The spooky Side of Minimalism – When does it turn toxic?

Happy Halloween everyone! Lately I thought about something very spooky to talk about: Toxic minimalism. Or limiting minimalism? (What a paradox!)

Humans are very interesting creatures as we can use just about any good practise in destructive ways. To numb our pain or just because we can.

I don‘t hear people talk a lot about the warning signs of toxic minimalism. But I think it is important to learn about the traps and then be able to avoid them.

So here are some questions you can ask yourself to find out if your minimalism has a tendency to harm you and the people around you.

1. Have you started to deprive yourself?

When minimalism gets extreme, some of us tend to start depriving themselves of the things they really need or just enjoy. (Please note that I am talking about a minimalist life style and not consumerism here.) That fourth pair of jeans for example that gives you that zazazou feeling but looks almost exactly like one of the practical pairs that you wear on a day to day basis. It doesn‘t have to be a basic necessity to count as deprivation. If you deprive yourself of joy that also counts.

2. Are you comparing yourself to other Minimalists?

… and feel bad because they own less than you do as they live in a hot climate and you are stuck with your winter clothes? Or you feel superior because you are able to fit all your belongings into two suitcases and they still have their own furniture? To comapre yourself to others is a very bad idea in general as it messes with your self-esteem. If you do it, just stop. Compare yourself to yourself from yesterday. Or from last year. But never to other people.

3. Do you risk your Health?

As in do you try to incorporate habits that are detrimental to your health? As some people do when they ‚minimize‘ their food? Not as in fasting, but as in eating the exact same thing every single day. And that way making sure their gut microbiom gets less and less diverse which leads to all kinds of problems. Bad idea.

4. Do you judge People based on their Belongings?

Do you look down on people who collect figurines, stamps or books? Do you feel like someone is a better person in general just because they own less? Sometimes that feeling can be unconscious, sometimes more obvious. But never helpful. People are not what they own. Judge based on their character, not based on material things.

5. Do you declutter other People‘s Things without their Permission?

That‘s a classic. Does your husband have an ugly jacket that you have been hating since you met him? And you really don‘t have the patience to look at this absurd thing anymore? Well I have to tell you that healthy boundaries are important in that area as well. Just stick to your own stuff and you‘re good to go.

6. Is Minimalism the main Source of your Identity?

Overindentification with a life style is never a good idea. You‘re so much more than the way you deal with your material goods. Maybe distance yourself from that concept for a while and find out who you really are within. What is important you? What do you enjoy doing? What does really matters to you in your life?

7. Are you striving for Perfection?

As a perfectionist in recovery I can tell you that there is no such thing as perfection. At least not for human lives. No matter how long you practise perfectioning your routines and belongings there will never be that perfect item or that perfect routine. Start refining instead. There still will be progress but without the unbearable pressure of perfectionism.

8. Do you declutter compulsively?

The instant gratification that comes with shopping gives people a dopamine hit and can be addictive. So as soon as you shop compulsively, you are at least a bit addicted. And the same can happen in reverse. When you reprogram your brain to get a dopamine hit for getting rid of things that can be addictive, too. When you are decluttering just to get rid of something and feel an urge and relief cycle, be cautious. Get out of there as soon as you can.

9. Do you feel guilty when you buy things?

We all need to buy things just to sustain our lives. Even if we own only the bare necessities, we need to at least replace used up or broken things. It‘s not healthy to overconsume but it‘s also not healthy to feel guilty for buying things you need.

10. Do you keep things way beyond their expiration date?

It is very sustainable to wear socks until they completely fall apart. But everything we own has some kind of expiration date and there is a time to let go. When furniture is broken beyond repair or ancient electronic devices use up five times the electricity that a modern device would need, it doesn‘t really make sense to keep these things.