Minimalist Living: Is It Primal?

Minimalism FinalIn Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick imagines a world overflowing with “kipple,” useless objects like junk mail, paperclips, empty matchboxes, old lightbulbs, depleted batteries, and gum wrappers that reproduce when no one’s around. It’s a drab, dreary, depressing vision of the future. It’s not that bad yet, but we definitely have a problem with stuff. Our oceans contain vast swirling vortexes of microplastics. The average American house contains over 300,000 objects, most of them we’ve long since forgotten. “Hoarders” is a popular, horrifying reality TV show. The growing minimalist movement is a response to all this: a concerted effort to declutter, remove non-essentials, and simplify one’s life. Dozens of minimalist blogs, podcastsbooks, and decluttering/organizing businesses have popped up. One of the best-selling books in 2014 was the English translation of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, which asks readers to discard or donate every possession that does not immediately “spark joy.” Her most recent book is already topping charts and spawning a cult of personality. It’s big.

How does minimalism jibe with the Primal Blueprint?

Readers of my blog are already familiar with my take on the minimalist, or “barefoot” shoe. Unencumbered by supportive arch inserts, stiff soles, and cramped dimensions, the healthy human foot performs, feels, and functions best in a minimalist shoe. It cuts out the fluff and the artifice, the rent-seeking yet unnecessary modifications and upgrades that characterize the modern shoe industry and distills the essentials of what shoe should do—protect the bottom of the foot without changing the heel height or cutting off incoming sensory data. Even if you don’t currently wear minimalist footwear, you grasp the argument, understand the appeal, and agree that minimalist shoes hew more closely to the ancestral environment in which our feet evolved. They are Primal through and through.

Does the same hold true for the growing minimalist movement? Was Grok a minimalist? Sorta…

Most true hunter-gatherers were nomads, meaning they moved around a lot and carried only what they could hold themselves. No pack animals or vehicles, remember. Frank Marlowe, who lived with the Hadza people of Tanzania (one of the last remaining nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples in the world) for years, catalogued their personal possessions. The list looks an awful lot like what we’d expect from a paleolithic group of hunter-gatherers:

  • Tools required for sustenance (digging sticks, hammerstones, fire drills used to generate sparks and start fires, bows, arrows, poison, knives, axes)
  • Gourds as containers for water, honey, coals, and fat
  • Skins (as clothing and to carry food, make baby slings, and construct shelters)
  • Clothes
  • Art (primarily jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, earrings, anklets)

The Hadza have an oral tradition rather than written language, so they don’t carry physical embodiments of entertainment. They tell stories rather than watch TV or read novels. They dance and their native musical instrument is the voice, or perhaps a dried gourd used as a maraca.

What does this look like in contemporary Western terms?

You’d need the tools you require to stay alive. For the Hadza, that means the objects that help you dig out edible plants, catch and butcher game, and start fires. For most of you, that’s whatever you use to make money. Computer and smartphone if you’re a “knowledge worker.” Whatever physical tools you need if you’re not. Transportation to work. Plus, there’s a couple other obvious things to add to the list:

  • You’d need storage for food, tools, and your other possessions.
  • You’d need cooking tools. Or I suppose you could just take Soylent.
  • You’d need clothing.
  • You’d need shelter.
  • You’d need entertainment. Books, Internet, film, music (and the instruments to make it), television. Consumable stories.

What else do you need? I’d argue not much. That looks an awful lot like what leading minimalists own.

But what else do you want? That’s where I come up short on minimalism. We want things we don’t need, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people just really like having and wearing tons of clothes, keeping vast libraries, or collecting souvenirs from their travels. And though strict minimalists can ostensibly hold on to “frivolous” possessions as long as they do so mindfully, it rarely pans out like that. They’re tossing everything. They’re throwing away every single object that they haven’t used or looked at in the last 60 days (or some other arbitrary period of time).

Overall, though? It’s great. I get it. Eliminating waste, focusing on experiences over possessions, tossing stuff you never use or even look at—who doesn’t agree with that? Heck, that’s how I determine my training—I eliminate the useless exercises and do exactly what I need to do to support my play and my health. And it’s how I try to write, by eliminating unnecessary words. I just can’t suggest that everyone overhaul their entire lives, clear out their storage space, and toss 80% of everything they own in good faith.

A few readers have asked me about tips for minimalist living. There are other and better guides across the Internet from people who write and think about this stuff for a living. My friend Leo Babauta writes beautifully on the subject, if you want more. But here are a few tips that I feel comfortable giving.

Eliminate single-use items. Alton Brown’s number one kitchen tip is to get rid of all single-use appliances like melon ballers (slice them instead) and garlic presses (just smash it with a knife). Unless you’re a pasta chef, you don’t really need that massive pasta maker taking up valuable pantry space. Besides, this is Mark’s Daily Apple—what the hell are you doing with a pasta maker?

Only keep single use items if they’re truly meaningful and valuable to you. If they “spark joy,” in other words.

Replace them with multi-use items. Increase capacity and reduce space taken.

