The Ugly Side of Minimalism: When Less is Less

Minimalism rears it's ugly head.
The ugly side of minimalism is hidden from most minimalists.

Photo by ragesoss.

By Josh Rueff on May 10, 2013
The ugly side of minimalism is hidden from most minimalists.

When I was in junior high, my friends from the church youth group decided that secular music was evil. They gathered their CD’s and destroyed them like a Spanish Inquisition book burning. Some did it quietly, silently mourning the death of the GooGoo Dolls and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others threw themselves into it with dedicated zeal, throwing and smashing their collection with equally devoted friends.

It took about a week for them to start questioning the necessity of their music demolition, and another week to fully regret it.

The point isn’t that teens shouldn’t be aware of what they fill their minds with – it’s that sometimes good intentions aren’t enough.

The strengths of simple living are first class, but those strengths can become a hindrance. There is an ugly side to minimalism, and despite all of it’s beauty and benefits, less is not always more.

Strengths That Become Weaknesses

People take severe and murderous measures to earn and maintain freedom. Freedom is, at times, a demonized description that holds a broad and scattered collection of connotations. In minimalism freedom it is the elimination of any restrictive mindset. This process of elimination is good and necessary, but in pursuit of this freedom, people often adopt an approach that enslaves rather than frees.

Buying a hybrid car to save gas cuts the expense, but at what cost? $50 saved in exchange for a $500 monthly car payment.

Simplifying social obligations by chopping time spent with family.

Working 80 hours a week to eliminate debt.

Sometimes simplifying hurts when it shouldn’t. The strengths of the minimalist lifestyle can become a draining weakness when poor decisions are made.

Without taking from this point, it should be clear that simplifying always requires sacrifice – it always hurts somehow, kind of like running or lifting weights. The important thing is to distinguish between the good hurt and injury. Lifestyle injury is when the action produces more bad than good. 


This is an uncommon problem in our hedonistic culture, which has far more things, relationships, and activities than is good to begin with. It is however, a potential threat for anyone pursuing the life of minimalism.

Passion is a powerful driving force but it needs good brakes.

When people get overzealous about simplifying, the result can be dreadful. An argument can be made that less is always better, but I’ll tell you without a doubt, if you simplify everything – scratch that – half of the things you own at this moment, you’ll be one hurting puppy. We’re addicted to safety, technology, and comfort.

Cold turkey may work for crackheads, but minimizing is best done in manageable stages.

Simplifying the Wrong Things

I’ve cut many things from my life; many habits, obsolete priorities, possessions, and even relationships. I’ve learned that simplifying oil changes, brake pad expenses, and time with family is often counterproductive.

It’s hard to make the best judgement call, but the good news is that 90% of the things you simplify can be brought back, usually without much hassle. If you throw out the blender, you can get another. If you regret selling the car, buy another.

Relationships are another story. Common sense may not be common anymore, but I think most people will simplify relationships with delicate care.

Final Thoughts

I’ve addressed my thoughts on failure and sacrifice in other articles, and I’ll repeat them briefly:

Failure is a stepping stone to success, and there’s no such thing as success without sacrifice.

If your daddy left you a nice inheritance and an autonomous family business you may not understand this mindset, but for everyone else it’s a friendly reminder of the truth.

Minimalism, like every other strategy, is only as good as it’s owner. Less is more to a good minimalist, but less is just less to people who go about it the wrong way. Good intentions alone are a great start, but a poor finish.



  1. Abby Latham May 14, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    haha love your CD example! That happened in my youth group as well. 🙂


    • Josh May 14, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

      That’s hilarious – the classic youth group experience (: I was the rebel of the group so I didn’t go through with it – one of the better moments of my early counterculture days.


      • Nate August 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

        LOL… funny about the Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and sinful alternative music. Even more, your article is profound. There’s so much about simplicity being great in advertisement, look at what Steve Jobs did for Apple, or how a benefit of this recession is less materialism (they must think we’re stupid). There aren’t limits to how people use it and the “moral high road” to make a philosophical point. What they don’t say is how going too far will completely destroy your life.


        • Josh August 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

          Hi Nate, thanks for dropping in and commenting! Yep, it definitely can – I think Aristotle nailed it with his philosophy of the Golden Mean – the point of equilibrium, or balance that lies between deficiency and excess. He believed that point was virtue, and that happiness could only be found through virtue.



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