What Is Minimalism, and Is It Worth Your Time? Art by Jonan Everett

Jonan Everett

What Is Minimalism, and Is It Worth Your Time?

•  4 minute read

Minimalism is a luxury. If you don’t have much to begin with, you hold onto everything you have.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about minimalism and how great it is. It’s called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. I was really inspired and felt like jumping out of bed right then and there to throw out half the stuff I own. Of course, when I moved two years ago into a much smaller home, I had already done that.

I think minimalism appeals to so many of us because we don’t want the focus of our life to be on stuff. Instead of caring about all the crap we can buy, we would rather focus on things that can really make a positive impact on our lives and our world. Of course, most of us are too busy living our lives to develop a whole philosophy centered around how many items we own.

My Family’s Experience With Minimalism and Frugality

What Is Minimalism, and Is It Worth Your Time? Living life with less sounds appealing, doesn't it? But is it as practical as it seems? Learn what minimalism is and whether it's worth your energy. #Minimalism #minimalismlifestyle #frugalliving #frugallivingideasAs I’ve pondered this over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother, who turned 100 in 2016. When she was in her 80s, she lived with my parents.  And when I was in my early 20s, I got to spend quite a bit of time with her — usually when we cleaned the kitchen together after a family meal.

Further Reading: “Bargains and Leftovers: How to Save Money on Food”

While I would wash the dishes, she would put away the food. It didn’t matter if there was just a tablespoon of mashed potatoes left; she was going to put them in a container and save them for the next meal.

We didn’t have fancy Tupperware containers then. Why in the world would she spend money on those when she could save margarine tubs as she used them up?

I watched her wash out ziplock bags to be reused. I have even seen her wash off aluminum foil and use it over and over again to cover baking dishes in the oven. And I will admit that 24-year-old me could get pretty annoyed over aluminum foil being washed.

The Difference Between Minimalism and Frugality

This incredibly frugal woman was no minimalist. She and my grandfather saved everything because you never know when you might need something.

They didn’t throw anything out on their farm. Instead, they fixed their belongings and kept them for years.

They bought quality items that would last longer than they would. When you are poor, you can’t afford to be a minimalist. Think about it.

My grandmother had an inside freezer and an outside freezer. She had a large utility room where she kept all of the vegetables she had canned and her fruit preserves.

Minimalism vs. Frugality:
What's the Difference?

These two concepts sometimes get conflated and are often misunderstood even by their practitioners.

  • Minimalism is a lifestyle, generally based on placing a higher relative value on experiences over material accumulation. Loosely, it changes the measure of success from being the accumulation of things to being the experience of relationships. It is typically experienced as a journey, beginning slowly and gathering momentum to become a driving force.
  • Frugality is a tool to create financial change in the short term. By reducing spending to bare essentials, funds are freed up to divert to other purposes. Frugality is a great tool for getting rid of debt or accumulating a pool of money to take advantage of an upcoming opportunity. Very few people can successfully maintain an extremely frugal lifestyle long-term.
  • The intersection of the two is small. They share only a sliver of common ground. Minimalists often spend freely on relationships and experiences. Frugal people avoid any “unnecessary” expense. To the extent they do take trips, they are budget-driven, not relationship driven.
  • Neither is representative of financial literacy. You can be frugal or practice minimalism while also being either financially literate or financially illiterate.
  • Minimalism doesn’t necessarily require long-term planning. It’s hard to imagine being financially literate and eschewing planning. Frugality is a poor substitute for financial literacy. On a long-term basis, financial literacy will produce far greater results than frugality could imagine.
They had to have all of that space to keep their food because there was no other way to get the food they needed. It wasn’t like they had a lot of money to spend at the grocery store or anywhere else.

Minimalists today own six shirts. If one gets a hole in it, they just throw it out and go buy a new one. My grandmother? She had to have thread and needles, a sewing machine, and old shirts in case a patch was needed. Oh, and a place to keep all of this “unimportant stuff.”

Further Reading: “6 Things to Spend Money On, No Guilt Involved”

When you don’t have wealth to rely on, you have to plan and save and stock up. When my grandparents’ neighbor needed a spare part or some old aluminum foil? Chances are that my grandparents were able to help because they saved everything.

The Pros and Cons of Minimalism

It doesn’t make sense to throw away items that are in good, usable shape — especially if there’s a solid chance that you’ll need to use it again sometime. It particularly doesn’t make sense for your budget to keep buying something over and over when you don’t have to.

At the same time, I’m not advocating you go out and buy a sewing machine for one project when you are unlikely to ever use a sewing machine in the course of your life. This is when having a community “library of things” comes in handy.

In Sacramento, for example, you can visit their library of things and borrow items that you don’t want to purchase. These include a wide variety of things like video games, sewing machines, board games, and musical instruments. Why buy something when you can borrow it?

If you don’t have one of these in your community, starting one might be a great way to spend your extra time and save everyone in the area a ton of cash. You can also rent items for cheap through companies like Fat Llama, which offers a $25 bonus for signing up.

Rejecting the notion that having a lot of stuff will bring you happiness isn’t for minimalists. You can save needed items without being a sellout. Normal people who have enough sense not to throw good stuff out with the garbage probably understand that.

Further Reading: “4 Warning Signs That You’re Being TOO Frugal”

What Is Minimalism, and Is It Worth Your Time? Living life with less sounds appealing, doesn't it? But is it as practical as it seems? Learn what minimalism is and whether it's worth your energy. #Minimalism #minimalismlifestyle #frugalliving #frugallivingideas