The Privilege Of Minimalism

This month I, along with friends, have culled through excess belongings and started the process of decluttering. Having watched the new documentary from The Minimalists: Less Is Now, we all embarked on the game during January. Some of us want to continue through February, and I say, “Go for it.” I do this kind of thing regularly, so I’ve got a couple of stops to make before I’m in a place where I feel free of the clutter:

  • Another round through my son’s bedroom
  • Another trip through my closet
  • The ever-present crap in the garage

And while I know this was a needed task, something was nagging at me from day one.

I’ll dive right in and ask: Is Minimalism classist? Right now, the buzzword is privileged – rightly so – and it struck me, during a conversation at work (I serve on the DE&I Council), that one of the ways my privilege as an educated white female manifests is in the choices I have. I don’t have to keep that coffee cup because I can simply go buy another one if the one I did keep breaks. I can get rid of those clothes that don’t fit or are outdated because I have the money to buy a dress should I need one.

Stephanie Ladd, a writer, and social justice advocate writes about the documentary on her blog. 

In one scene, Joshua Fields Millburn reads a poem he wrote, talking about the things he needed to buy when he moved. He listed off things that I would never have dreamed of affording. Things that seemed ridiculous, as a poor person, to even consider purchasing. I’d never stepped foot into an IKEA. I’d never known rugs for decoration. Rugs were to keep feet warm if I was lucky enough to find someone who could give me one they no longer used. But there he stood, complaining about the ability, the privilege, to buy these things.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re confused by my sudden turn on minimalism. Rest assured, my life is less about minimalism and more about simplicity. I get that I’m not always frugal, and I spend money on completely unnecessary things. But these things (my Freshly subscription, my express delivery membership on Instacart, my access to Amazon Prime two day shipping) are not about frugality – they are about freeing up something more valuable to me than money: Time.

Wow. As I re-read that last sentence I’m ashamed. What a fucking elitist thing to say. Right? I’m not proud of this revelation. I am, however, more cognisant of it.

I know. I’m struggling with this because there was a time – not so long ago – that I was on food stamps. Here I sat with two graduate degrees in a situation where I couldn’t find a job in my hometown that paid a living wage. There were just more candidates than positions available. When I finally landed a full-time job with a local non-profit, it was still less than half what I was making when I moved from Michigan. I was grateful for the job I had, but I also needed a second job to make ends meet. I had separated from my husband and was juggling childcare expenses and basic needs while he decided when, and if, he’d provide any support. To say I was living paycheck to paycheck was generous. I was usually behind on some bill. It was a tough time mentally and emotionally for me. I was a single mom with most of the responsibility (my ex sees his son four days a month), and while I would not trade that for anything, the stress was overwhelming.

I say this because, yes, I agree with Ladd. Minimalism is classist. Consumerism preys on the poor (in spirit and in the pocketbook sense), and while none of my friends are hoarders by any stretch, I think we could all agree that we buy shit we don’t need, but want, all the time. And I’m not sure that’s bad – I buy things I want, too – I just wonder if it could be considerably different. 

I think it can be considerably different. And I want to share my thoughts on this:

1) Buy stuff you want. Seriously. I just ask you to consider this: How much is enough? I have petty discussions with my guy all the time because he takes in pyrex dishes like an old lady takes in stray cats. I simply do not understand it (because I don’t like to cook), and I don’t have to understand it. I have an affinity for glass storage containers and colored pencils. What can I say? But, I am more mindful of this now since January is coming to a close, and I plan to make better choices. For example, my employer loves their brand (and I do, too!), but there are just so many ‘free t-shirts’ I want the responsibility of washing. I have declined ‘swag’ before, and I have the choice to do it again.

2) Consider the ‘energy-exchange’ ratio for items you want. Every purchase you make – whether on Fakebook Marketplace, thrift stores, or brand-spankin’ new from Amazon equates to TIME. When you see that new television with all the bells and whistles, do the math. How many hours of your life will you have to work to pay for that tv? I did this recently and decided that energy was better spent taking a much-needed vacation. In fact, the television costs more than the lodging for the week. And I hardly ever watch tv, so why do I need a bigger one? I don’t. No one ever needs a bigger television, in my opinion.

