Minimalism and money: are you poor?

What a question.

I’ve heard it many times within the minimalism community. People asking minimalists if their way of living is simply because they can’t afford to buy the things that everyone else can.

There are many reasons to adopt a minimalist lifestyle – stress relief, saving time, freedom from anxiety, sustainability and environmental factors, rebelling against consumerism.

And money.

That can certainly be a key reason why someone would want to embrace minimalism. And that comes in various guises:

  • Spending less on stuff so that you can work less and have more free time
  • Simply not having the excess income available to spend on anything above the essentials
  • Saving money for a financially stable future rather than spending it on trinkets now
  • Selling additional belongings to make much-needed money from your clutter
The Minimalists (2010-2015) pp 8

But it’s not necessarily about being ‘too poor’ to buy things; minimalism can be embraced for any number of reasons, not just to improve your finacial situation.

In my opinion, minimalists are the most wealthy of all – time rich, managed money, invested relationships. As The Minimalists said above, they know what adds value to their lives, which is an eviable situation to be in. Whether with lots of money or with none, their lives are complete.

But, if you have savings, a secure home, investments and all the essentials, what’s left to do with your money?

An interesting question.

I spent many years as a student (and in my twenties… and thirties) not being able to afford stuff. I had less-than the minimum needed to live on, and was often floundering in my student overdraft.

But, oddly enough, I spent more then than I do now. Having no extra money to play with didn’t ‘force’ me to become a minimalist – although that would have probably helped my financial situation at the time. Instead, I just carried on spending money, buying non-essentials and not considering my financial future.

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2021) pp 57

That is until the debts got a little too grand for my liking. Until I wanted to put down roots and save a deposit for a mortgage. Until I couldn’t even afford my monthly bills. Things had to change and I simply stopped spending.

I got a budget and started to save every penny. Saving became addictive – and I wasn’t even considering minimalism as a way to save money back then.

In truth, I’ve always been a saver, but just didn’t have the funds while I was studying to be able to do that. It was only after starting to manage my money more carefully that I discovered minimalism and all the things that it would help me with – primarily peace and calmness, but also saving extra money on unnecessary shopping.

Well, I’ve been decluttering and cutting back and not shopping and not spending for so long that it feels a little alien to buy anything now. My money automatically stays in my purse and in my bank account rather than being spent. The furthest it moves is into my savings account, and sometimes into my mortgage as an overpayment.

Minimalism brought extra money to me when I sold excess collections during decluttering. It saved me money when I questioned the need to buy anything new. It meant I didn’t need as much money to live on, because I didn’t need a budget for browsing the shops. So I could work less and save more.

After a decade or more of minimalist living, it’s just a way of life for me now. And money doesn’t feel scarce any more, all thanks to minimalism.

But that doesn’t mean I want to go out and spend it now that I have it.

It’s not that I don’t want to invest in new items when my old tech, clothing and homewares have worn out or broken, it’s because I’ve become so accustomed to not buying anything that I really consider it before I do.

However, when I feel more secure in my financial situation, I admit that I am much more likely to spend money. I feel more free to browse the shops, knowing that anything I buy won’t put me in a difficult position fiscally. From buying second-hand items from charity shops to purchasing the latest technology frrom glossy elecronics stores, I can be more free with my money because it doesn’t feel scarce.

And when I did hit the shops recently, it was rather exciting. I felt a little giddy when exchanging my money for goods. Carrying those bags home, bursting with new items. What an experience.

But that’s all it was – a one-off experience. The novelty of shopping soon wore off. I’m not NOT buying items because I can’t afford it. I’m just not interested in recluttering my home. I’d rather spend on experiences (meals out, day trips, theatre tickets) than things.

Kaplan, J. (2015) pp 95

I can spend money as easily as the next person; it’s just that I would rather buy an experience that’s not going to clutter up my home.

Minimalism persists, while money comes and goes.

We are not minimalists because we are poor. We are not poor because we are minimalists.

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2010-2015) Essential Essays by The Minimalists. USA: Asymmetrical

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2021) Love People Use Things. Great Britain: Headline Home

Kaplan, J. (2015) The Gratitude Diaries. Great Britain: Yellow Kite Books