I’ve been watching a lot of minimalist videos on YouTube since I’ve been especially broke lately. I came across an article by Chelsea Fagan of The Financial Diet. She has some serious vitriol for minimalism.
Her critique of the ‘no-makeup makeup’ reminded me of The Anna Edit, who freely admits to liking that look. Anna has professional photographers take a lot of her insta photos, rocks purses that cost hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars, and uses makeup that would kill a week’s worth of my pay. While she makes some fun videos, that life is not attainable.
Anna probably had money to start with and, through hard work and luck, created a life on YouTube and Insta that makes some people hate themselves. So much on social media screams, to quote Fagan, “Look at me! Look at all of the things I have refused to buy, and the incredibly-expensive, sparse items I have deemed worthy instead!”
Part of the minimalist mystique is that it’s voluntary. I think this is why the KonMari method blew up the way it did. You can look at your stuff, decide what brings you ‘joy’ and get rid of excess. Some people can’t get rid of a beat up old coat that doesn’t spark joy because they don’t have a replacement.
“The only people who can “practice” minimalism in any meaningful way are people upon whom it isn’t forced by financial or logistical circumstances”
I missed half a paycheck to take a vacation and it definitely screwed up my finances. I’m forced to not spend extraneously because I have bills to pay. However, I like that I’m being forced to change my ways. I don’t like being this broke but I’m hoping to learn something from this crappy situation.
I don’t live in poverty but it can warp your thinking in ways people who’ve never struggled with it don’t understand. According to John Cheese, you develop tastes for cheap, processed food and often don’t know how to handle money. They will buy the cheaper shoes even if it will fall apart sooner and investing in a better quality item would save them money in the long run. This concept well described by Terry Pratchett.
Some important tenants of minimalism could be useful to people in low income situations where an extra $50 a month could make a huge difference. However, a lot of the more visible minimalists can be pretentious shits so a lot of folks in dire straits aren’t interested in what they have to say.
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, now famous for their devotion to minimalism, write about exactly this but do it in such a way you kind of want to smack them. “If we have less money, then we must be more intentional with how we spend it” is a perfect point that gets overshadowed by the ‘look how smart I am’ name drops in the last paragraph.
I think minimalism started as a natural response to the economic bust of the late aughts. People getting loans they couldn’t pay to buy houses they couldn’t fill eventually tanked out economy. Rather than dive into the consumerist lifestyle that impacted an entire generation, people started going tiny, buying locally, and trying to learn from those mistakes.
As with any major social change, you have people who go to the extreme. These are the spiritual minimalists like Nicodemus and Millburn who promise total life satisfaction. They have a documentary, a podcast, books, and tours. They got rich off capitalizing on this movement. If they’re smart with their money, they will be able to live off this for the rest of their lives.
I think there are important takeaways from consuming less, consuming consciously, and spending wisely. You do not have to be all in or voluntarily participating to find what about minimalism resonates with you. Making it your lifestyle doesn’t make you a bad person; failing to see your own privilege makes you a bad person. I aspire to be more minimal in a lot of aspects of my life. That doesn’t make me a bad or more enlightened person; it just means I’m figuring out what works best for me.