Living Simply: Minimalism and Money… are eerily similar.

I was recently posed a very interesting question that I believe is well worth answering.

A commenter asked me why I (and many others) appear to equate stuff with stress. They said they noticed this pattern on sites about minimalism:

“Stuff = unhappiness; stuff = no freedom; stuff = stress; stuff = no spirituality; stuff = a weight holding me down; I want to fit my stuff in just a car, etc. What has that go to do with enjoying your life?”

I think this is an excellent question!

To begin, I think it’s worth mentioning that this question is not usually addressed in minimalist circles because the majority of practicing minimalists don’t ask it. Most people I know who have embraced simplicity or minimalism inherently understand why stuff = stress, restriction, unhappiness, etc. Most of us have sought simpler lives because of this reason. And interestingly enough, the commenter inadvertently answered her own question later in the comment:

“I have a house with lots of furniture, lots of books, lots of dishes and yet my husband, daughter and I are very happy, have personal freedom and can move around when we want. We partake in the things we love, i.e. our family and friends and our stuff doesn’t prevent us from travelling around, i.e. skiing over Christmas holidays north of our city; Caribbean cruise in February; skiing during March-break in Vermont; skiing during Easter in Banff, Alberta and in the summer we usually rent a villa in Provence or Tuscany for a month and bring a couple of our daughter’s friends (this year we’re going to Australia for July and August). We live in a large city that has some fantastic restaurants, festivals and art venues and participate in all the activities our city has to offer. We are not “weighed” down by our stuff nor does it create stress.”

So here’s the simple answer:

It’s all about finding a balance. To achieve the kind of freedom we all crave, you have to have the money to buy it. This isn’t a difference between having a lot of stuff and having no stuff. This is about having enough money to support your dream life. Minimalism provides a way to live our lives the way we want to, without having to worry about finances, life “maintenance” (housework, long work hours, etc), or unnecessary pressure to maintain a certain social status. You know what else provides all of those things? A lot of money.

Commenter, I don’t want to sound cynical or condemning here. I choose to believe that you were just asking a question, without sarcasm or malice. And in a way, I truly envy you for the life you get to live. But unless you have found a way to travel the world, take vacations on a near-monthly basis, and escape work for weeks at a time for free (and if you have, please share your secrets!) then I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds when I say that you must enjoy a pretty fantastic income.

And if that is the case, I have no judgement. Seriously – I am really happy for you! But the reality is that most of us just don’t live the same way. I believe that everyone has the same opportunity to climb the corporate ladder and reach a high level of financial success. But the majority of people I know who have embraced simplicity started where I did: at the bottom. And a climb from the bottom to that level of wealth generally takes years and a single-minded focus that is not exactly conducive to a peaceful, free lifestyle.

A lot of money can buy you a house big enough to hold everything you own without creating clutter, allow you to move wherever you want, give you the freedom to travel, and (with the help of a decent housekeeper) can take away the strain of housework. But so can minimalism.

There’s a definite line there. If you have almost enough money, it doesn’t work. Almost enough money often means your mortgage is a burden. Almost enough money generally means that vacations are things you have to save for, working long hours the rest of the year to compensate. Almost enough money usually means that you still hold your breath at the end of every pay period and breathe a sigh of relief when the paycheck clears. This is where the majority of middle-class America lives. And for us, minimalism is the alternative.

People with dramatically high incomes can support the kind of life you described without stress. Those of us on the much lower end of the income scale have discovered the same freedom and peace through keeping our level of stuff (size of house, number of expenses, etc) proportionately lower. It’s all about finding an equilibrium. And for those of us who can’t find balance by tipping toward the money end of the scale, we’ve found that tipping toward the “less stuff” end has the exact same effect.


19 thoughts on “Living Simply: Minimalism and Money… are eerily similar.

  1. I discovered another thing this morning about the benefits of minimalism – I nearly got broken into in the early hours and, whereas in the UK it would have led to sleepless nights etc, I’m not that worried now – after all I have barely anything worth enough that it would be worth stealing! Strange how that has become a benefit in my mind but there you go – oh, and I’ll be keeping all my doors locked from now on too 🙂

    • Oh no! I’m glad you aren’t stressed about losing your stuff, but I hope you are able to stay safe. 🙂 We don’t wanna lose you! 🙂