A food processor can make pesto, quickly dice a ton of onions and garlic, produce fresh nut butter, and a million other things.

An Instant Pot replaces the rice cooker, the crockpot, the stovetop pressure cooker, the steamer, even the yogurt maker. The Bluetooth-enabled version, which allows temperature programming, can even double (or is that sextuple?) as a rudimentary sous-vide.

A cast iron pan can sauté and double as a baking pan.

A good 8 inch chef’s knife (here or here) is all most home cooks will ever need. Just keep it sharpened.

A Kindle can replace shelves of books (although I prefer paper books and won’t ever give them up). Maybe even better, a good local library gives you access to paper books without forcing you to purchase or hold on to them.

A barbell with a few hundred pounds of weights and a pullup bar will replace a room full of machines. Several kettlebells can do the same.

As much as people vilify their overuse (and I’m one of them), a smartphone can replace your map, GPS, flashlight, alarm clock, regular telephone, and many entertainment mediums like TV, gaming consoles, magazines, newspapers, and books.

A simple towel is the most important multi-use possession for any interstellar traveler, and as we progress into the coming Space Age any minimalist worth his or her salt should heed the prophet Douglas Adams’ suggestions.

Replace huge items with smaller ones. I refer to physical size. This isn’t always desirable, but sometimes it is.

A hand mixer can replace a KitchenAid stand mixer (that, let’s face it, you never really used anyway). A hand juicer can replace a huge electric juicer (unless you’re on a juice fast or something, which you really shouldn’t do). A French press makes better coffee than a drip machine.

Go digital. Bills, receipts, records—scan ’em and convert ’em.

Eliminate thought clutter. I’m not sure if this is part of the minimalism orthodoxy, but I like the idea of eliminating non-essential decision making. Think buying a quarter cow twice a year and freezing it instead of deciding what cut of meat to buy every night at the grocery store.

Ask “Does this add value to my life?” Whether it’s a knick-knack on the shelf, an old photo, a kitchen appliance, or an article of clothing, asking if the object adds value helps you identify the things to keep and discard.

Don’t identify as a minimalist. Use it as a system for eliminating unnecessary items, decluttering your life (and mind), and focusing on the things that truly matter and bring you joy, but don’t let it define you. I’m “the Primal guy” to many people. I wrote several books on the subject, I’ve maintained a daily blog for years. Look a bit deeper, though, and you’ll realize that all this time I’ve been constructing a way to approach problems, make decisions, and analyze the effects. I’m not giving you The Answer. It’s easy to say “I’m Primal” or “I’m paleo” as shorthand, but I also caution against turning it into a dogma or religion.

The same applies to minimalism. Acknowledge and implement the aspects that work for you. Even if you wholeheartedly agree with every maxim found on the leading minimalist sites, you don’t have to identify as one. And you can own more than 100 things. You can keep non-essential physical objects. Don’t let minimalism become another source of stress.

Minimalism needn’t mean “less stuff” if that stuff actually makes your life run more smoothly and makes you happier. Nothing is all or nothing. If you want to convert your bills to digital but prefer your old physical photos over scanned ones, that’s fine. Just pick what works because getting rid of anything you don’t actually want, need, or enjoy is a positive shift. There are no score cards.

Now let’s hear from you. I’m especially interested in hearing how people in the minimalist community make it work with Primal living. I suspect there’s a lot of overlap.

Thanks for reading!

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TAGS:  is it primal?

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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77 thoughts on “Minimalist Living: Is It Primal?”

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  1. “When you prescribed a year at this place for me, you told me I would find great joy,” a student said to Suzuki Roshi, as they sat sipping tea in Suzuki’s cabin at Tassajara. “To find that great joy, I will first have to lose the will to live, won’t I, Roshi?”

    “Yes,” he said, “but without gaining a will to die.”

    – Shunryu Suziki, Zen Is Right Here

  2. About Marie Kondo’s new book: You would be person #81 on the waiting list at our small, local library. So it seems there is a great need to simplify in this crazy world.

    I’m a big believer in simplifying and Primal has just been icing on the steak!

  3. I laughed about the pasta maker. Years ago my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to have a pasta maker, even though I didn’t make pasta and rarely ever ate it. Then a few years later she forgot she had already bought me one and got me another one. I think I made homemade pasta once in my pre-primal days. Since then both of these smallish hand-crank machines have been stashed in a cupboard. I really do need to find them another home.

    I used to be more of a minimalist. Now we have a bigger house with more storage place. My spouse is much worse than I am. He would save empty boxes if I didn’t throw them out when he’s not looking. I do use quite a few of my kitchen contraptions, but for sure there are some I don’t use. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it for 2 years or more, get rid of it. We have many things that would qualify. It’s mostly a matter of setting aside the time to just do it.

    1. I use my pasta machine for rolling polymer clay to create art! If that’s not your thing, maybe you could offer it to a crafty friend. They’re fairly pricey so it would probably be appreciated (and crafters are almost never minimalists)!

    2. My pasta maker was bought to use with FIMO or Sculpty clay. Of course, it’s no good for pasta anymore. Sometimes, there are alternate uses for some of this stuff.

