Minimalism Addiction

If you are tuned in to pop culture, you’ve probably noticed a lifestyle design trend over the past few years towards minimalism. This movement is essentially an autoimmune response to the global financial (read: morality) crisis.

People who lost a great deal of money, their home, or their job, question why they even had all that stuff in the first place. Those who made it through the crisis unscathed wonder if they are next.

Minimalism is one of those things that people can agree is a virtue, yet no one will pursue.

That’s because minimalism requires work, just like consumerism.

Don’t get me wrong, decluttering, selling unneeded things, and making a conscious effort to stop bringing so much new stuff into our homes are good things. But like all good things, it can be taken too far.

A recent post on a popular minimalism blog  implores us to delete digital music we don’t listen to, or haven’t listened to in a while.

Keep in mind that this is digital music, which essentially only takes up imaginary space. It’s not like a stack of 500 CDs.

The author even admits in the article that music is a unique type of art that is meant to be enjoyed over time.  He then says that he deleted everything he hadn’t listened to in the last 6 months, and urged us to do the same.

He describes spending hours going through 20,000 songs to find out which ones he doesn’t need. I would guess that he inconvenienced himself more by doing this than his music collection would have ever inconvenienced him by just…existing.

Essentially this is creating clutter in order to get rid of it. Creating a problem in order to solve a problem.

Before I read this piece it never occurred to me that having a bunch of songs on a hard drive would cause problems in my life. That’s because it doesn’t (except when Britney Spears accidentally pops up on shuffle at a party and embarrasses me).

The minimalism blogger says that paring down our music collections allows us to focus on the good stuff. He may be right, but if music is, like he says, a “special art form” that is “absorbed over time,” then why should I make an arbitrary decision that because I don’t like an album today, that I should delete it forever?

I’ve bought albums and listened to them once, only to rediscover them years later and fall in love with them.

I’m calling this out as an addiction to minimalism. More specifically, it may be an addiction to problem solving. These types of extreme behaviors prevent us from enjoying our lives. Sure, we can take minimalism to its extreme and wake up in a house with just a bean bag chair and a notepad, but will that make our lives better?

This is also why you won’t read a lot about extreme frugality on Married (with Debt). If you have ever seen the TV shows about Extreme Cheapskates, you will realize that their money saving frugality is merely a mask to cover up mental illness.

Life is about balance, and so is money. We should not let our money control us through debt. We should also not work to have so much control over our money that we obsess about it.

Minimalism has some virtues, but like all advice, you shouldn’t be afraid cherry-pick out the things that make sense and reject the things that don’t.

That’s how we create our own philosophies and move discussion forward.

Readers: What are your thoughts on minimalism? 

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46 Comments
  1. Great post! I totally agree that trying to find a balance is key to everything, even though it can be difficult. I personally lean towards minimalism in a family that leans toward hoarding. My family likes to point out that at some point they may need whatever object they have talked themselves into possessing, and to get rid of it would be like wasting money because they would have to buy it later. My thought is that having too much clutters up your home, and that if you don’t have a really good way to organise all your belongings, you are going to forget what you have and end up buying a new (whatever it happens to be) anyway. Both thoughts are valid, and as long as you don’t go to extremes, both ways work equally well. Yes, I have gotten rid of a few things over the course of my life that I ended up having to buy later in life. But I won’t even tell you how many times I have gotten a tank of gas for my car for secretly selling coat hangers and bent nails to the scrapyard in my town. And trust me, it takes a lot of coat hangers and bent nails to buy a tank of gas. On second thought, maybe this hoarding is a good thing…as long as I can secretly make my way out of Mom’s driveway with a trunk full of scrap metal.
    Sully recently posted..For ButtonsMy Profile

    • Great point, Sally, about having so much stuff that you don’t even know what you have. I think that feeling of needing something causes a lot of people to hold on to too many things. I agree it does have a lot to do with one’s income situation.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. This is a great post! I do think getting out of debt and being frugal can get to a point where it becomes a bad thing.

    It really depends on how much you focus on it and how much it controls your life.

    With that said, it’s important to make wise financial decisions, plan for the future, and save accordingly. But there is a fine line and deleting the music you don’t use is fairly dumb. What if my ipod just hasn’t shuffled to the song in the last 6 months because I have too many on there? It’s not that I didn’t want to listen to the song…it just hasn’t gotten around to it.
    Jason @ WorkSaveLive recently posted..Recipe: Easy Tomato Basil Cream PastaMy Profile

    • Hey Jason – thanks for your comments. It’s all about whether we control our money, or our money controls us.

