Minimalism and money: are you poor?

Money Saving Cash Minimalism Coins Card Save Minimalist (1 Of 1) 2

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

When decluttering causes regrets

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Writing Ideas (2)

I have regretted decluttering two items in my life.

It took me about three years to realise that I regretted giving up one of those items.

And the second one, I can’t be sure if it’s even gone – it might turn up one day but I might have donated it. I just don’t know.

The trouble is that, although I’m happy – over the moon, in fact – with the rest of the stuff I’ve decluttered and the resulting peaceful life and tidy home, I tend to focus on those two items.

The ones that got away.

I don’t need them. I wouldn’t use them. But they were mine once. And now I miss them.

Do you have items that you’ve given up that you regret? Perhaps the item marked the end of an era, of a dream completed, or of a project discarded? Was it the full-stop to that time of your life? Were you happy to see the back of it at the time but now yearn for those hazy days?

If so, you may have an idea of how and why I’ve come to rue my impulsive decisions.

Let me tell you what specifically I have regretted decluttering:

The first and least bothersome is a jumper. A simple black jumper. I enjoyed wearing it for years. I probably donated it because it’s such a basic item; something that can be easily replaced and I may have even already got a duplicate black jumper. I know I currently have a perfectly acceptable one in my wardrobe.

But that doesn’t stop me from hankering after the old jumper. It was the best-fitting jumper I’d ever owned. It was supremely flattering, with a scoop neck and a figure-skimming waist. But now I can’t find it, so I’m assuming that it’s gone. That it was donated with any of the other bags of clothes I’ve cleared out.

However, I think I’m remembering it in a rather more favourable light than it actually deserves. Perhaps the knit was bobbled and pilled? I think I remember the black looking a little faded? Was that scoop neck really a little too low for my liking? Did it even fit me anymore? It had probably come to the end of its life when I decided to let it go.

But I still think about it from time to time.

The more worrying item is a childhood book. This time I know I’ve decluttered it. Because I remember it being worth some money so, once I’d decided to declutter it, I sold it.

I didn’t declutter it because it was worth money – that was just an added bonus during lockdown when the world was an uncertain place and we needed extra money, not knowing what would happen to our jobs and our future.

I specifically remember not wanting it at all – it almost gave me the ‘ick’ looking at it – and being certain about decluttering it along with other books, childhood toys and so much more stuff. I think I was searching for order in a chaotic lockdown world. In fact, the pandemic had turned me into a hoarder and I wanted to regain control of my home and my mental health.

So I let that book go.

And now, three years later, it’s pinged into my mind.

I suddenly want to see it again.

More specifically, I want to smell it.

The pages had a certain smell – warm, milky, oaty – that took me straight back to reading the book as a child.

It wasn’t a story I cared about and I don’t even really remember the content or how many pages it was. But I remember the pictures and I loved that smell.

I miss that book.

So much so that I’ve been searching online to see if I can find it again to replace it. But even if I did find the same book, it wouldn’t have the same scent – so what would be the point of owning it? My childhood memories are all tied up in the aromas, not the plotline. Replacing it would feel hollow and would just remind me of the one I gave up.

So I won’t be replacing it and will just have to work on letting it go in my heart as much as I let it go in my brain.

I admit, this particular item was given up during a bit of a whirlwind declutter. A month or so of quick decisions and unemotional moments. Maybe if I had decluttered more slowly, this single regret wouldn’t have happened.

In Episode 410 of The Minimalists Podcast ‘Declutter Slowly‘ they discuss how it’s perfectly acceptible to take your time while clearing out your belongings. They make the point that it will have taken time – maybe ten years or more – to have accumulated all your possessions. So, you may need to take just as long to rid yourself of those items.

There’s no need to remove excess belongings overnight – although the all-at-once method may work for you. Sometimes, you might need to put a little more work into the decluttering process, particularly with personal items, and let things go mindfully.

And I think that a little extra thought before decluttering might have minimised my regrets.

But, then again, to have only two items haunting me out of the thousands of things that have gone is quite an achievement.

And one of those items I don’t even want anymore.

Now that I’ve written about the jumper, I’ve become more certain that it was time to let it go and that I wouldn’t even want it if I had it here now. That’s like decluttering it for a second time – it’s out of my mind now as well as my home.

If only I could feel the same way about that book.

Fields Millburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2023) ‘Ep.410 | Declutter Slowly’, The Minimalists Podcast, YouTube [Podcast]. 18th September 2023. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlR1gV5TE40&t=365s (Accessed 20th September 2023).

What would you put in one box?

Minimalism Minimalist Box Declurttering Theory Question Moving Move Storage

If you had to fit your life into one box (or suitcase, trunk, or even the boot of a car) could you do that?

Would you need to get rid of a lot of stuff before you could consider packing up and moving to a new place?

What’s essential for you to keep and what could you easily replace if you had to?

What would you find difficult to let go of? Would you try to cram it into your box, even if it meant giving up something else?

All these questions arose when I was reading 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think by Brianna Wiest and was reading her essay titled ‘101 Things more worth thinking about than whatever’s consuming you’.

Although these questions I’ve posed above weren’t in the list of 101 Things, they popped into my head when I read the following question that Brianna suggested:

What you’d put in one box if you had to move to the other side of the country and could only bring that.

Brianna Weist (2017) pp. 70.

Amongst all the existential queries, this question grabbed my attention. It spoke to my wannabe-minimalist self and made me stop to really think about what I would put in that box.

Of course, I changed the question slightly for my own thought project – moving to the other side of the world is more likely to require you to only take a small amount of possessions, so considering a suitcase to take to another country made the question more real for me.

When I began to consider it seriously, I soon realised just how many items I would quickly drop from my list of essentials to take with me.

