Is Minimalism a First World Problem?

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Minimalism is a trendy topic, though do you wonder if it's a first world problem. Here are some reasons why I think minimalism is here to stay.

Minimalism, the fancy word we’ve given for “paring down,” “decluttering,” and “simplifying” is, admittedly, the cool thing to do right now. It has become quite the trendy movement, with so many people touting its benefits, and I’ve been working so hard to embrace it myself.

I’ve loved reading up on it at my library, not worried when I’ve said no to people to clear out my schedule; relished the process of decluttering my closets, drawers, and cabinets; and even enjoyed helping some of my friends and family members do the same. Simplifying and decluttering are addictive, and the freeing feeling that you get afterwards is like no other.

Is Minimalism a First World Problem?


However, as I was continually cleaning out my cabinets, making numerous runs to Goodwill, and proclaiming the benefits of minimalism to anyone who would listen, a recurring thought lurked in my mind. Is minimalism just a first world problem?

Think about it. We have so much stuff that we now have an entire movement dedicated to teaching us how to get rid of it all so that we can lead better lives. It’s sadly ironic, and I can’t help but wonder if starving kids in Africa and homeless families in India would look at us praising our “minimalist” lifestyles and just roll their eyes.

After all, minimalism isn’t a fad over there. It’s not a choice for them. It’s a way of life. They don’t have so much stuff that they continually have to declutter or worry about Christmas shopping or kid’s toy boxes. Even the poorest people in our country are richer than those living in third world countries.

Third World Countries Have No Choice


As an industrialized, first-world nation, we clearly still don’t have it all figured out. We don’t have a good grasp on how to feel like we already have enough or how to live lightly on the earth because we’re too busy stuffing our homes with cheap clothing, fancy gadgetry, hobby gear and all of the stuff. 

We believe we’re ahead of the rest of the world with our plastic-filled houses and smartphones that supposedly keep us “connected,” but it’s all really just leaving us even more miserable, chasing after some unattainable consumerist idea of happiness.

Buy, buy, buy. Declutter, declutter, declutter. It’s a vicious cycle.

Minimalism is a trendy topic, though do you wonder if it's a first world problem? Here are some reasons why I think minimalism is here to stay.

Why I’m Not Giving Up On Minimalism


Minimalism, however, is about so much more than decluttering. It’s about simplicity and frugality. It’s about conservation and protecting the environment. It’s about living consciously, lightly and purposefully.

The minimalist ideal recognizes a problem that we were born into — constant over-consumption of an abundance of resources — and tries to fix it by challenging the wastefulness of our lives when the rest of the world doesn’t have enough resources to meet their own needs. We live in a country that doesn’t embrace a minimalist lifestyle; our country tracks consumer spending and actually encourages you to spend all your money and shop for the “betterment” of the economy. Minimalists question that reasoning.

The more I embrace minimalism, the more I grow as a person. We never stop learning. Minimalists are good people who want to live their lives simply and frugally. They want to learn to be content with what they already have, and they want to leave a smaller impact on the earth so that others can simply live. That’s a group to which I want to belong. So even if it is only a first world problem, it’s the one I’m faced with and the one I’m choosing to do something about.


What do you think of minimalism? Is it a movement you would consider joining or have interest in learning more about? How can we achieve a healthy balance between enjoying the things available in America and hoarding so many of them that we can’t find a clear path from our bathrooms to our living rooms?

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Robin McDaniel

Robin is a freelance writer who chronicles her financial missteps and victories on her blog


  • I definitely think that minimalism is a first world problem. Only in developed countries do people constantly deal with “too much stuff.”

  • While I agree that too much clutter is a first world problem, minimalism is less of a problem, but more of a solution for the clutter problem. Of course we are in privileged position to be dealing with the clutter problem, but precisely that is why I think we have an obligation to deal with it, for example in form of minimalism. Adopting a more minimalist lifestyle then enables us to help others, for example by donating to charities that help people who have to deal with actual third world problems.

