is minimalism a masculine pursuit?


If you don’t look at the underlying thoughts beneath the desire to declutter – then you may just end up a serial declutterer – Lianne Raymond

Last week I read this article from life coach Lianne Raymond about the dark side of decluttering. It’s actually a piece she wrote over a year ago but I found my way to it via the wonderful Marianne Elliott of Zen Peacekeeper.

There is a dark side to decluttering.

I now know that for some people the act of purging their possessions can border on the obsessive. Lianne’s description of her own history with decluttering are quite extreme. Reading about them gave me a new perspective on what I’ve mostly considered a positive pursuit.

I’m not obsessive about decluttering and while I spent a lot of time and energy radically downsizing my possessions, I’ve been quite casual about the upkeep of it. There are a few areas, my husband’s closet, ahem, that I’ve let be for months even after making plans for a big purge. A few toys linger in a box in my son’s room, toys he is no longer interested in and that I haven’t quite decided to keep or let go of.

While I was once quite ruthless about decluttering, I’ve since found a comfortable spot with our level of possessions. What we focus on now is making good choices about items that come into our home. We are quite slow to buy something even after we’ve identified that we want or need it. If I’m leaning toward an obsession with my moderate minimalist lifestyle it’s an obsession with not bringing things into our home.

Of course, I have other areas of my life that I’ve been obsessive about at one time or another. So reading a piece about the negative side of getting rid of your possessions was a good eye opener for this keeper of a decluttering blog.

I don’t want to be the cause of anyone going to a dark place with purging their possessions.

This blog is meant to be a bit of inspiration, how-to and a supportive community. If you feel like decluttering is controlling your life, that your happiness hangs on how many bags you can take to the Salvation Army in a month, it’s time to take a step back. Take some time away from reading about minimalism and turn your focus to other areas of your life for a bit.

Another argument from this post that grabbed me was that minimalism and decluttering are anti the feminine. Lianne delves into the dark side of decluttering as being a masculine pursuit.

… part of a subtle backlash against the re-balancing of the feminine and masculine. It asks us to detach from our inner feminine knowing and give in to a higher authority.  Many of us (me included) buy into this without even realizing what that we are giving away a part of ourselves.

I’m torn on if I agree with Lianne’s argument. I think this is due to the fact that I’m not an obsessive declutterer and that I practice (and preach) a moderate approach to living with less. I still feel there is room to create a beautiful home, one that is warm and inviting, while owning less stuff. And what Lianne views as a demand to detach from “our inner feminine knowing” I see as a chance to detach from the rampant consumerism of our peers.

I’m interested to hear what others think of decluttering as an attack on the feminine. Do you feel that trying to live with less clashes with a desire for warmth, comfort and beauty? Is anyone out there of the obsessive nature and are you struggling with too much decluttering?

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  • Oh gosh, I hope it’s not a completely masculine pursuit as that would make me very manly. I really dislike ‘stuff’; hate having things around me that are not useful; and have just the tiniest sentimental bone in my body. I don’t consider myself obsessive about it – I have clear outs maybe twice a year. Less stuff equals a more relaxing life for me. I’m well and truly in favour of it.

  • I think that finding a balance is the best. Beauty can be found in zen spaces, it’s just a point of view… I mean : you can put warmful color in a feng-shui space adapted to your personnality, for example. I have seen beautiful simple spaces decorated in an oriental, indian, style…

    The article you talk about is an extreme path. For me, decluttering i a tool : we choose what you want to do with it…
    It’s a matter of feeling what it makes us feel when we can’t walk in our place because there’s too much stuff in it ! lol

    The nest point of view i interesting in thi article : when we observe toddlers for example, they love to feel cosy in little spaces, or being with lot of stuff like pillows around them, or little forts…

    For example; if I feel ick and tired of all the yarns or the books I have, it can be because I really have too much of them. So in my example, the nest can’t make me breathe comfortably and being peaceful, nurtured.
    So it’s really a question of balance.

    These sentences are intereting and so true : “look at the
    underlying thoughts beneath the desire to declutter”… “when you
    are living from the place of loving, conscious creation you will
    naturally and effortlessly begin to let go of that which is no longer
    serving you – it will be a process, not a project. And you will
    discover what is worth keeping and what is worth adding to your life in the first place. “…”The point is to know yourself well enough so that whatever you do,
    it is right for you. Follow your intuition. Learn from others, but live from your own heart.”(Lianne Raymond, M. Ed.)

