Too Messy to be a Minimalist?

I watched a video of a girl who felt she was too messy to be a minimalist, then she “Tried Minimalism for a Week.” She interviewed Ryan and Josh, The Minimalists, to better understand what a minimalist lifestyle means. Next, she packed up everything she owned except a few essentials and set off on her seven-day journey.

I have always wanted to find a client willing to try the minimalist lifestyle and pack away all their possessions, living without most of them. Wouldn’t it be interesting if next time you move, you only unpack things as you need them instead of unpacking everything whether you need it or not? Would you discover that you only need 20% of what you own? That’s the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. In this instance, it means using 20% of what you have 80% of the time. It can apply to everything from clothes to digital information.

Tidy bedroom with large bed and padded headboard, night tables with lamps and only a few décor items representing too messy to be minimalist.
Image by Kaboompics.

When I watched the video, I learned that the girl enjoyed the freedom of living with a lot fewer material items. However, near the end of the video, she says, “I’m too messy to live with such few items.”  I found that statement confusing. I am trying to understand how being messy means you need to have more stuff. Do I assume having less stuff doesn’t make you less messy?

As a neat person, I found that many other neat people have trouble understanding why anyone would want to be messy. I always thought that if you were messy and had less stuff, it would be easier to keep things tidy. But a few years ago, I read a super-interesting book called Messie No More, which gave me a better understanding of messy people. Apparently, being messy can serve a purpose.

The Purpose of Messy

Being messy gives a person control of their environment. Many of my messy clients live with neat people, but some live with equally messy people. When messy and neat live together, there is a constant battle. In this case, the neat person almost always tries to keep the messy person’s stuff tidy, which causes resentment on both sides. When two messy people live together, it’s almost as though there’s a competition to see who can be messier. Is each person trying to show the other that they are the one who controls the situation? I wonder…

Somehow messy is usually seen as bad, but a messy person wouldn’t agree. I believe that some people are proud of their messiness because it’s how they identify themselves. And most of the time, they can find their stuff, eventually. If your messy environment serves you, then who am I to say you need to change it? However, if being messy causes you to lose things, break things, buy things again because you can’t find what you have, or it’s coming between you and a loved one, then maybe it’s time to consider a change.

Not too Messy to Be a Minimalist

I still maintain that owning less can help you become a tidier person. Or at least makes it easier to maintain organizational systems in your home. Being tidy can be more work because you have to stop and put things back where they belong throughout the day. But staying tidy is much easier if you have well-designed storage and a system in place.

Do you have messy stories or experiences? What was the situation, and what was the outcome? Do you consider yourself too messy to be a minimalist? Share your story in the comments.

0 thoughts on “Too Messy to be a Minimalist?”

  1. Interesting thoughts, Jane. I consider myself a minimalist but have lived as a messy person with too much stuff and a messy person with less stuff. Now, I’m neat, but I can’t say I live a minimalist lifestyle. It appears that my husband and I do – on the surface.

    But secretly, squirrelled away in clever storage, is a whole lot of stuff that has never been needed in 15 years or marital bliss. Becoming a minimalist can be a long process, especially when you’re in a relationship with a recovering “just might need it one day” partner.

    The minimalist in me sobs hysterically over the enough-dishes-for-thirty-people-although-we-would-never-seat-thirty-people collect and the 147 pens (no, didn’t actually count them) just in case we run out.

    It’s a process and the more people in the home, the more of a process it is. I agree that it does seem to be about control and letting go of it, perhaps more so than the actual letting go of stuff. I believe minimalism is (or should) also be about letting go of needing to control the other person and their stuff.


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