The Curse of the Maximalist Lifestyle

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 11/15/10 •  6 min read

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  For years I lived what you might call a “maximalist lifestyle”.

There’s been all of this talk lately about minimalism, people going car-less, and even some who own less than 100 things.

Guess what? That’s not me.

I used to be the biggest pack rat you’ve ever met.  I’d collect just about everything you could imagine.  I had over 400 movie ticket stubs, dozens of plastic tennis trophies, and even a shot glass collection of places I’ve traveled.  I mean honestly, what the hell am I going to do with 100 shot glasses? That’s a lot of tequila.

I don’t know why it’s so, but I have an extremely hard time getting rid of stuff.  I have sentimental attachment to the stupidest things.  That random spelling test from 3rd grade, a box full of baseball cards worth a combined total of $2.97, a token from the Philadelphia Subway. I mean really, for any of you that have ever been in the Philadelphia subway system, there is nothing that is memorable about it.

So why am I telling you this?  I’m telling you this now to let you know that you’re not alone.

As I mentioned, there’s been a lot of talk about minimalism these days.  However, the fact of the matter is that I bet most of the people reading this (and reading those other blogs as well) are closer to maximalists.  Let’s face it, the vast majority of us like stuff.  It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It gives us the ability to shirk the notion of having a real adventure and really experiencing the things life has to offer, by distracting us from the fact that those grander things require more effort and more sacrifice.

But now to ask a question  that’s been asked many times before.  “Does all of that stuff enrich our lives?”

The answer isn’t as cut and dry as some might like to make it seem.

Last year I did the best I could to eliminate clutter and stop being the pack-rat that I know I am deep down inside.  I sold my car, gave a bunch of crap to friends and Goodwill, and set out to travel with nothing but a small backpack.

It was awesome. For a period of time I was the guy with less than 100 things.  Everyday was an adventure and I didn’t once find myself lacking and yearning for stuff. I loved the fact that I didn’t watch tv for half a year. I really felt I’d changed.

Then I came back to the United States.

It didn’t take long for the allure of stuff to suck me back in.  Now don’t get me wrong, since I’ve been back over the last few months I really haven’t bought much, or anything really, that falls into the category of “stuff”.  Almost all of my spending has been towards living expenses, travel, or savings, and I’m proud of that.

Update: That was until I bought a video game today for the first time in 4 years.  Man, I hate to admit I did that.  Talk about a time suck – but I digress…

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want stuff. It’s so easy to get sucked into wanting things you don’t need.  Whether it’s that new watch, a new camera, or even a car, when you’ve spent your life living as a maximalist, the urge to want doesn’t just go away because you told it to.

No quite the opposite.  The more I tell myself I don’t want stuff, the more I realize, I kinda do.  I know I’m better off without it, for a multitude of reasons.  But the comfortableness (is that a word?) just sucks you back in.

So what do you do?

Well I think the first thing you need to decide is whether or not you actually have any desire to be a minimalist.  It’s awesome for some – but not so much for others.  For me personally, I fall somewhere in between.  I don’t necessarily want to be a minimalist, but I do want the freedom to be able to have adventures, travel, and do all of the things that can be more difficult as you do things like get married and start a family.

In order to accommodate this, here is what I’ve done:

It’s unclear if I’ll ever be able to overcome my maximalist desires.  But given my issues, I’m pretty proud of my ability to analyze what’s truly important to me at this point in my life, and limit my spending and hoarding accordingly – despite the urges that try to convince me otherwise.

As much as I’d love to think that one day I’ll be a true minimalist, you’re much better off checking out The Minimalists if you want to see some awesome people who done an incredible job of simplifying their lifestyles.

I’ll let you know if I ever make it there.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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16 comments on "The Curse of the Maximalist Lifestyle"

  1. Alex says:

    Great stuff here Sean. Absolutely loving it. For me personally it’s been a slow transition – very much two steps forward one step back. I think going premium is actually a key to unlocking (lame pun, sorry) minimalism. By purchasing premium, one might have a few things, but he’ll be enamored with those few things that he owns. When a person buys something that she’s really happy with, I think it dulls the desire to go out and buy more things.

    Anyways, I can totally relate with the struggle, and am going through it myself. Good luck with the downsizing my friend.