  • I don’t think pretty “feminine” things makes a home beautiful. I HATE anything that isn’t practical. The only “decoration” or impractical item that I have in my entire house is a lava rock from where I used to live, it’s sentimental. Otherwise, what makes a home beautiful to me is hearing the laughter of my children, running up and down the halls and enjoying the clear free space and using their imaginations. So I personally don’t buy into this dark side or beautiful “things” = a beautiful home. If you’re counting how many bags you’re taking to the Salvation Army every month, well, than you have way too much stuff, I couldn’t possibly fill bags every month, all the stuff in my house I use. However I will say I was taken a back by your post on the jeans a while back, that you had a pair with holes and you were putting it on your 30 day list. That to me is a little borderline OCD with minimalism, just buy a new pair of jeans!! I hope you don’t take offense to that, all your other posts have been inspiring to me!

    • No offense taken. I am a bit of a procrastinator on buying things.
      This has become even more of a problem since moving to the IOM. At home I would know where to go to buy jeans. Here… I’ve only purchased a pair of jeans for Henry at M&S and a sun hat from another store. And I still haven’t purchased a pair of jeans here for myself. Instead of buying new jeans I ended up getting a pair of hand me downs from my sister when I was back in Vancouver. There were barely worn, the cut and rinse I wanted and fit me well. Score :)

  • Surely the issue here is extremes. Extreme decluttering, just like extreme hoarding, can be maladaptive. Balance is what we’re all after isn’t it? And balance for me might be quite different to balance for you :-)

  • There seems to be realistic minimalism and sport minimalism these days. The former being people who either needed to get a handle on an out of control situation or just prefer less stuff. The latter are people who seem to be trying to prove something: counting items obsessively, doing it for show. (Maybe blogs are always for show, but there’s still some minimalist blogs that seem more competitive about it, even if the competition is only with themselves).

    I like being a real minimalist. Living my (very colorful) life with the amount of stuff that works for me. I’ve done decluttering and we did a few huge purges out of necessity, but I’m not in it to see how much I can live without. I just don’t want to be overwhelmed, the way I was growing up.

    That said, my life keeps simplifying as I get older. I’m on a 5 day trip visiting family with my kid right now and all my stuff fit in one backpack. (He packed his own bag – he’s five, on the autism spectrum – with some help from daddy and from a list we wrote together. And his stuff — minus the carseat — fit in a small backpack and small rolling case he managed easily himself.

    Easily manageable. That’s my minimalism.

  • Anytime you don’t question something it can lead to problems. I definitely don’t recommend mindless decluttering anymore than I’d recommend mindless dieting, mindless parenting, or anything else that’s important.

    I’d also say that decluttering detaching us from being feminine is a stretch at best. Interesting thought to get you questioning your motives, but not an accurate statement in my opinion.

    Clutter makes me stressed out. Overly decorating rooms don’t make me feel more feminine. They make me overlook beautiful items not appreciate them.

  • I can definitely see how those who don’t consider themselves to be minimalists consider people who live fairly minimal to live in a stark (not ‘homey’ or feminine) environment.

    I consider my family to be minimal. We don’t have a lot of excess {although we could still pare down!} For us, it’s not an obsession to see how much we can get rid of or how much we can live without. Instead, our minimalism helps keep us sane! With an 8-week-old and 22-month-old, life can be quite crazy and we’ve found the less stuff we have to manage and deal with in our home, the easier our home is to maintain and the more we’re able to fully enjoy our boys instead of worrying about a messy home and constantly cleaning our stuff.

    I’m sure there are people who visit our home who think its stark and not a warm environment due to the lack of ‘nick-nacks’ and keepsakes. However, we have family photos on our walls, have warm throws on our couch and a happy family lives here and that’s what makes our home seem warm and ‘homey’, at least to us!!

  • I think Lianne hits home a little for me and is off the mark on others. I too am an obsessive declutterer. When I get overwhelmed, I often find myself decluttering as a means to relaxation–for me, it can be a compulsion (I do have OCD). In that way, I can completely understand how decluttering can get out of control. However, I think she misses the mark when it comes to femininity. It seems she is buying into the idea that stuff can make one more feminine. Yes, minimalism can lead to less shoes and makeup and decor and jewelry, but to say that is what femininity is would be buying into it, literally. Femininity comes across in how you carry yourself, not what you wear. I agree that some minimalists take it too far w/ sentimental items, but I think if you keep only that which holds meaning or is useful, there should be no issues or feelings or remorse. (Wrote a post about a week ago about how we should look at what we keep as artifacts in our personal museum as a way to weed through the sentimental, but still keep some).

