I’ve been considering why some of us are drawn to (extreme) frugality and/or minimalism. I have identified five reasons or triggers for these practices. You may identify with all of these possible causes or none. If we maintain this way of life for many years, we may move between these reasons as our circumstances change. I am not a psychologist or behavioral economist, so these are just my personal observations and opinions. Note that frugality and minimalism are NOT the same thing. I pair them here for the sake of simplicity.
#1. Reflexive Resentment
You couldn’t turn things around now you’ve lost it all. Your debts and financial situation have caught up with you, and you can’t run and hide anymore. The facade has crumbled. You’ve hit a low point and need a way to cope with your situation. You turn all that sadness, disappointment, and embarrassment into anger and resentment. You had to sell a lot of your possessions. The things you have left mock you. As a reflex and as a way to protect your ego, your sense of self, you begin to see the things that you no longer have, the things you could no longer have, as a useless waste. In your mind, if you can’t have it, then you don’t want it. You dislike owning things now. You see stuff as weight that keeps you tied down. You dislike spending money. You may not even have much desire to travel anymore when it used to be all you thought about. You reduce your living expenses and lifestyle in a way that rejects what you used to value and spend money on.
For instance, some people practice minimalism as a way to reduce anxiety and stress by reducing the number of things in their life. That means, fewer things to search for, buy, store, clean, insure, and maintain, etc. It can be a way to assert control over one’s environment, particularly if it is felt that other parts of life are out of control.
In addition to resenting things, you also resent yourself for thinking that you had a shot at a better life. You resent yourself for being so financially ignorant and gullible with regard to money. While you may love your family, you may resent them for not teaching you to protect yourself from financial predators. You resent that you, without knowing any better, allowed yourself to be financially taken advantage of.
You don’t want status symbols and stuff anymore. Some may call it sour grapes. Others may call it a symptom of depression. I’m not a psychologist, but it seems that while this may help one cope in the short term, if it goes on long term, it may not be the healthiest perspective and could slip into mental illness if not regularly measured against healthy boundaries.
#2. Psychological Trauma
Similar to #1 (reflexive resentment) but more sudden and severe. Whereas #1 may take place over a period of months or years where one’s financial situation deteriorates, #2 psychological trauma, happens suddenly. Usually a job loss, a large negative legal judgement or expense, divorce, or a grave and costly medical diagnosis turns your life upside down in one moment.
Your safety net and security are snatched from underneath you before you can steady yourself or put plans in place. You may find yourself days or hours away from being homeless, or you may find yourself actually being homeless. These experiences can cause psychological trauma that can last a lifetime. In its extreme form, the result can be an unhealthy relationship with money and ownership of things.
We all know the story of Kate Hashimoto from “Extreme Cheapskates”. Her obsession with not spending (“wasting”) money was triggered when she lost her job during the dot.com bust. This must have been a traumatic event for her because now, even though she makes a six-figure salary with a big accounting firm, she refuses to spend money on anything. [To anyone who has traveled outside of the U.S. and Europe, the things she does to save money are actually commonly done in many parts of the developing world, and are not “weird”.] What is concerning however, is that she and others in this category do some things that put their health at risk when they have more than enough money to not have to do that.
#3. ROI – It’s Business
You find frugality and/or minimalism to be a strategic financial pathway to achieve some life goal, such as extreme early retirement. You have calculated that if you reduce your expenses and possessions for a period of time now, you can divert that money to savings and investments that will allow you to retire early, start a business, or travel the world for years.
#4. It’s Trendy
You are not experiencing financial hardship. However, with the economy not being what it used to be, and with so many people cutting back, you want to fit in. Perhaps, thanks to a documentary or famous blog, you undertake a 1 month or even a 1 year challenge to buy nothing new, or only spend X dollars, or only own X number of things, or live on minimum wage. For you, it’s about adventure, and accomplishment.
#5. Enlightened Self-Awareness
You embrace frugality and/or minimalism by choice and practice it as an outward manifestation of your own inner peace and self-acceptance. For you, practicing frugality and/or minimalism is not a means to an end. It is not something to be endured. It is a way of life. You have no desire for designer labels, and the accumulation of stuff. You only keep those things that bring you the most value and benefit, and reflect what is most important to you.
There you have it. Those are my five reasons why people are drawn to practicing (extreme) frugality and/or minimalism. Did I forget any? Why do you think people are drawn to this way of life?
Bitterness and Resentment – examiner.com
Meditation – astralsociety.net