Why Minimalism is so Difficult to Adopt
Why is adapting minimalism so hard to do? While we might want to get out from under the mountain of possessions we have, and have all the best intentions of simplifying our lives … the truth is that we continue to have too much stuff.
Part of that is laziness, an attitude of “I’ll get to it later” … but the real driving force behind our too-much-stuffitis is fear.
Fear is what causes us to buy things we don’t really need. Fear keeps us holding onto stuff we don’t need.
- You pack too much when you travel, and have a garage full of stuff, just in case you might need it. This is a fear that you might need something and not have it. It’s fear of lack of safety and certainty.
- You buy a lot of things for an upcoming event or trip because you don’t know what you might need. Your fear is that you’ll be unprepared. Again, it’s fear of lack of safety and certainty.
- You hold on to things you don’t use anymore because you might need it someday. You probably won’t, but you’re really not sure. Again, it’s fear of lack of safety and certainty.
- You keep books and other aspirational items (guitar you never learned, elliptical machine you don’t use) because you hope you’ll get to them someday, and letting go seems like a loss of hope. You fear not being the person you want to be. This is a fear of not being good enough as you are.
- You hold on to sentimental items, because you don’t want to lose the memories, or because it means a lot. Really, you’re afraid you will lose the love or relationship that these items represent (grandpa’s jacket represents your loving relationship with him). You fear the loss of love. This is a fear that the love you have now is not good enough.
- You don’t want to get rid of things because you paid a lot for them, and you fear that letting go would be a waste. Actually, if you’re not using them, it’s a waste to keep them. It’s hard to say what the fear is here … but you likely fear that if the original purchase was a mistake, things might not turn out well in the future. This is a fear that the present moment won’t turn out OK, or again, a fear of uncertainty.
- You keep a lot of clothes (or other similar items) because they’re a means of self-expression for you … and getting rid of many of those clothes would feel like you’re limiting your means of self-expression. You fear not having those options, not having the ability to be who you want to be. This is a fear that you’re not good enough as you are, without those items.
I could go on, but nearly all our possessions that aren’t absolute necessities (shelter, a bed, very minimal clothing, food, personal hygiene stuff, etc.) are bought and kept because of fears.
And of course, these items don’t actually do any of these things. We hope they will, but they never do. We never have more certainty about the future, and we continue to want more things to cope with fears that we’re not good enough, that things won’t turn out OK, and so on. The cycle doesn’t end.
So what’s the solution?
A Better Way to Adopt Minimalism and Cope With Fears
If we could find a different way of coping with these fears and anxieties, we wouldn’t need the stuff. We could pause before buying something out of fear, and decide not to buy it. We could finally get rid of much of the stuff we have lying around taking up space and mental energy. We could downsize, and live a more minimalist life.
So what’s another way to cope with these fears? Try this:
- First notice that you have fear. Notice that you’re being motivated out of fear. Notice that there’s some anxiety, some worry about uncertainty or insecurity, some desire for comfort.
- Stay with the fear. Our tendency is to run away from the fear, to try to seek comfort by buying something or eating comfort food or doing something relaxing. Running from the fear is what causes many of our problems. Stay, sit still, face the fear, breathe. Find the courage to go to the places we’re afraid of.
- Smile at the fear. Face this fear and smile at it. It is just a scared child inside you, nothing to run from, nothing to be upset about. It’s perfectly OK, perfectly natural, for fears to arise in us. Accept this fear in front of you, and smile at it. This smiling dissipates much of its power.
- Develop a friendliness with it. Be open and curious about your fear, see how it feels in your body, what is its quality? Investigate it with friendliness, get to know it like a new friend. Once you really learn what this fear feels like, really become unconditionally friendly with it, you begin to trust that you’ll be OK, that it will float away eventually like a cloud in the wide open expanse of the sky of your mind.
Friends, with this fear, you can now decide how to act, unencumbered by the need to alleviate the fear with possessions. You can close the tab with your favorite online shopping site, you can put it on a 30-day list to look at later, when the urge has faded and the fear is no longer with you. You can let go of the possessions you do have, finally freeing yourself of this burden.
And in the end, you’ll find that you’re perfectly OK as you are, without needing to change, without needing anything to “express” who you are or improve you. And that’s worth more than all the possessions in the world.
I’m making Videos on my good friends James YouTube Channel. See them here:
Thank you for posting this, Bob. I am a minimalist at heart and literally feel oppressed and suffocated by my *stuff* and forever talking about getting rid of 95% of it but never quite seem to get around to actually disposing of it. This article is quite helpful in calling my situation “by its name”, so to speak, and actually doing something about it. It’s time to weigh anchor.