  • I agree with the idea of balance. For my husband and I it is not about getting rid of anything and everything we can, but opening spaces in ourselves and in our home. We find that our home is more beautiful than ever as we open up the room to live, yet we keep things we value and love and don’t worry about the count or about whether we would really be considered minimalist. We don’t hurry either in brining things in to our home, but we also think carefully before taking something out as well. Does it increase the beauty of the space to remove that item? Or does it create stress and disharmony either in the space or in one or both of our hearts because we have emotional attachment whatever the item may be? We carefully consider these things. Some things we would love to get rid of, but now is not the time. Either because it is useful in having a two year old around or because we have not thought of another way to do something. We would love to ditch our couch and chairs, but although we do not mind sitting on the floor we have family members that physically cannot do that and would be very uncomfortable in that environment, so for now we keep the furniture.
    I think it is easy to overdo anything in your life, but if you are practicing it with mindfulness and with a lack of ego (as much as is possible) then it will be the right thing for you. And that ‘right’ is different for every person. In my twenties I would have loved to lived with 50 possessions out of a backpack…but I am not. I am 34 with a child and dogs and even horses so that is not my path. But it is good to think of both sides of an issue. I do disagree with the feminine issue however. Stuff does not make you feminine. That is a quality inside, a gift we carry no matter what our circumstances. I know some very powerful, feminine woman who live in huts with almost nothing in them at all. I would hesitate to tell them that they are not feminine because they do not have stuff all over there house for decoration! A home is not the things in it, but the hearts in it.

  • I can visualize how the interpretation of decluttering as a backlash to femininity might be applicable to some people and homes, but not all. I think of my mother-in-law’s home that is filled with porcelain figurines and frilly lace doilies and I could envision how decluttering that sort of space would certainly be a swing away from femininity, but in my own home, my decluttering has never had to deal with such items, it is just full-on decluttering of everyday-type stuff. We are a pretty practical family with an aversion to tchotchkes, so almost everything we have decluttered could be called duplicates of things we already had. I can honestly say that I have been in that head space where I felt like my decluttering was obsessive, but we are now in a maintenance mode where we don’t bring anything home other than food, so it is a lot more relaxed now. And thank goodness for that!

  • I imagine there are people who take minimalism too far. I understand the desire to get rid of clutter and junk. But I love the advice we get often about purging. That we should look at our stuff with a discerning eye. The stuff we keep in our homes should be useful and *beautiful* We should feel that our homes are beautiful. That will mean different things to different people. And a sparse home might be truly beautiful to some women (it would be to me). For me it means sleek streamlined comfortable matching furniture with little or no knickknacks. Fortunately my husband agrees with me.

  • Serena said it better than I could have. It all comes down to balance and achieving balance isn’t easy nor does it look the same for everyone. I also think the decluttering is an attack on the feminine” argument is overblown and seems extremist to me; in fact her whole article seems rather over-alarmist. Here in the US, and perhaps the first-world in general I think people are far more likely to overvalue stuff and keep too much of it than do the opposite.

  • Of course balance is needed in all things. I strive towards minimalism, but still have lots of things that I consider beautiful in my house. The extremes described in the article can certainly be harmful, but hopefully most people are more moderate in their pursuit of less stuff.
    In terms of it being a masculine pursuit, I think it could also be argued that caring for all that “stuff’ is a way to trap women in a homemaker role… I suppose that would be feminine, but is that positive?

  • Well, I do recognize the danger in going overboard. My DH and child keep me grounded. I can’t touch DH’s stuff (though it bugs me that he is disorganized even though he does not have lot of stuff -I like the feeling of knowing were and what everything is and his desk drawers and closet shelves are a mess..) and kids need some toys. The three of us live very comfortably and spaciously in our 600 sf home. I really, really do not agree that de-cluttering is not feminine! We have things like a wall rug made by my grandparents as a gift, a bean bag made by me, a rocking horse, toys, books, a tepee for our girl.. Each of us have our own desk. We have comfy beds and arm chairs. I think our place is cozy and loved. But we have very little stuff in general, two towels each etc. There are half empty cupboards. Cleaning up is quick. All of our clothing fits in a single built-in closet (not a walk-in) in the one bedroom that we share. No excess dishes or appliances. Really consider before buying anything. Our blender broke six months ago, but I have been thinking whether to get an immersion blender instead, so I have held off on buying anything. I clean more and take better care of our home now than before.. because I used to feel it didn’t make enough of a difference. It was too cluttery anyway.
    Femininity has nothing to do with the amount of stuff you have. Ugh.

  • How wonderful to stumble on such a thoughtful discussion of something I wrote awhile back.