    • I guess you could say it’s a solution for a first world problem, and that’s kind of what I’m trying to point out there. I think by rejecting materialism and over-consumption, we are casting our votes. Just because we have the ability to purchase anything and everything in America doesn’t mean we should do it.

  • kay ~ the barefoot minimalist says:

    I’m guessing the concept of dieting is puzzling to people in third world countries too. Right now, I’m down to what I can easily put in an RV. No storage lockers needed for this gal! I’ve been prepping for this my entire life. Now all I need is the RV!

  • It seems like a first world problem for sure. I will say, however, that some of the most frugal people I know had a ton of stuff.

    My 2 great aunts lived exceptionally frugally, and cleaning out their place after one of them died and my aunt had to move in to care for the other was a real challenge, because almost nothing had been thrown away. Old clothes might be turned into quilts. Old stuff might be needed again. They might need old newspapers for something.

    (It probably could have been an episode of Hoarders, if not for the fact that this happened 15 years ago.)

    These 2 ladies wanted to make sure they didn’t have to buy anything new ever, because they didn’t have a lot of income. They saw multiple potential uses in almost every object they had, and wouldn’t get rid of anything. They were consummate recyclers and reusers, but not minimalist at all.

    I may be making your point for you. However, I think there’s a mindset of “Don’t get rid of anything you might need later” that you see in some older folks who were marked by the Great Depression.

    • I think it is so different for the generation that grew up during the Great Depression. They have a completely different perspective from that time period since they always had very little. Now, we have a Walmart on every corner, something they didn’t have. So I can absolutely see why they would hang onto a lot of potentially useful things since that’s how they grew up. It’s hard to break that kind of habit, and I can’t say I blame them.

  • Hannah says:

    I don’t practice a minimalist lifestyle, but I’ve grown much more conscientous about asking, “Will this bring joy, beauty or utility into my life, and when will it no longer be a part of my life?”

    I think minimalism tends to swing a little too far on the pendulum of just rejecting all stuff, storing things for the future etc, but we can be more mindful of bringing objects into our life and taking them out. I don’t think there’s any reason to feel guilty when you get rid of something that once served a purpose and no longer does.

    • Mindfulness is key, whether you want to be a minimalist or not. I like your last sentence the best. So many people feel such guilt getting rid of things, when they are just things. After all, those things don’t feel anything towards us.

      Case in point: I still have my wedding dress hanging in my closet. My family has guilted me into keeping it. Social pressure has guilted me into keeping it, even though it could be useful to someone else. How silly is that? And I’m trying to be a minimalist! In the wedding dress arena, I have failed.

  • I certainly think it’s a first world problem, although I do think there are lots of hoarders who live below the poverty line.

    I love not keeping things we don’t need, but after pulling out all of our Christmas decorations, I know I’ll never be a minimalist. I love the nostalgia of the holiday things we’ve collected over the years.

    • I’m actually a nostalgic person as well. What I’ve learned to do, though, is to only keep the items that actually mean the most to me, even when it comes to Christmas decorations. You don’t have to keep it all, just your favorites.

      We just got out all our ornaments , and I got rid of several that I didn’t even remember. If I didn’t remember them, I must not have cared for them to begin with. I even got rid of a Baby’s First Ornament that I couldn’t remember. (Which was okay, because my daughter still has about 5 more of those.) It’s always a work in progress.

  • Kath says:

    I think the minimalist movement has become similar to the “things vs. experiences” trend, or the “running vs. walking exercise” trend. Many minimalists actually present themselves as better people because they are not materialistic, just like so many people who advocate that spending money on experiences rather than things consider themselves just a little better or more enlightened than the cretins who buy a big screen TV. IMO it simply is a way to allow people so look down on others.

