The following is a guest post from Frugal Babe of FrugalBabe.com.
“A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.” – Jonathon Swift
I’ve been frugal nearly all my life. I was raised in a family of six living on one modest income, and my parents taught us all from an early age that money was just boxed-up time, and should be used wisely. I’ve always shopped at yard sales and thrift stores, and have become pretty adept at stretching our dollars.
But I was never a minimalist – not even close. In fact, I was a bit of a pack-rat. I think that I equated saving stuff and holding onto things “just in case” with being frugal. I kept all sorts of stuff in order to avoid having to buy something new in the future, and I also shopped far more than I needed to in an effort to find bargains and deals. All of that shopping was at thrift stores and yard sales, and I did find lots of bargains. We live in a fairly wealthy area, and I’m always amazed by the stuff that we can find used for a fraction of what it originally cost. Shopping at thrift stores was something that I loved, and I would usually end up there once every week or two. Invariably I would buy stuff. My total bill was usually under $25, so my shopping habit wasn’t a budget-buster. But it was contributing a lot of clutter to our house, and there were definitely better ways that I could have been spending my time.
About six months ago, I stumbled across a few minimalist blogs (including Becoming Minimalist, which appealed to me as a mother) and started reading. Although I had no desire to get rid of everything we own, I was very drawn to the idea of getting rid of all of the excess. I didn’t need 20 pairs of shoes. Or half a walk-in closet full of clothes. Or ten saucepans (my stove only has four burners…). I didn’t need to hold onto stuff just because we had spent money on it. I didn’t need to keep stuff simply because someone had given it to me as a gift. I realized that I’m drawn to wide open spaces and clean lines, and yet my house was filled with stuff and didn’t have much in the way of wide open spaces.
So I started getting rid of stuff. I got rid of about half of my clothes and shoes, along with about half the stuff in our kitchen, bathroom, and linen closets. Instead of being cluttered with stuff, our bathroom counter is always empty now, which makes cleaning it much easier. The cupboards in the kitchen are no longer over-flowing with stuff, and we can find everything we need at a glance. Since my husband and I got rid of a lot of excess clothing, we were able to sell one of our two dressers, which has made our bedroom feel much more spacious and clean. Overall, our house is cleaner now, and much easier to keep that way.
It seems odd to me that there was once a time when I didn’t know about the concept of minimalism. These days, when I go to Goodwill, it’s to drop off donations or look for very specific items that we need, like new winter boots for our son. Having small children means that somewhat regular shopping is always going to be part of the picture, as they outgrow things so fast – but my shopping is much more mindful than it used to be.
Over the last six months of purging clutter, there hasn’t been a single time when I’ve regretted getting rid of something. There hasn’t been anything we’ve missed, and I doubt I can remember even a fraction of what was in the boxes and bags of stuff we’ve donated. There hasn’t been a single occasion when I’ve had to buy something and wished that I had hung onto some item that I could have used instead. But there have been lots of times when I’ve walked into our bedroom and felt calmed by how peaceful and uncluttered it is. There have been lots of times when I’ve needed to find something and known exactly where it is, because we don’t have cluttered closets anymore. And even though our shopping was never very expensive in the past, the fact that we do so little of it now is definitely more frugal.
We do still buy things just for fun. Recently we went to the thrift store for some winter shirts for our son, and came across a preschool-size electric four wheeler for $30. The day after Thanksgiving, we bundled up and spent the entire day in the backyard playing with it. We made some bumps for it to go over, and our son had a blast driving around all of the garden beds and over his “awesome track” as he called it. We took a break to walk over and watch the train go by, and to play with some other kids at the park. I cannot imagine our son being any happier. He had both his parents with him, he was using his imagination, he was digging in the dirt… it definitely made him happier than if we had spent the day shopping to buy a bunch of toys for him.
Although I’ve always been frugal, minimalism is a new adventure for me. And I’m finding that it makes my life so much easier. I spend less time cleaning and organizing now, and more time with my family. Instead of going shopping for entertainment, I go to the park with my son. Instead of looking at a closet full of clothes and wondering what to wear, I now wear everything in my closet, and know where everything is. Instead of having a basement filled with clutter, we now have space in the basement for a large work-out area. And all the stuff I was keeping just-in-case is no longer taking up space in our house. I’ve found that minimalism actually matches up perfectly with frugality. They’re both important aspects of a simple life, which is what I was striving for all along.
Frugal Babe inspires others to live a rich life without a lot of money on her blog, FrugalBabe.com. You could also find her on Twitter.
This is so true! I never realized just how much minimalism would effect being frugal. They really do go hand in hand. I won’t lie and say that I don’t spend more money on nicer things but I definitely waste less money on poorly made items. And I shop a lot less now which saves a lot of money :o)
I started a purge journey this year. One of the biggest things for me was getting rid of my TV (that collected dust as I haven’t had cable in years and had not turned in on in about 6 months) my DVD player, VCR and about 200 VHS tapes and 40 DVDs. I sold them all and was happy to have the money and the space! If I ever get the urge to watch a movie/tv show I watch it on my computer (27″ iMac) which is more then adequate for me. That experience gave me the confidence to go forth and clean out my entire house and I have probably sold/given away a quarter of my belongings.
