Very few of us have the gull to attempt to lead an extreme minimalist lifestyle. Most of us find it unimaginable to live a week in those conditions, nevermind everyday. But these daring individuals are taking “living with less” to the furthest extent, and thriving.
Extreme minimalists are proof, if anything, that the average person doesn’t actually need 70% of the things they own. It’s also proof that our consumption habits are learned behaviors and totally overridable.
Extreme minimalism – Is there a limit?
Thriving as an extreme minimalist is a momentous feat. But we get so caught up in the act of extreme minimalism—the great changes, the freedom, and the mindset adjustments—that we forget to question whether we’re overdoing it, hence we fail to prevent ourselves before we do.
Extreme minimalism isn’t something that’s particularly easy to get right. Extreme minimalism, of all the forms of minimalism, is the most strict in its requirements. Surely then, it must require the utmost seriousness and dedication.
This poses an interesting question: “To someone who’s willing to give away everything, at what point does minimizing become counterproductive?” Well, that would depend on what they’re goals are so let’s look at what extreme minimalists are and what motivates them.
What is an extreme minimalist?
Extreme minimalism is what contemporary minimalism would be if it were an Olympic sport. While your average minimalists are sticking to only what they need to thrive and live well, extreme minimalists are only keeping things they need in order to survive.
For an extreme minimalist it’s not about comfort or thoughtfully analyzing our possessions. It’s about living with as little as possible. Extreme minimalists proudly boast of being able to fit all of their possessions into one suitcase.
It wouldn’t be unusual to walk into an extreme minimalist’s home and find…nothing! Not that that’s anything to be unsettled by, there’s just nothing to show.
At least not on counters or walls. You might find a piece of furniture of two. No unnecessary components to anything; the mattress is likely placed directly on the floor.
Extreme minimalists live on the very edge of survivalism. They’ve completely detached from materialistic desire and lead perfectly fulfilling lives with just the necessities.
When all that’s unnecessary or unhealthy is removed from your life, all you have left is love, dreams, and the limitless ability to pursue what makes you happy. They’re so content with just the necessities, in fact, that they can sometimes go a little overboard.
Extreme Minimalism: Can You Go Too Far?
As with anything so renegade, extreme minimalism has the potential to backfire if not done correctly and under the right conditions. Circumstances are very important to a positive extreme minimalist experience.
Extreme minimalism is most suitable to someone who has the freedom to do it reasonably and of their own volition. Hence it is, arguably, not the most feasible thing for families.
Now you’re going to have challenges and you’re going to jump some hurdles, and you’ll be all the better for it. Realistically, though, you’ve gone too far in anything once it negatively affects your health, your happiness, your productivity, or others.
1) You’re forcing it on somebody
Extreme minimalism should be voluntary and shouldn’t be forced on anyone. Don’t make a partner feel bad for not wanting to do it with you.
Don’t try to drag your sister along because you don’t want to try it by yourself. Don’t create extreme minimalist rules for the house that affect everyone unless they are within bounds of reasonable expectation, like a budget.
Living with less than 15 possessions can be extremely stressful and even miserable to someone who doesn’t want to live that way. Don’t strip somebody of their possessions before they’re ready because you want to try something new.
If you want to bring someone else in on your extreme minimalist journey, you can’t force them. You’re setting them up to be unhappy.
Communicate your wishes to them. Open up about your experiences or knowledge about extreme minimalism and express to them that you would like them to give it a try, even if it’s temporary.
If they agree, volunteer to guide them through a trial run to see how they get along. Get creative and make it fun—concoct a list of a couple dozen entertaining ideas to bide your time together. Just be conscious not to throw someone straight into the ice bath.
2) It’s affecting your health
Say, you’ve minimized so much that, in a burst of passion, you’ve thrown out all your cooking ware.
Now, you’re fairly hungry. Or you decided to “declutter” your back brace because it’s your body and you can hold your back up yourself! A month later, it’s nearly impossible for you to get out of bed.
Don’t toss anything that you genuinely need for health-related reasons. This includes inhalers, medication, supplements, and medical equipment. If you don’t keep your health at 100% you won’t reap all the benefits of extreme minimalist life.
3) It’s affecting your productivity
A fiery, confidence-fueled move in celebration of holistic healing caused you to throw away your ADHD medication.
A very self-righteous move, but now you can’t keep your eyes on your laptop for more than 10 minutes at a time. Maybe you threw out your work clothes while whittling down your closet, and you’re now wondering exactly why you did that.
