In reading more about minimalism and pursing a more simple life, I stumbled across some attitudes toward it that were interesting.
Ideas like “only wealthy people can afford to be minimal, as they can replace something if they really need to” or, “minimalism is only for the privileged, who can choose it rather than do it out of necessity” pop up in opinion articles across the web. Ideas that seemed dismissive of people’s efforts to live more simply, like “minimalism is just a trend for wealthy people with too much stuff.” Sure, they’re just opinions (and everyone’s entitled to one), but they got me thinking two things: I’d have more respect for someone who had a lot of money and chose not to waste it, not less. And that there’s plenty of people who were/are minimalist out of necessity.
I started thinking of people like Sami Womack, whose family was almost $500,000 in debt when they embraced minimalism and a more frugal lifestyle to pay it off. “We almost completely stopped going out to eat, we started packing our snacks while we ran errands, we opted for family game nights instead of nights out, we stayed home more, and basically just learned how to slow down our life. We found a light of hope,” she wrote. This led to other changes: Womack wrote that “after pursuing Minimalism and down sizing about half of our belongings we realized that we just don’t need this big of a house.”
Or I thought of people like Dave Ramsey, the popular budgeting guru who said, “debt caused us, over the course of two and a half years of fighting it, to lose everything.” He now advises people to “live like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later” through a counter-cultural, more minimalistic lifestyle.
Here’s the thing:
Regardless of income level, regardless of whether or not you are able to choose a simpler lifestyle or you have to by choice, overconsumption– the typical “American way of life”– isn’t good for anybody. It’s not good for our homes, it’s not good for our planet, it’s not good for our wallets.
Minimalism isn’t about throwing away or donating things you actually need or truly may need in the future.
But one aspect of it is about getting rid of the excess that you don’t truly need or use. Another important aspect of it is minimizing overconsumption, which can happen at any income level thanks to credit cards, today’s advanced marketing tactics, one-click online purchasing, and a variety of other things.
Have you ever seen an episode of a show like Hoarders? The people featured keep much more than they need for several reasons, one being they are afraid to let go of something that they may need in the future. But this rarely happens.
I read a popular thread in a minimalism group on social media where someone had asked, “have you ever regretted selling or donating an item?” The overwhelming answer was, no. For the few “yeses,” the respondents mentioned only 1 or 2 items out of potentially tens or hundreds of items that were removed.
Let’s look at shoes. Someone could say, “I can’t afford to downsize my pairs of shoes because I can’t afford to replace them, and they wear out.” Or, “I’ll regret it if I donate these.”
The average American woman (not the super wealthy) owns 17-20 pairs of shoes according to several sources. Yet, this woman only wears 3-5 pairs of them on a regular basis. These extra unworn shoes are money sitting in her closet, unable to grow interest in a savings account or be put towards a goal like paying down credit card debt or student loans. They could be sold to grow a savings account or help accomplish one of these goals.
“Of all the shoes owned, most people only use 3 or 4 pairs. Imagine all that wasted time spent working for buying shoes you don’t even use—working hard without enjoying the fruits of your labor…The more you use a pair of shoes, the cheaper they become per use. This is the key to consuming smartly—bring down your cost per use…” — Psychology Today
Regardless of income, everyone has things sitting around that never get used. The average American has over 300,000 items in their home.* Items hidden in the back of closets, things stuffed in junk drawers and under beds and bathroom sinks. Even if we never sold or donated a single item in good condition because we think/know we couldn’t replace it, there are still plenty of ways we can incorporate minimalism, like getting rid of:
- Paper items like bills, receipts, ticket stubs, brochures, take-out menus, unwanted memorabilia, excess crafts and artwork
- Socks with no match
- Items that are damaged beyond repair
- Things that have expired like medications, foods, old make-up, and toiletries
- Power cords to items we don’t own anymore
- Clothes we know we will never fit into again
- Clothes and shoes our children can’t fit into (that can’t be passed on to a sibling)
The beauty of minimalism is that it can fit anyone because it fits everyone differently.
Take the idea of choosing to give experiences as gifts, one typical characteristic of minimalism. For some, this may mean that they are able to take their children to Vail and go skiing for the holidays, instead of piling a bunch of presents under their Christmas tree. But if you have $25 to put towards your child’s holiday gift, minimalism can also look like spending that on a trip to the zoo instead of a toy. Or maybe you have $5 to spend on Christmas. Minimalism can also look like spending that $5 on frosting and sprinkles and having a Christmas cookie decorating afternoon with your kids, instead of spending it on trinkets from the dollar store that will end up in a landfill.
So is minimalism just for someone “well off,” or someone who can choose it? I don’t think so. For someone who is trying to get out of debt or maintain a very tight budget, minimalism can help with those things, not hinder them. We should support each other on our journeys towards less stuff and a more simple, intentional life. These things are beneficial regardless of income. Each journey will look different, and that’s okay.
What does minimalism look like for you? Please share in the comments.
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Related reads on minimalism and overconsumption: