What If Decluttering Becomes A Minimalist Obsession?

By Ray Arya •  Updated: 11/23/20 •  9 min read


Many think that minimalism equals depriving yourself of things that bring you joy. However, that cannot be further from the truth.

What is the point of minimalism? Correct, finding what you value and treasure most and cutting everything back that does not match that intention.

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In other words, you learn to focus on pursuing as much happiness as possible. So quite the opposite of the association above, right?

But what about if we take living minimally to an extreme?

What if we obsess too much on minimizing our life? If we continually feel the itch to declutter even though there is nothing much left, and get anxious when we face a mess. Or if we end up feeling guilty when having relapse?

Can a minimal lifestyle still bring happiness with its dark sides?

Let’s find out if an obsession to declutter leads to an unhealthy minimalism approach.


Can minimalism become an unhealthy obsession?

There is this saying that everything extreme cannot be healthy and that everything done in moderation is safe.

Does this apply to minimalism as well? How minimal can we live anyway and still be content?

After reading and hearing many debates and criticisms around this topic, I agree that obsessive minimalism leads to an unhealthy lifestyle. 

I have been through the stage when still having the urge to declutter after paring down over 70% of my belongings.

It felt great at first, but then I could not settle and questioned what else I could discard, to the point that I wanted to trash even items I needed.

And that feeling was not only stressful but also as though I felt empty when I did not fill the void of decluttering.

I noticed that anxiety started to dominate my actions and to go through my apartment to find something to either clean, throw away, or replace.

In that case, minimalism and the addiction to declutter indeed becomes an unhealthy lifestyle and a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For me, this form of extreme minimalism equals a mental illness, just as hoarding is.

But rarely anyone seems to be talking about it.

While there is no one-size-fits-all definition for minimalism, there should always be a mindful intention behind the principles and actions involved in each lifestyle.

None of those types are right or wrong. Their principles are for the ones who accept the concept behind them.

If your values align with the beliefs and you follow the steps, then intentionality is your driving motivation.

Does having less stuff make you happier? Sure it does.

However, if you solely declutter for the sake of decluttering and feel anxious without it, then you are missing the point, and intentionality is no longer your driving motivation.

You have gotten rid of the clothes you haven’t worn in a year, extra appliances, unread books and magazines, expired food, and toiletries, and you have learned how to how to stop always wanting more.

But you still haven’t found the promised results.

Instead, you have become a victim of a decluttering-addiction.

And that, of course, will not make you happy at all!

Signs that you are going too far with minimalism

In the world of minimalism, having a clean and organized home seems to be the goal, and decluttering is a process we love to do. 

But for some, it becomes an addictive action when pushing too far.

There is hoarding and on the other side of the spectrum is compulsive decluttering.

It results in throwing away the belongings we might even need, leaving us restless and stressed because we cannot relax and enjoy our freedom.

That is when we start missing the point.

As a consequence, happiness and freedom are no longer our goals, but getting rid of stuff is.

Here are a few manifestations of unhealthy minimalism:

  1. Clutter causes you anxiety.

  2. All you can think of is reducing.

  3. You continually have the urge to declutter, despite already having reduced everything you can.

  4. You feel stressed about not accumulating unnecessary stuff.

  5. You don’t know what else to do with the new space and time created through living minimally.

  6. You feel guilty about accepting unwanted gifts and letting new things in your life.

  7. You react allergic to a mess and have difficulties dealing with it.

  8. You feel guilty about having a relapse and punish yourself with trashing more than needed. 

So, is minimalism a disorder?

When minimalism turns into an obsession, a destination you want to reach, a number you want to achieve, then it becomes a disorder.

A decluttering addiction can rob the joy of your minimalist journey and deprive you of the promised freedom you were expecting.

Now, perhaps it’s time to remind yourself why you started this journey in the first place.

How to not overdo with minimalism?

So how do we make sure that we don’t go too far?

As mentioned earlier, we first and foremost need to remind ourselves that minimalism is not the end goal.

When you are facing difficulties to remain relaxed even if you have accomplished all the steps to make your home and life organized, clean, and more spacious, try this:

  1. Remind yourself why you started your minimalist journey.

  2. Set intentionality as the highest priority. 

  3. Don’t declutter for the sake of decluttering or keeping yourself busy. Your time is spent better on the tasks you finally have time for.

  4. Look back to see the bigger picture of living with less.

  5. Don’t regard minimalism as an end goal, but as a tool that will give you freedom.

  6. Remove things without any strict rules and time constraints so that you can remove items at your own comfortable pace.

  7. Do more self-reflection and be grateful for what you have already accomplished.

  8. When your place gets messy, be aware of being intentional with your things, and clear up. Once done, enjoy its beauty and leave it that way.

  9. Tell yourself that there is no need for further cutbacks.

  10. Don’t focus on getting your possessions down to a certain number of items. Live with what is comfortable for you.

  11. Continue focussing on the things and passions that make you happy instead of decluttering.

  12. Minimalism starts with decluttering. But once you are through, make sure you are using created space, time, and energy intentionally with things that you had in mind before diving into minimalism.

  13. Spend more time outdoors and connect with nature.

  14. Start a new hobby, learn a new skill, or meet up with friends and family. It will keep you occupied and your mind away from continually decluttering.

  15. Like in many things in life: take it easy! Go at your own pace, and even though you live minimal, find a balance for all actions involved in minimalism.

  16. A thoughtful and powerful way to keep yourself away from unhealthy minimalism is to help others on their minimalist journey. Show them what you have learned and help them get more freedom with the steps you have done.

Honestly, I cannot promise you that you won’t experience feeling lost, empty, or anxious about stuff along the journey.

You will sometimes find yourself staring at your closet, kitchen, or living room, asking what else you can trash.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as you give yourself an allowance to make some mistakes or have relapses.

After all, you are human, and nobody is perfect! Don’t be too hard on yourself!

All you can do is try your best to be prepared with answers and solutions once you reach a plateau or get concerned if you are still on track or already over-doing it.

Final Thoughts

A decluttering obsession is unhealthy and a real problem that should be talked about more often.

It is easy to get caught up in the how of minimalism instead of the why. So many minimalists keep on decluttering even when there is barely anything left to reduce.

The first best thing to do to overcome the obsession of decluttering is to reflect and remind yourself of the reasons why you started the journey.

Wasn’t it to gain more freedom? 😉

If done with paring down and you feel the urge to declutter, what you can do is help others to declutter their life.

Trust me, helping others will also help you.

Showing them what you have accomplished, what you learned, and how minimalism can benefit their lives is a meaningful way of contributing to the community.

That will keep you occupied and reduce the obsessive urge to get rid of your possessions.

Lastly, keep in mind to have fun on your minimalist journey. That is the best way to live this amazing lifestyle sustainably.

Have you experienced pushing minimalism too far?

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Ray Arya

Ray is a frugal minimalist who loves to travel and live in his self-converted camper van. He writes about the benefits of downsizing, decluttering, saving money, building wealth, and the freedom that results from the power of less. Minimalray.com is for everyone who seeks a meaningful life and is committed to contentment.

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