Greg, move into a smaller space and you’ll get a big kick in the pants to getting rid of it! Ane whatever you keep will become a burden and you’ll want to get rid of it! Bob
A while back I sold my excess. What I couldn’t sell, I gave away. What I couldn’t give away, I threw away. This created such a conflict within a friend that he asked me if I were suicidal. I briefly showed him what I kept- my photo albums, tools, clothes, food, the dog, etc., to demonstrate my intentions to remain among the living.
Stuff can have such a hold on some of us that living minimally is approaching a life not worth living.
Timely post for me. While I have pried the fingers of Fear from my belongings, it has been squeezing me in other areas. Thank you for the reminder how Fear can be an enemy when ignored, yet a friend when embraced.
Canine, that is extremely well said, thank you! Bob
Are you a bit on the hypercritical side? You preach get rid of stuff and then close with a link to amazon to buy more stuff that basically puts money in your pocket. If you really want to live what you preach get a jug of water and a can of spam and start walking…. I am done with wasting my time reading your crap. Red Meador
Who knew that so much ignorance and lack of understanding could be expressed in four short sentences.
The WEB is notorious for several phenomena, among them the most infamous are, spam & trolls. How to deal with those:
1) Spam, push ” delete’.
2) Trolls…IGNORE THEM !!
Lucy, it takes all kinds to make the world go around! Bob
Thanks Greg. Bob
I’m not sure he was stating to get rid of most stuff then to not ever purchase anything ever again. We need to buy food, tires, solar panels, replace damaged items or replace typical household items that work better with DC voltage, etc. Unless we make do without electricity, make clothes from the animals we hunt, and make tools from rocks and sticks, we need to buy stuff.
He spends a lot of time educating and helping many people, so I don’t find the idea purchasing needed items through his Amazon link contradictory or self-serving. In fact, I encourage it largely because it costs us nothing and it helps him to continue to put out what I think is valuable information.
It’s a bummer you don’t find enough value in his writing, but not everyone will. Fortunately, there’s a whole world of information on the Internet.
Thanks Cqanine, very wise and well said! Bob
HI Bob..just started my journey and looking to buy a van or camper..I am purging my stuff of. 50 years..I have bought some things on Amazon..port a potty..shower etc..I find your advise very helpful..and a big thank you to Newbees like me!, Deb
Red, all or nothing thinking will be the death of our environment. When a person says, “If I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not obligated to do anything at all.” That’s just an excuse to make zero changes in their lives because it’s too hard or unpleasant for them. If I reduce my consumption by 60%, and help others to reduce their consumption by 60% is it really fair to judge me/us for the remaining 40%. Are the ones who refuse to make any changes saints but I’m the worlds worst monster?
We’ll just have to agree to disagree.
Wonderful to be reminded of the Buddhist teachings. Those who are interested in the subject may want to read ” The places That Scare You– a guide to fearlessness in difficult times” by Pema Chodron. Her books have really helped me.
Pema Chodron is such a good teacher/ writer, i love her book ” When Things Fall Apart ‘.
Thanks Lucy! Bob
Thanks for that tip Jeannie. Bob
Fear is good. It’s what has made me financially independent. At the same time, I’m a minimalist, because I don’t spend very much of the financial Independence that I do have.
Thanks Jackal, I agree, fear is very good and should be healthy. But the wrong kind and in the wrong amount can be a toxic poison. The trick to find which is which and embrace one while ridding yourself of the other.
i am always a little shocked when people are so negative,– so i want to give younger people some advice when reading the rude comment above. please keep in mind that not everyone is going to be kind or mentally stable. my first thought was “what a crappy thing to say you x#%**” but as a friend told me about 40 yrs ago, “just be happy that you are not him. there is no way for me to express how much this site means to me, so as we used to say when i was young “keep on trucking”
Thanks Margo! Bob
Bob I’m wearing a very comfortable I might add pair of shorts that I got from the lost and found pile of a hotel that I worked a t ten years ago. The shorts started out as a better quality sweat pants.
Zman, everyone wins with an attitude like yours! The planet breathes easier, you save money and are comfortable and the landfill has one less thing in it! Bob
This is not an overnight thing, but I see my attitude as a great accomplishment.
