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brown leather sofa from freedom with lots of cushions and a turquoise throw with pom poms

The Minimalist Living Movement is BS if you ask me

Minimalist living is nothing new. The concept has been around for decades. Most recently, though, it’s been on my radar because of a doco I watched via Netflix called Minimalism. In it, authors Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus are followed on the journey of their book tour, which focuses on – as you’ve probably guessed – minimalist living.

They spend the majority of the film showcasing how they themselves live minimally; less stuff, essentially. Less clothing, less furniture, less gadgets, less everything. And how they believe it impacts their lives for the better.

I spent some time on their website shortly after I watched the doco. I wanted to discover if my feelings around minimalism would change having reflected more upon their philosophy. And I must declare that it did nothing to change how I feel. Because minimalist living is not for me. A lot of the assumptions around it, in fact, I consider quite ridiculous and somewhat offensive (if we’re being frank, which I think we should be).

So let’s explore what the rather vague concept of minimalist living is, and why I don’t agree.

stacks of cushions from freedom on circular staircase

The Minimalist Living Philosophy

Here’s what The Minimalists website has to say about minimalism:

“Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves.

Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous in your life.”

coastal bohemian interior design with blonde timber sideboard and large indoor plant

My Issue with Minimalist Living

If this is your first time here, let me quickly tell you about my philosophy on living.

As an interior stylist, I believe that great design can be truly life changing. It’s why I decided to work in the world of design, why I partner with clients to transform their homes, and why I started The Life Creative in the first place. The world around you (and especially the immediate world) is full of objects that impact how we feel.

I believe that the room you wake up in, for example – and the space you exist in each day – dramatically effects how you take on the world. The ‘things’ that the minimalist movement suggests are stopping us from experiencing freedom, are important. These things contribute to the ‘life itself’ that they claim they find happiness through. There is nothing wrong with things making us happy. I believe they are often essential to happiness, in fact.

side table styling with brown and black homewares and mirrors from freedom

Your Surroundings are Important

A dark, empty room, for example, has an emotional effect on you. If you were to wake up each day in a small, dark space with no light or soft bed, it would effect your psyche. That’s why solitary confinement exists in our prison system; as a form of punishment (I’m not saying prison is like the minimalist living philosophy, but you get the picture).

On the flip side, if you were to wake up in a bright, sunny, cosy bedroom each morning – on soft sheets with the aroma of a scented candle filling the room – I believe you’d be given an environment far more conducive to happiness. Moreso than the person in the small, dark room, at least.

So let’s start there; the notion that possessions shouldn’t make us happy is ridiculous.

In fact, a study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science revealed that material purchases (like homewares or furniture) provide more frequent happiness over time, whereas purchasing experiences, like going to the movies or a day spa, provide more intense happiness on individual occasions.

artifical-plants-from-freedom-furniture-cluster-of-plants-in-garden

The insulting part

I also reject the notion that I do not experience freedom because possessions make me happy. The art on my walls at home makes me feel something. The table I sit at to eat dinner pleases me. The bed I climb into at night, surrounded by furniture I hand-picked, makes me feel content. To suggest I am somehow oppressed by these possessions, as the minimalist living trend does, is insulting.

And my health, relationship, passions and personal growth have never been forsaken because I enjoy good design. In fact, an interest in these ‘things’ (like interior design) is where my passion lies. Going into client’s homes and making a room work for them and creating a space that looks beautiful, is also my passion. In assigning importance to this ‘stuff’, we allow it to make our lives function more successfully.

I don’t feel trapped by consumer culture, either. I acknowledge that we live in a world that wants us to by things. To endlessly consume. To purchase something and then want to replace it in six months. I know that advertising and marketing is all about wanting me to lust for a better lifestyle. But I don’t get caught up in it. I am not overwhelmed by it, nor am I trapped by it. I know it’s there and my life is not shaped by it.

fall in love with as many things as possible artwork in warehouse apartment with herringbone floors

Minimalist Living vs. Decluttering

I’ve written on the blog before about the importance of decluttering and why I think hoarding (which is a very serious issue) can negatively impact your life. Having a home that is literally packed to the rafters with anything and everything – including garbage in some cases – also has a hefty impact on your mental health. Decluttering is different from minimalist living, though.

