Be sensible, not minimal – why minimalism sucks

Published July 12, 2017   Posted in How to Save

Though I have written in some detail about our desire to downsize (minimize) our possessions, my goal is not to become a minimalist. In fact, I do not believe that the concept of minimalism is all that helpful in our path towards financial independence and early retirement.

Pinterest: Why minimalism sucks“Minimalism” to me is a negative term. Nobody wants the bare minimum.

After all, if you’re eating healthy, do you make yourself a “minimal” dinner or a sensible dinner? If in need of a new computer, do you look for a “minimal” computer or a sensible one? Do you go on “minimal” or sensible vacations? You get the idea. Minimal is just the wrong word.

The concept of minimalism I think is a good one – living with less, or living below your means. I think most of us could get behind that statement. Living with less and spending more frugally is the first step towards quitting the rat race early and enjoying a lifetime of happiness. Check.

Hell, it worked for me.

I also agree that the more you do those things, the earlier in your life that retirement becomes possible. Less stuff is generally a good thing. It means simplification. It very often relieves stress. I truly do believe the concepts of “minimalism” to be sound and worth while.

The problem is the term “minimalism” very often conveys something more negative than simply living with less, and the extra negatives ingrained in this term very often cloud the idea of minimalism.

What does the term “minimal” mean to you, anyway?

According to, one definition is “barely adequate or the least possible“. Barely adequate? That doesn’t sound happy or productive.  Or, how about “the least quantity or amount possible, assignable, allowable, or the like“?

Pardon me, but that just sounds horrible.

And truthfully, who is to say what is truly “minimal” in your life?  If you buy a $50 set of silverware instead of a $20 set, is that against the confines of being a minimalist?  After all, that $50 set isn’t what represents barely adequate.  You don’t NEED a ceiling fan in your bedroom either, or that car in your garage or driveway, or your laptop computer, or…

Your mindset is one of the most powerful forces behind your decision-making process. Don’t focus on something with negative connotations in order to better your life.  That is entirely counter-productive. None of us are seeking to skate by in our lives with the bare minimum.

Forget the term “minimalism”.

Reach your goals by living sensibly

Luckily, it does not take a barely adequate lifestyle to retire early. There is no need to compare every one of your possessions to some amorphous definition of minimalism. Becoming a minimalist is not the key to a lifetime of happiness and jobless bliss.

The truth is you can live well – in fact, in the lap of luxury, and still set yourself up to achieve financial independence and retire super early. The key is living a more sensible lifestyle by making smart decisions with your money. Think about your happiness, first and foremost. Forget adequacy. That’s boring.

The toughest part of this equation to handle is getting to the root of what makes you happy and resisting the temptation to go overboard when doing it.

For example, watching television may legitimately make you happy. But, do you need a huge 80-inch television to do it?

Living below your means is a lifestyle choice that actively prioritizes a non-ridiculous way to spend your money. Maybe you don’t need that new 80-inch television from Costco after all, or that pricey prime-cut filet steak every week, or those $100 date nights every month.

A minimalist may not have a television at all. But screw that. Be honest with yourself about what makes you happy and do those things. Just don’t be an out-of-control maniacal spendthrift when doing so.

That’s right – if you want that pint of expensive “designer” ice cream, throw caution to the wind and buy it. Enjoy it, but enjoy it over time. This means don’t crash in front of your television and destroy that pint of delicious ice cream like it’s going out of style.

Or hell, do that. But do it every 6 months, not every week. Moderate yourself. In other words, be sensible, not minimal.

Because, when you live below your means, you aren’t depriving yourself of anything meaningful. You still get to watch TV.  You still get to eat at your favorite restaurant. You still get to do all the things – above the bare minimum required to live – that you know and love.

The difference is control. Be honest with yourself about what actually makes you happy. When you do those things, make those things special. The less you do them, the more special they become.

In the end, early retirement has nothing to do with doing or having the bare minimum. Early retirement is enabled by living sensibly, spending frugally and moderating the things in life that you call treats.

Are all minimalists living with the bare minimum?

Certainly, not. In fact, most claim that minimalism isn’t about depriving yourselves of things either or living with the absolute bare minimum required to get by. But unfortunately, that’s what the word “minimal” means.

To me, minimalists aren’t living a “minimal” lifestyle at all. Instead, they are living sensibly. They spend money much more wisely than traditional Americans. They have reinvented their definition of happiness and find the good in almost any situation. They know when to treat themselves and understand how to moderate those treats.

They save big, spend small and live happy, healthy and productive lives. And there is nothing “minimal” about it.

They do so by living…sensibly.  Be sensible, dang it!

Note: This article was originally published in July of 2015, but has been updated after my retirement from full-time work last December. 