  3. I think using minimalism for your digital music collection is a little pointless. I like keeping my old music that I haven’t listened to in a while. When those songs come up I shuffle it may remind me of old times or just remind me how good that band or song is. It sounds like that blogger is more obsessive compulsive than just a minimalist.

    I’ve found myself becoming a bit of a minimalist in my daily life, but I definitely don’t take it to extremes. I have no problem keeping stuff I haven’t used recently, but I avoid buying stuff that I don’t necessarily need. Mostly I’m content with what I have.
    Modest Money recently posted..5 Wacky Ways To Earn Side Income During The SummerMy Profile

    • Good point on the OCD – you are probably right. I also have minimalist tendencies – for example, I switched to a cone coffee brewer and brew coffee one cup at a time, without a coffeemaker. I like the feeling of not having a big machine on my counter, and instead a piece of plastic in a drawer. Thanks for visiting!

  4. I’m one of those people who doesn’t understand why anyone would want to be a minimalist. I get the idea of living simply – easier, more stress free, etc – but minimalism doesn’t always mean financial savings so I don’t really get it.

    Also, I love my stuff. I love not having to wear the same outfit in a week and having a couple of products to chose from.
    Daisy recently posted..Get Motivated To Get Out Of DebtMy Profile

    • Awesome defense of anti-minimalism, (otherwise called being yourself). Thanks Daisy!

    • Ditto to everything Daisy just said.
      Marissa @ Thirtysixmonths recently posted..GIft ideas that my mom would actually like.My Profile

    • Being a minimalist does not mean you get rid of things you love, or that you can only own a certain number of things. It’s about getting rid of the things that don’t contribute to our lives in a positive matter so we can enjoy the things that do matter. If i have a million things that I don’t use often, how am I going to find the things I absolutely love buried underneath it all?

      Minimalism means something different to every single person.

      There is a point to decluttering digital things in my opinion. If I open a messy folder it’s a lot harder for me to find what I’m looking for than if it only had files I needed. This is true for my work computer and my home computer. For me it is worth it to keep my digital things organized, for someone else it might not be.

  5. Well said! Life’s too short to spend hours deleting neglected mp3 files. I like to keep my ‘stuff’ to a minimum, but c’mon! It’s kinda fun re-discovering a favorite song of a decade ago that’s been collecting electronic dust for year.
    Kurt @ Money Counselor recently posted..3 Diamonds and a Dog #5My Profile

    • My thoughts exactly. Deleting old files is like realizing you have an extra inch of insulation in your attic and removing it piece by piece with scissors. What’s the point?

  6. There is definitely an addictive tendency. I went to good will 10 times last year b/c getting rid of stuff was so rewarding!
    Financial Samurai recently posted..Multigenerational Households: Treasure or Torture?My Profile

    • Hey Sam – glad you stopped by. Getting rid of a bunch of crap taking up space is pretty gratifying. I’m guessing once the mission was done that you didn’t knock on your neighbor’s door and ask to go through their closets?

  7. I think there’s a certain point of minimalism that I’d like to reach, but nothing too crazy. I love having clothes and having choices.
    Michelle recently posted..Looking forward to the Bank StatementMy Profile

    • I agree. I have a large closet so my clothes don’t bother me. Many of them are years old and have gone out of style and came back in. I try to watch what gets brought in.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. I tend to agree that minimalism can be addictive like anything else; although I think it’s one of those addictions that isn’t as bad and doesn’t get as much attention as overspenders or hoarders. Deleting digital music does sound like a waste of time–of course, maybe organizing them isn’t a waste of time though… so you can put your Britney music in a “don’t play at parties” folder or something.
    TB at BlueCollarWorkman recently posted..The Treacherous Fire EscapeMy Profile

    • I probably should delete that Britney Spears. I have so many songs – 15,000 – that I don’t even remember where most of them came from.

      I agree that it is a “soft” addiction, and actually I didn’t even know that it existed until I read that post.

      Thanks for reading TB.

  9. For me, crossing the line of extreme minimalism is not that bad. I agree with your point of view, but if the pendulum were to swing one way or the other, I’d rather it be on the minimalist side than hoarding side. I guess I say this because I have OCD and tend to be a little wary of stuff getting out of control.