Decluttering is about removing unnecessary items from an untidy or overcrowded place. That’s the official definition. I myself love to sort through my drawers and throw away unnecessary items, or things that no longer hold any meaning for me. The process is therapeutic and I feel a sense of reward in doing it.

That doesn’t mean I wish I didn’t buy these possessions to begin with. It doesn’t mean that I’m trapped by them, or that I’m not experiencing freedom because those items were in my life for a fleeting moment and not long-term. I understand that it seems odd to buy things, fill our homes with them, and then experience joy in removing them. But that is the human experience. We’re odd creatures. I’m OK with that.

Cosy Bedroom with grey upholstered headboard and coral feature wall

Where do you sit?

Minimalist living is just not for me. It goes against my general approach to life. It insults my philosophy; that surrounding yourself with beautiful things that make you happy is important to your wellbeing.

Maybe there is more research to be done on my part to better understand minimalism and minimalist living. But I’m not entirely interested. I feel quite content with all of my things, my want for possessions and helping people fill their homes with stuff as well.

If that’s a trap, then I’m quite pleased to be in it. Lock me up and throw away the key. Just make sure the cage I’m in has a throw rug, scatter cushions, stationery set and reed diffuser.

I’d love to know what you think of minimalist living. Drop a comment below if it’s helped you live a better life. I’d love to get your take on it. Or if you’re equally baffled by it, sound off also.

Images in the post come courtesy of Freedom, except Image six which is via Whoovie.

Outside of writing the TLC Interiors blog, Chris is an interior stylist and author. You can also catch him on your TV screens as a designer on Channel 10's Changing Rooms. If you'd like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

Comments (26)

  • Anna Kenny

    Hi Chris – what a brilliant article, I totally agree with you. I’ve always followed 2 of my fav. quotes, William Morris who said, ” have nothing in yr home that you dont consider to be useful or beautiful” – so that covers my cushion and quilt addiction and a fav. poet Tennyson –” If of thy worldly goods thou art bereft and to thy store 2 loaves of bread are left, take one and with the dole buy some hyacinths to feed your soul” . Man or woman doesnt live on bread alone and we sensitive people who love art and beauty are always hungry, We have nothing to feel guilty about, weve worked hard for it and if it makes us happy and joyful and we are not hurting anyone, out with minimalism even the word sounds depressing and dreary

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  • Annie

    Ive seen the show and actually it made me feel sad and lonely, as I believe our home and what we have in it should make us feel happy (and safe). So I personally love colour, and lots of it, and I know it’s not for everyone in terms of decorating, but it makes me happy to look at it and every piece I have has a story that makes it belong to us. I don’t support just buying heaps from Kmart (sorry Kmart lovers) but everything I choose whether it is big or small has some meaning. It doesn’t mean I don’t love a good de-clutter, but all in moderation. I get you Chris!!

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  • This post really resonated with me as I have a real thing against the minimalist fad… I spent 11 months quarantined in the house while undergoing treatment for cancer and it makes you really really look at your home when the only things you see for a year are a hospital room or the inside of your house… even the garden was out of bounds, so it was quite the thing… the idea of facing that if you are living minimally is horrifying…happily I have recovered physically and am doing better than they ever expected and have been cancer free for 2 and 1/2 years now, but it is only recently that I have started to recover mentally and that is because we have been going through a major renovation. I realised during those endless months stuck here that the house was not a nourishing place. It didn’t bring happiness into our day or reflect our lives, it was just somewhere we parked stuff as we rushed onto other things. That made me unbearably sad to tell you the truth. So we are creating a home that reflects where we are as a family now, it’s all about integrating the things that are precious and meaningful from the past into the fresh and calming space that it is now. We did declutter but not viciously, and we certainly didn’t take a minimalist approach, and as time goes on and we are finding new items that we love, we are letting go of other things but I can’t see how that could be anything other than positive… my daughter recently came home with a print she found in a little gallery because she knew it would suit a grouping of other prints perfectly, and it was so special seeing her embracing creating a great environment. Even if it wasn’t perfect I still would have embraced it and used it, because she chose it which certainly isn’t minimal and we do have some glorious haphazard areas, but it is evolving and this renovation journey one of the best things to come out of that hellish year… now we all wake up feeling invigorated and safe and inspired by our environment… it is amazing how much difference it has made to me and quite frankly that has given me a mental freedom that I never thought I would have again.

