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How to Be More Minimalist (on a Budget)

Key Takeaways


Tired of clutter, impulse buys and an empty wallet? Studies show all three can lead to higher stress levels.

Enter: Minimalism

Many people are going minimalist to decrease stress and gain control of their finances. You can, too!

Do it Your Way

And no, going minimalist doesn’t mean owning 2 shirts and an empty living room, we promise.

Here’s a scenario:

You decide you need to save money. Awesome.

You create (or adjust) your current budget.

You get a couple weeks (or even a month!) into your new budget, riding the “I’m saving money” high and then “something comes up,” like:

  • There’s a sale at your local bookstore.
  • A friend invites you out to eat.
  • You rifle through your full closet only to say “I have nothing to wear” so you hop online for some quick shopping.
  • And man, you could really use a new throw blanket for your couch for this fall.
  • A new pair of sneakers would be nice, too.
  • Maybe some roller skates? Everyone’s getting into that lately.
  • Oh, and that new Switch game just came out.

Or maybe it’s smaller stuff. A new T-shirt. A $4.99 iPhone game. A new print for your apartment. Small impulse buys. No big deal, right?

But let’s say you’ve been doing this for years — deciding to cut back, creating a budget, trying to avoid impulse buys successfully … then not so successfully.

All those little impulse buys not only add up at the end of the year, but they also become a habit. Suddenly, you end up with an apartment full of junk — unplayed games, unworn clothes, unused art supplies, surfaces covered in knick knacks, drawers that are too full to close.

Now all that stuff you bought on impulse not only clutters up your space, but it fuels your anxiety (and drains your wallet). Which then fuels your desire to buy more as a coping mechanism to deal with *gestures at everything* all this (your clutter, life in general, the state of the world, etc.).

how to be more minimalist in 2020 gif

Creating a budget doesn’t really solve this problem. It doesn’t make the impulse to buy go away.

So what’s the solution?

You might need to make a more substantial change. A lifestyle change.

We don’t believe you should deprive yourself of All Good Things in life in order to save money. Our world is a bit of a cluster@$?! — we need to cope somehow!

But you can live a lifestyle that is fulfilling, more sustainable and cheaper if you learn how to be more minimalist.

Current Budget Not Cutting it?

Here are some other ways to save money.

Little Ways to Save

Benefits of Being More Minimalist

Before we talk about how to be more minimalist, let’s talk about what minimalism can do:

Relieve Stress

For many of us, the state of our home reflects the state of our mind. When we get stressed, the sink may fill with dishes, the laundry may get left undone, the carpet unvacuumed. It’s natural — you’re busy and overwhelmed, so of course cleaning isn’t going to be the first thing on your mind.

But that clutter eventually leads to more stress. Literally. One study showed that many women experienced elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone associated with depressive and anxious symptoms, when surrounded by too many physical objects in their home. Another study showed a strong link between clutter and depression in most participants.

When you have so much stuff, clutter becomes inevitable. It then feeds this cycle of stress, clutter, more stress, more clutter, etc.

Owning less stuff means there’s automatically less clutter.

I can confirm this. I went minimal in the summer of 2017. It’s almost impossible to actually make my apartment look messy because there’s just not enough stuff around to, well, make a mess. (Though leaving dishes in the sink will always be my achilles heel.)

Save Money

Living a minimalist lifestyle requires making firm decisions about how much you’ll own and what qualifications an item has to meet before you buy it.

Telling yourself “but I need to save money” when you come face to face with The Impulse Buy isn’t very effective. You automatically start the justification process:

  • I get paid next week
  • I’ll get a lot of use out of it
  • I can return it if I don’t use it (yeah, right)
  • After this purchase I’m done!

Practicing minimalism, though, sets more ground rules that give you a handful of other justifications not to make the purchase beyond just “I need to save money.” We’ll talk about some of those ground rules you can set a little later.

Curb Bad Spending Habits

As you live this new lifestyle, you’ll find that resisting The Impulse Buy comes more naturally. You’ll start to breathe easier just because your home is less cluttered. That feeling in and of itself gives you a kind of high, which means it not only gets easier to avoid impulse purchases — it becomes enjoyable. Soon, half the things you see aren’t nearly as tempting.

