Minimalist Living: Our Problematic Obsession with Small Spaces


Do we really believe in minimalist living or do we just like how cool the concept looks?

A friend forwarded me an image recently that someone had pinned on Pinterest. The caption read: “Cute shack!”

The image was in fact a shack. Like a Depression-era Hooverville shack. The kind that someone, somewhere in the world probably lives in, with very little money and very little access to the necessities for living. But on a blank, white background, removed from the realities of its actual setting it could only be one thing: cute. Quaint. Rustic. The perfect setting for a photo shoot with neutral colored clothing and models holding steaming mugs of coffee while wrapped in wool blankets.

In an oversized world, we have tried (often forced) to downsize, and our efforts are commendable; McMansions are simply ridiculous any way you look at them. But we’ve also come to over-romanticize small and minimalist living, the majority of us continuing to live in multi-thousand square foot homes where the only thing minimal about our space is the design magazine that lies on the coffee table. We love minimalist living for the image and the image only.

Tell me: how many “Check Out This Gorgeous Tiny Kitchen!” articles have you seen lately? Our minimalist living obsession is at an all time high. But while the obsession is there, the practice isn’t. We hoard. We buy more stuff. In an effort to downsize, we buy a new couch and rug and tell ourselves it will help de-clutter our space.

Our connection to minimalist living has gone haywire, in which small spaces are idealized but no one has them, and shabby chic makes the well-off yearn for a second (or third) home (it’s ok because it’s small!) that someone in a different socio-economic status would be happy to call their primary address.

The reality of small living: it’s really hard. It takes work. It means sacrificing certain things. Like a couch.

I have a lot of respect for people who live in tiny houses. Have you ever tried to have your living, eating, sleeping and work space essentially all in the same area? Your college dorm room doesn’t count.

Some people live in small spaces by choice, and some people live in small spaces because it’s their only option. Both of them should be reminders that we can live with less. A reminder that we should take to heart, not just take a photo of and put it on our mood board for inspiration.

I read an article in a lifestyle magazine (I won’t say which one) about downsizing. It profiled a couple that went from a very large house to a slightly smaller loft space. A loft space with high ceilings and a floor plan to make anyone drool. Now granted, choosing this loft space certainly made the couple give up some square footage. They had to get rid of a few things. But ultimately, this was nowhere near small living.

What do we do about our problematic obsession? Change it from obsession to action.

If we want to truly downsize and live lifestyles where we consume less, then we actually have to downsize. Talk does not cook rice and pinning small kitchens on Pinterest does not make you a tiny space dweller. You don’t need an interior decorator to tell you how to maximize your space. You just need to do it.

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Image: cjuneau

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.