    I think we are all on the same wavelength – and not for the first time have my use of masculine and feminine in that article obscured my meaning for others. I was using those terms in a very Jungian, energetic sense – yin/yang might have been a less confusing way to put it. I absolutely don’t posit that having a lot of tsochtkes is a female thing. Nor that enjoying a less cluttered space is a male thing. I was referring to the energy behind the activities – not the result. The desire to create a beautiful, welcoming space – whatever that looks like for you – would be described as energetically yin. It has nothing to do with buying stuff, per say, as the beautiful painted doorstoops in even the poorest villages in India would attest.
    Conversely, the desire to get rid of stuff and organize would be described as energetically yang. I hope that clarifies a bit what I was saying, and minimalistmon, I don’t think you’re manly because you choose not to buy stuff. Far from it. My commentary was not meant to be taken personally, but was meant to be critiquing a larger cultural paradigm and what is being relayed through the constructs of that paradigm, often without us being aware of it. I saw three different magazines at the grocery store yesterday that had “decluttering” emblazoned across the cover. Ironically, decluttering has itself become a consumer object.

    with deep respect,

    • Oops…I should have read the comments before I posted my own. I think I understand where you’re coming from now. When I hear “masculine” and “feminine”, I automatically think “man” and “woman”, but that’s not always what is meant.

  • As everyone has talked about balance already, I’m just giving my two cents on feminity:
    I love flowers, light colours, beautiful tea cups and so on. So, I got stereotypical feminine taste, I guess… however, I can have all this in a decluttered home. Because I don’t need 50 gold rimmed cups – just four of them will do just as well. Noone deprives me of my pink blanket or of my bed sheets with flower prints on them. I also wear mainly dresses and skirts and have a nice little (and decluttered) sewing box as well as a pretty ceramic salad bowl (which is also used to make dough, by the way). Fresh flowers or home-made cinnamon rolls also don’t bring any clutter into my home. I’m sorry, I really don’t understand her point there. Almost each and every of my possessions looks genuinly “feminine”, so do the colours in which I painted some of the walls and furniture around here. Still, they’re useful. A lovely vintage tea pot may very well be used as a tea pot instead of as decoration only. A bookshelf with 3 romance novels in it doesn’t look any more masculine than one filled with 300 books, does it? And would you ever call a bathroom with pastel towels and lavender soap masculine?
    Feminity doesn’t have anything to do with clutter. Just because I am drawn to romantic designs and “pretty” things, doesn’t mean I need a truckload full of them.

    • Btw: Personally, I don’t think feminity is all about roses and kitsch. I just wanted to make my statement that even a roses-and-kitsch-loving girl can have a decluttered home without depriving herself of any of those things.

  • I had an interesting discussion about this exact topic last week. I think simplifying and decluttering is great; the idea being that your life becomes less about your “stuff” and more about your experiences/time. Nobody wants to be ruled or bogged down by their possessions. So on that same vein, when people get into extreme minimalism (limiting themselves to x number of possessions, itemizing/obsessing over every single thing), a person’s life and thoughts once again become all about the “stuff,” and they’re really back to square one, but on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t think either is healthy.

  • Attack on the feminine? I don’t get that at all. In fact, I think that’s a rather stereotypical idea. Yes, I think most women I know prefer to shop a lot and fill their homes will all kinds of decor, but I know women who have different preferences and it’s not because they’re repressing themselves or addicted to getting rid of stuff.

    I’m somewhere in between. I am not a full-fledged minimalist and never will be (I have a design background and love to decorate), but your blog has been helping me greatly. I’ve had a tendency to hold on to useless things for the most ridiculous reasons. I am not a naturally organized person or a great housekeeper, so having lots of “stuff” does not suit me. It’s easier for me to take care of my home and feel good about myself when I simplify and focus on what I really need. This evening I finally finished redecorating and purging my bedroom of everything that wasn’t needed or didn’t belong, and I feel great!

  • Something else that bothers me is that whenever something gains momentum and becomes popular, then people start figuring out ways to put it down and say it’s trendy or pretentious or whatever. I think it’s pretentious to want to be in on an exclusive “secret” – and ironically minimalists eagerly spread the word to make others see the light, but when they do so, why should we turn around and say that it’s suddenly trendy or wrong.
    That being said, I am against de-cluttering which doesn’t lead to a change in consumption patterns as well. It’s appalling to just toss stuff and then turn around and replace it with new stuff. So yeah, I agree that there is a danger in becoming a serial de-clutterer and that is bad. And I’m afraid that this exactly the kind of de-cluttering that interior decoration magazines etc. promote. Now everyone, toss your junk! Look here, buy this for the latest un-cluttered minimalist look!

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