A huge benefit of extreme minimalism is that it saves so much money. Don’t interrupt your money flow by making decisions that will affect your ability to get things done and, by extension, your income.
4) It’s affecting your happiness
Wow, you threw out your paint, brushes, and canvases? Why would you do that? Painting is your passion, you do it every day!
Don’t give up on your passions and what you love to do in order to pursue extreme minimalism. If it gives your life meaning and purpose, pursue it as vigorously as possible!
Also note that throughout the extreme minimalist process, you might be bored, things might get a little quiet, and there will likely be an adjustment period.
These things are normal. But when you encounter feelings of dread and misery in connection to your minimalist pursuits, it would be a good idea to slow down or stop.
You’ll know when it just doesn’t feel right and in that case extreme minimalism just might not be for you, which is completely okay! Listening to yourself is what’s most important.
If you’re still interested in minimalism take it down a notch to some expressive and therapeutic contemporary minimalism to ease your way in.
5) It doesn’t reasonably fit your home life
You and your household of 5 have now downsized to a one bathroom apartment with few amenities in order to get in touch with your inner extreme minimalist.
Or perhaps you have a paraplegic member of your home; it wouldn’t be feasible to remove all of their equipment and get a smaller place where it’s harder for them to maneuver. That’s not to say that paraplegics can’t be extreme minimalists!
This is just another one of those cases where, especially if you have dependents, you need to be fair in your judgement of whether this lifestyle is beneficial for everyone. You have to check that it’s suitable for everyone and not just something you want to do.
Extreme Minimalists Tips
This is as minimal as it gets! Don’t feel bad if you go a little overboard out of zealousness. It’s a change to be excited about, but it’s also a learning process and you have to adjust as you go.
It’s not going to be perfect, but if it’s something that improves your health and happiness then it’s worth some trial-and-error.
If you want to be an extreme minimalist, you’ll really have to put your mind to it. If some of the tips here are unorthodox, remember that you won’t be living like the majority of people in the country. In fact, you’ll be living in the direct opposite fashion.
If you’re living on the edge, let’s make sure you’re doing it right.
- Substitute your mattress. Your spring mattress is big and not portable at all. If you’re an extreme minimalist, it might be the largest item in your home. If you want a storage-friendly option or just don’t have much space, get an air mattress that you can deflate and put away during the day. Another good option is a futon, bed couch, or just sleeping on your regular couch. If you don’t mind it, you can even sleep in a sleeping bag or on the floor.
- Establish boundaries. You’re going to need to make your boundaries very clear to yourself and the people around you. For example, communicate to your family that you don’t want gifts for holidays. This is so you don’t have to deal with sentimental clutter (the hardest kind). Establish rules for shopping, meals, and a clad iron list of necessities. Write them down to make referring back to them easier.
- It’s not about depriving yourself. This shouldn’t feel like a punishment. If you’re enduring feelings of loss, fill that void with mindful thought and action. No one is taking anything from you, for whatever material possessions you shed you’re gaining something intangible.
- Say “no”. Learning how to use this little two-letter, monosyllabic word will save you time, frustration, regret, and keep you on track to your extreme minimalist goals. You’re surely going to have to decline certain things that you would’ve otherwise done before.
- Expand the use of things. Use your body wash to wash your hair. Use a bit of dish soap to wash your clothes. Shred old shirts and use them as cleaning rags. Your coffee table is often just as good as a dinner table or desk. Reduce your cooking area to the bare kitchen essentials for a minimalist, and focus on other things.
If you’re not quite ready to move into the woods and live off of the land, extreme minimalism is the next best thing. Though not a necessity, minimalism and frugality often go well together.
In this process you’ll become very intimate with your possessions and their functions. When the function of each of your possessions is unique, necessary, and contributes to your life in some way, you develop an unmatched state of gratefulness.
Without one of these things, you literally wouldn’t be able to go about your day in an ordinary and efficient manner. So you come to more closely recognize and acknowledge these things for their role.
Practice caution! Extreme minimalism can be too extreme. To reduce the likelihood that you’ll minimize too much, pace yourself and don’t jump right in. By “jump right in”, don’t toss all your things but your toothbrush and pillow out the door.
This process is about making conscious decisions about what is best for you. That part never stops. You should always be in the state of mind to make decisions that are accurate and in your best interest.
If it feels like it might be a step too far then back up, reflect, weigh some pros and cons, and make an informed decision. But don’t empty your life off a whim, you might end biting off more than you can chew.