Do Smart People Hate Minimalism?

Photo from: State Library of Victoria Collections

By Josh Rueff on July 12, 2013

“Simplicity is the final achievement”, Frédéric Chopin wrote. “After one has played a vast quantity of notes…it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

But not everyone has this opinion on the philosophy of minimalism. Some people hate it.

Some people think minimalism is the devil.

“Hoarding is a human instinct”, said Lord Kames, a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment in his Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion (1779).

“I say more: the hoarding appetite is an instinct obviously contrived for assisting reason, in moving us to provide against want. This instinct, like all others in the human soul, ought to be a cause adequate to the effect intended to be accomplished by it…”

Business Psychologist Peter Shallard says: “The core tenant of minimalism is ‘thou shalt own less stuff’. Maybe it’s my psychological leaning, but this just begs the question:

Why do we own stuff in the first place?

Owning stuff rocks. In fact, owning stuff began with rocks – our caveman ancestors drew a major line in the sand between themselves and animals when they not only started using tools (chimps do that) but started keeping them.
The psychological leap to keep a poking stick or piece of flint (versus finding a new one each day) moves us to the next major brainwave: that one piece of flint is better than another.

Owning the superior piece of flint (cherishing it, even) is vastly more efficient than finding a new flint each day. More efficiency creates more breeding opportunities (less time looking for flint equals more time making babies).
This means we’ve all evolved from the proto-consumers who had the best tools. Our ancestors loved their stuff!” (Why minimalism is toxic for you and your business)
So who’s right?

Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Einstein would side with Chopin (they were all , but that doesn’t necessarily make him right.
Both Kames and Shallard bring up interesting points, but the argument that owning things is important never takes away from the value of minimalism.

Minimalists don’t strive to own nothing.

The purpose of minimalism is to eliminate anything that takes away from the things and activities we value.

If a caveman’s “poking stick” brings him value, he doesn’t became a minimalist if he decides to throw it away. That would just make him an even dumber caveman.

When he hoards too many of those poking sticks (as Kame says is natural and healthy), and ends up carrying a back breaking load of them on his back as a result, he is now in a position where discarding a few would be minimalism. And that would make him a more “evolved” antediluvian ape. (Yes this is sarcasm. Macro-evolution is a moronic theory.)

Minimalism isn’t the devil, it’s (un)common sense.



  1. greenminimalism July 13, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Shallard is a fool. He tries to use an example of highly functional ownership (flint in the wild) to support over-consumerism and wastage in business. Any professional who immediately resorts to bad evolutionary psychology to explain anything that they say should have their jobs put on the line.


    • Josh July 23, 2013 at 5:47 am #

      I agree with that Eric, unfortunately it happens quite a bit. Misinformation is getting more and more prevalent too – have you ever noticed how many online quotes are attributed to the wrong people? I’m starting to get paranoid about getting my quotes online. Awful.


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