I’ve been a frugal person my entire life. It’s something I learned from my mom. She grew up with very few possessions in India, reusing every little thing until it was gone because there was no money to buy something new. She would never dream of getting rid of anything that still had an ounce of usefulness remaining or buying new when a secondhand equivalent would work just fine.
She taught me well. That approach to life prepared me to become an excellent bargain hunter and frugalista in adulthood.
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Enter the Age of Minimalism (and Decluttering)
Minimalism is everywhere now. Heck, there are even entire blogs and television shows dedicated to this movement. At its core, minimalism is about prioritizing experiences over stuff. It’s tangentially related to decluttering because, in our society, many minimalists begin their journey with too much stuff and consequently have to declutter to get down to the essential things necessary to actualize a minimalist existence.
There is a distinct “look” to minimalism. You know it when you see it, don’t you? That sleek shiny trash can that fits neatly into the corner of your “just big enough” kitchen? Yeah, you know the one.
As someone who was trained in one of the most frugal childhoods you can imagine, I had to prioritize experiences over stuff because my mom was not about to buy me stuff I didn’t need. The trash can we used throughout my childhood? My mom still has it. It still holds trash, so it’s good to go. It might not fit the look of minimalism, but it meets all the requirements of frugality in the strictest sense.
Giving It a Go
Like most millennials, I was bitten hard by the minimalism bug. I tried it for a good while. Here are some of the swaps I made during that time.
I Bought Nesting Food Storage Containers
This meant ditching my old method of using leftover Cool Whip containers. I had a lot of them and that wasn’t minimal.
I Ditched My Cheap, Scuffed-Up, White Plastic Trash Can
I replaced it with an expensive, pretty, motion-activated model.
I Made My Office (Mostly) Paperless
I purchased a scanner and digitized important documents stored in bankers boxes.
Cost: $149 for the scanner
I Got Rid of My Box of Old Pens, Pencils and Pads of Paper
In turn, I purchased a larger phone so I could take notes in Evernote.
Cost: $600 for a new iPhone
Buying Into the Minimalism Party Line
I purged items that were perfectly suited to the job and replaced them with more expensive alternatives for the sake of a more pleasing aesthetic and space in my cabinets. Going from frugal clutter bug to minimalist hurt my finances — big time.
After a couple years of this, I couldn’t handle it anymore. The frugalista deep inside of me rebelled. I had attempted to embody minimalism with my sleek stuff and “live on less” attitude, but in exchange, I had embraced consumerism; I was spending money that I could have used on experiences instead.
Oh, the irony.
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I finally quit minimalism and no longer feel the urge to pare down my possessions. Years later, I relish the fact that I am not a minimalist. I see others going down the path and chuckle. I imagine one day they’ll realize what’s happening. That they’ve been sold the minimalist lifestyle, aka “conscious consumerism,” when in fact, old-fashioned frugality would serve them better.
In the end, minimalism didn’t work for me. If you’re truly frugal, it might not work for you — and that’s OK.
Note: This article was outlined on a scrap paper from my junk drawer, using my favorite pencil.
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