Minimalist Lifestyle For Sale?

When I was a teenager, I was enamored with the J. Crew catalog—not so much for the trendy-preppy clothes, but the chic lifestyles depicted on its pages. I’d spend a lazy hour with each new issue, looking for inspiration as to what kind of glamorous life I might lead someday.

When the spring issued arrived, I’d daydream about cavorting in a meadow of wildflowers with ten of my closest friends (no matter that my friends were far more interested in going to the mall than a meadow).

The summer issue had me fantasizing about riding a perfectly-battered vintage bicycle, in my flipflops and sundress, through a quaint little beach town (no matter that the nearest beach towns were crammed with cheesy bars and sweaty tourists).

With the fall issue, I imagined myself strolling the leafy paths of an Ivy League campus, and cozying up in a grand old library filled with leather-bound tomes (ok, I actually lived this one).

And, oh, the winter issue! That’s when my imagination would really take flight. I pictured myself celebrating the holidays, with my extended family, on a fabulous New England estate–riding in our own sleigh (of course) to pick out a Christmas tree on the expansive, snow-covered grounds. (No matter that landing on such an estate would likely require marrying into a moneyed, Kennedy-like clan—and my teenage heart fell for artists and musicians rather than the sons of senators).

I consumed these lifestyles just as I would the flirty sundress, low-rise khakis, or roll-neck sweater that went along with them.

But after years of envisioning which “catalog life” I might lead, complete with its clothing and accessories, the one I fell into was so vastly different—and, I’m happy to say, required no purchases whatsoever.

When I became a minimalist, over a decade ago, there was nothing trendy or chic about it. In contrast, people considered my penchant for empty spaces and few possessions to be rather strange and eccentric.

Fast forward to this NY Times article, “Selling the Pared-Down Life.” It’s about LifeEdited, the latest venture by Treehugger founder Graham Hill, and describes the aim of his fledgling company to sell “small-space, sustainable… high-end living” to the masses. (If you have any doubt that big profits are anticipated, consider that billionaire entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, CEO of, is being wooed as an investor.)

I certainly appreciate the idealism behind it, and applaud any effort to champion a “right-sized” lifestyle to the public at large. But I can’t help but wonder (or should I say worry): has minimalism become another lifestyle to consume, along with the right convertible furniture, smart phone, and wardrobe of merino wool?

One might argue that I’ve contributed to the “packaging” of minimalism as a lifestyle; after all, I’ve been blogging for nearly three years and have a book for sale on the topic (with yes, a link at the bottom of this post—but you can borrow it from the library if you prefer). However, I’ve stopped short of peddling other products or selling advertising space on my website. In my opinion, minimalism isn’t conferred upon you when you purchase a snazzy set of nesting bowls; it’s a state of mind that’s cultivated slowly and deliberately, and ideally, will lead you to decide that you don’t need said bowls in the first place. ;-)

I’m all for quality over quantity, and being mindful about the products we buy—it’s a great strategy for avoiding the clutter that can accumulate otherwise. However, let’s not use minimalism as an excuse to consume more stuff (however high-end, beautifully-designed, or space-saving it may be). Let’s keep in mind that what we’re really striving for is less—and that remaking, reusing, and repurposing what we already own can be a far more effective way to achieve it.

Do you think minimalism has been co-opted by corporate America? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

76 comments to Minimalist Lifestyle For Sale?

  • Tina

    I liked this discussion. We are thinking of only getting the newspaper on Sunday so we’ll produce less to recycle. We walk to the grocery store with our fabric bags so we have fewer bags to clean after the cats. We haven’t turned the heat on all winter, because we didn’t need it. I wonder if everyone used 1/2 as much energy how much better off we’d be. And we are far from the most frugal of minimalists. We just need to get everyone thinking about having less.

  • Tina

    I took a quiz on Facebook this am about whether I was a hippie or not. There were no questions about politics, making your own clothes, candles, beads or anything like that. It mentioned Burning Man and chakras and yoga. I mention this because I consider myself trying to be a minimalist but maybe some corporate entity doesn’t think so. I am upset about the erosion of the middle class and I hope being minimalist enables more people to have better lives than they would otherwise. Certainly, it has given me more satisfying choices than if I had wasted money dressing my kids in brand new clothes all the time for example.

  • Tina

    My husband mentioned that every time he sees a Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift shop he thinks of me. There is so little I need or want that money is spent taking a cat to the vet or repairing something broken. We also save for vacations. Most of our friends are also retired and most don’t buy clothes or shoes either. However, a lot of people are helping adult children with their living expenses.

  • Tina

    My SIL was here one day trying to fix up my bathroom with matching hand towels. I don’t have matching hand towels as we only use one at a time. We don’t have dining room chairs but we have 2 folding chairs and borrow chairs from my son. I am filling another big bag for Goodwill. We have many empty drawers and shelves and I plan to give some furniture to my younger son when he gets his own place.

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