Confessions of a Bad Minimalist

It’s been a good run, but the jig is up. I’ve been on this blog for a while now, shouting about how great minimalism can be. I’ve written about how minimalism can fuel productivity, and how most problems we face come down to waste. But all the while, I’ve been pulling the wool over your eyes. This whole time, I’ve been a bad minimalist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my best. I’ve focused on buying fewer but higher-quality things. I get rid of stuff constantly and do my best not to replace it. There are currently four dress shirts in my closet and I’m debating cutting that down another 25%.

But even so, I can hardly call myself a minimalist. I’ve violated the code and held onto plenty of things I didn’t actually need. Here is my official confession, my crimes as a bad minimalist.

3 Ways I’ve Been a Bad Minimalist

I don’t have much time. I expect that the minimalist police will be here any minute to carry me off to minimalist jail. Which I imagine is in some sleepy Scandinavian town, where every inmate is allotted exactly one plant to place by their perfectly rectangular bed.

I’ve been a bad minimalist in many ways. But I will keep my confession to three of my most egregious offenses.


If you know me, you probably know I’m always reading some kind of self-help nonsense like 7 More Secrets of Efficient Popsicle-Licking, or How to Think Like an Ostrich, or something. I love books. Especially books with big ideas and positive energy. Books tend to accumulate in our house. 

My wife and I donate a lot of our books. We’ve also fallen in love with our little local library recently, which helps. But even so…

Like many bad minimalists, we have shelves full of books. Sometimes we take them down to re-read them, or to rearrange them on the shelves. Sometimes I pick one up just to enjoy the feel of it in my hands. When friends come over, we talk about books, and lend them out or trade with each other. It’s a nightmare.


It started off simple, A few multicolored string lights. Then came an LED strip here and there, and a few smart bulbs. 

Once people figured out I was a “lights guy,” even more lights started to show up as gifts. Color-changing bulbs, beautiful lamps, lights that project, lights that dance.

I spend quite a bit of time transfixed with these lights. I toy with new ways to decorate a room with light for different times of the day or year, or for special moments. Of course, I never miss a chance to celebrate, and I love using lights to help me do it.

I suppose all of this light and color will make it a lot easier for the minimalist police to find my house when they come to cart me off to Scandinavia.


Behold the depths of my shame: there is a closet in my home filled almost entirely with games. Card games, board games, pen and paper games, you name it. Sometimes we host depraved parties where small groups of friends come over for no other purpose than to take out these games and enjoy them.

There might be some redeeming me if it ended there. But I’m afraid I’ve even been a bad digital minimalist. If you were to look on my computer, you’d see dozens of video games stashed in folders. I buy one, I play it, and before you know it I move onto another. Somebody stop me!

Are You a Bad Minimalist?

Okay, time for the meta-confession: There’s no such thing as a bad minimalist.

Minimalism is the practice of climbing off the hedonic treadmill and reducing clutter from your life. It’s not a quest to live in an empty room with nothing around you but an echo. It’s a quest to make more room for you and for the things you truly love. Room in which to exist, to spread out, and to breathe.

On that quest, there are no bad minimalists. Even if you’re just getting started.

There are no absolutes, no rules. There is no line dividing the things you “should have” from the things you “shouldn’t have.” The only line is between the things that truly fill you up, and the things that just fill up your space.

Find the things that you love. Things that you hold onto, cherish, and feel warmer knowing that they’re around. For me, my books, lights, and games rank high among them. For you, it may be earrings, knives, or shirts with extremely complicated patterns.

Isolate those few most special, magical things and make more room for them by reducing the rest.

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Bad Minimalist”

  1. Wowsers. This was a game changer on getting me to think about reducing my clutter. I feel like I can do it in a way that feels more healthy than the occasional purge now.

    • haha, glad you got something out of it! occasional purges feel nice, but it’s definitely easier to keep up the practice over time!


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