This week I read an essay about minimalism and wealth, and I have to say, I disagreed with it. Here it is:
Wealth, risk, and stuff
Via Anne Galloway on Twitter, I just saw Living With Less. A Lot Less, an opinion piece in the New York Times.
I run into some version of this essay by some moneybags twig-bishop about once a year, and it bugs me every time.
Here’s the thing. Wealth is not a number of dollars. It is not a number of material possessions. It’s having options and the ability to take on risk.
If you see someone on the street dressed like a middle-class person (say, in clean jeans and a striped shirt), how do you know whether they’re lower middle class or upper middle class? I think one of the best indicators is how much they’re carrying.
Lately I’ve been mostly on the lower end of middle class (although I’m kind of unusual along a couple axes). I think about this when I have to deal with my backpack, which is considered déclassé in places like art museums. My backpack has my three-year-old laptop. Because it’s three years old, the battery doesn’t last long and I also carry my power supply. It has my paper and pens, in case I want to write or draw, which is rarely. It has a cable to charge my old phone. It has gum and sometimes a snack. Sunscreen and a water bottle in summer. A raincoat and gloves in winter. Maybe a book in case I get bored.
If I were rich, I would carry a MacBook Air, an iPad mini as a reader, and my wallet. My wallet would serve as everything else that’s in my backpack now. Go out on the street and look, and I bet you’ll see that the richer people are carrying less.
As with carrying, so with owning in general. Poor people don’t have clutter because they’re too dumb to see the virtue of living simply; they have it to reduce risk.
When rich people present the idea that they’ve learned to live lightly as a paradoxical insight, they have the idea of wealth backwards. You can only have that kind of lightness through wealth.
If you buy food in bulk, you need a big fridge. If you can’t afford to replace all the appliances in your house, you need several junk drawers. If you can’t afford car repairs, you might need a half-gutted second car of a similar model up on blocks, where certain people will make fun of it and call you trailer trash.
Please, if you are rich, stop explaining the idea of freedom from stuff as if it’s a trick that even you have somehow mastered.
The only way to own very little and be safe is to be rich.
Minimalism is About Having Everything You Need, and Nothing More
While I definitely understand the viewpoint, I believe that @Vruba from Tumblr is wrong on this one. Minimalism is about having the least amount of “stuff” that is necessary. It’s not about having only 3 items in your life, owning one outfit, living in a tiny house, full time travel, or looking bare. It’s about having everything you need, and nothing more.
If you have to carry around a charger for your laptop, pens and paper for drawing, and a book for reading, then those items are necessary. Just because someone else has a more condensed, compact product, does not invalidate your need for the items you carry. Minimalism is about having everything you need and nothing more- you can carry more items than the next guy, and still be a minimalist.
If you want to buy bulk, you don’t need a big stainless steel fridge in your kitchen. You could buy items in bulk that don’t need refrigerated. Or you could go on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist and search for free, working refrigerators. A lot of times, people are generous and are willing to help you out even further by delivering it for free. Minimalism is about having everything you need and nothing more- if you need and use that second fridge, you can still be a minimalist.
If you you can’t afford to replace all the appliances in your house and you’re always fixing one of them, the tools and parts to those appliances are necessary. Having drawers filled with those items makes those drawers “tool” or “parts” drawers, not “junk drawers”. A junk drawer has unnecessary (junk) items in it that could most likely all be thrown away without negatively impacting the owner’s life. Minimalism is about having everything you need and nothing more- if you use those tools and parts in your drawers, you can still be a minimalist.
If you can’t afford car repairs, and you need a second car for parts, that gutted car is necessary, getting rid of it would not be minimalism. The items you have don’t have to serve the purpose that they were marketed for to be useful. A car you don’t drive is not inherently junk, especially if it is being used for its parts. Minimalism is about having everything you need and nothing more- if you need that car for its parts, you can still be a minimalist.
Minimalism is for everyone, it doesn’t require a certain, empty or sterile aesthetic.
Minimalism is for Everyone, and it Doesn’t Need ‘Expensive’
I hear it all the time that only the wealthy can afford to be minimalists because of the expensive items needed for downsizing. That simply isn’t true. All of my shirts, jeans, sleepwear and dresses combined probably costs $100. My 5 shirts are $3 v-necks from Walmart, and I’ve had them about 18 months now. My 2 pairs of Wrangler jeans are $15 and $25 each, because I bought them on clearance and with a free coupon from a nearby Vanity Fair. My pajama sets were all gifts, but if I had to buy new, I could easily buy high quality ones from Goodwill or Facebook Marketplace and do just fine. My two dresses cost about $10 each. One I’ve had 18 months, and the other 8 years. I have 16 pieces of clothes in total, and altogether, my closet is probably worth $200-$500, the majority of my cost comes from my 3 pairs of bras, underwear, heavy coat, and work boots- which honestly, all of those items could probably be swapped for cheaper alternatives and still have me doing well.
