Minimalist friendships

Simplify Your Circle With Minimalist Friendships

Are your social media accounts bursting with ‘friends’ from elementary school? 

Or maybe it’s that guy from the gym whose name you can’t remember and the occasional random from a vacation seven years ago?

Yes? Then it may be time to “Marie Kondo” your social circles.

Just as we joy-check our closets, why not our friendships or lose connections and acquaintances appearing as “friendships” on social media? 

In my article today, I will dive into the whimsical world of minimalist friendships, where less truly can mean more. 

I will cover why a minimalist approach can be beneficial, what a cluttered friendship looks like, and how you can gracefully “declutter” a friendship.

So my goal is to help you simplify your circle and cherish the gems that truly ‘spark joy’ in your life. 


Why the Big Fuss About Minimalist Friendships?

Let’s start with how it came about when something like the term “minimalist friendship” was coined.

You can find the origin in consumer culture.

In essence, it prioritizes acquisition and consumption. 

It’s the whole “more is better” mantra, where worth and success are often determined by what and how much one possesses. 

Let’s connect the dots between this materialistic view and our social connections…

Just as consumer culture champions having more stuff, it also inadvertently propels the idea of having more connections. 

Social media platforms are a testament to this.

People flaunt thousands of followers or friends, even if they have genuine connections with just a handful. 

In a way, “friends” become another ‘collectible.’

And just as consumer culture often emphasizes surface-level aesthetics (think fast fashion or “insta-worthy” homes), relationships can also become superficial. 

The pressure to portray a “perfect life” can lead to less genuine interactions. 

People might connect based on fleeting trends rather than deep, shared values.

It may go even so far that they connect because they can produce “insta-worthy” content together.

Consumer culture is also instant gratification. Thus, it’s fast.

Like shoot first, ask later, buy now, think later. 

And similarly, social interactions can become about quick hits of pleasure, like a burst of likes or comments, rather than the slow, steady burn of a deep conversation or long-term relationship.

Consumerism often also revolves around comparing oneself to others

This spills over into social dynamics. 

So, instead of appreciating each individual’s unique journey and story, people may rank and judge friends based on their material successes.

Then we also have disposable relationships.

Just as products in a consumerist society are easily disposable, so can friendships. 

When relationships are viewed through a transactional lens (What can I get out of this?), they can easily be discarded when they’re no longer deemed ‘useful.’

Now, what happens when you approach friendship like the above?

Exactly, you get “friendship clutter” if we stay within minimalist terms.

You know how your closet gets so packed with clothes that one day, pulling out a shirt becomes a game of tug-of-war? 

Friendships can get like that too. 

Everyone’s trying to cram into your life’s metaphorical closet.

Don’t get me wrong. 

I’m not saying friends are like those mismatched socks that keep lurking in your drawer. 

But think about it: in the age of social media, we often equate more with better. 

More (fake) friends, more likes, more dinner invites. 

If it weren’t for the infamous “Dunbar’s number.”

What’s that?

A study from the University of Oxford found that while we might have hundreds or even thousands of social media “friends,” we can only maintain close ties with a smaller group — around 150, to be precise. 

This is famously known as “Dunbar’s number.” 

So Robin Dunbar puts a cap on our popularity contest.

But let’s not play the blame game. 

It’s just that our brains are, well, kinda old-school. 

They can’t keep up with today’s buffet of “friendships.” 

As per that same study, while our network might be vast, only about 15 of these buddies can be considered close friends. 

And a mere five (the real VIPs) form our closest support group.

So, the “big fuss”?

You may now guess how minimalism can play into all of this.

However, minimalist friendships aren’t about tossing out people like last season’s fashion. 

It’s about appreciating those genuine, drama-free, feel-good connections that “spark joy.” 

It’s better to have a few pals you can count on than a sea of acquaintances you barely know.

Besides the natural cap you have with Dunbar’s number having fewer but better friends also comes with some health benefits.

I can back some of the benefits with studies, and some come from applied logic.

Reduced Stress: Ever heard of the saying, “Less is more”? 

Well, managing fewer relationships means less drama, fewer misunderstandings, and reduced emotional exhaustion. 

When you have a smaller, closer-knit group, avoiding the stress and anxiety from spread-too-thin social commitments is easier.

Boosted Mental Well-being: This study suggests that the quality of friendships is strongly linked to mental well-being. 

Authentic friendships, where one feels understood and accepted, can buffer against mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Better Physical Health: Believe it or not, the quality of your friendships can impact your physical health. 

Strong social support can boost immunity, according to this study

Conversely, tumultuous or toxic relationships can induce stress, leading to high blood pressure, heart issues, and other health concerns.

Deeper Emotional Support: Fewer friends don’t mean less support. It’s often the opposite. 

A tight-knit circle ensures that you have a solid support system when the going gets tough. 

This emotional backing is paramount for resilience and coping during challenging times.

Longevity: This study found that social connections – or the lack thereof – can influence one’s mortality risk. 

Good, close friendships can increase lifespan, possibly due to the combined benefits of reduced stress, emotional support, and healthier habits that friends might encourage in each other.

Encourages Healthy Behaviors: Good friends often encourage each other to adopt healthy habits, whether hitting the gym together or trying out a new, nutritious recipe. 

So, fewer close friends mean there’s a higher chance these influences are positive and consistent.


What Does a Cluttered Friendship Look Like?