Starting in 2011, I am going on a very strict budget to clean up the last of my outstanding debt and I will also be purging more items each month until my debt is gone, my belongings minimal and my mind free!
Nicki, great idea to “write down all the items in the room you can remember” and purge the rest. It reminds me of my brother and his family who still have dozens of unpacked boxes from their last move — whenever they need something they have to go out and buy it because they have no idea what is in the boxes, and searching through them is an impossible, daunting task. Obviously, if they can’t recall the contents (can’t “write the list”), the towers of boxes are useless to them.
I think I will do this with books, CDs, and DVDs as a start . . . who knows where it might end!
Thanks for writing a great article. I was actually trying to find myself today when I stumbled upon this. This whole week has been about trying to find ‘the simple things in life’. I’m moving to a new house and I have a whole load of things I packed in boxes from my former home. I’ve been feeling very uneasy looking at all these things and had decided to go through the stuff and give most away….yes minimalism is what I was looking for…and I too like to keep or buy things ‘just in case’….Irealised this months ago but did not know how to handle it till now. This article has been an inspiration to me :D
All the stuff people consume is absolutely unnecessary. People should think about if what they’re buying actually has some value in it because then maybe so many people wouldn’t be in debt.
Nicki Savantes says
This is very black and white thinking… A lot of stuff people buy might be unnecessary, not all, not by a long shot. People who do think about the value of what they’re buying are still getting into debt daily.
You might as well say there “shouldn’t be” any alcoholics or sick people. I mean by that it’s easy to judge and say “should/shouldn’t” but there are reasons why people end up the way they do. Our society primes people for debt and consumerism (and alcoholism, and disease too) from their most tender ages, and most of us fall into the trap.
The media do everything to keep the tools of our education away from us and people as a rule are not “taught” to think independently, and as a consequence most people don’t. They follow the herd, do what everyone else is doing. Then at some point if they’re lucky (not much to do with smart really) there might be an insight or an event that makes them stop and think, initiating a long process of becoming conscious of what they’re doing and why, and it often involves some serious internal questioning. It’s part of the process of “growing up” ;-D
I would say a big applause for anyone who makes a step towards more conscious living, whatever form this “consciousness” manifests as…
Nicki Savantes says
Nice post! I’m a frugal pack rat too. Minimalism is my ideal but I’m not anywhere near it. I keep purging, but we’re a family of book buyers, and new stuff comes in quite regularly…
I’ ve got a tip for people who want to purge more and don’t know where to start:
Pick a category of items or a room in your house that you want to purge. Say you want to purge your books, or you CD collection. You write down all the titles you can remember. Anything not on the list goes… For a room it’s similar; you write down all the items in the room you can remember. Those you can’t remember you probably don’t need. Drastic, but simple…
Oh my goodness. You’re post felt like I was reading my own story. Thrift store shopper, mom of a 2 yr old, recently started the process of a major purge & loving every step. I once believed that I needed to fill spaces to make things homier, prove that we had stuff, or get a great deal, but I, too, am enjoying the calm in the space that’s left behind. I have begun breathing & meditation, & I wholeheartedly believe I need to get rid of the mental clutter that’s attached to the physical so I can gain some clarity & peace.
What a great article! I agree with you wholeheartedly….
Isn’t it just so much nicer to “buy” your freedom than to buy new stuff? If you start your own business you can either walk the road of “I want a LOT of money, so I can buy whatever I want” or “I want to earn just the right amount and have more spare time”…. the second one just makes so much more sense!
Greetings from the Netherlands!
Amy @ Journey Mum says
I find myself buying a lot of things used because I don’t want to waste the money on buying something new, if I can find it for a lesser price, and be extending the life of an item. Especially when it comes to things like the kids clothes. Thankfully I have a group of friends who pass their clothes from person to person. My oldest is almost three and we’ve barely had to buy her any NEW clothes.
Like one of the previous posters we have a big life change planned for about two years from now which will require selling or giving away most of our belongings. I’m slowly working on shifting my mindset towards recognising the things I truly love and need, and the rest that is just weighing us down.
Living the Balanced Life says
I lean toward the frugal side, although I do splurge on some things. However, as I have begun decluttering my home this year, I am very careful about bringing something else into my home. For instance, I just redid our hall bath, paint and shower curtain were the main changes, but I needed a few accessories. I saw many things that would have been really cute, but I stopped to ask myself “is this something I *really* want sitting around? Is it going to cause me joy? I bought a wire wallhanging to go over the toilet, a small decorative trashcan, and 2 pretty framed mirrors for the sidewalls of the counters. The most expensive things I bought was the mirrors at 15 bucks each. I stayed away from anything to place on the counter, or additional pictures or knick knacks. I really like the clean elegant look I came up with. Oh, wait. I *did* spend $40 on a rounded shower rod. It is a small tub and I have older teens, they asked for the rounded rod to give more room in the shower. It was a splurge, but I think it was a good one for a good reason.