      I’m in the process of weeding out the things that I don’t use. It’s not easy and I don’t do it all the time.However, I was more successful in the doing the kitchen. What I did was remove absolutely everything from my kitchen, then as I needed it, I returned it. It’s a long process but it works. Anything left behind is going to a garage sale.


  4. When my grandparents died, we had decades worth of things to go through. We contacted our local homeless shelter and asked if they had any needs. Turns out a lot of the appliances grandparents owned the family didn’t really need, and the shelter really appreciated the upgrade as grandparents stuff was basically like new. They also appreciated a lot of the tasteful, like new clothing as well as small furniture items and bedding that had never been taken out of the original packaging. If there’s a need elsewhere and you wish to part with it, it can be a win win situation and help other people.

  5. When I saw a boy drink from his hands I cast my cup away.
    – Diogenes, ~300 BC.

    But please, more blogs about this new idea!!

    : )

  6. I remember a year ago i went through my entire room and did a big decluttering, got rid of almost all my old school papers, a lot of old toys that were broken and didnt played with. I emptied out my desk drawers, boxes, and my nightstand cabinet. It felt refreshing having less stuff, but sadly now i have more stuff. Not as much as before i tell you. I still need to work on my decluttering and organizations, two things i want to do this summer is go through my entire closet and bookshelves. Anything i dont want thats still useable will get donated to goodwill, or the library (if its books).

    1. Years ago I went through a book reduction phase. I took boxes of books I no longer wanted or needed to the used book store for credit, then used that credit to buy used books that interested me. Did that five or six times over a couple of years. I seldom buy physical books any more (except cookbooks), so my collection is personalized, useful to me and frequently accessed. Like a library should be.

  7. “Don’t let minimalism [or any other lifestyle decisions] become another source of stress.”

    I think many people, in an attempt to accomplish something choose stress. They must obey the rules. They stick hard and fast to the principles of a choice without understanding they are taking ion them yet another yoke of stress.

    Let’s all go “ommmmmmm” and let it go.

    1. Well said. Many years ago, when all my possessions fit in a backpack, I rented an apartment and dropped my pack in one of the bedrooms. That was my “fancy tent”. I used to vacuum patterns into the carpet for amusement. But I caught myself getting irritated when someone would walk through them and mess them up.
      : )

    2. I would’ve fixed my spelling but am avoiding stress.


  8. Does a Maserati count as minimalist, Mark (the one referenced in the Outside magazine article)? I mean I guess I can see it both ways… its minimalist compared to say a Yukon XL Denali. But its not very practical for carrying around your stuff or more than one other person. And unless you frequent a race track, you can’t legally use it to its full potential. Sort of makes it wasteful in that sense. Tell you what… why don’t you not use it for 60 days, then donate it to me. 😛

    1. Even if it does do 185, if you’ve lost your license and no longer drive, you may as well sell that Maserati, Mr. Walsh.

  9. I find making more room and more time for what is truly important to me results in less stress in my life. Less chronic stress definitely supports my primal lifestyle. I embrace the tenants of minimalism which result in reducing my stress.

  10. The “replace single use with multi use” is exactly what multi-day backpackers do. My small bottle of Everclear? Its stove fuel primarily, but can also be used to clean a wound or to warm up my body if it gets too cold (ie: imbibe). I remember doing something similar to this article when it came to backpacking. I started out with a 60lbs pack, but after 3 or 4 trips I re-evaluated. I started by cutting the things I didn’t use (my printed Army survival book, for example). I went multi-use where I could. Ex: my iPad is lighter than most books. So I got the digital copy of my Army Survival guide on it. Plus it also acts as my GPS/wayfinder, holds my topomaps, and logs my exercise, etc. These are just a few examples… I wrote a much longer article on the Backpacker Magazine blog a few years back. But these days I can go out for 4-5 days with a pack weighing less than 30lbs not including water. So different situation but similar application to this article.

    1. Beware using alcohol to warm up. It may make you feel warmer, but actually drops your body temperature. That’s fine if you’re sitting around the campfire on a cold night. Its not if you’re lost in a snowstorm.

  11. When my 87 year old father died the physical goods he left behind were a car, a home, a closet full of simple, neat clothes, books on all subjects, and tons of framed photos of family. He was not monetarily poor, but simply had no need for ” things”. Today we call this minimalist, but what he really was, was content.

  12. My way of living sort of requires minimalism. I sold my stick-and-brick house a few years ago and started living full time in my RV. Because of weight considerations, you just can’t haul around everything you think you might need (or want).

    I bring a mountain bike (with both road and knobby tires to use, depending on the local bike terrain), a pair of 10# dumbells, and multi-task a pair of 6 gallon water jugs to use as heavy weights/ water haulers. I can get books at the local library, or go to to download free E-pub classics. Television is usually available by antenna, as are radio stations.

    My homebase is near Seattle, but I travel south and live in the Arizona desert during the worst of the Northwest fall, winter and spring seasons. I left Quartzsite, AZ a week ago (it was getting a little to warm for me) and headed up to Moab,UT. I love it here, and have been enjoying riding my bike and hiking up and down the slickrock.