    Be cool…

  2. Hugh says:

    Sean I couldn’t agree more with you on this one. I’m far from a Maximalist and I don’t own a lot of junk, but I’m also very far from a Minimalist. I enjoy reading blogs like Leo’s and Everett’s and those guys are doing amazing things. Maybe someday I’ll be a minimalist with 2 pair of underwear, but for now, just reading blogs like that make me question what I can get rid of and what I don’t need to buy. I think I’ve become less of a “consumer” since learning about minimalist lifestyles. I’ve gotten rid of a ton of clothes and replaced them with fewer items of higher quality, as you do yourself. I don’t buy crap; I’d rather buy experiences.

    Living in NJ, not too far from Manhattan, the center of the consumer universe, it’s not easy to avoid the lure of consumerism and constantly buying new things. I think I’m doing a good job of it though, by just being more aware.

    1. Sean says:

      @Alex I think you’re right. I’d imagine you don’t see many minimalists who own crappy products. If you’re only going to have 100 things in your life, you’re going to make sure they are the the best they can be! And don’t worry about the struggle, we all struggle. It’s just a matter of deciding what’s really important to you.

      @Hugh Sounds like we’re in the same boat. I can’t imagine how difficult trying to do that in NYC would be, a lot of really easy (albeit fun) ways to blow money in that city. Even if I don’t think I’ll ever be a full on minimalist I think its great to have the perspective. It makes me more well rounded to know more about various lifestyles, and incorporate the aspects of it that work into my own life.

  3. I’ve been saying for months that I’m a maximalist; glad to see someone else take up the banner and wave it for a while!!

    I would disagree with you a bit regarding maximalism. You said “It gives us the ability to shirk the notion of having a real adventure and really experiencing the things life has to offer, by distracting us from the fact that those grander things require more effort and more sacrifice.” I’d say that is more mediumalism (let’s make up a ton of new words on this page). Maximalists want the stuff AND the adventure. That’s the whole MAX part. 😉

    Either way, I’m glad to see someone acknowledging that most of us want to own more than 25 things that fit in a backpack. I’m tired of people telling me all of my stuff is crap, that it’s bringing about the destruction of the world, and that I either need to sell it or burn it because if I don’t I’m a bastard who hates life.

    Well done.

    1. Sean says:

      @David I knew that word had to have been out there – there was no way I was that clever 🙂 We could argue about the meanings of our made up words forever, but I think even, most of the time minimalists are the ones who are seeking more adventure. Everyone else is too bogged down by their stuff and consumer needs – although I do like where you’re going with your definition of a “maximalist”!

      I just think in some regards more people need to write about the reality and not the ideal. Most people have stuff – plain and simple. Rather than turn them into total minimalist, I think the smarter approach is to help them learn how to manage that and cut back wherever possible. But that’s just my opinion, a lot of people just want stuff!

  4. Caroline says:

    Hey Sean,i thought it was time for my 1st comment on your blog, which i love by the way! I have been following your posts silently for a good 7 months now, i read most of your archives and really found your story inspiring, same as Colin, David, Chris and a bunch of others i have discovered too 🙂 I have made a lot of changes since reading your blog and the others. I will never be a minimalist, i know that, but lately i’ve been trying hard to get rid of the stuff i dont need and just define what is essential for me. I did the same as you, just kept and bought some good quality clothes and objects that i know will last in time, and before buying anything, i think twice and try to decide if i really need this particular thing! so thanks for doing what you do.

  5. Lupin says:

    I am so not a minimalist! I like pretty things and am super-sentimental about things from my childhood and family history…

    I try to make my posessions count though, always think twice before buying new things, and when I declutter (I’m currently trying to give away 100 things in the run up to Christmas) it’s not with the aim of having a minimalist, uncluttered lifestyle but to try to make sure that the things I do own are all lovely and special or totally 100% useful.

  6. Matt says:

    I like the concept of living “lightly” but I’ve got kids and kids watch TV and that translates into a large Christmas list. But I do tend to lean toward a life of less clutter, fewer distractions and free of complications which to me is what minimalism really means. But I also view it more as a process than a destination. You can’t sell all your crap, and live with just 50 or 100 items and call yourself a minimalist if you aren’t happy about it. It’s an ongoing process of buying and culling until you have what you “need”. What I get from your post Sean is that you can still adhere to the basic principles of minimalism and still have a lot of stuff as long as each of the items you own serves a purpose and plays a role in making your life a happy time. It’s when we get caught up in consumerism to the point where we are buying things just for the sake of buying something that we reach a point where we have effectively reduced our options because of the clutter. We can call it maximalism or whatever but the end goal is to live with only the things that make you happy and serve a purpose. I agree that your three action items are right on track for making that goal a reality.

