Is Minimalism Different on a Lower Income?


I have been trying to figure out the answer to this question for weeks now and I keep going back and forth and then I told myself, dammit make a decision. I scanned the internet reading about other people’s minimalism journeys and I couldn’t fully relate to some of the articles and videos because their lifestyle is just so different from mine.

It’s hard to fit me into a specific demographic because statically I am not like people in my age group. My peers have homes, vehicles, cluttered garages, spouses, pets, children (and even grandchildren). I live alone, in a small apartment with few assets.

The Job
My job is confusing to many. I work as a cleaner and I like it. I have a routine, the days fly by, and I provide a valuable service and everyone is very friendly. I am pretty well paid thanks to our collective bargaining agreement. I went to school, learned a craft, but the job market tanked and my industry crashed and burned and never recovered. There are those who loathe that I do work that is perceived as beneath my white middle class upbringing but the very same people are very much out of touch of the realities of finding well paying meaningful employment in a global economy. It’s complicated, a little cut-throat and extremely demanding. The stress of my old job was going to shave years off my life but working as a cleaner probably has added years to my life because the job keeps me fit and is very low stress. As much as I like my job, I cannot ignore the fact that I don’t make as much money as other people and since I live alone, I don’t have the flexibility of a two-income household. I have no debt and some savings stashed away but this didn’t come easy. I have to work at it and living with less, certainly helped me achieve that goal.

There are, of course, many things about living a minimalistic life that are universal no matter how much or how little you earn. A life with less crap means less time and energy spent on physical and mental clutter. It helps you prioritizes your needs and wants and gives you the freedom to value experiences and people over material possessions.

Like everything in life, you can’t really ignore the subject of money. It’s just there. I can’t speak for everyone on a lower income, but this is how minimalism is for me.

I’ve never made a lot of money so that means I’ve never been able to accumulate things. There has never been an excess of clutter piling up in a house, garage, storage locker, because there’s no house, no garage, and certainly no extra money to store things at a storage facility. I won’t lie, it can be frustrating to someone who has to monitor their budget constantly to read about people who mindlessly shopped in the past and then have to sell items at a loss to gain control over their clutter. I want to say what the fuck where you thinking? You spent good money on [gadget/toy/novelty item] and used it for a week and then abandoned it to the back of the closet. Do you think money grows on trees?
Nevertheless, I imagine if you are more secure financially, you don’t think about it as much. A wasted $100 might not be a big deal to someone who has an income of $80,000 but a big deal for someone with an income of $30,000.

Fewer Choices, More Decisions
I have fewer options for things which helps me practice minimalism. Many things are unavailable due to my budget (i.e., cable TV, cell phone plan, gym membership, gadgets) so I don’t have to worry about them sucking away any mental energy. I have to say with fewer options, life is considerably less complicated. If you don’t have a cell phone bill, then you don’t have to fret about the cell phone bill every month. If you don’t have the gadget in the first place, you don’t worry about the gadget breaking, being stolen or becoming obsolete exactly 15 seconds after you walked out of the store. Having fewer spending choices result in the freedom from material possessions that minimalism preaches. I do find it maddening when people say “but for only $25 more…” Folks, there is no $25 more. That’s not true, there is the $25 but that would mean either going into to debt or not putting money toward my savings.

I don’t feel as if I am missing out, but I do have to be creative with my choices and decide how to prioritize things. Yes, I can go to the event but I can’t also go out for a meal after. It’s the event or the meal. Not both. I can do spending activity A this week but not participate in spending activity B next week because I know I have to get my haircut or visit the dentist or replace something that has worn out. I may have to cut a night short because I need to catch the bus rather than take a cab home. I still read the bestseller, I just have to wait for the book to come in at the library. I build stuff instead of buying stuff because it’s cheaper (it’s also fun).

So to answer my own question, minimalism is different on a lower income. That’s neither good or bad, just different. Minimalism is a lifestyle that encourages the benefits of less and each person has their own definition of what level of less makes them happy. My experiences are just a different slice of the minimalism pie. A smaller slice because pie doesn’t grow on trees you know.

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