Why I’m uncomfortable being labeled a minimalist

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Before I get into some thoughts about minimalism I just wanted to thank you for all your kind comments and emails about my post on Monday. Writing about our journey to get Margs here safely is something I’ve been debating for quite some time. On the one hand, I don’t want to scare anyone because of what happened to me – I’m really a statistic and not at all the norm but words have the power to frighten so I’ve been holding off. But, ultimately I felt like I had to put the story out there because it’s such an important part of who I am and what is in my heart. I carry it around with me and it really has defined who I’ve become in the last few years. All this to say, thank you from the very bottom of my heart for being so supportive- it was rather scary to hit publish on that one. Also, I’m so sorry for all the typos in that post- I didn’t have it in me to reread it before I published and when I did decide to face it and read it again yesterday I was horrified by all the errors in the post. My apologies!


So, on to some minimalism stuff and a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over lately okay?

Recently, I’m finding it’s becoming more and more difficult to label myself a minimalist.

I still live a very simple and frugal lifestyle but actually identifying as a minimalist is something I’m really struggling with.

I read an article recently (I should have bookmarked it because I can’t find it now to share with you) about a woman who lives a minimalistic life but out of necessity and not choice. It got the gears going like the spatula debacle and the more I process her story the more I realize I’m just so so uncomfortable with the label.

There’s just so much inherent privilege that comes from choosing to be a minimalist isn’t there? I mean making the conscious decision to live with less stuff because you want to live a simpler life is really in itself a luxury right?.

My reality is such that I choose to have a small wardrobe, I choose not to clutter my home and I choose not to buy material goods that don’t bring joy to my life. My reality is that if there is a time in the future that I feel I need or want any of those things I can simply go out and buy them- not everyone has that choice available to them. The story might be entirely different if I were in a position where I didn’t have that choice ya know? Perhaps under those circumstances I’d gladly welcome more things into my life.

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The reality is that I’m an educated, white, middle class married woman who can make the decision to live with less stuff. I’m extremely privileged to be in a social class where I can make that choice for myself.

But how does the family who cannot afford to pay rent or buy food feel about middle classers patting themselves on the back because they donated bags and bags of things to goodwill in an effort to be a minimalist? How does minimalism as a movement make those who don’t have the choice feel? Does it disenfranchise them in some way? Does my choice not to live a consumerist lifestyle somehow take their agency away?

It all got me thinking about my grandparents and their journey here to Canada in the mid 1950s. They came with NOTHING and when I say nothing I mean absolutely zero in the way of goods and funds. I think they actually brought food in a trunk that they had confiscated at customs – dry beans and a few salamis (italian immigrants). FOOD – not cash, or clothes or any of the stuff we’d take on a trip. FOOD!!¬† Actually, they came here in debt owing a nice chunk of money to a man who loaned them enough cash to afford the tickets for their trans Atlantic trip.

My grandparents were minimalists by modern definitions. They had only what they needed and nothing more. The difference though is that the lifestyle they lived was not a choice – they lived that way out of necessity.

If my grandfather were alive today he’d likely tell me that I’m being an asshole by labeling myself a minimalist because from his point of view minimalism isn’t something to aspire to. It’s not something that necessarily brought happiness to his life. Minimalism for people like my grandparents meant poverty, struggle and inequality. He told me on more occasions than I can count how hard life was – how by not having much in the way of money or “stuff” he and my grandmother had to work extremely hard¬† for the most basic necessities they needed to make their home and life somewhat comfortable. My grandfather took on a job shoveling snow in our brutal Canadian winters where his feet got frost bitten from the cold because he only owned one pair shoes. Now, people who follow the movement create competition based on who has less footwear. It’s irksome I think. Well, it irks me.

There’s a lot of ideas in this post and I’m not sure I’m really articulating what’s at the heart of my discomfort. I know that in some respects, I’m somehow distancing myself from the whole movement because I’m not okay with somehow trivializing the reality that there are people living as minimalists out of necessity while there are others trying to decide which designer purses they want to do away with to keep up with the famous minimizers of the world. Minimalism as a label is just so incredibly loaded I’ve realized – loaded with inherent privilege and inequality that just makes me so uncomfortable.

I’m fortunate to be part of social class that allows me to make these lifestyle choices for myself. Having said that, the sociocultural and political forces at play that don’t give everyone that right are really something to consider in the whole minimalism narrative.

Do you feel that being a minimalist is a privilege? What are your thoughts on the issue? If you disagree with me please let me know! Let’s discuss!

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