Is Minimalism Only For Rich People?

Photo by Breather on Unsplash

“This shit is only for rich people” is something I see often when reading through comments on message boards and articles and blog posts about minimalism. I don’t know if that’s true. Actually, I’m not sure. I am not an extreme minimalist and I am definitely not rich.

The more it stews in my brain, the more I think it’s true.

But, as I’ve said before, it all depends on your definition of minimalism.

To me, minimalism means having the minimum amount of things needed to live a healthy, happy life. It means making realistic and fulfilling sacrifices. It does not mean living irresponsibly or dangerously.

Do you ever see those homeless people with shopping carts overflowing with stuff? That’s because it doesn’t make sense to throw something away that will be difficult to replace later. Would you throw away a blanket if you didn’t know if you would be able to make it through a cold night in a month or two? Rich people don’t have this obstacle. Everything is easy to replace when you can afford to pay for it.

So for the sake of this article, I will look at two versions of minimalism: Extreme Minimalism and Frugal Minimalism.

Extreme Minimalism

These are the people that only own 36 items. Or that travel the world out of one bag. From my perspective, this sort of minimalism is only for the rich. Or at least the financially stable. This sort of minimalism requires a certain amount of security — of knowing where your next meal is coming from, so to speak.

I can’t afford to throw out or donate a perfectly good pair of jeans. It makes much more financial sense to wear through what I currently own before tossing it. On vacations I can’t buy a new coat at my destination and donate it when I am done. I can’t live exclusively live in AirBnBs like the (in)famous James Altucher. He gave that up though. And it’s easy to see why.

Frugal Minimalism

A frugal minimalist buys only what they need but is unlikely to throw something out that they might need. This is the major distinction between an Extreme Minimalist and a Frugal Minimalist. While an Extremist Minimalist will throw something out if they don’t see an immediate use for it (knowing it can always be replaced), a Frugal Minimalist will hold on to that item (knowing it will be financially irresponsible to throw it out.

My ideal version of minimalism leans more towards the frugal side. The extravagant version of minimalism outlined above seems too wasteful considering my current situation.

Another interesting component of argument is outlined by Terry Pratchett:

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

This is an interesting viewpoint because it stresses that being cheap and being frugal are not the same thing. A minimalist should embrace being frugal and avoid being cheap. Being cheap would mean buying three pairs of crappy jeans when one pair will cost 3x as much but last longer. There’s always some math involved here. Math is frugal.

My Conclusions

This post doesn’t provide an concrete answers. It is more of a thought process that is just as much for me as it is for you. I only know enough to know that I don’t know everything.

Being an Extreme Minimalist, whatever that means, is probably only for rich people. Keeping spares on hand or buying in bulk isn’t essentially minimalism, but it is frugal. And the intersection of minimalism and being frugal is perfect for my needs right now.

More reading

Mrs. Frugalwoods of Frugalwoods fame, wrote a great article about this — How Decluttering Saves me Money, Time and Stress.