3) Ask yourself how your money can be better invested. What else can I afford if I don’t buy that thing? Turns out when you stop spending money on stuff that will eventually end up at Goodwill or in an estate sale you have money to support a local school, provide food for those facing food insecurity, taking a short vacation, learning a new skill, or building an emergency fund. I’m not telling you to stop your latte habit. No one ever stops their latte habit. I’m asking you to stop your mindless spending. There’s a difference.

So, essentially, I agree with Ladd. Minimalism is elitist. The movement assumes people have choices. And yet, I support it. I support it because I want quality over quantity. I want to help my neighbors. I want to support my kid’s school. I want to spend my weekends blogging and figuring out Jake and Delany’s fate as my novel unfolds instead of organizing and cleaning. I want to take vacations that include sun and sand with my child instead of planting my ass on a sofa in front of a 60-inch smart tv. I’m a contradiction – I get it. I never claimed to have all the answers.

I guess, in closing, I never really considered (sadly, until I was throwing food away) I support a movement that may be a tad bit snooty. I promise you…people on food stamps don’t throw food away. I know because I was one of them. My brief three-month dive into the world of public assistance was enough for me to understand the lack of choices many face in our country. I don’t want to embrace minimalism to save money for a higher quality rug for my floor. I want to embrace minimalism to build my emergency fund without having to get a second job to do so and to help my community when I feel led to do it.

I wish I had the answers. I don’t. All I can do is live by example. I am not responsible for how many pyrex dishes someone owns or the collection of craft supplies owned by another. I am only accountable for myself and the choices I make. And I make bad choices sometimes, as does everyone. Whisky, anyone?

So – what do you think? If you accepted my challenge back on January 1st, did you learn anything along the journey? As you were discarding stuff without lids and expired OTC medicines and paperwork and broken toys and…and…and…(fill in the blanks)…did you ask yourself why you had been holding on to all of this? I did, and I realized my brief stint in poverty was enough to get me there. It wasn’t pretty to come to this conclusion, but I arrived. And I’m better for it.

As always, here’s your song. I’m a huge fan of Jason Isbell and this is one of many I listen to over and over again. Have a great week, dear reader, and consider yourself hugged.

Do You Need More Storage or Less Stuff?

Denise’s Notes: This week’s post is reblogged from Unclutterer. Deb Lee originally posted this on Tuesday and I know it will certainly resonate with some of you in light of what I’ve been writing about for the last few weeks. It definitely goes along with my tongue-in-cheek comments about all the organization tips on Pinterest. You don’t have to organize what you don’t own. 

Raise your hand if you think you need more storage space in your home. Anyone think that if they just had more storage areas, their home would be easier to maintain? Sometimes I wish my home had more closets, especially a dedicated linen closet. But, I’ve found a way around that and, honestly, I don’t need a separate space to keep towels and sheets, which means it’s probably more of a want and not a need.

Of course, if you live in a small home, your storage options may be limited. You’ll likely have to use tried-and-true techniques (maximize vertical space, use under bed storage, hooks, armoires, etc.) and take advantage of creative solutions, like using multi-purpose furniture or hiding things in plain sight. You might even come up with some unconventional ways to keep your stuff, like using a car or minivan (that isn’t needed for transportation) as storage space.

In a recent blog post over at Extraordinary Observations, Storing Private Stuff in Public Space, the author started giving this some thought. He reasoned that it would be very convenient (the vehicle would be parked close to his home) and when he crunched the numbers, he found that it would be a cost effective option, too.

… street parking (public space) is used to store automobiles (privately owned things) for little to no cost (it would cost me $35 per year for a residential permit in my neighborhood). Using a van for storage would cost significantly less money than renting a space at one of those self storage warehouses, and it would be a lot more convenient.

It’s an interesting notion and it seems to make sense from a monetary standpoint. For anyone seriously considering this as a solution, another question comes to mind. Why not reduce your stash so that the car isn’t needed for storage? You wouldn’t have to worry about the types of things you could store in your vehicle (since it’s not temperature controlled) nor would you have to be concerned about someone stealing it. With one less spot to maintain, you’d also have less work to do, fewer decisions to make, and more time to focus on other things. And, you’d have the option of selling or donating your car, both of which come with financial benefits.