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47 responses to “Be sensible, not minimal – why minimalism sucks”

  1. Chris Muller says:

    I’m torn on this topic. I love your points about living with less while being sensible with your money, and I do agree that the term “minimalist” can be misconstrued. I also think that minimalism is about much more than financial independence. Many minimalists live a very high-quality life. Oftentimes they’ll spend money on things that will last a really long time, but they only but what they need. In fact I was watching Tiny House Nation the other day and it was about a couple who lived in a 300 square foot tiny house. This thing was small and minimalistic, but by no means “minimal”. It had all the bells and whistles, it just wasn’t a 3,500 square foot McMansion. To what I said before, minimalism is about more than financial independence. It’s about clearing your mind and surroundings of clutter. Tiny houses are merely a place to lay your head a night for many… as they force you to get outside and enjoy nature. I love all of the points you made, and you make a hell of an argument. I know we are basically agreeing too, I just wanted to add a few thoughts. Thanks for this well-written post Steve 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Chris. You’re right that we do largely agree, and honestly, my intent was to question the use of the word “minimal”, but not necessarily to attack the tenants of the “minimalist” way of life. You’re right that it’s much more all-encompassing than just early retirement. I think many (nay, MOST) of what minimalists believe and do are absolutely critical to living a happier, healthier and more productive life.

      I just don’t believe they are using the right word to describe that lifestyle.

  2. We are on the same wavelength today — we posted on why we aren’t and don’t intend to be minimalists. Great minds. 🙂 We used the term “right-sizing” as our approach to recalibrating our lives to match our priorities and goals. We like that right-sizing implies something different for everyone, whereas minimalism implies living in an austere concrete box, sitting on bare mattress on a floor, eating gruel. Though many have embraced the principle, it sure does come loaded with a lot of negative meaning. Is your thinking about minimalism coming from fairly ruthless decisions you guys will have to make when you switch to RV life? That will require as much downsizing as moving to a tiny house! Really looking forward to following along as you shift toward that new lifestyle.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks, appreciate the fact that we agree on this one. This didn’t really come from our move into an RV, honestly. In fact, we are looking forward to downsizing and have already started quite a bit with a LOT of Craigslist selling and Goodwill donating.

      This was more of a build-up over the last year or so reading blog articles about minimalism. I love the principles of minimalism (for the most part), but man, it’s just a horrible name that doesn’t do the movement any service – in my humble opinion, of course. 🙂

  3. Maggie says:

    I like this approach. On the path to financial independence, I feel like “Minimalism” has become more of a guilt-inducing word for me rather than a path to freedom. I’ve got three kids and I live in Alaska. Those two statements require “Stuff.” Finding the balance between depravity and opulence is more of the goal for me. Moderation. Sensibility. Finding happiness. Excellent way to put it.

    • Steve says:

      That sounds like an excellent approach. It really is about moderation and finding your happiness in this world.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Ooh yes. It’s also becoming a finanical excuse for some. Your broke because you need to declutter and live a minimalist lifestyle. Well no, they could be broke because it’s getting harder and harder to make a dollar and wages are stagnant. Minimalism is Americans cutting back. I don’t hold that much belief in the human race that most of us with an extra dollar won’t hesitate to spend it if all was swell.

  4. Haha wow you and ONL were on the same page today! I agree with you 100%. I’ve cut back, but am no way a minimalist. I try to limit my possessions but stop when it gets to a point where I actually enjoy some of the “stuff”. For example, if I didn’t have a nice TV for NFL and March Madness, I’d lose it! 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Yup, nothing wrong with spending money on luxuries in life so long as you’re honest and sensible about it. Gotta admit that March Madness is pretty darn exciting!

  5. Stockbeard says:

    Based on the comments above, I think it’s not fully clear if you don’t like the minimalist way of life, or just the word that’s used to describe it.
    I think you are criticizing the word, not the way of life, but some of the comments tell me that people understood it differently than I did.

    The way of life, “minimalism”, as others have stated, is much more than only about finance. Some people have goals to reach more happiness with less stuff. Others want to reduce their footprint on the environmental impact we leave on the planet. Those are two great goals, and minimalism sounds like a good way to achieve it. I don’t really see what’s wrong with that. It’s not for everyone, but I don’t think someone can be “against” it.

    The word, on the other hand, implies that people who choose this way of life deprive themselves of something, which they are not. The deprivation is temporary, to reach a greater for of enrichment (spiritual, happiness, etc…)

  6. Steve says:

    Hi Stockbeard,

    Appreciate your thoughts. Like I said in the article, I definitely believe that minimalism is the wrong word to describe this lifestyle. I agree 100% with its tenants, and further agree that “minimalism” goes far beyond finances and early retirement. My point is that I don’t believe people who choose to live with less stuff are being “minimal” at all.