I first thought about clothing and toiletries but soon realised that I could probably re-buy everything I really needed when I got to the other side of the world. Aside from a couple of days’ worth of travelling clothes and personal care essentials, everything else could be replaced.

So, what actually IS irreplaceable and essential in my life?

My first thought was the people and animals I love but, of course, I’m not squishing physical beings into a box, so I’m taking them out of the equation.

I started to look around my home. What did I actually need? What would I be sad to have to give away forever?

The photo albums always seem to be a big pull for me. I don’t have the best memory but, when I see a photo, I can probably tell you the exact location, the occasion, even the year, month and date. So, photos are a BIG memory prompt for me.

But I don’t need the albums for that. In fact, the yearly scrapbook albums I make would take up all the space in the box and then some. So they couldn’t come with me anyway.

Instead, I’m taking a hard drive with digital copies of every image with me in that box. I’d scan all my childhood photos and wedding albums and transfer all my jpegs from my computer so that I can still see all those photos in the future.

Although, thinking about how important my photographs are to me, I don’t trust that the hard drive would make it to the other side of the world in one piece, so I might even back up the hard drive with a second one that I keep on my person while I’m travelling. That sounds like the safest option.

Oh, or I could upload them to a cloud storage facility – if only I could figure out how to do that. Maybe I don’t need those hard drives after all? That’ll save me some space in my box.

So we’re back to zero items.

The Minimalists (2010-2015) pp 76

Let’s not be so strict. I’m going to think about what I would take if the box was quite large.

My computer would be nice to take and expensive to replace. Likewise my phone and all other smart tech in my home. But they’re not sentimental items and are completely replaceable. Urgh.

I would like to keep my important documents; my undergraduate and master’s degrees, my marriage and birth certificates, my passport and driving license, maybe even my NRA. Not very imaginative but I’d ideally like to have these documents with me.

There are some artworks in my home that I wouldn’t want to have to give up; important pieces handmade by my creative friends and family, or given to me as gifts on significant occasions, or ones that commemorate an important person or era in my life.

Again, most books I can access digitally or replace, but I’d like to keep a few; my childhood copies of The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark and poetry books by Janet & Alan Ahlberg (which got me into reading for pleasure at a young age) and my original The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates that I studied with during my A-Levels and which I still re-read every year.

As a writer and avid reader books are an important part of my life and although I’m willing to give most of them away, those are the handful of books that I don’t want to give up. I’ve only once regretted decluttering a book from childhood so I’m going to cling on to these ones and make sure that they fit into my moving box.

I might cut out and keep all the magazine articles I’ve written rather than moving shelves of magazines with me. But, then again, I have PDFs of most of them already, so that’s not really necessary.

We need to look more closely at sentimental items. I would take a handful of jewellery items that I’ve inherited or have been given by my husband. I’d keep a perfume that is no longer in production but that transports me back to my youth. Maybe the first music album I bought with birthday money as a kid.

I have a pair of sparkly shoes that are so uncomfortable that I’ve only worn them a handful of times but that was my first shopping trip purchase as a teen. Actually, no. They could go if there wasn’t space in my box.

As you can probably tell, I’ve been working through the question posed by Brianna Wiest in real time, so you’re getting a kind of stream-of-consciousness answer from me. But I wonder how similar your thoughts would be to my own when considering what you would pack into that one box?

What you might have initially thought of as being essential, important or sentimental might just turn out to be replaceable for you too, when you really think about it.

Perhaps this exercise will be helpful in determining what you could declutter as part of your minimalist journey. I know I’ve certainly identified a lot of things I thought I wanted but don’t actually need.

Maybe I could make some more changes now to help me achieve a more clutter-free home…

So, what’s going in your moving box?

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

Weist, B. (2017) 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think United States: Thought Catalog

We’ve all got boxes we haven’t unpacked

Minimalist Home Decor Hotel Decluttering Boxes 1

Which is the perfect excuse for decluttering when you’re becoming minimalist but don’t want people to think you’ve gone to the extreme.

I found myself saying this when my husband mentioned a recent minimising session to some friends of ours. I immediately jumped in with “Yes, well, we’ve got boxes in the garage that we haven’t unpacked since we moved three years ago, so we probably don’t need them.”

Our friends nodded knowingly and agreed that they too probably had the same in their loft. We moved swiftly on with the conversation without any mention of minimalism. Phew.

Now, I don’t know why I didn’t want want to make a big ‘thing’ about our journey into minimalism. In fact, I’m usually rather happy to share my opinions on how less in more and that we don’t need to buy so much stuff.

I mean, I’m writing a book about it now, for goodness sake.

But at that moment, I felt a bit weird about it. Probably because I wasn’t where I wanted to be with minimising our belongings at that moment and I didn’t want people to come into our home and be surprised by the amount of stuff we still have.

On the other hand, I already felt a bit extreme with the amount of minimising we had already done and didn’t want to admit to the vast volume of donating, shredding and clearing we’d already done.

I felt like my innate minimalist urges might not be understood and I didn’t really want to get into a discussion about the mental wellbeing I was uncovering as a result.

My conversation swerve worked. I got away with it. I’d downplayed it enough and made it relatable enough that it appeared wholly sensible to clear out those boxes.

Because we ALL have those boxes in the garage, the loft, under the stairs, under the bed. The boxes we haven’t looked at in years.

Those boxes make it easy to understand why someone would be getting rid of their stuff, and the mere mention of those boxes usually elicits agreement in anyone you discuss them with.

So if you find yourself being questioned about your minimalism journey and want to help someone understand why, just casually slip those boxes into the conversation.

Because we’ve all got them.

And none of us need them.