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    • Anna Kenny

      Hi Tracey – I just posted earlier on and loved yr heartfelt letter – and it really resonated with me too Though not as serious as yr health scare I am housebound for 2 years now with an Inner ear prob, that causes dizziness and vertigo and my home and my things around me are my haven and sanctuary also – I love colour and art and mementos that mean a lot to me and cannot understand the total minimalist concept and find the idea depressing, Wishing you good health joy in yr home and prosperity xxx

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  • Chon

    I agree with everything you’ve said! I find the whole concept of minimal living incredibly bland and soul destroying and actually another way of stressing us because we want to have nice things! My house of my things makes me happy! I believe most people who are overwhelmed need to declutter and organize their life. Take care of themselves. I for one am not getting rid of my cushions any time soon!

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  • Kerry

    Chris, I actually don’t agree with your viewpoint and whilst I love the decorating ideas you give on your blog, I apply them purely to the items I already own. What I think these guys are saying in the documentary is that people don’t need 2 or 3 or 4 of any one thing. I asked myself the question ‘do I need 4 quilt covers’? No! Having 4 didn’t make my life happier – i actually felt weighed down by the many things I had, duplicates and triplicates of the same things, just different colours or styles. They were not junk or rubbish either. They were all good quality items, but I constantly felt overwhelmed by having so much. Finding adequate space for ‘just in case’ moments where I have 4 guests staying overnight at once or 10 staying for dinner where I got to use all my dinner settings (which never happened). I think you miss the main point in this documentary – and of course let’s face it you make your living out of selling ‘on trend’ styling ideas that like clothing fads change very frequently. Of course, there’s a market for that in today’s society. I found this documentary totally uplifting and refreshing and I now enjoy far more the wonderful ‘fewer’ things I own. I wake up in a very bright bedroom , my happy place with one side table, a lovely print above my bed 1 throw and 2 cushions, 1 set of nice sheets (and a spare). You mistakenly think that having less means I will wake up in a dark and dingy bedroom. Not true. All it’s saying is we don’t need 10 of one thing or to believe that we can’t be happy without another item if the social trend changes.

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  • Kerry

    Thanks Chris for your honest response and clarification. Like many things, there’s no ‘right or wrong’ viewpoint. Minimalism is a way of life that works for some and may not work for others. However, it is a way of life that presents an individual with serious questions to answer – I took comfort in what it offered me. Duplication of one thing is not healthy for me or the planet and having less frees me up to devote more time to experiences – putting more focus on people, animals and contributing to society as a whole. only seeing value in ‘things’ and material possessions was not bringing me joy. And by the way, I loved cushions, had so many I was referred to as the girl with the cushion fetish but gee, making a bed now with less cushions Takes less time that’s now reinvested in spending with my son. I don’t really miss my cushions and I still get joy from looking at the few I have left. Win Win in my book.

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  • Laura

    I think everyone agrees that there is such a thing as ‘too much stuff’. My issue with the “minimalism” movement is that it seems to discourage – if not prohibit – keeping anything that is not in constant, or at least regular, use. It’s as though they see “things” only as an end, and never as a means. There’s no box of spares, bits and bobs, odds and ends etc. in the life of a minimalist. This is tragic. I don’t see that stuff as junk, but as a resource. It’s empowering to know that I have the means to fix and repair most of the things I own, without spending two hours -shopping – to acquire a screw and the correct size driver.

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  • Lydia

    Interesting article. Where are the images from? There’s no crediting and I’ve scrolled through twice.

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  • Shirley

    Hi Chris, this is a very interesting topic and good to get your views on.