    Instead, they are simply being sensible. 🙂

  7. Jason says:

    I totally agree. I don’t think I could be minimize things, or at least the way people talk about. I think it is great for them, but I like certain things. Great post.

  8. […] “right-sizing” your life.  The piece is timely because of its similarity with my own about minimalism, also published this week.  I’m convinced great minds think […]

  9. I agree that minimalism can have a negative connotation. I personally don’t like labels much in general, because I don’t like to be attached to a certain image. I love my minimalistic life, but I agree that it is definitely not for everyone. It just happens to make me happier and healthier. I do like the word ‘simple’ though, because simple can still be complex, but let’s face it, who wants anything that’s complicated?

    • Steve says:

      Agreed, “simple” is a good term and doesn’t imply the same negative connotation that minimalism does. I like simple as much as anyone. 🙂

  10. Very good article.

    I actually just write a very similar article on my blog (in french),

    Last year I switch my thinking to a more minimalism lifestyle after I realize that I have bought, throughout the years 4 stool !!! Not 1 or 2 but 4 !!!

    Who needs 4 stools ??!!!

    That experience makes me realize that have spent way to much on redundant stuff instead on investing and generating income to eventually reach Financial independence.

    • Steve says:

      Hi LeDividende,

      Yup, redundancy is so common and easy to do without even thinking about it. Good on you for realizing that and taking the steps to correct it, for good!

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  11. Agree with this, for sure. I really like the idea of increasing income by increasing productivity, stretching your goals, expanding yourself as a person to create the life that you want. I just can’t get into the minimalist community where one frugal guy tries to outdo the other. There’s common sense, then there’s compromising your standard of living. You can imagine on a graph a relationship of standard of living versus frugal living . . . and at some point, you reach critical math on frugality and the standard of living line drops off a cliff.

    Anyway, I like premise of this.


    • Steve says:

      Thanks DP – yeah, this isn’t about depriving yourself or trying to outdo someone else. It’s about understanding your life well enough to recognize what you *truly need* and spending your time and money pursuing those things and nothing else. Too many times we spend time doing pseudo-happiness activities that wind up draining our wallets of our hard-earned money for no good reason.

  12. Mrs. FI says:

    I like your view on minimalism (or how it should be): Basically living a life without indulging in too much junk and fruitless activities and choosing simplicity instead. The negative connotation that seems to come with the minimalist lifestyle for a lot of people actually never really crosses my mind. But then again, that’s probably because when I think of minimalism, I think of living sensibly. Not living without. I suppose there are those out there who live minimally to an extreme and I’d agree with you: What’s the point? But then again, I’d probably view any lifestyle that goes to extremes the same way. As long as people live minimally/simply while still living well, minimalism totally makes sense to me. However, the moment those who tout minimalism promote purposefully making their lives less healthy and enjoyable for the sake of living such lifestyle, I think it’s time for some re-evaluation.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Mrs. FI – there is a fine line between living minimally and living sensibly. I agree that most self-proclaimed minimalists do, as you’ve stated, live sensibly and aren’t depriving themselves of actually being healthy. For me, I’ve never really liked the term “minimal” to describe the otherwise positive lifestyle that it is supposed to represent. Minimum, to me, just means “bare minimum”.

      Thanks for reading, as always! 🙂

  13. I have been really pressured to practice minimalism! My diet was healthy, but so Wall Street can be more flush with money necessary for maintenance of a good nutrititious meal, I have been told to eat hot dogs, rice and potatoes. Oh yes, also, I have been exorted to sell my small house and treasured items while keeping the crap; all to imake investmentinv

  14. Thanks for taking the time to create AND maintain it. Most blogs become inactive due to the amount of work and time to keep them going. I applaud your desire to move out of the workforce and “retire” to travel etc. I too was a slave to the corporate world….long commutes, dumb a…s meetings and wasted conference calls. As a comment, maybe your desire to retire is because you hate your job so much? Have you considered developing an online business that you enjoy? Yes, blogging can make some dollars but, for most, not enough to live on. With a mobile business you enjoy could be a nice way to compliment your desire to travel. Just throwing it out…Congrats again on your work…..Steve

    • Steve says:

      Hi Steve – Honestly, I’m just not the natural entrepreneurial type. I am open to different possibilities post-retirement to involve myself in some money-making ventures, but even running your own business can definitely feel like “work” sometimes.

