Why Minimalists Get It All Wrong When It Comes to Success

Minimalism as a lifestyle is great in theory. It’s also quite applicable to life. But when it comes to success, minimalists often get it all wrong. They want to pretend that they don’t strive for success. But they do. They just call it something else.

I spent two weeks surveying members of three Facebook groups. I asked a series of questions about minimalism and success. The results opened my eyes to how most minimalists perceive success. They make a common mistake. Let’s take a look…

The Survey

The three groups I surveyed were: Hip DiggsThe Minimalist Life and the No Sidebar Community. Here are some of the 12 questions I posed over a two week period:

  • How do you define success from a minimalist perspective?
  • What is one minimalist habit that lends itself to success?
  • Should the definition of success include happiness?
  • What is one habit you’d like to create to make life more successful?

My Bias

Before I post the results, I want to point out that this was not a scientific survey. It was simply me asking questions and studying the results. As one who has followed and written about the minimalist lifestyle for several years, I have a bias toward minimalism. But I am also openly critical about those who take the lifestyle to extremes.

Personally, I practice a moderate form of minimalism for several reasons:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Frugality
  3. Green living
  4. Less stress
  5. Efficiency

But the biggest reason I practice minimalism is this: I can become more productive with the time, energy, and money saved. I can use that productivity to help and serve others beyond my immediate friends and family.

The Results

Here’s what I discovered: Most people who define themselves as minimalists define success as happiness or contentment. They long to reach a point where they no longer have to struggle to control their environment. When they reach that point, they will relax and do more things for themselves and their families.

Here are a few of the comments I received when I asked, “How do you define success from a minimalist perspective?”

Not ever having to work again and still have the basics of food, water, shelter, clothing, have no debt and travel the world. Oh… And stress free.

Not lying awake at night worrying about the next day at work.

Living like I want to live, spending time like I want to spend time.

The happy feeling of freedom and being in control.

Spending my time doing what I want to do not what I have to do …

These definitions of success are not wrong. Success is a subjective term and each person will have their own view of what success means. But the majority of those I surveyed did not mention anything about goals or achievement. And only a few suggested that success included serving others.

When I asked the question, “Should the definition of success include happiness?” nearly 90% of those surveyed said that it should. Is that wrong? Again, not really. Becoming successful might lead to happiness. But success itself is not happiness.

When I asked about habits and success, most people answered that they wanted to downsize, reduce clutter, or work less. The gist was that these habits were signs of being successful because the results would make one happy. Again, not wrong, but misguided.

So Why Do Minimalists Get Success Wrong?

Let’s take a look at the dictionary’s definition of success:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
  2. The attainment of popularity or profit.
  3. The outcome of an undertaking, specified as achieving or failing to achieve its aims.

Happiness, contentment, and joy are not part of any of these definitions. Success in itself is not interchangeable with the term happiness. They are different concepts. Unlike success, happiness is not achieved. Happiness is something we choose. Success is something we attain through hard work.

Many minimalists told me that minimalism is not goal-oriented, but rather a lifestyle choice. But many of those same minimalists have set goals to downsize and declutter. So minimalism is achievement based. I get a sense that one can only be a true minimalist if one achieves a certain level of minimalism.

Here’s the problem: Minimalists want to redefine success. They want it to mean something closer to happiness or contentment. But they have to achieve it through living with less. It’s the minimalist’s dilemma.

Here’s the solution: Stop calling yourself a minimalist. Just live simply. Don’t try to keep up with the minimalist Joneses by seeing who can create the most minimalist lifestyle and live with the least amount of stuff. Just live simply and be happy.

Success is another story. If you desire success, take what you’ve gained from living simply and apply it to your motivation to achieve goals that will serve others. Use your simple habits for success. That’s all.

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