    I do need some “stuff”. Last week my generator broke down, so I bought a new one. I’ve been spending a bit on upgrading my bicycle with new gears and a chain. But I don’t buy any doo-dads, souvenirs, or other junk. I spend mainly on food and any camping costs.

    Anyway, life is good these days. Since I can travel to nice weather, I’m more motivated to be active. In the last year I’ve lost over 80 pounds, and feel stronger and more fit than I have in years. No gym membership needed. Just regular, moderate activity and simple, real foods – meat, fish, eggs, veggies, good oils, nuts, and a couple Baker’s unsweetened cocoa squares for a treat.

  13. Interesting timing on this. I just got permission from my boss to take a four day weekend so I can clean house. I moved two years ago, still have boxes I haven’t looked at since I moved. It’s been long enough that if I haven’t missed it by now, I don’t need it. I’ll be pitching or donating a lot that weekend.

  14. I like “Only keep single use items if they’re truly meaningful and valuable to you. If they ‘spark joy,’ in other words.” I would also apply that to things I haven’t used for a long time.

    When someone tells me I should “Get rid of that junk you haven’t used in the last X months,” it is likely to very quickly turn into a fist fight. [Not literally] I probably have things I haven’t used in 30 years, not pictures and other mementos, just things I love. You can toss them out when you can tear them out of my cold dead hands.

    I have lots of cookbooks. In reality, when I want a recipe, I usually find one on my mobile device. And, no, I am not giving up the cookbooks.

    1. I like the way you think, Harry. I, too, have things I haven’t used in 30 years that I will probably never get rid of–including a sizable cookbook collection that I hardly ever use any more.

    2. My neighbor across the street had a bunch of seldom- or no longer used kitchen appliances stored in her garage (30 years old or older). I strolled over and helped her clean out the garage, noticed the appliances, and told her to put them on Ebay–she’d probably make a fortune because these were all once-top brand names still in working condition. She said that was too much trouble, so I went to Ebay to look up prices on some of the items. I made a list, then went back over, and offered her half what Ebay was showing for a few of the appliances and some Tupperware items with lids, and we made a deal.

      Now some of her aged garage “junk” is doing duty over in my kitchen, and any needed replacement parts are just a click away. I’m really enjoying the blender–14 speeds with a GLASS pitcher. Replacement rubber rings and a top have already been bought for it (no doubt from someone else’s garage full of 30-year old kitchen appliances). For $20, my blender can do what the Ninja, the Vitamix, and a food processor can do–good sturdy motor with no plastic parts.

      1. Lucky!!! I had one of those blenders that my parents gave me, after having used it themselves for at least 10 years, and it lasted in my own house for another 10!! I wish I had thought to see if I could get the motor fixed instead of throwing it out… that was 20 years ago and I’ve had 2 or 3 since then that SUCK. They just don’t make ’em like they used to….

  15. I’d replace the barbell, weights and pullup bar with a set of Olympic rings and there’s your gym.

    1. Ha. That’s exactly what I have. Rings and pull up bar. I can find some many exercises to do with the rings, especially when I adjust them down to waist high. Dips, pushups, hang upside down with head on floor. Those two objects, rings and pull up bar make up my upper body routine. Sprints on Saturdays and near-constant walking (movement) make up the rest.

  16. I can definitely see primal & minimal going hand in hand. When we decided to get off the fence and fully immerse ourselves in the primal lifestyle, we really overhauled our kitchen and all the crap we’d accumulated, both in the pantry (nonessential food items) and in the cabinets (nonessential hand tools & mini appliances).
    If we could simplify further & get rid of one or both cars, we’d love it!
    Currently, we’re looking at downsizing our house.
    Who knows what the future holds!
    As long as we view these options as choices rather than feel stressed that we have to follow some particular dogma or someone else’s prescription for our lives, then we feel privileged to have these choices & make the decisions that work for our family.

  17. I think going from a plant based diet to a paleo-ish diet, I don’t find much use for my expensive $300 juicer and even my Nutribullet anymore. I avoid over consumption of fruits and sweet vegetables now, and that is one thing that can be abused with juicing and smoothies.

  18. But then there’s the psychological side of decluttering…in that less stuff means less of the person who owned it (in their mind). There are people who use their possessions (however inane) to surround themselves and separate themselves from the outside world as some sort of “belongings barrier”. Hoarders do this–their barriers of stuff makes them feel comfortable, and to eliminate some or all of it is the same feeling that a breach in the defense barrier causes. And once a perceived breach exists, they promptly go out and buy more stuff to replace it.

    My M-I-L refused to lose weight because she felt there would be “less” of her (mentally). She thought her presence in this world would diminish. As she grew older, she became a hoarder.

    Thank god I’m the opposite–you have to keep an eye on me to make sure I don’t throw too much away! The way my luck runs, I toss something out (or find a new home for it), and three days later, I find a use for that very same thing I no longer have. To help short-circuit this, I now wait a year before I remove stuff–the only exception is clothing, since Hubby and I are shrinking. I don’t wish to hang onto memories of a larger weight, and don’t want to provide a back-up plan if we backslide and regain. The clothes we have NOW are the ones we need to keep fitting into, unless we go smaller.

