Minimalism is a particularly polarizing topic in the personal finance space, and with good reason. Many of us would probably agree that minimalism — owning less, creating less waste, living in a less cluttered environment — is a good concept, but it’s nearly impossible to detach it from the associated baggage. It’s ironic that a concept associated with a lack of baggage, both physical and mental, seems to come with so many negative associations. But this happens any time a concept or lifestyle becomes part of a “movement,” particularly when social media comes into play.
A movement centered around owning very little and leaving a small footprint shouldn’t be considered unattainable, alienating or elitist. And yet, super-clean and bright #minimalist Instas have a way of making you feel like a failure, because you happen to live in a poorly lit apartment with a big ugly brown couch and a cluster of family portraits on your off-white walls.
I don’t like it any more than the next dissenter. And yet, I still call myself a minimalist, and I think there are lessons we can all learn from minimalism — even if you really, really hate the idea.
1. Evaluate how and why you buy things ahead of time
In the past, even telling myself to only go shopping when I knew I “needed” something was a lost cause — living in downtown Toronto often means going out for one thing and coming back with five, all things I was legitimately convinced I needed. These days, I temper my purchasing mostly through planning ahead of time. I only use my own shopping bags, and I take them with me based on exactly how much I plan to buy. If it doesn’t fit, I don’t take it home. I also adhere to a mental checklist when making any purchase that wasn’t pre-planned. Ask yourself these three questions instead of the generic “do I need this?”: 1) How many days per week will I use this? 2) Do I have space to store it? 3) If I put off buying this for a week, what will my life be like?
2. Live as waste-free as possible
While many minimalist goals seem to be exercises in self-deprivation (living out of only a suitcase, going X days without spending any money), I try to view my minimalism through the lens of what kind of carbon footprint I leave. Trying to live as waste-free as possible (no, not living 100% waste free, because this is nearly impossible and gets into performative self-deprivation territory) has not only helped me feel a lot better about how my habits affect the world around me, but it has also helped me make better spending decisions. For example, I now buy everything I possibly can in bulk and always bring my own reusable containers. I also bring my own grocery bags and travel mugs everywhere, which usually results in a minimal discount (the kind that does add up when you do it enough times). It’s also just stopped me from buying things that are unnecessary and create stupid amounts of waste, like take-out cups of tea, fast fashion (which is a leading cause of textile waste) and bottled soaps and shampoos. By the way, my current bar soap, which I use for body, hair and face, costs $2 at a bulk store, is cruelty-free and is amazing.
3. Take an inventory of your clothes (and other “collections,” like dishes)
Forget about the term “capsule wardrobe” for a second. Aiming to have as small of a wardrobe as possible is not practical for someone who doesn’t know jack about fashion. Instead, introducing new behaviors that help one think about clothing in terms of utility instead of something to “collect” can help you curb unnecessary purchases of clothing. At the very least, you should take inventory of an item like shirts, determine whether or not you are comfortable with owning that much, and the purpose each serves. Think of your clothes through the lens of your “uniform” with a couple special occasion pieces. My typical uniform is usually either a T-shirt, skinny jeans and a blazer, or nice leggings and a big sweater. I may find myself buying new skinny jeans because I need them (and end up tossing out an older pair) but when I evaluate my clothes through these criteria, it helps me give into the temptation to buy those pre-ripped, cropped boyfriend jeans I’m convinced I need.
4. When you can, go digital
It’s usually seen as shallow and a waste of money to brag about the size of a shoe collection, but for some reason joking about the size of your book collection makes you an adorable quirky nerd. Books and magazines are one of the easiest things to clean up by going digital, and yet many millennials will go full-on-baby-boomer on the idea of switching to e-books. Look, book smell and the sound of flipping through pages (not to mention how your book collection can look like a little mini-trophy case to visitors) are great, but the fact is, e-books are almost always cheaper (in my experience, significantly cheaper), cause less clutter, and you can take a near infinite-amount everywhere. I’ve also started going digital with my subscriptions to most publications, and have moved almost everything I used to do on paper to an electronic equivalent. Why not utilize technology you already have with you at most times to clean up your collections a little?
5. Plan your day more thoughtfully
When I said I have moved “almost” everything I used to do on paper to electronics, I left out the exception of my daily planner. I’m not actively into bullet-journaling (it causes more stress than it solves for me), but building the habit of putting all my tasks and goals for the day/week in one central spot has helped me get more stuff done in limited amounts of time. We’ve all seen enough YouTube videos of cool minimalistas filling out their daily planners in a perky “Plan with me!” video enough times that we may want to cringe at the concept all together, but actually taking the time to set your goals and intentions for the day can help keep your day more organized and not leave you with the sense of flailing through your obligations. Of course, you can do it electronically as well (not everyone needs to plan their day in a tangible planner), but I lead a significantly more productive and less wasteful life when I actually have before my eyes a list of what I need to accomplish.
There are two wonderful things about meditation: One, pretty much anyone can do it. Two, it helps with so many things. When I started meditating at the end of every day (with the help of one of the many free apps out there) I was initially doing it to help me deal with my social anxiety and stress management. Eventually, however, meditating also taught me how to deal with things like calming my impulses (like shopping) — I started to internalize the practice of waiting for things. It’s easy to shrug off a term like “practicing mindfulness” as pretentious nonsense, but meditating can help you learn to say “I am okay with where I am right now,” which is a true principle of minimalism.
Bree Rody-Mantha is a business journalist and dance teacher living in Toronto. In her spare time she enjoys sport climbing, lifting and running the vegan food blog, Urban Garlic. Follow her on Twitter here.
Image via Unsplash