    I am a Graphic Designer by trade who has always been passionate about interiors and after 16 years in my career, have finally started studying Interior Design. I fully believe our surroundings have a huge effect on how we feel about ourselves and our lives.

    Around 4 years ago my husband and I immigrated from South Africa to New Zealand. We owned a household full of stuff which we had to give up in order to make the move – although we put a small amount of our “treasures” on a cargo ship and had to wait for it to dock and clear through customs – quite a process! For the first year in New Zealand, we lived pretty much out of a suitcase each because we just couldn’t afford to replace all our furniture. When our small amount of things arrived after being without them so long, I had two reactions – why did I pack all this junk, and oh boy it’s nice to have a few familiar things around!

    When my dad died last year the family went through the usual throes of divvying up his “things”. As I wasn’t able to return to South Africa I was given just two of his possessions – two small paintings he did when he was young. That is all I have left of him. And yet, they are absolutely perfect little reminders of him. After much soul searching, I realised I actually didn’t need any more of his things, what I have is enough.

    In my view, I think minimalism is great for people who wish to use it as a vehicle to drive their passions and priorities – if you don’t fill your home with furniture you can afford to travel, if that’s what you ultimately want. For me personally it means paring things back so only what I love is in my space (which as a recent immigrant with not much money, is pretty tiny) and hopefully a bit of money left over to explore my new country. I think creative people have a natural tendency towards curating collections of beautiful things, so full-on minimalism will never really suit us. And yes those beautiful things take money and time to accumulate. And it’s up to us all to decide how we want to spend that money and time. But I do admire those that chose adventures and travel over things, and if it means not being tied to a desk job and more time to do what they want, then power to them.

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  • carole pixton

    I am not and never will be a minimalist. I have just redecorated my home and have introduced a lot more colour. I now sit in my lounge of an evening with all the lovely lamps on, with the light shining on my newly acquired possessions and I love it. I wake up in a newly decorated bedroom with newly painted furniture and colourful accessories. I am hap hap happy!! Having things around you that you get pleasure from is uplifting. I know that my mood has definitely improved since my new look.

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  • Tara

    I think some of the message of minimalism is getting misconstrued here judging by your piece and the comments.
    Minimalism (the lifestyle) is a spectrum. Not everyone chooses to be radical; like other concepts in life, we take what makes sense and should discard the rest. Most people who consider themselves minimalists are never going to be Bea Johnstons or have a hanky jar instead of a box of tissues. Myself included. That’s okay!
    Introducing any degree of minimalism into ones life (even adopting only 10% of the tips for example) can have a dramatic effect on our carbon footprint, because minimalism goes hand in hand with Eco-living and using things responsibly. Just something like commiting to use non disposable grocery bags, for instance, is a step in the right direction.
    I think there’s been a mix up in terms of esthetic minimalism. Many minimalists are not esthetic minimalists. Only a fraction enjoy or find peace from having a stark white space with no art, and a stark white/black/grey wardrobe. That is not the definition of minimalism, but because some of the most visible minimalist faces we see are esthetic minimalists, people assume we all have to be, or want to be. Not true.
    One CAN enjoy beautiful, meaningful decor that makes you happy. A wardrobe every colour of the rainbow. What makes minimalism unique is more about excess. Not having a closet with 100 pieces when you only wear 15. Having “just in case” items in case you gain weight, lose weight, get pregnant, get sick, get invited to a funeral, dancing, etc. Same with having 5 sets of bedding when we can only use one at a time. Are all 5 necessary? Could you bless someone else while lightening your load just a bit?
    Also, I wanted to clarify what was said about minimalists saying that changing their lifestyle gave them freedom. You took offended because you don’t feel bogged down by your stuff. First, minimalists are the first to admit the lifestyle is not for everyone.
    But more to the point, the freedom they speak of is the freedom to pick up and travel out of home for six months. They could put everything they own into their car (save for enough furnishings that they could rent out their home on AirBNB for example). In fact, many minimalists seem to travel often and stay away a while. They don’t want to feel bogged down. I’m at a stage in life with children and chronic illness that I know I couldn’t just pick up and travel half the year, so I don’t feel a lack of freedom from having things. However, I still embrace many of the principles. I don’t need 3 bags and a dresser full of makeup and toiletries. I’d like to cull my wardrobe, and I’d really like to cut back on disposable plastics. I’m starting slow , and while radical minimalism isn’t for me, I’d love to. Be able to get my family’s waste down to one small kitchen bag every 2 weeks. Right now it starts with examining regular offenders in the garbage can and examining alternatives.