    1. ‘Murphys Law’….the time difference between throwing something out, and needing it again, is approximately 2 weeks!

      I’m the thrower, hubby is the keeper of stuff! I keep saying I’ll find his expiry date on him one day, bahaha! 🙂

  19. I think many times we hold onto things because we feel guilt…either for the money we spent on them, or we don’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who gave them to us. And then the longer we hold on to something the harder it is to let go. I find it easier to give things away when I know that they can be useful to others.

  20. In defense of the humble melon baller, no tool is better for coring apples. Given the name of the website, surely Mark will allow me to keep the melon baller if I use it to core an apple daily?

  21. Two years ago I sold my 3400 square foot home in the suburbs and bought a townhouse in the city, which is 1200 square feet. The transition required selling much of what I owned or giving to charity the items that didn’t because I just couldn’t fit all of it in. I remember at the time being depressed over all of it. Today I can’t remember why – hahaha! I have so much freedom and ease in my current living situation that I come and go as I please and I am able to save and invest a large part of my income that used to go to large house upkeep/mortgage. At this stage of my life my focus is on experiences and doing things versus having them. And I still buy the stuff I like – nice clothes and nice car to be specific. I like it better with less – it allows me to focus on what I really want to accomplish – as an example I took the time and money to complete the Primal Expert Certification. So for the same amount that it would take to pay for watering the house lawn and paying the landscaper in a year, I trained myself in the lifestyle that supports my life the rest of my life. More than fair trade I say. 🙂

  22. I found that the more toys I had, the more I spent on maintaining those toys. So I got rid of four of my wooden human powered boats (sailing dinghy, skiff, old style double ender etc) and just kept one wooden rowboat for picnics and a couple of paddleboards for my wife and I. I still have 4 kayaks but they are plastic and only need a hosing off for maintenance. Now I can lavish love on the one wooden boat and play with all the rest as they require no maintenance.

    Helps to live in a 500 ft2 house too, can’t put much crap in there. Did I mention my 700 Ft2 storage unit? That is my shop. Seriously.

  23. Since my 20s, I’ve moved a lot–houses, cities, countries, continents. Partly because of that, have kept my belongings minimal.

    Now, nearing 41, I don’t move houses so much (though I DID just move to Colorado). And yet, I still prefer to keep my possessions very, very simple. This includes clothes (think “capsule wardrobe” but smaller), furniture (don’t really use it much anyway), and general “stuff”.

    I’m not attached to some “minimalist” label. I just know having fewer things brings me ease, spaciousness and creative flow. I love this feeling in body and mind way more than I love having more stuff (and the feeling that creates).

  24. No pack animals or vehicles, remember.

    Ayla had a pack horse and a storage sled which dragged on the ground. In one funny scene, she tries to travel, only to find she has too much stuff!

  25. I like the idea of minimalism, but I do find myself thinking that a minimalist is a single, affluent professional type person who has the luxury of not having stuff. Children is a good example, but a better one is shelter. Try renovating a normal house with a teaspoon and a laptop. You could live in a mud hut, but we need other people and that includes society – warts and all (Town Planners may have something to say about your mud hut also). One more on the affluent, I have found that minimalistic people dispose of their posessions, only to buy them again a while later, which costs money and can be wasteful.

    1. Good point. I would consider myself more of low impact than minimalist. For example, I reuse glass bottles by filling them with reverse osmosis water. To some, three cases of Gerolsteiner bottles in the garage would be hoarding. To me, I’m recyling. When I’m alone, it takes me three weeks to fill a kitchen trash bag(egg shells, coffee grinds, potato peels, etc., goes to compost. The other three members of my family fill one every two days with half empty plastic water bottles and the boxes and tray inserts for their processed convenience foods. Buying quality once and keeping forever is better than cyclical buying and discarding.

  26. I respectfully disagree with the main conclusions in this article: this kind of paring down of possessions leaves people very dependent, and, ultimately, compels consumerism.

    You may replace shelves of DVDs and even VHS with a couple of video-on-demand services feeling very smug and modern, but then you’re hooked into regular payments just to watch favorite movies, have no say in what’s taken off the streaming services – and heaven help you if the internet goes down or you have equipment failure, especially at weekends or holidays.

    The string that you proudly cleared out from the junk drawer? Yeah but then when you need a bit of string, you have to go out or online to buy a whole ball – and the books and landline you threw away mean you NEED that smartphone, which can then break, be stolen, or become obsolete, requiring regular upgrades to a newer model (not to mention calls are almost always going to cost more that a fixed line, ditto paying for the data you view) – the excess bedlinen you clear out in pursuit of “lagom” gives you nothing to use when the central heating packs up, or a friend in trouble needs to crash on your sofa with their dogs and a toddler.

    The WW2 generation kept these kinds of bits and pieces *for a reason* – multiple redundancy is a pro-survival technique, that gives you a padding against hard times, even just temporary ones.