If you want to take up minimalism, there’s no need for you to purchase all new items. In your closet, keep what you love and regularly wear, and throw out the rest. In your kitchen, keep what you regularly use, and throw out the rest- be it dipping spoons, novelty appliances, or even plates and silverware. In your living room, keep what you regularly use, or love to look at as decoration, and throw out the rest. When it comes to minimalism, there is almost never a need to buy new to have less. Simply keep what you need, and rehome or toss the rest.
Minimalism Grows Wealth
Here are 7 ways that minimalism can help you grow your money.
- By decluttering your life, you start to see how simplified and easy it becomes, and you don’t want to go back. You learn to not purchase anything new unless it is necessary. No more binge shopping and shame!
- You have less distractions. When you decide to simplify your life even further by unsubscribing to promotional emails, you remove the temptation to spend.
- Some people have so much stuff, they have to pay other people to hold it for them. There are 4x’s more self storage units in the US than there are McDonalds. These are not just small units either- there’s enough unit space available that every American household could have 21 square feet each. And to add insult to injury- 65% of all households that rent a self storage unit, already have a garage. And to go even further into this absurdity, the third most popular reason for renting a storage unit is because these items are ones renters “no longer needed or wanted”- which is just bananas to me. By taking up minimalism and getting rid of storage units (which unless you’re moving, are pretty much always useless) individual Americans can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars every single year.
- You may realize you need less and downsize. Once your home has been decluttered, you may see that it’s more house than you need, and downsize. Or you may see that you don’t use all three vehicles, and you downsize to only one or two.
- You have much less to care for, which results in less maintenance, cleaning, and overall attention to your possessions.
- You can minimize your budget using the zero based budget or upside down budgeting- and cut lots of unused expenses.
- Those extra items that you decide to downsize can make you money by selling them.
- Do you think Minimalism requires wealth? Is minimalism for everyone?
- How have you incorporated minimalism into your life (or why don’t you)?
- Is it just me, or do self storage units just seem bonkers?
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2 thoughts on “Minimalism is for Everyone, Not just the Wealthy”
I remember those days when I was first starting out (keeping a house and on my own) and had just the bare necessities, and now years later, I see my well stocked house and I see convenience. I no longer have to go to the store to buy common things such as light bulbs, nuts, bolts. screws, batteries, printer paper, bakeware, detergent, shampoos, soaps, clothes, toothbrushes, towels, sheets, phone chargers, etc., etc., (very often). I buy in bulk and stock up. I buy on sale also. I have 3 blow dryers for my hair, more than 1 car, and a back up on most things I use daily; so if one breaks, smooth transition, no hiccups. Maybe that is clutter, maybe I’m a hoarder. I just know for me it’s convenience. My world morphed to this state due to the many years of working and living on a very tight time schedule; maintaining a well stocked house meant more time to me. I was not dependent on a specific laundry day if I had enough clothes & linens to go weeks before needing to do the laundry, and with being solo and working 7 days a week, I needed all the convenience I could muster. When everything that got done around my house depended on me to do it, time management was crucial; even stopping at Walmart after work would have taken time that I did not always have. Overtime, working 7 days a week, commuting, left little time for all that I had to do at home and the daily routine of getting myself presentably ready for work each day. I lovingly refer to my world as “Well Stocked”, and it probably does require a certain amount of cash to get to a well stocked house, closet, & garage but done over the course of a few years, it wasn’t that noticeable to me. Nevertheless, from my point of view, and lifestyle, minimalism meant time consumption. Bet I’m the only one that ever looked at it that way !?!? I earned rewards from my employer for the many years I had perfect attendance and now I am retired and may not need all my ‘back up items’ but I still find it convenient and accommodating. I would sum it up by saying it is personal choice. 🙂
I too believe you can have a stockpile and still be a Minimalist. My laundry room is now a pantry stocked with canned foods, pasta, sauces, and lots of meats in the deep freezer. Almost all of my stockpile foods were discounted if not also coupon items, and it has saved me a great deal of money. I believe so long as your extra items are serving a purpose (and not wearing you down) then you’re in good shape- which it sounds like you are! Thank you for sharing your perspective, that is very neat and something to think about.
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