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  • Arianne

    So glad I stumbled upon your blog via Pinterest. Could you kindly tell me what the pink or coral color of that bedroom wall is? With the gray headboard… your design is eye candy. Thanks in advance. 🙂

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  • Melissa

    The only reason I can see to live a minimalist life is from an environmental stand point, less consumption, less waste etc. But I love my stuff, making a place your own. Having photos of your loved ones around you, surrounded by comforting items. I couldn’t imagine living any other way!

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  • Siobhan. Desiree. Phoenix

    Where fast fashion and commercialized holidays has gone is extreme and usually when extreme things happen in our culture or sometimes in our lives the human reaction often is to swing in the extreme opposite direction. In the case of minimalism people are so disgusted with the way things are that a happy medium is usually too close to the extreme they want to avoid so it becomes a case of wanting to have nothing to do with that extreme of materialism.

    But a happy medium it seems is hard for people to understand. As there are so many forms within one kind of extremism there are even more forms of lifestyle that are a happy medium. There are minimalists who get cut down all the time on-line for not being “minimalist” enough which is just mean and unfair. Some minimalists still have a passion for fashion and expressing themselves that way while others would say that you can’t be a minimalist if you love fashion and ascribe meaning to clothes. It becomes a case where a lot of minimalists are just like everyone else saying that their way of minimalism is “the” best way. Some may make statements to lead people to thinking that they have flexible viewpoints but then make very rigid statements about such things as collections being “dangerous”.

    I have a love for minimalist interior design only if it incorporates coziness and beauty. If it is designed in such a way to create a beautiful frame work to highlight particular objects so that they are not lost among the clutter. I like minimalist interior design when it focuses on a few colors that complement and contrast or with a pattern thrown in. But it isn’t the only kind of interior design that I love. Bohemian and Kawaii interiors are he opposite of minimalist design and I love them!

    The giving a label to something often leads to people endlessly having to define and defend what that something is and is not, comparing it to something. And in this age of massive information sharing everyone has an idea about how themselves and others should live and often build it up to be fact, the solution and the way out of our difficult times to a kind of utopia. And with so many opinions spread around with pressure behind it to make a better world the potential for more people to be insulted grows because we can’t do everything that everyone says is right to make everyone happy all the time because it is impossible. People will naturally be insulted when people make their entire lives and sometimes careers around insulting people for not being good people who simply take pleasure in their surroundings and what it contains.

    While I have believed in de-cluttering and having a space where my eyes love what I see which has design my space is very important to me. I spend the most of my time at home and I am passionate about many things which does not lend itself easily to being a typical minimalist. I grew up extremely poor and I saw a lot of ugly things in my environment. Beauty, design and having things that support and reflect who I am has come to be very very important to me, full of meaning. There is a lot of psychology that goes into the things we surround ourselves with whether a person decides they shouldn’t have meaning or not. But to say things shouldn’t have meaning to people is to not understand human beings. Someone who has always been privileged and had the ability to rise and have superfluous amounts of stuff, those things perhaps could be meaningless to them because perhaps they had never been in a position to ascribe meaning and beauty to simple things. When you are poor you aren’t just hungry for food. You are hungry for beauty and for me I looked for it everywhere. In the sky, in the trees, buildings, the way light falls on an object. And discovering beautiful things second hand or brand new and then being able to have it gave me comfort. Perhaps some people would day that is vane, materialist etc but it is mean to expect a poor person or anyone who has been poor to erase the beauty of small comforts from their minds and hearts which are actually quite huge.