I think it still comes down to being intentional. Buy what you want, but only after you have *really* thought about it. Don’t just spend and add to your life on a whim, even if it is just 25 cents at a yard sale.
Thanks for the great story! We have always been pretty minimalist, but I keep trying to find ways to cut out more. We have the constant-acquiring-of-things-to-keep-young-children-clothed problem as well, but I love going through their clothes and sending the too small, never worn, or otherwise unwanted clothing items off to my nieces and nephews or other people in need.
We’re in the process of purging our kids’ toys and trying to find a better way to organize them. We believe in good toys, but the mess is getting a little out of control.
Thanks again for your experience. It was refreshing to read!
A simple life – that’s what I am working towards – de-cluttering myself and my life – it’s so refreshing. Thanks for this inspirational post.
Katie @ Imperfect People says
I’m so glad you talked about this. In fact this is my biggest struggle. Where minimalism and frugalism meet. I have gotten rid of several things that I wish I hadn’t. For the record it is probably less than 5% of all the stuff I have given away but still i struggle.
Kathy P. says
I tend to think more in terms of simplicity rather than minimalism but I can’t see how we can get to either place without a good dose of frugality. In fact frugality seems to happen automatically when I attempt to minimize my belongings because, having done that, it doesn’t make much sense to go back out and buy more.
I can also identify with buying too much stuff in thrift stores. The stuff is so inexpensive it seems a shame to pass on it, yet at this point in my life, there’s very little I need (and I’m not THAT old).
I loved this post!
I’ve never been frugal and its an issue in my relationship. This past year we attempted to sell our house, unsuccessfully. The success that did come from it was that we missed exactly two things that we had packed into a 5×10 storage unit to stage the house. TWO!!! One was a cheese grater (can’t remember why it got packed) and I can’t remember what the other thing was at the moment. Needless to say, it was an eye opening experience.
We purged nearly all of it over the summer. During the fall I turned towards the stuff we hadn’t take to storage and purged tons of it, too. I’ve got receipt after receipt from Goodwill donations for this year. Our small house does seem bigger when the space isn’t stuffed and closets aren’t overflowing. Not to say that I don’t still long for a two bathroom house!
As the new year approaches I’m looking forward to combining my minimalist journey with a journey of intentional frugality. We have a plan of where we’d like to be in the next 18 months which will require a significant amount of savings and only very intentional spending. I’m excited about it this time though rather than seeing it as a burden.
Gip @ So Much More Life says
I was frugal long before the term minimalist was applied to people who strip down their lives to its essential elements. I’m frugal because I don’t like working in traditional jobs, so I don’t get a traditionally stable income. That means sometimes I don’t have as much money as I would like, but I always manage because I know how to use what I have wisely.
This is a good guest post, and I look forward to exploring your blog, Frugal Babe. Come guest on my blog sometime…
I just started on this journey too, by de-cluttering my ensuite (master bath in American!) It’s amazing how just one little room feels so much more free now without all that clutter! Laura I like your idea of a numeric target. Hmm, might have to give that a go!
– Juliet from Australia.
Dr. Laura @ WhoIsLaura.com says
This post is so where I am at as well! Having come to minimalism through frugality and realizing that I was definitely hoarding (with a frugal “I might need it someday” mindset), I am now on a path to minimalism as well. I too am drawn to clean open space and no clutter.
As an organization coach, I have always been good at decluttering, and making the things that I do have organized and manageable, but I was lacking in minimalism, which I have found to be so freeing.
Earlier this fall, I did a challenge on my blog (@WhoIsLaura.com) to get rid of 75 items in 75 days. When I went through my closet and passed 75 items in one week, I upped the number to 225 items. When I passed that, I went crazy and aimed for 750 items removed from my home in 75 days. The 75 days are almost over (end of Dec) and I have about 500 items gone as of today, with a ton waiting in the wings to be sold, given away, etc. I’ve enjoyed the process so much that I will be blogging through decluttering my entire home in 2011 (Minimalist Monday Mission: Declutter 365).
Thanks for the guest post – I can totally relate!
Sustainable PF says
Great take on frugality and minimalism. They do go hand in hand, as does our topic of choice, sustainability / personal finance.
Mrs. SPF and I have been discussing minimalism and reducing the amount of “stuff” we have in our home. We are very happy to have found and subscribed to becomingminimalist.com and we plan to work through the archives over the long Canadian winter.
Very interesting post, I too came to minimalism through frugality. I think that one of the first steps is to enjoy the use of what you’ve purchased over the experience of purchasing it, like your experience with the electric toy car. Thanks