    You become like the person on the very edges of starvation, with no remaining reserves of fat (something we’re taught is desirable – but wrongly so IMO) – vulnerable to the smallest setback, with nothing to fall back upon.

    “Make do and mend” isn’t a philosophy compatible with the very elitist modern minimalism seen online, where there are no spare parts allowed!

    I’m not a hoarder in the pathological sense, but just one knife, just one smartphone… no thanks.

    I don’t think that’s primal at all, I think it’s a modern fad dressed up as humility and eco-awareness, forgetting that our Hadza buddies are using things they can mainly pick up easily from the world around them, with no trade-off of long hours worked (converted to a wage) just to be back where they were last week.

    Oh, and melon ballers rule, they replace the need for grapes or berries when you fancy picking on some fruit, which is a net result for saving money, and also, less pesticides!

    Yeah, I feel pretty strongly about this. 🙂

      1. Recent floods (in York, England) left us without internet and landline, and with only mobile signal for a day or so. Radio became the best way of knowing what was happening locally. We were lucky to keep power but I will now look to buy a wind-up/solar radio and continue to hoard extra towels, water bottles, books, food and other bits and pieces. That kind of ‘essential’ clutter doesn’t stress me but there are other kinds of clutter that make me feel much calmer when they’re gone.

    1. I agree and add that things like reusable water bottles and other eating wear that you can take with you prevent waste of disposable things. These are useful to own. But you can also carefully consider what you save. What might be useful? I save most containers that food I don’t make from un-containered food, because they are useful for storage and I don’t have to buy something new. So there is a corner in our basement of containers, that ebbs and flows in fullness as I have more or less food to store. But I don’t have shoes to match every outfit. And every person’s situation makes different things more important to save. I should add, too, that if you’re gonna save things that might be useful, you better be organized, or you’ll never find it when you need it.

  27. I’ve been a minimalist for decades. For me it makes for an easier life, keeps more money in my pocket (less stress!) and is better for our over-burdened planet.

  28. I look at Mark as a Philosopher. His vehicle of delivery is health and fitness, but it’s just a venue to get across the brilliant and cohesive ideas of a great contemporary philosopher. Thanks Mark.

  29. Ironically, I just bought a garlic press. I got tired of grating my fingers as well s the garlic when I made a curry paste.

    What? Don’t judge me! 😀

    1. No way am I getting rid of the garlic press! It may only do one thing, but it saves me plenty of aggravation.

  30. If we all did a quick survey, I’d venture to guess that a lot of us would find we probably use about 10% of our stuff 90% of the time. I know that’s how it is with me — especially the kitchen gadgets and gizmos.

  31. I’ve been trying to declutter and started reading minimalist blogs. I discovered that I’ve pretty much been a minimalist for a long time (and I’m living with a pack rat, haha.)

    I like the idea of having fewer items of higher quality that last a long time. I like the idea of owning things I love and getting rid of things that don’t mean much to me. It makes sense. I like the idea of getting creative with the stuff I have instead of buying those uni-taskers.

    Experiences and people are more important than stuff in the long haul.

    Cutting down on choices (like having to choose from a huge closet full of clothes) is definitely less stressful. 🙂

    I’ve been on both ends of the extreme regarding possessions, and for me, less is definitely better.

  32. I’m an unapologetic maximalist! As an artist I collect items that delight my eyes, from antique books & beautifully crafted housewares to seedpods & animal bones found on woodland rambles. I also very much enjoy keeping plenty of supplies at hand so that when inspiration strikes, I can make all sorts of art without having to go shopping first. (I seriously hate shopping.) And in the kitchen, I find having just the right tool at hand to do a job perfectly & elegantly gives me satisfaction & encourages me to cook more.

    I respect the minimalist view though, just as I respect veganism. I can see where both are coming from philosophically; I just don’t want to live that way!

  33. We’ve been on this Discardia journey for years now…with lesser and greater degrees of success. (Discardia, by Dinah Sanders is my favorite inspiration in that department.) We don’t watch TV, turned it off in 1997 and don’t miss it a bit. And I use a small barbell and a Theraband instead of complex exercise equipment. (I also push off against the end of the bed, and do a kind of isometric exercise plus a bit of yoga.) A big iron pot does most of the jobs of an instant pot and we have it already.

    On the other hand, too many books, too much hobby equipment still…as a creative person I’ve been through a lot of hobbies in 73 years, and I keep trying to find good homes for what I’ll never use again. If I’m SURE about that…

  34. And by the way, that “spark joy” thing is the real deciding factor for me. If I love it, if it makes me smile, it stays. Even if it’s a 30-year-old stuffed B. Kliban “momcat.” She still makes me giggle.

  35. That’s a great article! But it’s nothing said about what opportunities does this kind of living brings. When you don’t have home you can always live in different places, and learn a lot traveling around the world;) And now it’s easily achievable, as you can easily work online. That’s what we do!