    People say that money and things won’t make you happy but that quote is often only used by people who have never been truly poor. And being poor does not mean having three meals a day, having a house and vehicle but not able to take a vacation to Hawaii every year or shop for extras when they want. From a standpoint of being truly poor that life looks very rich. As in the case of Anne of Green Gables sometimes when you are poor in more ways than one all you have is your imagination to dream beauty into your life and then when you actually have the beautiful things that express who you are or could be you feel what it is to be supported by your surroundings rather than deeply afraid by the flimsiness of it all. It becomes deeply meaningful to be surrounded by beautiful things because then you get to feel that you are in a good and safe place. Many people will never understand that including minimalists and I get that. I get what their ideology and way of life is about. But their mistake is to not take the time to understand more of how human psychology works. That there are many variables and reasons for why something may never work for a person in the way they think it should. In my case and for other people perhaps, minimalism does not decrease anxiety and depression but maybe cause it in some cases.

    If we are to question minimalism then the question could be ” If we have spent money on the object and it has been in our space, our space is not truly cluttered then why must we get rid of it?”

    Another question would be of how minimalism is good if often people go through monotonous binge and purge cycles of getting rid of and then taking back in year after year. This is a form of “minimalism” that is quite rampant and it does nothing to save the environment but actually works in favor of things like fast fashion and of not using things through.

    I could go on an on. But like a lot of things in this world I see minimalism as having a good and dark side. As being beautiful and interesting yet caught up in the same shackles of the very thing it is desperately trying to run from at the same time. I see it as trying to get closer to being human with deeper ideals yet forgetting to include other necessary points of our psychology that make us very human. I suppose if people were to focus on a midway point, a middle path then it would feel like less of a movement, less of something to make a lot of noise about and it just wouldn’t be a hot topic, a catch phrase flung everywhere getting a lot of attention anymore.

    There is addiction to things in our times but their is also an addiction to attention. Minimalism is just one way to attract a lot of attention. It takes a lot of effort obviously to sway people to specific ways of thinking such as the minimalist mind set. To me all of that effort is not very simple or minimalist. I want to change the world too but not enough to say that my idea or way of living or thinking is the answer to the worlds problems across the board because I know that the world is more complicated than that. It takes more than minimalism to make people happy and to cure depression and anxiety. People are not as “simple” as that. And I do not see simpleness in the co-dependency of changing the world with what “I” think the world needs to better itself when usually these solutions are too simplistic for human beings in all that we need as a species to thrive. It is dangerous to say to any human being ” You don’t need this. You need this. You don’e want this. You want this.” It is said that the consumerist culture does this already and so the obvious solution is to do the same thing? But no, that is ok because this time it’s being done for the right reasons.

    If we are to be sick of things being sold to us including superfluous ideas trying to control our minds then we should also be sick of the same behavior from minimalists. I for one am sick of everyone trying to sell me something all the time, including minimalists. If we are to not buy things all the time then we are to buy into a minimalist lifestyle and the ideas of the spokespersons for it. I will only listen to minimalists who are not speaking rigidly or selling it in any manner. When they simply talk about the ways it has been good for them that is fine. I am more interested when a person can discuss not only it’s good points but it’s down points as well. You know there is something wrong and screwy going on when a person focuses more on the perfection of an idea/ideal and fails to discuss the problems that can come up with it and why. That maybe the problems that come up with it come up for good reasons rather than the brainwashing and programming that people are under.

    Getting overly stuck in one mindset means that a persons perspective becomes skewed and they become less able to see the ideas from a different viewpoint, from the outside. Some people get real cozy by being enmeshed with ideas like minimalism because to some people having absolutes is the only way they can feel safe or like a good person. The freedom and flexibility as human beings means mistakes and chaos, imperfection. There is a place for order but there is a place for the order to become dis-ordered. The mind becomes less healthy when all there is is disorder and chaos but also when all there is , is order. We as human beings need more than one or the other because we need flexible minds in order to adapt, grow, have compassion and to feel a sense of abundance. Being in that middle ground may not feel as “official” or “pure or ” cool” and ” rebellious”. But the middle ground takes into account all of what we need as human beings as well as what other people coming from a different place who are the same but different from us may need.

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