    • I can see where you would think that. I would agree that a lot of minimalism blogs come across as elitist. There are a lot of any kind of blog that sound very elitist, and that’s because a lot of bloggers typically only showcase the “best of the best” of their lives. They’re not going to post pictures of their bad days or craft a heartfelt post about how crappy their day was.
      With that being said, I hope you don’t write off minimalism completely because of those specific kinds of blogs. There are so many good ones out there that really do want to just spread the word about how their lives have changed for the better because of a minimalist lifestyle, but of course it’s not for everyone. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  • I definitely think it’s a first world problem. I can picture people who have far less than us (not by choice) rolling their eyes and laughing at how we need an entire movement to actively pursue minimizing the amount of stuff we have. It’s so ironic that we have so much government and personal debt in the US, yet we have trouble paring down our stuff!

  • Definitely a first world concept but it is a good concept overall. I’m for anything that makes Americans (and other 1st world residents) think twice before consuming so much. Some of the minimalist blogs are incredibly elitist but I view it in the same fashion as early retirement blogs. All publicity for a good cause is good publicity. Minimalism seems to have slightly less backlash in the mainstream than early retirement does but the average comment seems to be, “Great idea but it’s so hard!”

    Penny and I are a long way from being minimalists but we’re trying to consume less stuff overall now.

  • I agree that it’s a first world problem, and a swing of the pendulum from over-consumption. It can also be materially focused as you think about getting rid of stuff instead of getting stuff. However, see the usefulness of the movement, too. I like to think of myself as a pragmatist in this area.

    • Ok, I just read your post about it, and I loved your perspective on it. If you get too crazy about it, you can definitely still remain focused on materialism, and I’ve never really thought about it that way.

  • I never thought of it that way, but I think it is a first world problem. We have this culture of consumerism where we buy buy buy where we even have to rent storage spaces to keep all the stuff we buy! Living in the NYC area, we don’t have a lot of space and I try to be more of a minimalist but things still add up and we do have clutter. Don’t want to blame my wife…but…. =)

    • Haha, don’t blame your wife!

      I like to think of living in NYC as forced minimalism in a sense. I lived in Manhattan for a short period in college. Great experience! And I had far less stuff back then…

  • Hi Robin – definitely a first world problem, impacted by Madison Ave IMO. In the 1970s, stores closed at 5pm and closed on Sundays Internet didn’t exist. TV and magazine ads helped us become lovers of stuff. It’s no coincidence the cut the cord movement and minimalism go together. When I had TV I was occasionally tempted to try a new mascara. But I reminded myself my $5 Maybelline still does what it’s supposed to do.

    • It’s interesting to think about stores being closed after 5 and on Sundays in the past. It’s like each decade, it’s taken a little bit further, with now stores being open on Thanksgiving day, which will be a normal thing before we know it. Eventually, stores will be open all day Thanksgiving, I’m sure!

  • Karen says:

    I’d say both my husband and I are minimalists. We have a house, but work hard to avoid having a lot of “stuff” in the house. He has a lot of tools, but he uses them for jobs he does around the house and at the rental property. I LOVE getting rid of stuff. I find it very satisfying and therapeutic.

  • After being a family man, it took years before I noticed that I had to adopt the concept of minimalism. It was the time when I felt the house had little space and noticed that I had used some of the things for more than 1 year. So I had to declutter, and after that, I liked it and maintained to be minimalistic.

  • mmmm says:

    I spent my childhood in a country where ‘minimalism’ wasn’t a choice. It didn’t have a name. That’s why I’m shaking my head that people have to be taught to be reasonable. My country is long past those days, but I have ‘minimalism’ in my blood. I always ask myself ‘do you need it?’ and 90% of the answer is ‘no’. The down side of it? : I do not enjoy new things as it makes me feel guilty, I do not dress nicely as I feel that fashionable clothes are waste, if I have an outing I would buy something I can wear again, and again, and again. I would love to be able to enjoy clothes, not to even go overboard with fashion, but just to buy something because I like it, not because I need it, but I can’t. Minimalism is a curse for me.

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