    In response to the music and digital space, I agree with your point. The music isn’t really hurting anything (like a CD) and it’s always nice to rediscover your favorite songs or albums, months or years later. I think what the author might have meant, is that sometimes digital space still clutters our minds. At least for me, if ANYTHING is out of order or overflowing (like my inbox) I get anxious and overwhelmed. But that’s just a personal thing.
    Carrie Smith recently posted..Budgeting for Extra Costs When Moving to a New ApartmentMy Profile

    • I’m not sure which way I’d swing if I had a choice. I guess I’m a “collector.” I liked baseball cards and things like that.

      Thanks for giving us a different perspective on things cluttering the mind.

  10. While I might be a frugal person I still have times in which I like to splurge. I think it’s important because it helps to keep life interesting.
    Sean @ One Smart Dollar recently posted..Do I need Long Term Care Insurance?My Profile

    • Thanks Sean for reading and your comment. Do you think minimalism is a destination, a journey, or neither?

  11. Life really does require balance! I recently moved from NYC to SF by car and when I was packing things up to ship across the country, part of me wanted to get rid of it all. Why on earth do I need so many clothes, books, etc? Once I pack and ship them, I’ll just have to move them and unpack them again. It all seemed like overwhelming clutter. Cut to a few months later…now I’ve not found a permanent apartment yet and still living out of the one suitcase I brought with me. I’m sure glad I didn’t get rid of all that stuff now and wish I could find a place and unpack it already! Before I loved the idea of having a few outfits and my favorite books but now I’m sick of wearing/reading the same things over and over again! People can be addicted to many things and minimalism is one of them. Well done on mentioning this – not many people think about minimalism this way and it’s important to look at all the angles!
    Shannon-ReadyForZero recently posted..My Story: How I Got My Credit Card Company to Lower My Interest RateMy Profile

    • This is a great point. I remember finding boxes packed away from a previous move that were never unpacked. I like the idea of putting what you can fit in a car and trashing (donating) the rest.

      Thanks for reading!

  12. I think the people that are way into the minimalism movement but go out of their way to clear their hard drives of mp3s they no longer listen to are mostly people that are into trends. The real people that are minimalists would never shout to the world that they are minimalists just because they are doing this or that. They just get on with their lives and live that lifestyle, like living in a tiny house.

    I’m not a minimalist but I do like the idea of it, and I like to keep balance in my life so I can be minimalist at times, but I don’t go crazy at trying to achieve it haha.
    From Shopping to Saving recently posted..Don’t Take No For An Answer Part 1: How To Negotiate Scholarship MoneyMy Profile

    • Awesome point you hit on – a true minimalist wouldn’t be advertising. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. My philosophy is to have things that are important to you. There’s elements of philosophy in that. I’m also much about experiences than stuff. But I mean, I have a decent amount of clothing, I have an SLR, guitar and amp and many other things I don’t *need* but that I like. I’ll never try to pare down to an arbitrary number of things.

    I’ve never seen Extreme Cheapskates ( we don’t have it here but we do get Hoarders) but I worry that you’re tarring them all with a pretty heavy brush! Perhaps some do have a genuine psychological issue but I would hesitate to make such a blanket statement.
    eemusings recently posted..On authenticity in bloggingMy Profile

  14. You made some great points. Balance is the priority.
    Jmie recently posted..Dieting, food, and fat buttsMy Profile

    • Life usually finds its own balance – we need not push it too much – thanks for your comment and for reading, Jmie

  15. Like all things minimalism is good to a point as long as you don’t take it too far. Not having 100 shirts is good minimalism. Having 2 shirts and washing them one at a time every other day is horrible minimalism.
    Lance@MoneyLife&More recently posted..Rental Property – The Financial Side (Part 2)My Profile

    • I like your comparison – made me laugh. It is almost like punishing yourself. I do believe that there are good parts to minimalism that should be embraced.

  16. This is a really good post! As someone who buys their music as opposed to downloading it through shareware, I couldn’t imagine deleting music just because I hadn’t listened to it in 6 months. Maybe I played the crap out of a song, and now I need a break? Who’s to say I’m not going to get the urge to play that song again in a couple years? I have a bunch of Tchaikovsky in my iTunes, maybe I’ll want to play that for my future kids? Minimalism can absolutely be taken too far, but I think you make a good point about striking a balance.
    Cassie recently posted..Top 10 Things I Love About My Beater CarMy Profile

  17. Thanks for your kind words Cassie – I like the idea that my kids will grow up with a library of songs as large as mine. I didn’t have nearly the kind of access my kids do to music.

