I was watching a video by TechLead recently, where he talks about his problem with YouTubers (you can watch it on his channel, TechLead Show, here).
While I often share many of his viewpoints, he said something in this particular video that I disagreed with right away.
Here is the quote (he is referencing young adult youtubers) – I’ve highlighted the specific line I disagreed with.
“…or to promote some idea or philosophy maybe they don’t even believe in so much themselves like minimalism. I mean c’mon, let’s face it most of these kids are just broke, they couldn’t afford a car or house even if they wanted to and so then they justify this as ‘minimalism’. Whereas if you take a look at the real deal, someone such as myself. I mean I can afford these things and yet I don’t go after it and that is what true minimalism is about. These other people don’t know what they’re talking about, they cannot. It’s like a poor person trying to tell me they don’t need money. The message is much more powerful when it’s a rich person giving away all of their money.” (starts at 02:20)
Now, it’s hard to tell how much of what he is saying is just him being sarcastic (after watching many of his videos, I think it is more the case than not), but I feel it is still a good point to address because there are many people who hold this view.
Is minimalism only for rich people?
There is a view – shared by well-off and lower-income people alike – that minimalism is the exclusive domain of the rich.
This misconception shows a lack of deeper understanding of what minimalism is all about.
Minimalism is about more than just choosing to buy less, and choosing to own fewer things.
I’ll go into this in more detail further down this post, but even if we just focus on the angle of buying physical ‘things’, it is not only rich people who;
“…buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
― Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover
Rich people may have more opportunities to practice minimalism, but minimalism can benefit anyone no matter their income or status.
There are plenty of middle class and low income earners who hoard, who impulse buy, who spend money on things as a compensation for growing up poor, or who spend money as a way to signal their status (whether actual or ideal).
I myself have had to deal with the lasting effects of growing up in a struggling single mother household, when it came to my views of money and material objects.
In the documentary The Minimalists: Less Is Now Joshua Fields Millburn talks about his upbringing on food stamps and how his childhood led to him constantly pushing to earn more, to have the fancy cars and big house filled with expensive furniture and fancy suits.
The definition of minimalism
In terms of minimalism as a lifestyle, there isn’t an actual dictionary definition of it.
The Minimalists define minimalism as;
Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.
This is how I define minimalism;
Minimalism is to live intentionally and without waste or excess.
In society today it is common for people to spend their days at a job they hate, and then spend their money and free time on things that help them ‘escape’ their reality.
Never stopping to ask “why do I want to buy this?”.
“Am I spending money on this item because I have been conditioned by society, and effective marketing and persuasion, to want it?”
This is applicable to people of all income levels. Excess and mindless consumerism can be owning multiple high-end cars, or it can be eating junk food multiple times a week.
It doesn’t matter how much you’re spending – it is still possible to spend money on things that don’t add real value to your life.
The desire to hold on
“It’s interesting because when you’re poor, it’s like, when someone offers you something, you take it.”
― Ryan Nicodemus, Less is More
If you don’t have much money, it can be very difficult to turn down things people give you. Even if it is something you don’t need at the time or may never need, it still may come in handy ‘someday’, and so you keep it, stored away. You have such limited hard-earned money, you feel like you can’t lose the opportunity to own something that you would otherwise have to pay for.
My grandfather uses a small mirror to shave in the morning. He used the same one for many years, and eventually it was so broken it was being held together with duct tape. He was given a new one to replace the broken one, but it was put away, for ‘just in case’. This would happen repeatedly – gifts would be stored away in cupboards, unused for ‘just in case’, while continuing to ‘make do’ with old and broken versions.
It took me many years to understand that this was a result of growing up poor, and came from a fear of not having enough and not being able to get the things that they needed.
This is a very difficult mindset to deal with. But it shows that there is still the opportunity to practice minimalism even if you don’t have much money to begin with.
I feel that having something, and not using it, is identical in outcome to never having it in the first place.
Minimalism and Living Intentionally
Minimalism is less about ‘things’ and more about intentionality. It is the intentional process of getting rid of the fat, the things that don’t have value to us, and surrounding ourselves with the things that do have value to us.
The first step for many when it comes to minimalism is to get rid of clutter. There are many different ways to do this (for example, The Minimalists’ Packing Party, or Marie Kondo’s KonMari method, or doing a big decluttering sweep of whole rooms or homes in one go, among others).
I approach decluttering in a way similar to Marie Kondo, in that I consider each item that I want to get rid of. I like this approach because this way I am aware of why I am getting rid of an item, rather than just getting rid of things for the sake of getting rid of them. I am aware that this approach doesn’t suit everyone, though.
While not one can tell you how many things you should have, it is clear from the first hand experience of many that when they surround themselves with the things that actually have meaning and value to them, that they feel better. And getting rid of excess physical clutter in their lives would often lead to ‘clearing’ up in other areas of life, such as getting rid of toxic friends.
While some minimalists take it to an extreme, it is a process that is unique to each person.
Doing it for the likes
In the particular video I referenced at the beginning of this post, TechLead is talking specifically about young adults who are broke and are creating content just for more views and likes, while not actually believing in the philosophy itself.
Like any way of life, philosophy, religion or creed, there will be those who espouse it while using it to gain favour or money, or as a maladaptive coping strategy, or even as a way to escape from their current reality rather than dealing with it.
You don’t judge an entire school of thought by cherry-picked examples of those who are poor adherents of the school of thought. To do so is ignorance or intellectual dishonesty.
Minimalism is a path of discovering and creating meaning in our lives by being critical of the ‘needs’ that we have and the things that we surround ourselves with in an intentional way.
This version of minimalism doesn’t have any income requirements.
There will always be critics of it, and this is often based on a misunderstanding of minimalism.
All we can do is to keep living a life that is intentional, authentic with our values. Live a life made better through minimalism.