  36. I don’t know about going totally solo with the Instapot. What if you have bone broth going in the instapot for 3 days and need to make rice for dinner, with your venison neck stew, and want some yogurt? Though yogurt can be made on top of the fridge in a mason jar, so no yogurt maker necessary.

    If only manufacturers would ask themselves, “Does the world really need this?” too!

  37. To me minimalism and paleo are kissing cousins. They are both about getting rid of the things that don’t help me live a better life so I have time, money, and energy for the things that do. For me that includes keeping things that remind me of enjoyable moments plus occasionally indulging in a tasty food that is not the best for my body because enjoyment should be a part of everyone’s life.

  38. Minimalism is for rich people. If you can’t afford to buy it again, then you are better off holding on to it. It is way cheaper to do home repairs yourself, with gear you have saved from last time, than to pay someone to do it for you or buy new gear each time. I love to travel, and use either a tent, camper trailer or caravan depending on the trip. Even things like how we carry water, depends on the trip. Saving that stuff means I can do any type of trip, whenever I want. If I didn’t already have the stuff, I would need to buy it each time, or simply not do the activity. Ditto cookbooks and cooking tools. Yoga class comes and goes, but the mats remain.

    Maybe minimalist people also don’t have much variety in their lives, and in how they spend their time. Maybe that’s how they get away with it.

    And I do regret throwing stuff out. I am sad that my grandparents didn’t keep more stuff. Used stuff has love embedded in it in a way that new stuff doesn’t.

    1. You speak to my soul!

      I have a friend that sells all their baby stuff after each baby to then buy it again (used, but still) when they have a new baby. I could never understand that kind of mindset.

      Also I love old stuff so much. Maybe I’m a nostalgic, but I think that old stuff is sturdier, nicer and overall better than new stuff.

  39. Hi All!
    Having discard criteria is important when it gets down to the harder stuff to throw out. Thinking of books and stuff that has survived previous clean outs.

    I ask myself:
    -how easy is it to get again
    – when did I last use it – am I likely to use it again
    – if in doubt then review next clean out.
    – rest frequently during clean outs as one cant get the fresh perspective. I find I shift stuff around and don’t make good decisions without those breaks or changes of task.
    – there is an optimum amount of spare parts and stuff for repairs etc. Its the needle in the haystack thing. The bigger the haystack the harder to find the needle. You have to remember you have that needle and some idea where you put it. I halved the amount of stuff I had in the garage a few years ago and most of the time I can still find bits n pieces needed for repairs etc.

    I find reviewing is best done after time spent away from home to encourage the “fresh pair of eyes” approach. It always amazes me how obvious some items need to be cleaned out after I have a a break and time away from home. I tend to try and incorporate some time just after I get back from such a break to cleaning out or at least making notes about things that stand out.
    cheers ob

    Minimalism is only a name. Its is really about maximalism of what is important. Reducing the clutter to spend more time in better quality living and having any core tools to do so.

  40. “Think buying a quarter cow twice a year and freezing it instead of deciding what cut of meat to buy every night at the grocery store.”

    Great article, though I disagree with this sentence and prefer to shop regularly. Going out, engaging with others, mentally thinking out choices, weighing up options, and variety are important to well being. I’m shocked when I hear, for example, tat perhaps a third of people in developed countries don’t have anyone to wish them “happy birthday”. For some, the shop is the only social interaction they get on a regular basis.

  41. Hi Mark,

    Very interesting and informative post around a fascinating subject.

    As someone who is very interesting in simplifying as many aspects of life as possible, this article certainly strikes a chord. I think that ‘minimalism’ as a concept is something which people have great difficulty with in today’s society, where gadgets and consumerism are in vogue.

    In terms of minimalism I believe that nutrition and exercise are two areas where the idea can be applied very effectively. My take is that many (if not most) people only exercise to maintain their shape and health (rather than because they love it), and that more people would take the minimalist approach if they knew it was the optimum way to progress anyway.

    For example as you alluded to in the article, a barbell, a pile of plates (and perhaps a bench and squat rack) are all you ever need to make unbelievable progress in terms of strength, power and physique quality. Not only that, but one only requires a handful of exercises and perhaps 2-3 hours training per week. Instead, we have thousands of people struggling away in the gym or performing chronic cardio for hours on end.

    The same concept can be applied to diet. As soon as you understand the basic principles of healthy eating (paleo, lower carbs, higher protein/fat etc), you can select the foods you love which fit into the model and eat them again and again for great results. Of course some variety is great but you don’t have to eat everything if results are your focus.

    That said I think there is a difference between minimising and simpifying. I’m not sure that having handy gadgets to crush garlic classes as minimising (in my opinion!) as the idea is to increase efficiency.

    I agree with Mrs Rathbone that minimalism is not particularly primal – I would guess that when Grok stopped in one place plenty of hoarding would take place with a ‘just in case’ mentality – maybe that’s why it feels so natural to hoard now??

    If by minimalism we mean ‘applying the 20/80 rule’…..I definitely subscribe!

    Very good, thought-provoking article.


