? Heck no. But we’re constantly evaluating what takes the space in our lives and deciding if it’s still worthy of that space and energy.

    4.I do a workshop on creating simplicity in your life and I offer five keys to help do that. They are simple concepts but not always as simple to implement because they often affect relationships, especially the one on setting boundaries. People don’t live in a vacuum, and it’s easy to say “get rid of all your stuff” but you can’t ignore the nuance of making your primary relationships work in the context of that goal.

    5. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about minimalism online (various places not just here) and I have to come out and say it… *some* minimalists are really annoying. I see them posting in blog comments (or writing blogs themselves) taking an attitude of “more minimal than thou”. Yuck. Do your thing if you’re passionate about it. Educate people, live your example, but please don’t get all high and mighty about it. Dude, do what works for you, make your contribution and get off my back if I own a car or have a TV.

    I guess what I keep coming back to as an overarching concept is that life is a process, and to all things there is balance. Great and thought-provoking post! :o)


  26. denise
    denise says:

    the reason why i see minimalism as positive is because you make use of what you have. you can have 100s of good exercise /yoga books but if you dont use them what is the use? someimes when you have less you use what you have . the posts were very interesting especially the comments about Leo

  27. 36broadway
    36broadway says:

    WHAT a breath of fresh air. Thanks for this, this is going in my next Best Reads of the Week.

    ‘This will scar them for life.’ Too good! Goes to show minimalism does not mean getting rid of your personality or sense of humor.

  28. Skykar
    Skykar says:

    “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.”

    Super offensive, since I am an unmarried man of 22 who adopted the minimalist lifestyle to save myself. Hoarding made me a very lazy, and very unsocial person. Now I have time and friends, thanks to a major lifestyle change. This comment is blunt, and ‘poisoning the well’. Do you also call other people liars before they speak a word?

    I could just say “make me a sandwich”, and you would know the impact of your own words.

  29. Thomas Bruhl
    Thomas Bruhl says:

    A brilliant post. Only recently I came across a link to a video showing Everett Bogue’s loft, a very minimalist space as you can imagine (I think he owns something like 50 things or so) and I thought: My Gosh, this is boring. Empty spaces, empty walls, just ….. nothing. As you say, nothing to stimulate one intellectually and so on.
    I would consider myself a minimalist but not an extremist. I don’t owe anything that I do not use, sure but I own plenty of things that I do. Same with the rest of my family. That’s what minimalism is all about I think, removing the unnecessary from your life, not making it dead boring.
    Thanks for this post!

  30. Nikki Outten
    Nikki Outten says:

    I enjoy reading minimalism blogs as I am actively trying to slowly remove all the crap out of my life. But I completely agree that it is difficult for me to see a single man with no children as a minimalist that I can aspire to be like. Almost all single men that I have known in my life have been pretty close to being a “minimalist”. That lifestyle won’t work for this married women with two small boys who owns a home and actually likes pictures on the wall. I thought your post was both funny and pretty harsh at the same time :b

  31. Jason
    Jason says:

    I agree with your assessment of minimalist how-to references as lifestyle-porn. Lists, websites, or ebooks outlining rules/guidelines on how to achieve someone’s definition of lifestyle minimalism from a capitalistic perspective immediately degenerates into self-parody. Apply Occam’s Razor on “lifestyle” minimalism itself — stop reading those sites.

  32. Santhosh
    Santhosh says:

    Great… you have to take a dig at someone more popular than you to get attention. Leo has some stuff that’s why he gets attention. Please focus on building your substance, you never have to do this cheap trick anymore. You mean people living in Sanfansisico or NY dont deserve to be a minimalist..ha ha

  33. susan
    susan says:

    Just found your blog today-after quitting my teaching job b/c I realized that actual teaching-even with rote, scripted curriculum- is less than 30% of my day, and SpEd paperwork is/was the rest. Not sure where I am going from here, but it’s bound to be interesting.