Though the benefits of living with less are clear, going through the process is not always straightforward or easy, especially when you have to let go of things that you’re emotionally attached to. When faced with the task of uncluttering and downsizing, it’s important to remain focused on the positive outcomes of reducing the number of things you own (particularly if you don’t use or want them). Keep in mind that you can also handpick who receives certain items which can help put your mind at ease. Of course, simplifying doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of everything. You’re simply prioritizing and carefully selecting which items you will bring the most value to your life.

Ultimately, anyone going through this process will need to answer this question: Will a storage unit (of any type) be a regular and permanent part of your life, or would you prefer to find a way to live well with less?

Do You Have the Guts to Simplify?

Stephanie Stevens

Denise’s notes: This week’s post is by guest blogger, Stephanie Lynn Stevens. I stumbled across Stephanie’s blog via Living Simple Free’s weekend reads a few months ago. I knew instantly that if she and I lived closer, we’d be buds! Enjoy!HoHo
I have written before about how overwhelmed I was at our old house with so much stuff.

I was way too sick to declutter or even to wrap my mind around what this should look like.

That is one of the main reasons things got worse in the housekeeping department, not better.

But the other half is that I just didn’t have the guts to let stuff go.

I would look at the stack of lovely but rarely-used puzzles and feel so much mommy guilt for wanting to get rid of them.

That missing piece would probably turn up, puzzles are educational, and when the kids did want to work a puzzle they really enjoyed it.  Besides, it was a special gift from ____________.

So I’d hang onto it.

There’s a lot of anxiety surrounding stuff. The packrat’s famous excuse is “I might need it someday.”

For others of us, we just like our stuff.

Have you ever watched the show Clean House?  Remember the people who don’t want to get rid of their 1980’s shoes because they might come back in style or they wore them on their first date?

It’s ridiculous when we see it in someone else, but a lot of us do the same thing.

My sister, who has a great ability to let things go, says we should treat clutter like a poisonous snake.

But for some of us, it’s a snake we can’t bring ourselves to kill.

I wish I had been not only able, but willing to pitch my stuff.  I know now that I wouldn’t have missed most of it.

Do you have the guts to get rid of your stuff?

A challenge: What are you going to get rid of TODAY?

Embrace freedom!


Denise’s notes: I’m starting two new projects (I know *rolls eyes*…THAT certainly helps with living a simple lifestyle! Whatever.) Anyway…if you are a subscriber, check out my new (low maintenance) blog. If you live close to me, soon you will see a cool addition to the neighborhood in my yard. I need books for all ages, so if you are decluttering your bookshelf soon…I’ll take those old books! So excited!

Six Steps to Cleaning Closets: Doing the March Challenge!

We are a week into the March Challenge and I just want to say a few things about over-consumption of clothing. The truth is, we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. When I first read this, I tested it. I brought out my seasonal clothes, hung everything on white hangers (the infancy stages, mind you, of my infamous ‘white hanger theory’). When I wore an item, I hung it on a colored hanger. Then, at the end of the season, I took note of everything still left on white hangers. I realized I didn’t wear these clothes all season (and there was A LOT!)…so out they went. Now, I do a version of the white hanger theory twice a year. Here is an idea if you don’t have white hangers.

If you haven’t started the March challenge yet (and you know who you are!) here’s how you get started:

Determine what you have.  The first step in your process is to remove everything from your closet. Do this when you have more than just an hour of spare time. Make it the project for the day. It is time-consuming and emotional. I find that a nice, crisp Sauvignon Blanc pairs nicely with this activity. I also suggest bringing in your closest confident who will tell you, in all honesty, if you should keep an item. (My husband once said, “I hate that shirt. It makes you look like a hippie.” Well, even though I like to embrace my inner bohemian at times, the ‘hippie’ look isn’t quite what I was going for, so out went that shirt).

