To Be or Not To Be a Minimalist

MinimalismThe concept of Minimalism has been picking up a lot of steam lately. It appears to me as though it’s almost become trendy in the personal finance world. And while Minimalism has its endearing qualities, is it something we should strive for?

First, let’s do a little defining. Here are a couple of definitions of Minimalism from a couple of prominent Minimalists:

Minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom. Source: The Minimalists blog

It’s simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much. It’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly. Source: Leo Babauta

I agree with the concept of Minimalism as defined above, but what does that actually look like in real life? It’s hard to gauge. One man’s excess is another man’s necessity. So while I generally agree with the premise, in reality it goes a bit too far for my taste.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about having/acquiring less “stuff” and putting more of our energy towards the things that ultimately matter, like our communities, families, and relationships. I totally agree that experiences are more important than things and that our culture has fallen headfirst over the cliff of consumerism. But, does that mean we should all become Minimalists that strive to rid ourselves of every excess around us? I don’t think so.

Subway JaredA 180 degree turn doesn’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And that guy Jared from Subway didn’t lose all that weight in just a week. If you are in a difficult financial situation or have been in one in the past, you know that it takes time to dig yourself out of the hole. Minimalism probably isn’t going to be what you turn to. Smaller changes are more likely to create better long term effects because you’re more likely to stick with them.

Cutting back IS important. Did you know that stressing over finances can have the equivalent effect of knocking your IQ down by 13 points? Almost a third of Americans face this stress head on every day and feel those devastating mental effects. Debt has worse mental health consequences than a low income. So with those stats in mind adopting a more minimalistic approach to life can be incredibly freeing. Sit down and make some hard decisions. What can you really do without? Because doing without the mental anguish of debt and over-consumption is something that would be incredibly beneficial to you in the long run.

Money StressFind your happy medium. You can change your financial predicament. All you need to do is figure out the things that are essential and, in the words of my friend Paula, “cut ruthlessly on things that don’t matter so that you can spend lavishly on the things you love most.” Make sure that your money is being used wisely in ways that affect your life in a positive manner. I call it figuring out your Big Why of money. Once you’ve made that life assessment you’ll be well on your way to cutting your extraneous spending and paying off the debts you’ve been neglecting, all while keeping the things you hold dear in tact.

So, To Be or Not to Be a Minimalist?

It’s a tough question and, as we’ve seen, Minimalism can be difficult to define. But if you define it by cutting back, consuming less, and being more thoughtful it’s a great approach to money. So let’s take a long and hard look at our lives. Let’s cut back in the places that don’t really matter. This isn’t a call to sell all your possessions. It’s a call to be intentional. To live a simpler life. And that is a great place to start. Maybe in the end you’ll find yourself gravitating more and more towards Minimalism. And that’s ok.

Does Minimalism interest you? Anyone out there ready to sell all their possessions and become a Minimalist to the MAX!?

[photos courtesy of Hilde and Marsmett]

15 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    October 07, 2013

    I’m way more on-board with “intentional living.” The minimalism agenda is getting pushed a lot in the PF community, and I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the versions out there. This is a really solid recap and enlightened way to think about your approach to both life and finances.

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  2. Avatar
    October 09, 2013

    I do think there are things we can ‘cut back on’ and wouldn’t make a difference, but I still couldn’t get to drastic with this. Husband is the ‘collector’ in our house, I’m the ‘minimalist’ one, but we still get a lot of stuff.

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    • Avatar
      October 09, 2013

      I’m with you. It’s nice to declutter. I’m all about downsizing your lifestyle. But extreme Minimalism isn’t in the cards for me and my family.

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  3. Avatar
    October 10, 2013

    I’m decluttering but it’ll be a long time before anyone will be able to call me a minimalist. But for now, getting rid of stuff is very freeing.

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    • Avatar
      October 11, 2013

      Same here Jan. But I’m ok with that! Minimalism isn’t my end goal. Having less junk and needless stuff is.

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  4. Avatar

    Interesting post Joel. I’m all about balance when it comes to “stuff’ and can feel it when I am getting cluttered and inundated with crap that really does not add to happiness. That is when it is time to throw on my minimalist hat and reduce and put a moratorium on accumulating crap. I agree with Jan, it is so dang freeing. But long term minimalism as defined by the hard-crore, no way.

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    • Avatar
      October 11, 2013

      I’m with you Kyle. Looks like I need to get a Minimalism hat. Wait, no, that’ll just add to the clutter!

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  5. Avatar
    October 12, 2013

    As you noted, I believe “minimal” will vary for each individual. The key is to define what is – and is not – important for your well-being, and adopt behaviors that support that.

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  6. Avatar
    October 13, 2013

    I view minimalism as sort of a cyclical countertrend against all the overconsumption of the past century. By today’s standards, nearly everyone was a minimalist 200 years ago.

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    • Avatar
      October 13, 2013

      Good point SB. I agree that a movement is forming, and in large part due to the overconsumption we’ve seen lately.

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  7. Avatar
    October 17, 2013

    Love this, Joel. There does seem a big push for a minimalist lifestyle. You said it best, “One man’s excess is another man’s necessity.” Sometimes we just focus too much on what others are doing – whether we’re trying to keep up the Joneses or show-off our frugal values. The best thing you can do is figure out what matters to you.

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  8. Avatar
    April 04, 2014

    I’ve looked into minimalism quite a bit, but think in its true sense is too extreme. I prefer simple living. Get rid of all that you don’t need, don’t buy “stuff” that you don’t need. Most of all, stay away from debt, you were right about the health detriments.

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