Have You Considered the True Cost of Minimalism?

by Emily Guy Birken · 6 comments

Minimalism has a lot in common with frugality. The goal of both philosophies is to reduce waste so you can live and consume with intention. Frugal minimalists can happily incorporate ideas from each school of thought to create the lovely home and life they want while saving money.

However, there are places where minimalism parts ways with frugality — which can sometimes mean costly mistakes. Have you fallen victim to any of these three hidden costs to minimalism?

1. Getting Rid of Something You Need

I recently decided to work on decluttering my home, in the hopes that it might become both more functional for me and my family and perhaps stop looking like the Trash Heap on Fraggle Rock.

One of the first spots that I decluttered was my desk drawer, and I gleefully got rid of dozens of dry pens, leadless mechanical pencils, and various markers and Sharpies that I never used, including one silver paint pen that I couldn’t remember buying.

Of course, not even a week later, my husband asked me if we happened to have a silver paint pen. He needed it for a project in the garage and was sure we owned one. I was able to show off my gorgeous, organized, and minimalist desk drawer, but we had to go out and purchase a new paint pen.

This is the classic struggle between frugality and minimalism. Any usable item that you get rid of in order to meet your minimalist goals could end up costing you later on if you have to rebuy it. And it’s Murphy’s Law that you will end up tossing the things you need and holding onto the things you never use.

Frugal minimalists can get around this issue by finding creative solutions for their needs. Borrowing, renting, and finding free items that fulfill your needs are all ways to mitigate this cost of minimalism.

2. Aesthetic Concerns

True minimalism takes aesthetics into consideration in a way that frugality does not. For instance, minimalists famously love both Apple products and Moleskine journals, because both offer beauty as well as function. There is nothing wrong with taking aesthetics into consideration, but it can cost you more money than simple frugality would.

For instance, I also recently decluttered our silverware drawer. My husband and I had a hodgepodge of many different sets of mismatched silverware that we had been collecting since college. The only set that matched (and I really loved) was one I received as a gift when I moved into my first apartment. Unfortunately, there are only four place settings, which is simply not enough.

We were faced with the choice of either keeping some mismatched silverware to ensure enough forks and spoons to go around or buying several more place settings at $40 a pop.

For now, we’re keeping some of the mismatched pieces, but I have requested place settings for the next gift-giving occasion.

3. Time Costs

Embracing minimalism and frugality can sometimes mean that you are forgoing convenience. Cooking from scratch, taking the bus, and making gifts all take much more time than the costlier common options.

Since minimalism (and frugality) is about being intentional in your choices, most minimalists know what they are getting into. No one gets rid of her car without recognizing that the morning commute is now going to be more of a pain.

However, there are some time costs that you might not recognize. For example, deciding to make gifts for everyone in your family one year might turn to be much more of a burden than you anticipate. Similarly, the amount of time it takes to cook from scratch might surprise you, and you may find yourself having to eat dinner at 10 pm regularly.

The amount of time saved by different items in your life can be hard to calculate, and decluttering those items might cost you far more than you realize.

The Bottom Line

Minimalism, like any other philosophy, can be taken to an extreme. It’s a good idea to remember that there are downsides to even the most positive life changes and that committing to minimalism without recognizing its possible costs could end up hurting you.

How has minimalism affected your wallet? Do you find yourself getting rid of stuff that costs you more in the long run?

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  • Beau W. says:

    Good article! Minimalism to me is getting rid of the stuff you dont use anymore. I can’t stand seeing the same stuff just lying around its getting no use and just taking up space. I never understood why people buy a nice home and end up filling up the garage with crap. The garage is for cars,Tv’s and drinking beer with friends and family.

  • Christopher says:

    I think that de cluttering, minimalism and being frugal are 3 different things.
    Being frugal is about paying the minimum that you can for goods and services.
    De cluttering is about tidying up and, maybe, reducing the amount of stuff you have.
    Minimalism is about being deliberate in your purchases and only having the things that add value to your life either because you’re frequently using them or because you find them beautiful. To get to this, people often need to let go of a bunch of stuff.

    • Nathalie says:

      I completely agree with you. Being a minimalist has nothing to do with frugality. As a minimalist, you’re only going to save money if you manage to hammer a nail with the one spatula that you allowed yourself to keep OR if you have a great neighbor from whom you can borrow a lot of things.

      I’m not a minimalist. I’m very frugal, though. I keep things around that others (especially minimalists) would throw away because I know that I’ll be able to reuse them at some point instead of buying something new or spending money to replace it (even from a thrift store). I’m not a hoarder, but I refuse to spend money to buy something that I already had on hand. I also have several copies of the same item (spatulas and hammers come to mind) because having them simplifies my life and saves me time. And that’s what adds value to my and my family’s life.

  • Ryan says:

    good points, i find it funny when people take 50 hrs a week to clip coupons, lol.

  • The Professor says:

    I’ve found your third point especially true. Often, the time it takes to cook from scratch, make a gift, etc. is time you could otherwise be spending on something more productive. If you love cooking and sewing, go for it! I’ve just learned that you always need to consider opportunity costs. Thanks for the great article!

  • Thera says:

    Minimalism is also about freeing up your home, finances, mind and time so you can do the things that you love, believe in or are passionate about.
    When you free your finances you can choose quality items that will last longer or the ability to completely change a wardrobe though that seems silly to me personally.
    And if you love cooking you have the time to make those meals, or if you’re into the enviroment you can take the time and enjoy the commute.
    It’s about choices and the freedom to make those choices, which is never a pain.

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