Minimalism Doesn’t Mean Buying More Stuff

simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Minimalism is in.

Capsule wardrobes; intentional living; clean lines; sustainable, closet-sized homes. But I hope you realize that the list I just spouted off represents two very different approaches to minimalism and that doing one doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the other.

Officially, the term minimalism applies to an aesthetic that favors spareness and simplicity. But more broadly, it has come to represent a pared down lifestyle that advertises itself as the answer to the breakneck pace and over-indulgence of American culture. We’re stressed out, always working, constantly comparing ourselves to others, and we think that if we unclutter our living spaces, we may be able to make some room for stillness and reflection.

minimalism essay

Aesthetic minimalism places no barriers on consumption. But simple living minimalism is almost entirely about living with less. Though the two are at odds, they share enough in common superficially to conveniently allow us to feel like we’re improving ourselves while consuming and curating just as much as usual.

Case in point: A very prominent blogger I follow is doing a series on simplifying life. In a recent post, she indicated that she got rid of everything in her closet to buy a whole new closet of more classic items like – wait for it – leopard print sneakers and jeans with holes in them. The only intentional living I’m seeing here is intentionally finding excuses to stock up on trendy items.


The reason this matters – the reason I’m freaking out about it – is that confusing a look with an ethic is really dangerous. It’s destructive to the fair trade movement, too, because it distracts people on this really exciting, really hard path to long-term ethical living. It’s like a snake oil advertisement: Ease your first world guilt by literally not changing anything! The only problem is that you’re actually just swallowing a bunch of poison (or maybe corn starch, if you’re lucky).

Look, it’s fine if you like the minimalism trend. I agree, it’s pretty groovy. But don’t confuse simple silhouettes with moral living. Your capsule wardrobe is not for a good cause.

And please, for the love of God (this isn’t me swearing; I really mean it), please don’t pretend that donating your whole wardrobe to the local thrift store is a great philanthropic deed.

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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  1. Yeah; I mean, I definitely do think it's alright to go through the proper channels to buy a few trend items, but I also think we have to do it with a greater sense of commitment in mind, asking ourselves if the item can transcend trend seasons for us.

  2. I'll go check out your post! I actually manage a charity shop, so I'm getting sick of all the satisfied faces as they donate 5 trash bags of old clothes. It basically transfers the consumer guilt onto thrift shop employees, who are forced to get rid of a lot of it because they either can't fit it all in or can't sell it.

  3. Thanks for writing about this important distinction. I love looking at the all of the aesthetically minimal pins on Pinterest, but I have to remind myself that buying a bunch of new stuff to be "minimal" is completely backwards.

  4. Seriously! Especially this: "And please, for the love of God (this isn’t me swearing; I really mean it), please don’t pretend that donating your whole wardrobe to the local thrift store is a great philanthropic deed." It drives me insane when people aim for wardrobe ethical or aesthetic purity. If I don't wear things for long enough and need to re-home them, I at least try to do it thoughtfully. (I just did a whole post on this and trying to think it through!)

  5. Ugh, seriously.

  6. Thanks for the encouragement. A lot of bloggers have jumped on the faux intentional living bandwagon and it's so upsetting!

  7. Oh my gosh girl, p r e a c h ~ It is really so frustrating when people are jumping on the minimalist trend by getting rid of their entire wardrobe and buying a new one. Just another trend that requires a complete uhaul of what you already have. American consumerism at its finest…. -_- I really loved this post and am definitely sharing! xx<(') Hoda | JooJoo Azad

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