    As far as enforced minimalism goes-I moved last year from a great school district in TX to a really crummy podunk one in OR. We knew we would not live here forever, but the shift for me has been really hard. I have the need of smart people and community places for experiences; OR has great natural beauty but where I live there is zero cultural enrichment that is not self directed ( writing, painting, etc).  I just can’t really find common ideals with most people who live here on purpose.

    I have been organized and clutter-less for all my adult life; to me, minimalism is simply the new buzzword for not hoarding crap/things/people/etc. Monks are the people who truly lead a minimalistic lifestyle. The rest of us are just finally exercising control over our surroundings.

    Life is so amazing. Namaste.

  34. Sid
    Sid says:

    “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.”
    What a vile sexist pig you are! 
    I won’t be visiting your website again and from now on will always discourage as many people as possible from reading your blog.

  35. Sid
    Sid says:

    “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.”
    What a vile sexist pig you are! 
    I won’t be visiting your website again and from now on will always discourage as many people as possible from reading your blog.

  36. Miss Angela Solo
    Miss Angela Solo says:

    I became ultra minimalist when I walked out on my marriage.  I went from a 5 bedroom house with a hoarder husband into a single room in a womens shelter.  Between myself and my three girls we had exactly one small suitcase and a washing basket full of ‘stuff’. We lived in a room that had two bunkbeds and a tiny childrens closet.  We couldn’t even make the childrens closet look full.  Heck I didn’t even have a bank account and it would be some time before I managed to arrange a basic survival income.

    Since then, stuff comes and goes (in breaking news – I part-own a fridge, and that’s about it).  And I part-ways with ‘stuff’ easily, with giddy glee.  So I dig some of Leo’s posts. 

    One post though ( http://zenhabits.net/un/ ), bugged me to the point where I sent him a tweet. Its called ‘Toss Productivity Out’. 

    In 140 characters I politely asked WTF he meant and whether he was perhaps basking in his zen state, Post-Productivity-Phase, and wrongly suggesting it as a viable Starting Point for those of us with a bagful of children and a life to create and manage.  It wouldn’t fit in my tweet, but I wanted to ask whether he could confidently suggest the content in his post, partly because his Wife does all the busy-work?

    His reply was ‘try it and see what happens’. 

    At this point I stopped reading his news feed. 

    I’m all for harmony and for filtering out the unnecessary.  But to use your considerable clout to advise your readership to Toss Productivity Out, is weirdly conceited.  At least, it did not resonate with me.

    • Anthea
      Anthea says:

      Hi Angela…

      I totally see your point. I can barely imagine the challenges of making such a life-altering step and moving on to take came of yourself and your children.

      In considering the concept behind the post, “Toss Productivity Out,” I at first wondered what the heck Leo meant when I read that a while back. Now I agree with him. What I think this means, or what this means for me, is doing my best to focus on what I’m doing right now, in this moment, and not continually caving in to the tendency to do more than one thing at a time. My kids are in their 20’s, but when they were much younger, and I was a stay-at-home-mom, I took pride in my ability to multitask. I understand through experience that multitasking actually minimizes my productivity. I know that as a mom, it’s really hard to do just one thing at a time, especially with more than one child. I don’t think this path Leo suggests is about perfection though, but rather more about being aware whenever we can to focus on just one thing. It’s a gift we can give to ourselves to do just that one thing (if possible). My example (from personal experience) would be that while reading a bedtime story to the kids, I would sometimes fold laundry while also reading the story. The experience with the kids was less intimate (no cuddling) and the clothes folding took way longer. Now I see that letting the cloths wait and focusing on the kids really has it’s pay offs. JUST read, then JUST fold — that’s my take-away learned from experience.

      I think we’re taught in the USA to be productive at all costs and we are not taught so much (unless we were lucky to have parents who marched to a different drum) to take some pleasure where pleasure can be had now and then during the day — take a brown bag lunch into the park instead of eating at ones desk & working at the same time — take time to say hello walking down the hall — when managing a project, focus more on the people on the team and less on the outcome (surprisingly, the outcome will likely improve).

