The Danger in Devaluation

I have a confession.

I have been seduced.

With all their shiny buzzwords and photo-laden posts and revolutionary chatter, I fell bumbling tumbling head over heels down the rabbit-hole of minimalism.

Last October I had a slight nervous break down that involved me sitting cross-legged on a pile of clothes in my closet sobbing hysterically. Paralyzed by an overwhelming bank of choices laid out before me, I was desperate for a way to stop the madness. By the end of the episode, I had essentially relegated myself to living in a mud hut in Mozambique.

Minimalism, for those unfamiliar (or perhaps more familiar with it’s predecessors “Simple Living” and “Anti-Consumerism“, social and political movements very popular in the19 60’s and 1970’s – or maybe you have heard of that obscure dude Henry David Thoreau who lived in a sparse cabin on a pond in the 1800’s) is a lifestyle movement designed to reduce the demands of excess and materialism that dominate Western culture especially.

It began small enough for me.

I started wading through boxes brought from my old apartment to my new one, finding things that I had once convinced myself “Oh, I’ll use that next summer, I swear” or “But if I ever decide to sell lia sophia jewelry again I’ll want those discontinued pieces.” Of course, you and I both know that these were barely passable excuses for holding on to things like ugly jewelry that I would never sell nor wear. This was actually good. Crap laying around that I’d never use needed to be eliminated.

By December I was jonesing again. With the “incident” from October, I decided I needed to get rid of clothes.

But not just get rid of clothes. I needed to do it like the minimalists do, because they all write all the time about how happy they are and I’m hooked on the pretty shiny lifestyle they propose. So I decided that I needed to get rid of most of my clothes and only live with 100 items (not including under-garment, a handful of pajama/sleeping clothes and my running/yoga stuff).

And I eliminated about 80% of my wardrobe (this was after a 3 garbage bag purge en route my new apartment three months prior). I am happy to report I have only missed a handful of things.

Yet somehow it still was not enough. I still had so many choices, so much stuff. Seemingly empty facets of my life that needed to be eliminated.

I kept scouring the sites and eBooks and advice. Hoping that someone could fix me the way that they promised they would. If I just followed the “steps” I might have the serenity they claimed.

I became so fixated on eliminating things that I began to cut stuff from everywhere. Did I really need to eat three meals a day? Protein and vegetables should be enough to sustain me through two. Did I really need to sleep for 8 hours a night? Sleep is over-rated. Did I really need to return phone calls and emails to friends who were barely more than acquaintances? They were just a drain on my time. Did I really need to…

The danger in devaluation is that it can seep into your mind like a darkness.

Once you begin seeking out ways to eliminate “stuff”, if you are not careful you begin to eliminate the value from things that used to matter to you. Those photos you have kept in albums for years, who cares? Those stories you wrote in fifth grade with crayon-drawing pictures, they sucked. That ring your great-grandmother left you in your will? Pshaw. Estate jewelry is a hot sale item on eBay.

That boy/girl you met as you were flying through life above the fold of a mind-numbed material-loving society, they will move on and so will you. There’s too much to accomplish in this life, they can’t weigh you down.

It is a frequent commentary of minimalist travelers, that they have a hard time maintaining relationships. That just as they connect with someone they are ready to move on. The devaluation overrides the desire to form something permanent, something that cannot be minimalized. This is your life, this is the path you chose. You must press on.

Before you know it, you are not finding the things that have no value. You are removing value from your life. Scaling your experience down to a minimal number of extraordinary events.

Yet life is not just a series of extra-ordinary awesome. It is also smaller moments of ordinary that somehow imprint onto your mind and heart and BECOME extra-ordinary.

The secret to your happiness is not so simple as “get rid of all your stuff.”

The thing that I was craving and longing for was a life of intention.  To not sit in a pile of clothes in the middle of the room, sniffling and holding up sweater after sweater, desperately wanting to find what I was longing for, stitched into the fiber somewhere.

I’ll be among the most vocal to say that if you think canned minimalism is THE SECRET, you are a fool. I certainly was.

The secret is finding what is important to you and holding fast to it. Getting rid of the noise.

Appreciating value for the meaning it brings to your life.

THAT should be the true message of minimalism.


  1. Advice is just another form of entertainment. It sounds appealing, because that’s what it’s there for. It’s not realistic, it’s like a movie. It’s there to feel like it’s achievable, but at the same time it’s too good to be true. Stop listening to anyone saying anything about how anyone should live, because 1a) it’s impossible to follow everything, and b) they don’t know you as wel as you know you, so it’ll be probably wrong.

    • Carlos – You speak the truth friend. Much public advice is partially useful and partially sensational. Created to garner attention from readers and followers, you have to glean from it the pieces that apply to your life and figure out how to adapt them.