      At the moment, my first step is to achieve financial independence so I can quit full time working. Once that’s done, I’ll be able to focus in on what I might want to pursue more heavily other than travel and photography / videography.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  15. […] Pretty easy, huh?  In truth, these changes were easy.  It is interesting how natural it is to settle down into a new routine, even if that routine is frugality and minimalism sensiblism. […]

  16. […] has been on the 10-year retirement plan since she started working at the bank at the age of 23.  Sensible living and eating like a college student, her life has generally been much more boring than […]

  17. […] pool clean and also sent our dogs to daycare to the tune of around $400 a month. Not exactly a sensible […]

  18. […] ago I was pretty excited. I am a self proclaimed minimalist and I assert that Steve is as well, although he doesn’t like the label. Documentaries like this are interesting in that they are produced to spread a message, an idea, or […]

  19. […] retirement timespans, but it also helps to establish healthy lifestyle decisions, like living sensibly, understanding “enough” and recognizing what truly makes us happy in […]

  20. […] minimalism sucks article ranks #1 in Google when users search for “minimalism sucks”. The keyword […]

  21. […] wrote about being sensible, not minimal, in the past. Minimalism isn’t about owning 100 things or less, or wearing the same outfit […]

  22. Wade says:

    I like this. I prefer “selective minimalism”. Pick the few things that are important. Don’t scrimp there.

    In other areas, keep it selectively minimal.

    I don’t collect anything. DVDs, CDs, coins, baseball cards,

    Tech has made this easier. My cell phone and a Bose SoundLink Mini with an Apple Music subscription replaces all stereos, cd players, cds, tapes, albums, speakers, EQs, etc. Less is more at times.

    I do have two bicycles and always look for super deals. I can flip them or trade up.

    Good stuff.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Wade. Yeah, I’m done collecting things too. I used to do that, but I found it never really provided me with any real enjoyment. Just more stuff…

  23. Joe says:

    We don’t like minimalism either. If I want to be a minimalist, I’ll become a monk for a while. We like our stuff. Living in a smaller space helps a lot. We can’t buy everything we’d like because it will clutter the condo too much. Being sensible is the way to go.

  24. On the same page here. Its all about choosing what you value and living, as you stated, sensibly on those things. Mr. 1500 days asked the other day on budgetsaresexy if frugality and minimalism were at odds. My response was it depends on definition. But… Imagine you have a house. You already have a house and it has X storage space. Filling that storage space or not has not outcome beyond what could be considered frugal or sensible. Ultimately the space is still there since you already own it, whether you fill it with a loaf of bread or in his case 28 boxes of cereal. Sure selling the house might change the equation, but the space available and the value of what you fill it with are the real questions. Not how much stuff fills that space. So sensible might dictate filling it with less stuff.

  25. I’ve never been able to jump on board the minimalism train for many of the reasons you have listed. Living within your means and not wasting money on things that don’t have value to you make sense, but going full blown minimalist is not for me. I still like things…I don’t want to feel guilty for bringing home a silly knick-knack from a trip. Things like that are important to me and they make a house feel like a home. It’s all about moderation. You’ll never find me living in a 5000 square foot house but I also wouldn’t be comfortable living with less than 1000 square feet. I’m positive there are ties between minimalism and financial independence but if living a comfortable life now means having to work and save for a few extra years, well, that’s worth it to me.

  26. GYM says:

    I don’t mind the term minimalism but I do find that it is overused or often misconstrued to be defined as sleek design 🙂 I think it’s about being comfortable with less and not needing to buy things to make yourself feel better (and then repeat the cycle) because the instant gratification only lasts so long.

  27. Yesssss! I agree so much. I know people say that minimalism helped them get control of their life, and that’s great. But I do think that people treat it more as a fad than as a way of life. I do think minimalism will cost you more money in the long run, since you always have to buy more of the things that you need if you do too much purging.

  28. Oldster says:

    Seems like you are advocating the use (or creation) of the word “Sensiblism” in lieu of Minimalism. I see what you are driving at, but think it is more of a semantics argument than a substantive one. I don’t see the current understanding of Minimalism as meaning living a cheap or substandard lifestyle, rather maximizing your happiness with the least amount of stuff. That said, I do support “Sensiblism” as a concept and think the whole world could use a bit more of that at the moment.

  29. EdR says:

    Hi Steve,
    For me,being minimalist is to live only with what you need everyday and enjoy life at its fullest:it’s a fine mixture or blending between stoicism and hedonism.
    I also call it ”Freedom” which is not only limited to money.

  30. Mr. WO says:

    Thanks for updating this post. I’d missed the original one, so this was timely as my wife and I were just discussing this very topic. We try to live and buy sensibly, but we’ve worked hard over the last decade and like to be comfortable (within reason). We could get retire early living minimally but probably wouldn’t be as happy or content on the way there.

  31. I only know how to live below our means 🙂

    I’ve never cared for “stuff”. In fact, I’m proud about collecting memories, rather than things (except if they have a story or a great memory attached to them).

    I’m not sure if this is constructed as minimalism or sensibilism or frugalism.. the important thing is knowing how to live according to your own standards and not caring about what others think or even say to your face.

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