Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Balancing Act of Frugal Minimalism

I grew up reading the original, historical American Girls books, the Little House on the Prairie books, and Little Women, and as I learned about these different heroines, I fell in love with the ways that they made money stretch, reused household items, and lived simply. In fact, when I was about 9 years old, I asked my mom to cut my blond hair short, and declared that I wanted to be called "Kit," after Kit Kittredge, one of my favorite American Girls! I've always hesitated before throwing anything away, because I want to make sure to reuse whatever household items I possibly can. In fact, several months ago, I made a mei tai babycarrier from old jeans, bedsheets, and fabric scraps-the only item I had to purchase to make this was batting to pad the shoulder straps!

I'm not the biggest cheapskate around, but I am pretty frugal. At the same time, I also strive to grow as a minimalist. I've found that I love to have a tidy home with empty spaces. Since I'm a stay-at-home-mom, I spend a lot of time at home, and if there's mountains of clutter or stuff everywhere, I become stressed out. We recently moved into a house that's about 400 square feet larger than our apartment (so much space! It feels like a palace), and I'm very alert as to what is coming into our home, since I do not want to accumulate loads of belongings. I love simplicity and tidiness.

In a minimalism group I belong to online, there's been some discussion about frugality and minimalism. Is it possible to be a frugal minimalist? What does this look like?

Every person practices frugality and/or minimalism in different ways, but from my own observations-and what others have told me-there have been a couple of trends that seem to ring true in most cases. 

Frugal individuals don't spend much money. They stretch every dollar, reuse and recycle like nobody's business, and they are professional coupon-clippers and sale-finders.

Minimalist individuals often focus on decluttering their homes, many times creating open, somewhat empty spaces. They focus on quality over quantity, and don't want to overload themselves with physical possessions that can take away from a sense of carefree joy.

While these two practices can compliment each other, they can also starkly oppose each other. Frugal people can tend to keep everything, because "waste not, want not!" Often, people with frugal tendencies spot the sales and they stock up on these discounted items. While all of these practices can save money in the long run, these items can pile up, gather dust, and become clutter-the minimalist's nemesis. As I'm said, I'm pretty frugal, but I used to be frugal to the extreme. Anytime there was a sale, even if it was an item that I wasn't sure I needed (but I was sure I'd use eventually), I'd go ahead and take advantage of the sale. I'd never throw away or give away anything. While I didn't take the time to clip coupons, I would still stockpile sale items and try to spend the least amount of money possible on household items or food.

As I enthusiastically embrace minimalism, however, I've found that I need to be a lot more intentional about how I practice frugality. I've learned that I need to be careful when shopping sales, because even if I experience monetary savings, I often pay a price emotionally if I stockpile too much stuff and let clutter build. There's a balance of frugality and minimalism that I seek to tip-toe across, and there are questions that I ask myself in order to keep from falling over. I use these questions when I see sales that look tempting, or really anytime I want to bring a new item into our home.

1. "Do I NEED this?"

Really, we don't need much stuff to survive. Many items are certainly helpful, and they can make life more comfortable, so how does this particular item rank in being something I "need" or something that would be "extremely good to have"?

2. "Will I use this?"

There may be an amazing sale which would tempt my frugal tendencies-but if it involves something that I don't actually use, then it would be silly for me to make that purchase!

3. "When will I use this?"

If I foresee myself using the item in a few weeks or a month, and it's a really good sale, then I might buy it. But if the item is something that I'd be buying because I know that down the road, maybe in several months, maybe in a year or two, I'd need it, then I'll leave it at the store. Chances are, by the time I'd actually need or use the item, it would be on sale again, since most stores seem to offer sales rather routinely!

Being frugal while striving for minimalism is a bit of a challenge, but I enjoy this chance to find ways to save while living with less (and not necessarily stockpiling every item that I find on sale). Plus, living with less means buying less, which makes my frugal heart happy :) I've found that frugal minimalism is a balancing act, and the way it plays out is going to look different for every person. If you have any ideas on how to balance being frugal while being minimalist, I'd love to hear them! 


  1. Your thoughts really resonant with me right now. I'm more on the frugal side but as I spend more time at home with kids, I find myself becoming so tired of clutter. Also I am not good at creating organizing systems, so I can't even hide the clutter or find the stuff I save. So I'm moving toward more simple living

    1. Thanks so much for sharing that, Ellen! I think that's really awesome that you've moving towards simple living. I've really found that there's only so much good that organization systems can do, at some point you just have to let go of stuff and live with less to stay sane!