      I also think that a title like “Toss Out Productivity” is intended to grab certain readers by the short hairs — like workaholic execs who can’t imagine doing such a thing. These are the people who are trapped in a mindset of always being productive. They likely see the alternative to productivity as failure.

      Being a mom of children in huge transition, juggling life in a shelter, is a whole different story. I’ll bet you focus on one thing at a time most of the time, and productivity is not your conscious goal. I’ll bet your conscious goals are far different and far more grounded in the “now” than any fist-pounding, executive who behaves like a slave driver toward his employees for the sake of productivity.

      Good luck to you, Angela!

      Best regards,


  37. Rae
    Rae says:

    I think there’s no one way to be minimalist. What worked for Leo may not work for us. Just as I won’t throw away my kids’ stuff (if I have kids) because I feel that while I want to be more minimalist–I still need to respect other people’s stuff.

    For now, I can’t see how minimalism can be boring. If I determined what’s important to me, and what I’m passionate about and eliminate the clutter that takes up most of my time and energy, then I can focus more time to do what I need to do.

    It’s easy to assume how boring minimalism is if you look at someone else’s life. What’s important to him may not be important to you.

  38. Nineoclocknews
    Nineoclocknews says:

    I do have to say that one can be a minimalist living in a larger city, and most definitely one can be a minimalist if they are a Bachelor. It seems that you have a number of other issues that come to light that have nothing to do with minimalism, and I feel you are taking these out on someone who has dedicated themselves to living their life the way they are most comfortable doing so.

    Living in a larger city and being a minimalist do not conflict whatsoever… Minimalism isn’t about having nothing and being boring, it’s about living on only what you need. This doesn’t mean wants are out of the picture, it means that whatever you own has a purpose and is not just random junk lying around. I have plenty of things that most people would call a luxury, yet they are all used on a regular basis and contribute to my life as a whole.

    As for being a Bachelor and using sex to accumulate possessions, I think that is a horrible sexist thing to say. If anything, as a single male I spend way more on the women that I date than I do on myself. They aren’t buying things for me- I don’t look at relationships as a financial gain or loss. The fact that you do says that perhaps you should reevaluate yourself and your own relationships before commenting on others.

  39. John
    John says:

    Throwing out books and toys? And adding to landfills? And as far as throwing out or giving away or reselling books in order to “minimalize,” probably a good idea–most books are entertainment, fluff, escape, or offer very basic advice and don’t need to really be even be read, they can be skimmed, scanned, sped-read. Why even bother to buy them in the first place? Why not minimize by perusing them first at a bookstore or online and only buy books that deserve to be read, that are so wise and profound that they will hold up after several readings? Why not buy a TV and get infotainment that way? A small TV takes up less space on a shelf. One TV versus many disposable books and the deforestation, et cetera. . . . Where does it all end? I only buy books that (in all likelihood) I plan to read and re-read and mark up and annotate and refer to again and again, & cetera.

    And I’m not much of a fan of Leo’s site; it’s all one-sided, you can’t leave comments, unless you start your own blog and comment on his stuff there.

  40. andrew
    andrew says:

    Why even pretend this self-indulgent rant was supposed to be anything to do with Leo B’s book, as you couldn’t be bothered to discuss it, rather he was simply a handy springboard for your own ego to leap from. You are basically rude. I’m not at all suprised that ‘the farmer’ as you describe your (I assume) partner lived a remote detatched life before you met him. You sound like a self-important pain in the backside who would need to hook up with someone who didn’t know any better. I suspect you never shut up. This ‘article’ wasn’t about minimilism, or Mr Babauta; it was about you. And you are obviously a man-hating bitter woman with a chip on your shoulder who would be an utter nightmare to live with. Good luck to the farmer.

