How to Talk to Your Friends About Minimalism (Without Losing All Your Friends)

Spoiler: It is actually possible to spread the word about minimalism, without being annoying.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am prone to cult-like allegiances to things I find even a mild, passing interest in. After one Flywheel class, I could be heard trash talking SoulCycle from miles away.

At the mere mention of romance novels (usually at the butt end of a joke), I am there, defending their honor, recommending all the best feminist authors (Hi Sarah Maclean if you are reading this, I love you).

I am an advocate for experimental grammar and I can literally hear you backing away from your screen as I enthusiastically explain why I think the word “ya’ll” should be officially accepted as part of the English language.

Basically, I’m really annoying.

Why Won’t You Let Me Help You?

When I first got into minimalism, I was insufferable. This simple concept changed my life! Minimalism literally saved me when I was mentally ill and needed a remedy for the chaos that was driving me down into a dark place.

I didn’t realize the extent to which my possessions were overwhelming me until I got rid of most of them, and once I felt that clarity, that freedom, well, it was my duty to share it with everyone I knew. Wasn’t it?

According to most of them? No. Hard pass, in fact.

My husband was the first person to resist my efforts to fix his life by imparting my minimalist wisdom upon him. He did not agree that he would be happier if we threw away all the random stuff in that junk drawer, or if we tossed all his old band t-shirts with holes in them.

I persisted, thinking that if I just explained better, he would understand. He would come around.

But he didn’t come around. Instead, the more intense I got, the more resentful and defensive he became. Turns out, most people don’t like it when you tell them they should throw out their stuff.

If you follow The Minimalist Wardrobe and you read this blog, odds are that you have at least a mild curiosity about minimalism. Maybe you’re even like me and you’ve been a card-carrying minimalist for years (except we don’t carry cards because who needs one more card in the wallet, right??).

If you’ve ever been an unsuccessful spokesperson for the lifestyle we know and love, allow me to share some tips with you for talking to the non-minimalist about minimalism:

1. Let Them Come to You

Let my failed spousal conversion be a lesson to you: just because the horse feels obligated to follow you to the water does NOT mean the horse is even the least bit interested in taking a drink.

People don’t like it when you push an unsolicited agenda on them. I think about all the things that people have pushed on me that I’ve immediately rejected (crossfit, literally any kind of diet) and how it was weird that they didn’t know anything about me, yet felt qualified to “fix” my life with this thing they believed in so passionately.

If someone wants to explore minimalism, they’ll ask you about it. Otherwise, just go quietly about your practice and only bring it up in conversation when it actually makes sense to do so.

2. Listen More Than You Talk

So, let’s say you get a bite. A coworker approached me in our office kitchen once and mentioned that someone told her I had a blog, and that she was interested in minimalist fashion.

Here’s what I did: talked at her for five minutes about what I think of minimalist fashion, then sent her a ridiculously long email with links to books and blogs and documentaries, and did not ask her a single question about herself.

She never approached me about it again, and I was too mortified by my own behavior to bring it back up to her.

The next time someone at work asked me about my blog, I responded with questions.

What got you interested in minimalism? How has your relationship with your closet been until now? What style are you drawn to? What would you like to learn more about?

I learned so much more about her, and now we chat about minimalist fashion all the time. She even sometimes shares her outfit triumphs with me, which is just the best feeling ever.

Her experiences are different from mine, and it’s a humbling reminder that I have something to learn from anyone and everyone about minimalism and getting dressed.

3. Be Compassionate

It’s easy to take the moral high ground when talking about minimalism. You think you’ve found the answer, you sincerely want to help people. But believe me, it gets into holier-than-thou territory very quickly, and despite what you think about yourself and the faith you might have in your personal values, you are not right about everything all of the time.

If someone approaches you about minimalism, resist the urge to contribute your half of the conversation from an authoritative point of view. See things from their side. Even if you’re convinced that they cannot possibly be a healthy and well-adjusted individual if they own fifteen stained band t-shirts that they don’t even wear anymore, that’s not really for you to decide.

For most people, minimalism takes baby steps. Some people might be totally fine with just dipping their toes into the pool and never taking it any further than that. We, as minimalist obsessive (no? just me?), have to be okay with that, because the worst thing you can do with a beautiful thing that has improved your life is use it to alienate your friends and family.

Do I believe in minimalism and think that most people would be happier and better off if they had less stuff? Yes. Absolutely. But more than that, I believe in being a friend, accepting that I have a lot to learn from others, and that minimalism is not just black and white.

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