  18. I used to read some minimalist blogs, they make it look like they are happiest soul. They may be but money and having some things at home makes me happier.

    But I believe people should do whatever brings greater joy to them. if living minimalistic life brings greater joy, be minimalist.
    SB @ One Cent At A Time recently posted..2012 Tax Rates and Tax Brackets for Filing Taxes in 2013My Profile

  19. As someone who buys their music as opposed to downloading it through shareware, I couldn’t imagine deleting music just because I hadn’t listened to it in 6 months. Thanks that you’ve shared.
    Claire recently posted..Chalet 1802 ChamonixMy Profile

  20. I recently held a garage sale, and I was shocked at how much unused…pardon my French…crap I had hanging around, cluttering up my life. In defense of my laziness in hanging onto a bunch of stuff, though, if we hadn’t been gifted a pool table and a baby, the junk would still be lying around!

    I think minimalism is great, though. Now that the stuff is out of the house, our home is much more streamlined and organized. It’s actually quite freeing.

    I think my next task will be going through my music and deleting anything I haven’t listened to in a one hour period ;-)
    Christa recently posted..Frugal and Fast Dinner Idea: Garlic NoodlesMy Profile

  21. Love the minimalist picture :)

    On one hand, I understand the concept of simplifying your life so you can focus on what you have and what you enjoy. Sometimes, I find myself listening to a song on the radio that I only kinda like, and then I realize I could just change the channel and find something I love. But I think minimalism kind of prevents us from expanding our horizons to look for love, because we often fall in love with minimalism itself.
    Elizabeth @ Broke Professionals recently posted..Summer JobsMy Profile

  22. Digital music minimalism? I agree minimalism can be taken too far.

    I’m not a natural minimalist. i’m only a minimalist because right now we have to be since we live abroad and we cold move at any time. But even now, i still like to have certain things in my life. My metal coffee press, my coach bag. Having some frills in life is what makes life worth living. But having said that, it doesn’t take much. Just a few frills and i’m good. but i will never delete my digital music collection. I have almost 5 gigs worth of music many of which i don’t listen to anymore. But… My two teeenage sons are loving going through my music collection now. it’s really fun to watch them play my old songs which were once cd’s and now converted to mp3′s for portability. They can’t believe how their mother used to love some pretty crazy music that they ALSO like.
    But i digress, i have to go listen to some music now…
    Annie Andre recently posted..Video: Should You Hire A Property Manager When You Move Abroad?My Profile

  23. There’s a lot of this extremism of late. I’d rather break my life down to amounts to common sense at the time, instead of some lifestyle born out of an economic extreme.

    BTW that minimalist image might be excessive to some, lol.
    JP @ Novel Investor recently posted..Remember Your Investment HorizonMy Profile

  24. You definitely called it right! People get addicted to being “extreme”. As with most trends, they forget what the true intention of the movement is and they simply do it to do it.

    What’s wrong with having music on your hard drive? I’ve got about a billion songs on mine. Who cares if you haven’t listened to them lately? I rediscover old bands all the time this way.
    MyMoneyDesign recently posted..Adding Gold and Silver to Your Investment PortfolioMy Profile

  25. Strong closing. I’m of the opinion that a lot of people subscribe to information they read but don’t know exactly how to balance it, meaning; information, when adapted to your circumstances, allows you to make changes and keep that balance you talk about.

    One of the things I’ll be talking about in my new blog plays off your statement post about not letting money control us through debt which is; you also have to learn to make credit work for you and not become a slave to it. That statement has many meanings as well and balance is the key, as you excellently pointed out. Great post :)

    • Thanks for stopping by Lou. I’ll be sure to check out your site.

  26. I’m not afraid to admit that some Britney Spears music made it into my digital evolution of my music collection. I liked it once. Just because her life is in shambles doesn’t mean get old music is as well! For this same reason, I still listen to and enjoy my Milli Vanilli music.

  27. I know I have minimalist tendencies, and I do agree that having fewer albums available at a given time forces you to enjoy an album more as a result. Growing up, I knew the lyrics and musical elements of albums so thoroughly, I could pretty much play the entire album through in my head. I liked that. I can’t do that anymore because I spend so much time purchasing new music that I fail to listen to the music I purchase.

    That said, I prefer to organize my music into smaller chunks to force myself to enjoy it, as opposed to deleting things entirely. There doesn’t seem to be any damage to having a huge music collection, especially with online cloud services like iTunes Match.

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