  2. I’d like to venture an answer here. But let’s first say that one was wealthy enough to have a large uncluttered house full of stuff and enjoy the luxuries that were described above. In this case, what would be the benefit of minimalism? It isn’t the actual “stuff” that prevents a life of spiritualism, joy, freedom, and peace of mind. It is how we allow ourselves to cling to the idea of that stuff. When the majority of our lives are spent working for stuff, buying and maintaining stuff, and thinking about other stuff we want to get, it is easy to get our happiness all tangled up in stuff. When we are too focused on material things and the fleeting excitement of new experiences, we forget to cultivate a spiritual life, a sense of greater purpose, and the kind of happiness that is NOT ephemeral. The danger in that is that we suffer greatly with the fear of losing the things that we think are creating our happiness, and if we actually do lose those things, we suffer even more. Studies have shown that once our basic needs are taken care of – food, shelter, clothing, community, love – our happiness level will not rise above that. In fact, getting caught up in wanting more than we need actually causes LESS happiness. There is also, of course, the aspect of not taking more than our share from the earth, and living in a way that supports a healthy and peaceful world. From a material viewpoint, we need to live in a way that we would be okay with all 7 billion people on earth living, otherwise it is like we are saying “it is okay for me to do this, but I don’t think you should.”. Can the earth support 7 billion people having a 5,000 square foot home filled will stuff, three cars, swimming pool, etc?

  3. Our pastor at church (and my “boss” since I work full time for our church) spoke on this subject this past Sunday, in terms of how we make all this stuff we feel compelled to own into idols. It led ,me to muse on this question: ‘Since, due to really unfortunate life circumstances, I live on the edge of economic disaster, does that make me any less likely to fall into the trap of idolizing stuff? After all, there’s almost no “stuff” I can afford to buy.” It’s an interesting thought to muse on. On the one hand, I like living a fairly simple life. On the other hand, the inability to afford small treats, new clothes, etc. for myself or my kids tends to make me want them all the more. Kind of an interesting conundrum.

  4. Amanda, this is so perfect. Yes, ic you can afford to have all those things you must have a high income. I can only imagine the security needed on that home while they are away on vacation, or the housekeeper that has the house ready to come home to. I would be stressed to have to clean a large home after being away for two months, especially the summer when keeping the house closed up would leave it smelling musty.

    I live on that bottom rung, I like minimalism because it gives me freedom. I don’t have to worry about insurance or any of those other expenses I would need if I owned more. And yes if I wanted to travel I could without worrying about my stuff. Like The Smidge said I have no fear of losing something due to robbery either.

  5. Even if I had all of the money in the world, I would still live a very minimal life. Possessions do weigh you down and people will never find true happiness in collecting a lot of stuff. It’s a psychologically proven fact. Experiences and community, not things, make us happy!

    • I agree with this.
      Me and my boyfriend (also a minimalist) say all the time, “If we won the lottery, there are very few things that would change in our lives.”
      I like having all my stuff in one place, my loose ends tied, and my schedule free of unwanted commitments.
      Right on!

  6. Loving this post Amanda!

    “Stuff = unhappiness; stuff = no freedom; stuff = stress; stuff = no spirituality; stuff = a weight holding me down; I want to fit my stuff in just a car, etc. What has that go to do with enjoying your life?”

    This is it!

  7. This has been a question I’ve been thinking about for a while. I think for me all comes down to mindset. Sure, having less stuff might not have anything to do with enjoying life but I know for me it does. It has a negative effect on me when I buy something only because I think it will make me look good, define me, make me happy or give me my identity. For the person who doesn’t have this problem, more stuff is no issue but for me it is. I have to remind myself that my happiness and my worth is not wrapped up in possessions so the more stuff I have, the harder it is to do this. Living with less for me is about finding meaning, joy and happiness no matter what I have but right now I need to live without the distraction of stuff- the pointless stuff that could be used by others (which is a different reason altogether to live with less- our duty to care for creation). I will still enjoy and use the stuff I do have however, so it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the mindset.

    Great post by the way. I very much agree with what you said and love how it makes you think.

    P.S. I just found out I got an HD for my essay I wrote about simple living/creation care with your blog referenced. The marker wrote that it had an “excellent bibliography.”

    Thank-you for your excellence.

    • I’m so happy for you! Well done. 🙂

      I totally agree about minimalism and the mindset of finding happiness outside of possessions. I didn’t want to make any assumptions about the commenter’s mindset, so I tried to only address the bits of minimalism she did. But I think you are 100% correct. 🙂

    • To me its all about living a lifestyle that YOU want to live despite the norms of society. We’ve been trained to think that having this and owning that will elevate our status, so people strive to keep up with trends. To me that’s just part of the rat race that keeps us from what truly matters in life.

  8. To me too many possessions= stress. You can travel the world and enjoy traveling but your stuff, is still sitting home waiting to be taken care of. You will never truly be free while your possessions still own you. I am not saying to live out of your backpack but I do think minimalism and living simply do lead to more freedom. Freedom for you and freedom for your money.

  9. I agree with some of the other comments, that it’s not about stuff, either having it or not having it, because I personally don’t believe that focusing on either one of these can bring true happiness. The things money can’t buy are what bring happiness and meaning to my life. Family, friends, joy, health, love, peace, community, All without price, but of immeasurable worth!

  10. Excellent post! Life is about balance for everyone… even though your commenter seems to possibly have enough money to provide no need for balance I would still venture a guess that something was or is being sacrificed to maintain that lifestyle.

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