  42. I do often think about what it would be like to just own what I could carry on my back. We took a trek across Spain many years ago, on the Camino de Santiago, and we carried just small backpacks. It was so liberating and empowering, knowing that I was carrying everything that I needed.
    And now, we are living with four people in 400 square feet. We got rid of a bunch of stuff and put the rest in storage. But it wouldn’t work if we weren’t living in an intentional community where we can SHARE many resources.

  43. I’ve lived many of the scenarios in the comments:

    My mum and I did the redecorating of a shell of a home on a serious budget – we bought cheap and bought many times when it came to paintbrushes, rollers, etc. But there was always still one of each hanging about somewhere without a proper home – no garden shed or garage in this little two up, two down.

    I’ve owned my own home and filled it with stuff, while still kind of rattling round in it and never putting my stamp on it.

    I have been a student – as an adult after owning my own home, and loved having everything in one room (except kitchen stuff, I had one food cupboard and one shelf in a cupboard for pans, etc.) I could always find everything I needed and loved everything I owned. I didn’t drive at the time so I moved everything in one bag when I started uni, and added a few extra bits after each visit home to my mum’s. Changing digs at the end of my first year taught me a lesson or two about how quickly we re-acquire things. I ended up buying a portable CD player because the CD drive in my laptop & the speakers weren’t good enough, and I realised how important music was in my life. Other than that I added very little extra.

    I have been based abroad for work -in a hotel room for six weeks at a time with just a 20kg luggage allowancey. The only extra thing I bought was an oil burner – it just made the impersonal hotel room personal.

    I never returned to a home of my own after uni but moved in with my now husband. That was ten years ago and some of the items from my old life are still in storage boxes in the garage. I wont throw them out without going through them because I didn’t pack those items for no good reason. I want to handle them, see if they spark joy and if not, then let them go.

    I’m trying to work through the Marie Kondo process not because I want to label myself minimalist but because the book spoke to me. I know I have too many possessions for me. I was happier with simple times in a single room at uni and less stuff. I’ve been poor and now I am, relatively, rich.

    Its just about having enough. My Kindle has allowed me to replace many books, but I still have a few treasured series of books – and they are displayed in such a way that they do bring joy. And no Kindle will ever be able to handle reference books of which I have many.

    I hope to complete the tidying process in all of my drawers and cupboards, so that I truly know and value all I possess.

  44. IMHO, minimalism takes Primal to higher highs.

    That said, with all due respect and love, this article reads a little like any random blog wherein the author tries really hard to reconcile his/her materialism with Buddhism or some similar tradition. I’m not suggesting it’s an either/or scenario, but rather, like so many things, there is a spectrum upon which these ideas find themselves at near opposite extremes.

    The Tuaregs, if I’m not mistaken, have an expression, “A house is a mausoleum for the living.” On that note, our distant ancestors didn’t encase themselves in little boxes assembled from all kinds of composites and chemically treated materials (aka, a standard American house, or SAH, if you prefer). They didn’t wrap themselves up in plastic garments either. I could go on, but suffice it to say that this lifestyle all but necessitates our increasingly large global concrete jungle and all of its infrastructure. The only thing primal about any of this is the inevitable competition for finite resources in the presence of insatiable consumption. Far often than not, this hunger is symptomatic of an alienated sense of self. It’s fair to say that humans are evolving, but is this really the direction we want to go? Does anyone want to live in a world where we have to wear shoes, filter/purify our air and water, etc., just to survive? Not me.

    I’ve managed to reduce my belongings to one small bag that I can easily carry (plus some things in the “cloud”), but it seems the closer I get to my ideals, the more out of reach they appear. Still, there’s an unmistakable freedom, bordering on what I would imagine weightlessness with the power of flight to feel like, in having less. And the less the better. My bag sometimes feels like an anchor around my neck. This stands in stark contrast to what I see in most people, friends and such, who may say they are, or at least feel, free, but whose language and behavior betrays their unconscious enslavement.

    There may be dogma in these ideas, but I wouldn’t let that get in the way of more fully realizing their truths. Regardless of what anyone thinks or believes, in some sense “moksha” is very, very real. I would argue, in line with the Buddha and others, it is an essential part of being. Being is thriving. Thriving, if I’m not mistaken, is a primary aim here.

  45. I refuse to buy a Spiralizer – the Paleo rage right now.

    One way to limit STUFF – live in a smaller place.

  46. I agree that throwing out most of your belongings isn’t a great idea. I don’t think that is what most minimalist are suggesting. The main benefit is the social effects. All of those material objects can be used by someone else instead of placing a higher demand on the resource-depleted world we live in. What if everyone donated their unnecessary belonging so that others can use them?

  47. “Besides, this is Mark’s Daily Apple—what the hell are you doing with a pasta maker?” haha too true

  48. These minimalist people seem to (a) have no hobbies, and (b) totally lack independence. If all you do is read and watch TV, that’s fine. If you like to refurbish old cars, hunt, fish, paint, work on electronics, etc. then you need stuff. Getting rid of worthless things is cool, but fitting everything in a backpack means a pretty narrow set of options. I’d also like to think I could live “off grid” for more than 3 days.