  7. Mark Powers says:

    Hear hear, Sean! As a percussionist, I’ve found that although many minimalist concepts really appeal to me, it’s not completely practical doing what I do. I continue to collect instruments that I study in various parts of the world. Those instruments then allow me to make income via recording sessions and teaching engagements. That collection gets me calls and separates me from other players because I’m one of the very few cats around that have them.

    What I’ve found (and Tammy has really inspired) is that, aside from those acquisitions that do benefit my career, I can still apply minimalist ideas to other areas of my life and personal possessions. As you said, it’s not cut and dry. Minimalism is a philosophy that can be applied where needed/wanted . . . not a “one size fits all” rule. There are many ways that I’ve discovered to cut the fat out of my wardrobe, piles of audio/video and other “stuff.” It’s up to each of us to decide what is worth keeping around, and what is wasting our time, money and energy (and therefore, should be gotten rid of ASAP).

    Great post, man- thanks a ton!

  8. Sharon says:

    Haha. Loved it Sean. You finally went through all those boxes of your stuff I made you haul out of the garage, didn’t you? For what it’s worth, you earned every one of those tennis trophies… I’ve gotta run and go clean out some closets…like mother, like son.

  9. Elisa says:

    Ah Sean, hitting up the internet with a post that reminds me why I think you are one of the greatest online folks out there. 😉

    I attempted and tried to strive for a minimalist life. But as I looked over my things, both sentimentality and practicality swept over me, and I decided to instead be much more strategic and aware of my things. This means getting rid of about half of my clothes, stuff in closets that I keep thinking “One day” (if that day hasn’t come in the past 4-5 years I doubt it’s coming now) and downsizing my office.

    In fact, I like the idea of downsizing better than minimalizing (which sounds like just a difference of vocabulary.) To me the two represent VERY different ideologies. I admire the bejeezus out of people who can live with less than 100 items or out of a backpack on the road.

    Truth is, however, I know that I totally do NOT want to be one of those people. But I also know I’ve probably got way more stuff than actually necessary.

  10. Kyle says:

    I don’t actually strive to be a minimalist and I’m not sure why so many people do. I LOVE clothes. Love them. Love searching and searching for the perfect dress, then buying it, wearing it and getting complimented on it. That means I’m not a minimalist. But I recognize that clothes and fashion bring me joy, I’m not buying them for the sake of buying. I personally see nothing wrong with that.

  11. Aloha Sean, very candid story and transformation. I think even with the little purchases you treated yourself with you made a great improvement and not many can say that. Including myself, although I have gone thru a similar transition with buying stuff and cutting back drastically. I look for great bargains if it comes to buying certain things and learning that it is okay to spoil oneself just be aware of shopping and getting the best bargain for the same or similar thing I want. Glad I came by and thanks for sharing. 🙂

  12. John DeVries says:

    Excellent post Sean. I think oftentimes, because we look up to people like Tammy and Everette, we think we have to mimic them.

    Minimalism is decidedly cool. It’s a great concept, and definitely allows many people to create freedom that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

    I can totally relate to this post. When I was sleeping in my truck, I remember thinking that, while it was simple and saved me a lot of money, I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. But saving money to travel was more important than being comfortable. However, in all honesty, I really enjoy a warm bed and my fan.

    I think this is an issue, not so much of minimalism or maximalism, but of the relationship between priorities and assets. If you’re Trump, why bother living a minimalist lifestyle? You can pay people to take care of anything you don’t want to do, and if adventure travel is something you want, you can go do it with as much or as little as you want.

    For those of us with fewer resources, minimalism could be a necessity for travel, adventure, lifestyle design, etc…

    Either way, I think you should just do whatever makes you happy and still allows you to live your best life. If you like owning a shot glass collection or a nice watch, and can still live your priorities, who cares?

    Anyway, very thought provoking. Great post amigo.

  13. Do you guys think there has been an explosion of location independent, minimalist lifestyle type bloggers and people because of the brutal downturn of 2008-2009? Perhaps there is a correlation as many people lost their jobs, or became increasingly unsatisfied b/c they couldn’t get promoted or paid?

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