First Published: March 22, 2021 | Last Updated: March 22, 2021

The gist: If minimalism means living with "less" by choice, we need to discuss the inherent privilege in being able to have those choices.

When it comes to most things, I like plain and simple.

So when I first heard of the minimalist movement, I figured it was for me.

My preferences for so many things can only be described as minimalist.

But over the years since then, I've learned that having minimalist or simple taste is so different from what I describe now as The Mainstream Minimalist Movement™️.

And very few people with minimalist taste like myself fit into TMMM.

It all comes down to the question, "Who gets to be A Minimalist?" with a capital A and M.

Who gets requests for interviews about how to be a Minimalist? Publishes books about their Minimalist life? Creates documentaries about The Mainstream Minimalist Movement?

Start YouTube channels about it featuring their "minimalist apartment tour," "minimalist morning routine," "minimalist wardrobe," and everything else you can think of?

Based on what I see from "the minimalist community" and TMMM, being A Minimalist is mostly based in privilege.

How mainstream minimalism is based in privilege

In the mainstream minimalism movement, the starting story for most of the influencers is nearly identical:

  • They once bought into mainstream narratives of success...
  • Taught to them growing up in a comfortable financial situation...
  • They're highly educated...
  • They spent some time in a high paying job in a traditionally respected field...
  • During that time they experienced lifestyle creep and excess consumerism...
  • Before burning out at work...
  • And having a realization that less is more...
  • That leads them to burning their life of extreme consumerism to the ground...
  • To adopt one of extreme minimalism instead.

The one time I tried to watch the most popular minimalism documentary, I couldn't even get through it.

Based on that documentary, and search results on social media, Minimalists are upper middle class, white, abled people who purposely live with less than they could.

They're Minimalists because they CHOOSE to live in small homes, have little furniture, and small wardrobes.

But what about the people who live that way for reasons other than choice?

What about people who can't live that way?

Can we still be part of the minimalist movement?

I'm not sure about that, but from what I've seen, I'm not sure I want to be anyway.

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Minimalism & class

This way that mainstream minimalism intersects with privilege is probably the most obvious one.

When you scroll the minimalism hashtag feeds on Instagram, Pinterest, or YouTube, you might not see overt luxury, but it's definitely there.

For example, a lot of minimalist furniture styles are extremely expensive.

And to be able to have that furniture while still achieving a "minimalist" feel in your home, it needs to be big enough that there's still lots of space left over.

Conversely, Minimalists who take the opposite approach with extremely small homes, like RVs, tiny homes, and studios seem to need even more expensive belongings inside the home. Since each one is usually multi-functional.

I used to get so sick of seeing "tiny home" video tours on YouTube where the square footage was literally more than that of the NYC apartment I was watching them from. 🙄

Because I was living in that apartment because I had to, because the minimalist square footage was out of necessity and budget rather than choice, and because the apartment was cluttered with necessary items, I never felt like I could be A Minimalist.

Minimalism & disability

While the class privilege was the first way I struggled to feel like part of the minimalist community, the second way was my disability and chronic illness.

Dealing with chronic illness, mental illness, neurodivergence, disability, or any other kind of "othered" body requires a lot of extra work that abled people don't realize.

And that extra work requires a lot of extra stuff.

Half my bedroom closet's shelves are occupied by accessibility tools, mobility aids, and external supports like ankle braces.

My bathroom shelves are filled with rows and rows of medications, treatments, and topicals to help with symptoms.

My office closet contains the physical therapy equipment. And the kitchen is stacked with niche tools for extremely specific uses (breaking the common minimalist rule of "no single purpose tools").

That's not even to mention the large wardrobe I have.

Laundry takes lots of spoons I don't often have, and roughly the same amount no matter how much there is. So I try to do it as infrequently as possible with large loads of clothes.

So not minimalist.

And right now I'm reading a book about accessibility design, What Can a Body Do?, where one thing that becomes more clear with each story told is how much STUFF disability takes. To adapt the world built for abled people to our own bodies.

Another book where I thought about the privilege of minimalism was Unfuck Your Habitat. This one is about cleaning and decluttering primarily for us other-bodied folks and talks a lot about cleaning & mental illness, including how it sometimes requires more tools and approaches for different situations.

People need stuff

Because of these books and more, I've started looking at the world and thinking about how I can better adapt it to my own needs.

And in a world not built with much consideration for people like me, a lot of "stuff" is required for said adaptations.

So I've been trying hard to break the desire for mainstream minimalism I still feel tugging at my sleeve sometimes, when I'm about to order a specialty tool to make some specific area of my life easier. When the voice in my head goes, "is that really necessary?"

Well, maybe it is.

And even if it's not, it's helpful.

That needs to be enough.

Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy anything, I'll receive a commission. Most creators say something like "100% of this goes back into the business," but I'm not most creators. Some months it goes into the business, others it will be used to buy inappropriate amounts of chocolate. Remember, working brighter is about balance!

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.