People have often been startled or even horrified that I don’t have or don’t want some object or other. The issue is really simple to me. If I don’t have a use for it (whatever “it” is), I want it out of my way. The original thing that got my attention on this was a George Carlin bit about how “my house is a place for my stuff,” the point being what a trap it is to assume we need “stuff” that doesn’t serve a clear purpose and a house to store the stuff. I still accumulate a certain amount of unneeded things, but my feelings don’t attach to them and they’re easily shed.
Calvin, that really is an accomplishment, no matter how long it took! Bob
Thanks for sharing this one Bob. I’m needing to go through all my things at the moment but I’m stuck like I’m in quicksand. It’s true, it’s one of the hardest things to do..get rid of everything that you identify with. Yes, it comes down to fear like he says. oh, I wish it was easier!
Greg, having a fixed size to move into like a van or RV makes it easier! Bob
Some people react with anger when you tell them about the obvious irrationality of keeping stuff that they don’t need, use (or even look at!).
I have a friend who is a professional psychotherapist and she has had patients that divorced their spouses over possessions! Yeah, it’s crazy.
It’s just stuff guys. Get over it!
Kevin, in modern culture we love things and use people–that’s not going to end well for any of us! Bob
Something else: Minimalism is *addictive.* Seriously, I cannot buy something new without figuring out something to give away. There is something so liberating about getting rid of *stuff,* it really feels like a weight lifting off. Thank you for sharing this. As for your “Amazon ads” I understand–as it seems most of your readers understand–that those ads make it possible for us to have this website. Keep on keeping on,Bob, always enjoy your post and appreciate all I have gotten from CRVL…
Thanks Izaak, you are one of the fortunate ones able to truly overcome our addiction to stuff. Bob
Oh boy. Timely post for me as I am starting this process. Paring down to the essentials.
Try to have fun with it Nancy! Bob
Hi Bob, you have motivated me to get rid of stuff, thanks. Yesterday I made my first trip to good will to drop stuff off not to buy stuff. I’m not a hoarder but anything that could be used I saved. My folks lived through the he depression and saved everything, I guess that’s why I saved stuff. Something funny I discovered is I only seem to lose the left glove because there are a lot of right hand ones and no left. The only reason I saved them is in case I found a left hand one or found a one armed man that needed a glove!
Today I’m gathering more stuff to give away. I’m going to also throw stuff out that is junk and using Craig’s list to get rid of stuff like large rugs and tools that good will won’t take. I’m on a mission, thanks Bob
Bob, even if you don’t end up going nomadic, you’ll be glad you adapted minimalism–life will simply be better!!
The great thing about your blog is that there is good advice that everyone can benefit from if they choose to listen. Keep up the good work, you are helping more people than you think.
Thank you Bob! Bob
You could make a cool applique quilt with those right handed gloves.
Thanks mimi! Bob
There is a reason why we have such acquisitive tendencies. We are bombarded from birth on with advertisements telling us we need to buy things we don’t need. This all started back in the early 1900s’. Edward Bernays ( Sigmund Freud’s Nephew ) started the very 1st PR/Propaganda machine to convince people to buy things because before that, people only bought what they needed or made what they needed themselves. Here’s an example from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/12/consumer.aspx
> Manipulating behaviors
> Intrigued by Freud’s notion that irrational forces drive human behavior, Bernays sought to harness those forces to sell products for his clients. In his 1928 book, “Propaganda,” Bernays hypothesized that by understanding the group mind, it would be possible to manipulate people’s behavior without their even realizing it. To test this hypothesis, Bernays launched one of his most famous public relations campaigns: convincing women to smoke.
> In 1929, it was taboo for women to smoke in public and those who flouted convention were thought to be sexually permissive. Bernays’ client was George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, who envisioned breaking this taboo to broaden the market for his Lucky Strike brand. Bernays asked Hill for permission to consult with New York’s leading psychoanalyst and Freud disciple, Dr. A.A. Brill, and was granted this unusual request.
> This was the first but not the last time Bernays would consult with psychoanalysts to help shape his public relations campaigns. When asked what cigarettes symbolized to women, Brill’s response was that cigarettes were symbolic of male power.
> Equating smoking with challenging male power was the cornerstone of Lucky Strike’s “Torches of Freedom” campaign, which debuted during New York’s annual Easter Parade on April 1, 1929. Bernays had procured a list of debutantes from the editor of Vogue magazine and pitched the idea that they could contribute to the expansion of women’s rights by lighting up cigarettes and smoking them in the most public of places—Fifth Avenue. The press was warned beforehand and couldn’t resist the story. The “Torches of Freedom Parade” was covered not only by the local papers, but also by newspapers nationwide and internationally. Bernays was duly convinced that linking products to emotions could cause people to behave irrationally. In reality, of course, women were no freer for having taken up smoking, but linking smoking to women’s rights fostered a feeling of independence.
