Less is more.
This is often what is regurgitated by and to us with our consumption styles coming under increasing scrutiny after the conversations surrounding sustainability and climate change have become something which we no longer can ignore. Having less is seen as the key to combating materialism, the greatest curse of capitalism. It’s said that as we start focusing on what we need rather than what we want, not only will the world become a better place, but so will our finances. However, how much truth does this really hold? Let’s take a look.
The concept of minimalism emerged in the early 1970s as an art movement in the West, in the post-World War II era. Since then, the art form has seeped into multifarious areas of visual arts, music, architecture and even technology. Minimalism is strongly characterised by incorporating not more than one or two basic colours, most commonly white or black, in a setting and using only functional objects, again focusing on the lesser or the minimal spectrum of things. By achieving a certain level of sophistication, minimalism appeals to the aesthetic sense of people, because it aids in achieving a waste-free lifestyle.
Brands like IKEA and Muji are following the minimalist approach, banking in on the customers’ evolving lifestyle from materialism to minimalism. This Japanese-inspired movement has particularly shown the most drastic changes within the interior decorating space. As Marie Kondo puts it, only keep things which “sparks joy”, customers are gravitating towards decluttering and organizing minimally.
This is also manifested itself in the way people manage their personal finances. “Minimalist finance”, a term largely meant to indicate that finances should again be managed and planned out in accordance with the rules laid down for minimalism is yet another trending topic, or if I may be so brave to say it, “a fad”. The concept of minimalist finance is based on 3 basic tactics; firstly, having a simple budget focusing primarily only on all the essentials like rent, grocery, cell phone charges and electricity bills and devoting maybe 10% to non-essentials like concert tickets, restaurant bills, etc. The second step is always tracking your expenses, a fairly difficult job for many but nonetheless, extremely crucial to ensure that you’re on the right track. And lastly, deciding on the amount you wish to allocate as savings, be it for charity, in some funds, it’s your choice.
Therefore, financial minimalism is built on the idea that every person should complete freedom from financial stress, concerns and guilt over overspending by leveraging the need to focus on what you really want and cutting down on everything else. However, just like the flip side of a coin, financial minimalist and minimalist lifestyles in general, suffer from a few drawbacks.
It’s not to say that financial minimalism is bad, in fact, it could do wonders for many. The less is more theory, if applied by having just one credit card or a single checking account could simplify things a heck lot and might result in fewer expenses, however, this is not universal.
A “rich, white person’s lifestyle” is what minimalism is often described as. Basically, if you’re rich and privileged, you can afford to have fewer items and dispose of things you no longer need. This feat cannot be achieved by poor communities who rely on things they’ve had for years and let’s not discount the fact that a lot of poor people hold onto things due to the emotional value attached to them. Another problem is that while minimalism advocates owing the right things, these right things often cost a lot and again, can only be afforded by rich individuals.
People with low income can’t rely on having things for “experiences” rather they need those things to fulfil their needs and function well. Minimalism might also lead people to develop a lackadaisical attitude, since when they start focusing only on what they need, helping underprivileged folks might take a backseat.
In the end, it’s only a personal choice and hence, can’t be debated for too long. Practising financial minimalism might be a good idea since it may make a ton of difference to your budget forecasting and planning. However, finding the right balance is key. The philosophy of minimalism makes some pretty good arguments in terms of reducing wastage of resources and contributing to more sustainable living. But as we all know, sustainability, again, is a concept largely exclusive only to the rich folks, since it costs a lot. Therefore, structural reforms and tweaks are required to make minimalism a reality for all of us, not just the top 1%. Financial freedom is crucial and the need of the hour, however, it’s time to question whether the current form of minimalism is the answer or not.
- Referred to Medium’s article dated 24/4/2019