What’s missing from minimalism

Things on a shelf

How many things does the average person own?

A recent Channel 4 documentary here in the UK, called Life Stripped Bare, stated that the average UK household contains 1,000 items, while a 2014 article in the LA Times put the figure at 300,000 things in the average American home.

Based on consultations I’ve done in both countries, I don’t think either figure is correct.

One possible reason for the huge difference is that perhaps the UK survey grouped lots of similar things together and counted them as one, and maybe the US survey counted every single item, such as individual paper clips and pieces of paper. But even so, the figures seem wildly off to me.

Back in 2001, a 37-year old man called Michael Landy achieved international fame by making an inventory of the 7,227 items in his home, which he then methodically destroyed over a two-week period in an artistic event that he called Break Down. He did this in full public view in an empty shop in London’s most famous shopping area, Oxford Street, and was left at the end wearing just the clothes he stood up in.

Around the same time, a Finnish art student used her final thesis to take an inventory of her 2,500 square foot home (approx. 232 metres), and discovered she had 6,126 things. She used traditional archaeological methods, and took note of which items were used each day (just 1%), every week or month (16%), once or twice a year (23%), and those which were used less than once a year or not at all (60%).

These two inventories, while more trustworthy, were over 15 years ago, and there has been a huge increase in consumerism since then. I’ve trawled the internet but can’t find any accurate surveys that have been done in recent times, except for the personal inventories of a few minimalists. But even they have widely varying methods of cataloging, with some including groups of things as one item (all socks, for example), and others excluding any household items that are shared with others (furniture, kitchen equipment, and so on).

Does it matter how many things you own?

It certainly does matter how many things you own if you get to the level of hoarding, where you have so much stuff in your home that you can no longer function normally. Up to 5% of people in the western world are now thought to be in this situation, and the numbers are increasing each year.

It also matters to around 30% of the population who, according to a survey conducted at About.com, say they avoid going home because they have so much clutter.

In fact, only 6% of people claim to live clutter-free. Everyone else has more things than they need and is struggling to some degree to keep their home tidy, organized, and as they want it.

Is minimalism the answer?

The message of minimalism is excellent. It’s clear the world needs to consume less. But the practicalities are challenging, and it tends to attract people who are obsessive or compulsive, or both. I know of one person, for example, who got so enthused by the idea that she now only has one plate in her kitchen. If a friend comes to dinner, they have to bring their own with them.

But the main problem with minimalism is the basis on which decisions are made. I believe that each of us is here on earth for a purpose, and the possessions we keep around us need to reflect this — not so little that we can’t do what we’re here to do, and not so much that we are burdened and held back.

At some stages of my life I needed very few things, and at other times I have needed more. Twice in my life I have made such major course corrections that I got rid of everything I owned and started again. But this wasn’t driven by the wish to consume less. It was in order to follow the integrity of my higher calling.

Limiting the number of things we own in order to opt out of consumerism seems very admirable, but it misses the mark. It addresses the problem at the level of results rather than the cause. It does not take into account that we are spiritual beings incarnated in human bodies, and if each person were to follow their purpose, they would naturally have just the amount of things that they need and no more.

Consumerism and materialism are, in fact, symptoms of how spiritually disconnected modern society has become, and limiting how many possessions people have in their homes is not a cure for that.

There’s no quick fix for this situation, but there are ways to develop a more conscious relationship with your home environment and your possessions so that they can help rather than hinder you in your path. The first essential step is to clear any clutter you have.

Related articles
Why people keep stuff
What’s your clutter ratio?

Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2016


About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her international bestseller, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, has sold over 2 million copies in 26 languages. She is known for her in-depth, practical and perspective-changing approach.
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One Response to What’s missing from minimalism

  1. Pixie says:

    For my lifestyle, a category is missing from the Finnish student’s survey. I live in a true four season environment where a number of my possessions are used seasonally. Take outdoor footwear for example: mud clogs in spring, sandles in summer, shoes in autumn, heavy boots in winter. So, in my environment, I would need to include a category that encompasses seasonal periods of weeks extending to months. Those time periods vary seasonally, as I need to wear boots for a much longer time than sandles, and shoes for a longer time period than mud boots.

    Also, a homeowner is likely to have a greater number of possessions than an apartment dweller due to indoor and outdoor maintennance needs. When I lived in a small apartment, I had a few plant pots on a windowsill and a big old spoon for transplanting. I watered my plants with a small kitchen pitcher. Now, in a house—with a property including a lawn, trees and garden—there are rakes, shovels, hoes, watering cans, garden hose, buckets, lawn mowers, weed whackers, chain saws, hand saws, clippers, wheelbarrows, tarps, lawn chairs, etc. In winter, these items are exchanged for snow shovels, snow brooms, ice breakers, ice scrapers, buckets of salt and sand, bird feeders and seed, ski equipment, snowshoes, etc.

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