Personally, I have often said that I would give up some of the comforts of a home if it would mean that other people less fortunate would get more of what they need. Now, I have the opportunity.
You DON’T OWN your stuff, it owns you.
I have gone from a 3BR house with a mortgage to a 10’X10’room. I sold my house and plan on going mobile soon, just need to research and save some money. Thanks for this great site Bob.
For those of you interested in learning more check out this video on YouTube “The Century of the Self”
https://youtu.be/eJ3RzGoQC4s It is almost 4 hours long but goes into great detail how our consumerist society came about.
Guy, thanks for that reminder, I am familiar with Bernays but most people aren’t. We all assume that somehow we are different and free from the power of advertising but of course that isn’t true, we’re all impacted by it. The further away from the media the better for nearly all of us! Bob
Bernays and his successors have, literally, an ungodly influence on most of us. I read the autobiography of an advertising guru named Jerry Della Feminina. He created out of thin air the supposed need for a product and then invented the product, FDS (a.k.a. Feminine Deodorant Spray). He made a great deal of money and never seemed to have a moral qualm at all. I did and do. That was another boost for my minimalism. I no longer see advertising as valid information, and I remain aware of tie-ins in the “content” part of TV and of many “news” stories as disguised marketing. These are reasons we have an uphill battle convincing people that “stuff” is garbage unless it serves their real needs.
Calvin, whats worst about the power of advertising is that it appeals to the worst part of us, our fear, greed and selfishness. Each of those have a good and important role to play in our lives, but advertising stimulates it totally out of a healthy proportion and elevates it to extremlely unhealthy levels: “Me, Me, Me!!!” is the deep inner cry of most modern, “civilized” people. Bob
Been on this path for a while now, more slowly than some as I have the negotiation phase with my better half to contend with. But we are slowly getting there.
I also wanted to chime in to second any books written by Pema Chodron, her teaching have enhanced my life greatly. Hope they can do the same for others as well.
Thanks Queen, that does complicate matters a lot. Bob
One thing that helps me be more minimalistic is realizing that it ain’t gadgets that save my bottom, it’s knowledge. You can usually fudge the equipment when a problem arises IF you know what you’re doing.
My granddad once got us home using pantyhose as a temporary timing belt on the car. He had a few tools in the car, but who carries a spare timing belt? It was his knowledge that got us back home without a tow.
Vanholio, sadly, that knowledge is disappearing from the average person in our country. Specialization makes us more dependant and compliant so it has seeped into every area of our lives. We learn best when we are young and therefore society has arranged it so we only learn the things that turn us into worker drones, not that things that will make us self-reliant. Bob
thank you for link to zenhabits.
ice cream. raz
Raz, it’s a great site! Bob
Thank you for keeping this site so informative and inspiring. I look forward to the day I can close up shop and run away. When that day comes I will attend the next available RTR. For now, the paycheck from my day job is essential. I have also been a custom furniture maker for over 45 years now and have quite a collection of hand tools. Recently I came to the realization that I don’t own those tools, they own me. With that understanding, I have already sold some and given others away. I have a couple of years of projects that must be completed and then most of the rest go away. Freedom is on the horizon.
Thanks Royce, there’s plenty to o between now and then, start working on your escape and keep plugging away every day and the time will fly by!
I’m enjoying reading the comments here. I purchased my travel trailer this past March. I sold or gave away most of my property. I have a storage where I kept family items. I love being free of having loud neighbors, high rent and utilities. I’m very new living this lifestyle and glad I made the decision in my mid-fifties to enjoy life and travel. Thanks Bob for a great, informative website.
Jackie, I’m very glad I’ve helped you follow your dreams! Never give up on them! Bob
Thank you for all the women full timer rvers you have interviewed on Youtube! Because of all the positive feed back and the verity of living choices you have inspired me to follow my dream. My plan is to go solo fulltime in June 2017. My lease will be up. I hope to meet you someday to say thanks for living the dream and sharing it!
Cheryl, that’s wonderful, I beleive your best days are just around the corner! Bob
When you are doing camping in the bed of your truck you can sleep safely off the ground, while still enjoying the experience of sleeping outside.