Minimalist friendships

I discussed earlier what happens when you apply the consumerism approach to friendships. 

It’s like that junk drawer everyone has but never wants to admit to – filled with random knick-knacks, expired coupons, and maybe even that one mystery key. 

But instead of things, it’s people and emotions. 

So, let’s break down what a cluttered friendship landscape looks like:

The “Hey, Long Time!” Buddies: You run into them occasionally, do the whole “we should totally catch up!” song and dance, but neither of you moves.

Your phone might have their number saved from a decade ago, but can you remember your last real conversation with them?

One-Sided Effort: Ever felt like you’re the one always initiating, planning, and rescheduling? 

If you stopped texting first, would the conversation die out? 

If yes, there’s some clutter lurking.

Drama Central: There’s always some issue bubbling – misunderstandings, secrets, or plain old gossip. 

Every interaction feels like a new episode in a soap opera. 

You’re left more exhausted after hanging out than before.

The “Just Because” Friends: You’ve known them forever, maybe from kindergarten or that embarrassing phase in middle school. 

You’re clinging to shared history, not the current vibe. 

The sunk cost fallacy often plays into this, too.

You guys might’ve been BFFs back when slap bracelets were cool, but now? Meh.

Ghosting Galore: Conversations that drop off mid-way, perpetually rain-checked plans, and a general sense of unreliability. 

These friendships have more disappearing acts than a magic show.

FOMO Fuelled Connections: These are the pals you hang out with just because you fear missing out, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy their company. 

You see them at every party, but would you call them during a personal crisis? 

Probably not.

Digital Overload: Your social media is teeming with ‘friends.’ 

You get likes, comments, and emojis from them, but strip away the digital interface, and there’s little real connection left. 

Your feed is bursting, but your heart? Not so much.

In addition, I always find it a good idea to ask if you would invite them in if they rang your doorbell for a surprise visit. 

You might not even recognize them in real life without the “insta-filters.”

Vague Boundaries: Who’s in your inner circle? Outer circle? 

If everyone’s meshed together, with no clear boundaries of trust and intimacy levels, things can get messy. 

It’s like mixing up your laundry – colors bleed, and everything’s a wash.

The “Benefit” Buddies: I know what you are thinking…no, not that kind.

You connect with these folks solely for a benefit: networking, freebies, or some other advantage. 

The friendship, if you can call it that, is entirely transactional.

Furthermore, studies show people often feel more lonely despite having more “friends” online.

One notable study on this topic is from Primack et al. titled “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.” 

The study found that young adults who spent more than two hours per day on social media platforms reported twice the level of perceived social isolation compared to those who spent 30 minutes or less. 

Furthermore, participants visiting social media platforms more frequently (58 times or more per week) had about three times the odds of perceived social isolation compared to those visiting fewer than nine times per week.

Simply put, even though these individuals were more “connected” in the digital realm, they felt more socially isolated in real life. 

This suggests that the quantity of online interactions doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, meaningful connections that ward off feelings of loneliness.

So, in essence, a cluttered friendship landscape is much like a cluttered room. 

It’s filled with items (or people) that no longer serve a meaningful purpose in your life. 

It’s not about heartlessness; it’s about recognizing that space is finite in your room and heart. 

Tidying up can bring clarity, peace, and genuine connection.


How to Gracefully “Declutter” a Friendship?

Now, what if you need to declutter a “cluttered” friendship?”

This is a delicate situation, and much like Marie Kondo might suggest parting with that sweater you haven’t worn in three years, sometimes you need to evaluate relationships that no longer serve a positive role in your life. 

But since we’re dealing with emotions and human beings and not old sweaters, here’s a guide to gracefully “declutter” a friendship:

Self-Reflection First: Before making any decisions, reflect on your feelings. 

Why do you feel the need to distance yourself? 

Is it a pattern in the friendship or a one-time event that has upset you? 

Understanding your emotions will guide your approach.

Open Communication: If the relationship was once close, it deserves an honest conversation. 

Share your feelings without being confrontational. 

Use “I” statements like “I feel” or “I’ve noticed” to avoid sounding accusatory.

Gradual Distance: If an upfront conversation feels too abrupt, you can start by subtly reducing your communication. 

Respond to messages less frequently, decline invitations politely, and take some space.

Set Boundaries: If specific behaviors are causing strain, be clear about your boundaries. 

For instance, if your friend consistently brings up a topic that makes you uncomfortable, let them know.

Avoid Gossip: When distancing from one friend, it’s crucial not to involve mutual friends. 

Avoid discussing the friend you’re distancing from, as this can create more drama and misunderstandings.

Stay Polite and Respectful: Always maintain basic politeness even if you’re reducing closeness. 

A smile, nod, or brief greeting goes a long way when you bump into them.

Reevaluate Periodically: With time, feelings can change. 

Periodically assess whether this distancing still serves your well-being or if there’s room for reconnection.

Prioritize Your Well-being: If the relationship becomes toxic or harmful, prioritize your mental and emotional health. 

Sometimes, a clean break is necessary for personal well-being.

Seek Guidance: If you need more clarification on your decision, consider seeking guidance. 

Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist who can provide an objective perspective.

Remember, it’s natural for friendships to evolve, change, or even end. 

The goal isn’t to have a vast circle but a genuine one. 

Like any form of decluttering, it’s about quality over quantity and ensuring that your physical or emotional space brings you joy and positivity.



This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.