Have you heard the one about the minimalist? Lessons on downscaling and decluttering

Growing up, a compulsive hoarder stayed next door. His yard swarmed with a number of objects, rusted cars, old gym equipment, deteriorated furniture — you name it, it was there! Frankly speaking, the stuff he hoarded seemed quite useless — being either broken or obsolete.

One observation I would always make was the difficulty this man’s junk replete yard presented to him. I noticed how the things in his yard often rendered him incapable of moving about freely, as the clutter often restricted his movements. I think that there is a lesson about financial wellness to be learned from my neighbor — such as the pitfalls of owning ‘too much’. In this article, I discuss a view called minimalism, and what we stand to gain from it, in our journey toward financial wellness.

Minimalism explained

One simple way of understanding minimalism is by thinking of it as a movement that seeks to empower people to live lives that are free from anxiety, fear, and depression (Millburn and Nicodemus, 2011:11). This triad can arise from (among other things) a world embedded in the pressures of consumerism, arising from the presiding capitalist order that partly lures us into accumulating more and more.

Further, we can think of minimalism in two senses: what I call strong minimalism (SM) and weak minimalism (WM). SM refers to a view involving owning a bare minimum of absolutely essential things (e.g very few articles of clothing, identity documents, minimum furniture, etc). However, this doesn’t seem practical for me at all as it seems to impose too many restrictions bound to make one unhappy. So, I then suggest a second conception of minimalism — WM. The view I have in mind seeks to nudge us to constantly survey that which we own and ask ourselves whether we can do without those things. Hence, weak minimalism (which I endorse), in short, merely calls us to live a life of moderation.

Some practical strategies

So having elaborated what I mean by weak minimalism, let me move onto to explore some practical strategies one can consider in their path toward a moderation-bound and minimalist life. I do so by suggesting two primary actions involved in considering being a minimalist: downscaling and decluttering.

Downscaling, as I define it, involves making ‘qualitative evaluations’ while decluttering involves making ‘quantitative evaluations’.

By using the term ‘qualitative’, I mean to suggest that downscaling involves efforts of trying to lower the size (roughly quality)of say, ones one’s car, one’s house, and one’s overall possessions, as to determine whether one can opt for smaller alternatives which still perform the same functions as those larger objects. By using the term ‘quantitative’, on the other hand, I mean to suggest that decluttering involves efforts by the minimalist to lower the number of objects that one owns — by eliminating superfluous elements in our lives.

In sum, downscaling entails choosing smaller alternatives for objects while decluttering entails trying to lower the number of things one owns.

So what are the benefits of pursuing a life of minimalism?

Well, there are significant advantages to becoming a weak minimalist. Decluttering, for example, could allow one to have more ‘space’ as one does away with the quantity things that they don’t need. This can also have a social responsibility slant to it as there is the dual benefit of you getting rid of things that you don’t need while helping others; by donating stuff like those old shoes that you haven’t worn in ages!

Another upside to being a minimalist here would be that through downscaling one can even position themselves to boost their liquidity (i.e. disposable money) in the process. That is, by lowering the proportion of one’s income that would otherwise go into debt, such as a high vehicle installment. By being more liquid, one can re-channel that money and supplement other areas of one’s life such as saving or an investment in an Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF).

Further, downscaling, when done properly, can also result in decreased debt which is likely to be a good thing. I think it follows that one is likely to open less clothing accounts, for example, which might decrease the amount of debt to one’s name. However, this type of minimalism must not be so extreme as to leave one operating with ‘ghost transactions’. By these, I mean constantly participating in cash-based transactions and purchases so much so that a good credit score becomes difficult to attain. In our pursuit of becoming minimalists, we must also still ensure that we’re seen as financial agents with a consistent payment track record as to ensure credit scores.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said that ‘we are rich not because of what we possess but what we can do without’. One reading of what Kant means by this is that part of truly being rich is being able to discern and distinguish the things (material) that are truly important in life. Perhaps a move from the big to the small, from the many to the few might be a worthwhile consideration for those seeking to nourish their financial wellness.

So perhaps it’s time we considered a more minimalistic life.

References:

Millburn, JF & Nicodemus, R. (2011). Minimalism Essential Essays. Mins Publishing.

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