We had a good discussion in the Rethinking the Dream Facebook Group this week. One of our members asked, “Do your friends think you are cheap?” The discussion was fun to read as everyone weighed in on how they defined “cheap” and, more importantly, on not worrying about what other people think of you.
Around the same time as that discussion, I read a post on The Joy of Simple about Spring Decluttering. In that post the author, Lyle, talked about decluttering and how he didn’t initially consider it to be part of “Simplicity”. He’s warming to the idea as he starts a spring decluttering project.
The thing that strikes me in the Facebook discussion and the decluttering post is that everyone has slightly different ideas about frugality, simplicity, and minimalism. You might throw environmentalism into that mix as well since it sometimes accompanies the others. I have come to enjoy the different viewpoints of these common terms. It is really cool that everyone takes one of these terms and shapes their view based on what suits them and their situation.
I have seen a wide spectrum of people call themselves minimalists. Some have only what fits in a backpack. Others, like me, have more stuff but make a conscious effort to not buy junk that you don’t need. Many other people fall somewhere between. To me, minimalism is about not having a bunch of extra stuff that you don’t need. It’s about making conscious decisions about what you buy, and making sure that the things you buy are things that will be used on a regular basis. And when we do buy something it about buying better quality items, things that last longer or perform better.
I know many people that have less stuff than I do. And those people might even think I’m a bit silly for calling myself a minimalist. But on the other end of the spectrum are many of my friends, peers, and family, that think I’m bit crazy for downsizing so drastically, selling our house, and moving into a smaller apartment. Minimalism is a sliding scale and people fit at many different points along that scale.
The same holds true with simplicity. Some people interchange simplicity and minimalism, while others think they are completely different. On one end you might have someone living on a farm without any modern conveniences and on the other you could have someone living in the city, working for themselves, and enjoying a simple life. Like minimalism, simplicity is a sliding scale.
Sometimes these terms and ideas are used interchangeably, sometimes the are unique but related, and sometimes they are complete opposites. Frugality, for example, can be used to describe those that lean towards simplicity or minimalism. To some, simple and minimal go hand in hand with being frugal with your money. Some minimalists can be quite the opposite, however, freely spending money on actives and adventures, or on high quality products. I’ve seen many people that are frugal that are not minimal or simple at all, and in fact lean towards cluttery. In our Facebook discussion it was even mentioned that some frugal people can be hoarders. It’s easy to see how someone active in couponing could accumulate a lot of stuff for a small amount of money.
The same goes for environmentalism. For some, simplicity and minimalism go hand in hand with environmentalism. It’s easy to see how reduce, reuse, and recycle can fit in with a simple or minimal lifestyle. For others, the effort of recycling could be seen as an affront to simplicity. Tossing everything in the trash is certainly simpler than sorting recyclables.
The real point is this: Are you making conscious decisions about how you are living your life? Too many people are drifting through life without questioning anything. They don’t question their lifestyle, their spending habits, their direction in life, or the philosophy that guides them. I’d rather see a minimalist that is living with a lot of stuff and has thought about what they are doing, than a minimalist with few things that hasn’t questioned whether their path is leading in the right direction.
The discussion on Facebook also hit on the topic of what do other people think of you. Once you’ve asked yourself the tough questions, looked at your life, and made some decisions on what you want your life to look like, you start transforming your thoughts to actions. Many of these thoughts and actions are contrary to what is considered normal in our modern consumer driven world.
It’s easy to doubt yourself when others around you are living a drastically different lifestyle. Not only are they different, but they’ll sware up and down that your minimalist lifestyle is a total waste, and worse, detrimental to your kids. The key thing that you need to remember, is that you have taken the time and effort to consider the alternatives. You’ve looked at those around and seen that those with more are not any happier. You may have even experienced the consumer driven, keep up with the Joneses lifestyle, and decided it wasn’t for you. You have put thought into what you want your life to look like. You looked at the pros and the cons. You aren’t drifting through life doing what everyone else thinks you should do. You are an active participant in the planning of your life.
Why should you take advice from someone that hasn’t looked deeply at the alternatives? Why should you take advice about minimalism from someone that has no experience living a minimalist lifestyle? The typical consumer driven person has no experience from which to offer advice on minimalism (or simplicity or frugality). Would you take medical advice from someone with no training and no experience? No, so why would you take advice on minimalism from someone that hasn’t experienced it.
If you spend some time observing people, you’ll find they often spill their inner most secrets without even realizing it. These secrets come out in the form of unrequested criticism. When someone criticizes your decision to sell your house and downsize, you can often peek behind their veil and see their own fears coming to light. They may be afraid they have more house than they can afford. They may be a little jealous at your new found freedom. Fear and jealousy can cause people to lash out and say things to convince you to not deviate from their idea of normal.
Most don’t do this intentionally. They really can’t help themselves. All their lives, they have worked to have more — a bigger house, fancy cars, more stuff — and for you to toss that aside as meaningless can easily strike them with fear. For a brief moment they will be scared that they have made some bad decisions, or worse, that their entire life is headed down the wrong path. They will then work overtime to justify their current lifestyle, and this includes lashing out at you over the fact that you have deviated from normal.
Life changes, and to a greater extent, changes in philosophy are scary. If you went down the path of the typical consumerist before switching to minimalism, you likely had some fears. You may still have them as others tell you that you are crazy and that your kids are suffering. The difference between your fears and their fears is that you have faced your fears. You faced your fears and still made the decision to pursue your own path. That puts you a step ahead no matter what any else tells you.
Minimalism, Simplicity, Frugality, and Environmentalism mean different things to different people. The only important thing is what they mean to you. Apply these philosophies in a way that suits you and your family. Don’t disregard all criticism, but evaluate it and decide if it really applies to you. You are finding the life path that suits you best, and the fact that you are looking at alternatives puts you ahead of most of your friends and neighbors.
Open discussion in the comments section. What do you think? What do these terms mean to you? Do you see others projecting their fears when they discuss these things? Discuss these topics or share your own feelings.