Decide what you really need. Like I’ve said, we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time, so use frequency of use as a benchmark for deciding what to keep. You know you love it. You know it’s your go-to sweatshirt on the weekend. You know you look hot in those jeans. Keep them. But some things are only worn on special occasions, and truthfully those items can be paired down. Some would even argue one simple black dress is really all one needs for ‘special occasions.’ (Guys, I don’t expect you to wear a little black dress. But, seriously, all you need is one really good suit.)

Admit the relationship is getting old. If you are still hanging on to an item you used to love, acknowledge that…and be prepared to chuck it. My mother has a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt with a thousand holes in it. I’m pretty sure she still has it because it represents a family vacation. I’m also pretty sure she has photos of that vacation and therefore, Mickey could be thrown out (Mother, I know you read this blog…yes…I’m talking to you). There’s nothing wrong with hanging on to things because it holds sentimental value, but if you’ve still got your prom dress from 1989, its time for your friend to intervene. Pour another glass of wine, remember dancing with that special person to some Richard Marx song…and get rid of it.

Be honest about how you look in it. Does this flatter you now that you’ve lost (um…gained…) 40 pounds? Try it on, get the friend to give it thumbs up or down…and move on. Here’s the only time I would recommend that you set some time to go pick up some classic and flattering pieces of clothing – but only if you really need them.

Consider your life now. Last weekend I realized that all my old work clothes were stuffy business suits from back in my ‘high paid consultant’ days. Now, I work from home and usually in my yoga pants. I kept the black dress, a pair of black slacks, a jacket that matches both, and out with the rest. While you are in your decision-making mode, consider what you do on a regular basis now. “Well, when my child goes to school, I might reenter the workforce.” Okay, great. That’s five years from now. If you wear THAT you’ll look like a dork because it’s 7 years old. Toss it.

Grab those things you love and put them back. Grab those white hangers (or do this instead….). I’ve done this for two weeks. It’s not looking too good for that old Eddie Bauer sweater with holes in it…poor baby. No matter what ‘organizational system’ you choose (white hanger, reverse hanger, Project 333, etc.) make it easy. Avoid a system that is too complicated. Simple is better.

What to do with what is left.

Donate it to charity. Honestly DONATE IT TO CHARITY. I think people who talk themselves into selling stuff on the internet (like on Craigslist or eBay) are just looking for a reason to hang on to something a bit longer. Ugh. Just get rid of it already.

Throw it out. If your item has stains, rips, or ‘just needs a little mending’ do not donate it. Thrift store shoppers do not want your crappy stuff any more than you do. Be considerate. (I made cleaning rags out of my hubby’s old stained t-shirts – thus reducing my need to waste so many paper towels – so you can even repurpose it if you can’t bring yourself to throw it away. Here’s another great idea I’m gonna try!)

Give it away to a friend. Sometimes donating to charity isn’t as fun as giving it to someone who would really like it. I recently had a month-long Give A Way project that was a blast! My silver cocktail dress is going to my step-daughter this week. I’ve worn it one time. It will make a nice graduation dress or ‘fancy dinner’ outfit for her. My son was in the NICU for 8 days when he was born, so when he outgrew his NB clothes I gave them to the NICU in honor of those awesome nurses. Snow suits were recently shipped to my girlfriend in Massachusetts – (hahaha…you are up to your eyeballs in SNOW!!!). Same with several wool hats and scarves.

Last but not least, be gentle with yourself. You can do this. I know you can. It is not easy. It can be hard. Keep going.

Let me know how you are doing…I’d love to hear about it. Comments are awesome!

This Week’s Challenge:

Set a time to do this project now! Write it in your calendar. Call your ‘buddy’ and ask them to meet you for the day to start this project. Gather your supplies (boxes, trash bags, white hangers, um…wine…etc.). Get excited – you are about to take the first step in your life of ‘freedom’.


For the rest of the month, I will be taking time to get some posts ready so that my poor editor isn’t subjected to my lack of planning. Do not fret, dear readers…I will still post but will highlight some great guest bloggers. That way you will still get some really awesome info and be introduced to some wonderful like-minded people in the process. So excited!!