      Course sometimes there’s a bit of a learning curve on that. 😉

  2. I love this article!

    I love that people are looking at “minimalism” (which, you are right, is nothing new) and thoughtfully adapting it to their lives. You raise an issue that I have always wondered about too regarding minimalists and their relationships. There are times where we are better people and lead better lives by allowing ourselves to have an emotional connection or two. 😉

    Smart analysis. Dig it. 😀

    • David – Thanks! I loved your article (thus why I linked it) 🙂

      I find the relationships between people fascinating. And like yourself, I often wonder about the relationships of minimalists. I’m sure that there are MANY that are able to perfectly maintain them. But the extremists seem to be the ones who have the hardest time with them.

      Course they are also some of the ones with the loudest soap box.

      (And I’m glad you caught my dripping sarcasm on the “nothing new” aspect of minimalism!)

  3. I gotta admit, a small piece of me died inside when I read this sentence…

    “With all their shiny buzzwords and photo-laden posts and revolutionary chatter, I fell bumbling tumbling head over heels down the rabbit-hole of minimalism.”

    Then I kept reading and it got better, more level headed. Whew. I was worried there for a minute.

    I could go on a tirade about this subject, but I won’t. Instead, I think this short cartoon says it all just perfectly!

    • David – I don’t think the problem is totally with minimalism, but with the extremist view of minimalism. Like alcohol and chocolate cakes, everything in moderation!

      I prefer to base my minimalist theories in the works of Thoreau rather than the passing thoughts of the latest online loudmouth. Course it took me a little while to remember that.

      And I love that video – I linked it in the post. Definitely brilliant. I especially liked the “We’ll have people in the 3rd world do it – they’re already minimalists” HA!

  4. First, this: “or maybe you have heard of that obscure dude Henry David Thoreau who lived in a sparse cabin on a pond in the 1800â€ēs” is awesome!

    Second, I love your boil-down, the beautiful reduction sauce of this argument. What you say is so true: we need to turn down the NOISE. Noise is what happens when I go to the grocery store to buy potato chips and there are 90 different kinds of potato chips in various shapes, cuts, cooking styles and flavors, and I leave the grocery store with NO potato chips because I can’t make up my mind.

    Noise is not the raggedy soccer T-shirt I held on to from high school because it has our high school colors on it and it reminds me of my ridiculously awkward but fun teen years. And I don’t wear it much anymore, but sometimes just seeing it or picking it up reminds me of those times, and that I really do need to get in touch with my old high school buddies.

    (For the record, I did do a big closet clean this January and it felt so good. Having less noise in there, aka clothes that don’t fit, makes it easier to find that things that do add value, aka my awesome white flare pants that have been missing for 2 years that make me feel like a rockstar.

    • Noel – I did most of my literature studies for in college on transcendental and Victorian literature. It was a nice juxtaposition to my classics reading (which were mostly in Latin!)

      And OH MY GOD YES about the potato chips! It kills me! Supermarkets are just evil, in so many ways. They make me feel confused and inadequate most of the time. But even more so, yes, keep the raggedy T-shirt, it has a meaning and evokes memories that make you happy.

      I say if you aren’t holding onto 50 things from a time to remind yourself, and you aren’t traveling the world living out of a backpack, then one or two things aren’t going to kill you.

      Congrats on your closet clean – it is amazing how good you feel afterwards!

      • With the chips, maybe try what I did when we discovered a new Mexican restaurant nearby that was amazing. I just had to keep going back until I had tried practically every dish on the menu. It is a spectacular way to appreciate the abundance that is in front of me. It gives me something to look forward to, forever.

  5. Great article. I have fallen into the trap briefly and you hit the nail on the head about devaluing people in our minds.

    • Hey Mike! Thanks for stopping by and commenting…you’ve peaked my curiosity though. Care to share a little more? How did you pull yourself out of the devaluing spiral?

  6. Have you ever seen one of those shows on hoarding? I am not that bad, thankfully, but I can see, if things were different, how I could be. I understand how they have trouble having some one else decide for them what they should keep and what they should give away. I know how hard it is to part with things that, for whatever reason, I have deemed important enough to keep.

    That said, minimalism has an appeal to me, but never in the extreme way some apparently take it. Just as some people hoard, others discard or deny themselves, I suppose? I am not familiar that end of the spectrum (sigh). But I have made changes in some rooms, mostly by moving things into the basement and garage, and I love those rooms. But minimalist? Sounds good in theory, but in practice, that isn’t what will happen for me. Usable, beautiful and easy to clean? Now that is what I want. Mininimal upkeep.

    • Darcy – Believe me, I could easily be a Level 2-3 hoarder if given the opportunity. I was just looking through some old college papers thinking “Why do I still have these” followed quickly by the thought “But I might need the information in them one day.” I’m not sure exactly when I will need a comparative analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne and pastoral art from the 19th century though. 😉

      I agree, I like minimalism, but more because of the theory and ideal behind it. Getting rid of the useless stuff to focus on what matters. Not running around, worrying about “upkeep” but instead just maintaining.

      Now, to get a place with a basement!

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