  41. julius
    julius says:

    I moved to Guam from the mainland because I wanted to live a minimalist lifestyle, and I found it on this island. The simplicity of living on this tiny is like the difference between night and day on the mainland. I heard that Leo Babauta, the author of "Zen Habit," moved from Guam to San Francisco because he felt life on Guam was very limiting for himself and his family. This reasoning sounds like it's going against his belief and practice of living the Zen life, or more specifically, the minimalist lifestyle. Now I don't know anything about this new minimalist book, "The Selby is in Your Place," and probably could care less. The book is probably telling its readers what it wants to see, with carefully chosen words and examples, of how to live the minimalist lifestyle in order to sound convincing. Yet, the author, just like Leo Baubata, is pursuing the same material opportunities, like fame and fortune, as the rest of world's population.

  42. Maria
    Maria says:

    I think we do need minimalism but I think of it in practical rather than idealistic terms. To me minimalism is about getting in touch with the necessary and getting rid of the rest.

    A lot of stuff and distractions are not necessary. Intellectual stimulation and diversity are. When you get rid of the unnecessary you free yourself for exceptional attention to the present and therefore to doing exceptional work. I think it is worth it.

  43. Antoniette
    Antoniette says:

    Penelope; I truly appreciate your post!

    I’ve been a ZenHabits reader since before it was popular. Leo challenges me to challenge myself and I like that!

    I also pay the $20 a month for the AList membership and feel I receive FAR more value than I pay per month.

    In truth, Leo himself doesn’t make an appearance in AList often.

    Regardless, it’s the relationships with others and generosity of information poured into it on an ongoing basis (by Leo, Mary, and others) that allow me to glean what is necessary and timely for the natural wellness events/etc. I produce.

    I too, went from begin a city-girl (West Coaster) to a country girl. After three years of feeling completely out of my element, I now appreciate a quality of life that I can no longer imagine living without.

    I think what I love about your post is that it allowed me to secretly say to myself, "Aha! I KNEW it was okay to keep that book!!"

    In the past two-ish years my husband and I have been on a journey to minimize (not necessarily become minimalists).

    In this time we have sold or given away:
    1. What seems to have been "two" housefuls of "this and thats." I never dreamed we had that much to get rid of!

    2. Literal MOUNTAINS of books. After years of being an editor, writing, homeschooling, and being an avid reader, I had accumulated a ridiculous amount of books.

    I used to joke and say, "Would you give away an old friend?" – . "No? Then how could you EVER consider getting rid of a treasured book???!"

    Besides I had “grand” ideas of participating in educating “grand”children, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren! – Yes, I'm laughing at myself with you.

    I'm happy to say I now have a "manageable" number of books and am actually looking forward to lightening the collection even more. (I've truly only "missed" a few of the many hundreds of books I gave away. It was worth it!!)

    3. We even (ashamedly) took two long-bed trailers of yard "what!???" to the dump.

    4. We also downsized our businesses, commitments, etc.

    Like you, we now consume so little, that we have little need for a garbage collector. (Composting rocks!)

    We absolutely love the freedom and clarity that comes with reducing possessions.

    At the same time, I enjoy the warmth of walking into a room that has a couple of plants on the table, a pretty picture that has no "real" purpose, some books and magazines, a bowl of pretty rocks (or some other "treasure") – etc. – VS a house that is stripped so severely you wonder if anyone actually lives there.

    I visit minimalist sites often to keep my family "moving" toward simplicity (we have quite a ways to go). Though I'm not a packrat, I'm married to one. I also know that my natural tendency is to needlessly complicate (which often requires more “stuff” than truly needed to accomplish a project, etc).

    I appreciate the value in seeing others who minimize to the extreme. I figure if I can even accomplish 1/8th of what they have, I'll at least know exactly what to grab in case of fire (because our true valuables will be easily accessible). – Laughing at myself again!

    Seriously though, I don't want to get so caught up in "deleting" that I forget my "expression" can sometimes even be found in the plant I choose for the entrance of my home (for instance). Likewise the same is true when I visit a friend. In my eyes, this is valuable.

    Thank you for a post that basically says, "That's just fine!"

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