How to Be More Minimalist (On a Budget)

Remember Everyone is Different

Minimalism doesn’t have to mean bare walls and five pieces of clothing and an empty living room. But it can, if that’s what you’re into! Everyone learns how to be more minimalist in a different way.

Some minimalists love a comfortable, beautiful home. They have art on the walls, books on the shelves. For these minimalists, it’s more about curating. They’ll leave the walls bare until they see the perfect piece from a local artist instead of filling up walls with mass-produced live laugh love signs from Target. They may spend more money up front on an item that will last than other minimalists would.

Other minimalists don’t really care about what their home or clothes look like. They’re more concerned with clearing out everything that is unnecessary and keeping only what’s essential and saving as much money as possible.

And others are more systematic. They might have 20 hangers and decide they can’t own more clothes than hangers.

Whatever the case, don’t think that you have to “do” minimalism a specific way. Everyone decides how to be more minimalist in their own way. It’s up to you to determine what works for you and your budget the best.

The Elimination Round

Maybe you’re reading this post because you looked around your apartment and felt overwhelmed. Well, even if you take up more minimalist spending habits, that won’t eliminate the clutter you have already accumulated.

So before you do anything, it’s time to get rid of stuff. This can be a quick process (I got rid of about 75% of my stuff in a couple days) or it can be a long-term thing. Or both!

Set aside a day or weekend where you can go through everything you own. Everything. We’re talking kitchen utensils, your dresser, that random storage closet you haven’t opened in months. Everything.

Instead of sorting things into Keep, Maybe, Donate/Sell/Trash sections, skip the “maybe” section entirely. A common thread among every kind of minimalist is that you don’t keep “maybe” items. Got a shirt you sort of like but don’t love? Why keep it when you have a handful of others you’d rather wear?

Get rid of all the maybes and all the things you haven’t used recently.

If you’re struggling, try having a “packing party” instead. Pack everything into boxes (EVERYTHING), label them (e.g. “kitchen utensils” etc.) and over the next 21 days, only take things out as you need them.

Then, in 21 days, give away whatever is left in the boxes without looking in them like Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists did.

“After three weeks, 80% of my stuff was still in those boxes. Just sitting there. Unaccessed. I looked at those boxes and couldn’t even remember what was in most of them. All those things that were supposed to make me happy weren’t doing their job.

So I donated and sold all of it.”

That 21-day time period may differ. Clothes, for example, are seasonal. You could separate clothes into boxes by season and store them until that season starts and you can start pulling clothes out. The point is to get things out of sight and only keep things you actively think of using or wearing on a regular basis.

Rethink Your “Needs”

Part of becoming a minimalist means figuring out what you need and what you don’t — and realizing it is okay to want things.

Wanting Netflix isn’t bad. But that doesn’t make it a need.

Does that mean you have to give it up? Of course not. But when learning how to be more minimalist, thinking about things differently will help curb the impulsive buying habits. Too often we find ourselves looking at something in our online shopping cart and thinking “I mean, I do need it” when we most definitely do not. That awareness alone helps us put more thought into our purchases or wait the 48 hours before hitting “buy” to make sure it’s something we won’t regret buying.

But we also don’t need to feel guilty about wanting certain things either, no matter what Dave Ramsey says.

Dave Ramsey how to be more minimalist meme

Set New Ground Rules

You could give away 90% of your stuff and still end up buying it all back if you don’t change your spending habits. And that’s the opposite effect we want!

Once you’ve given away, sold or tossed all the stuff you don’t need, it’s time to set some ground rules. These can be different for everyone, but here are some example guidelines you can tweak to make your own:

  • I have X hangers. I won’t buy clothes if I do not have enough hangers.
  • If I want to buy something, I will give something else up first.
  • I will wait a week before making a minor, non-necessity purchase (like a clothing item).
  • I will wait a month before making a major, non-necessity purchase (like a skateboard or art piece or game).
  • If I don’t absolutely love it in the dressing room, I won’t buy it.
  • Is there something else I’d rather save up for than what I’m thinking of buying now?

Setting ground rules like this will help you be more mindful about your spending, which is what minimalism is all about!

Think Long-Term

If you’re learning how to be more minimalist on a budget, pricier items might be a huge turnoff. However, when you’re able, investing in a higher-quality item can often save you money in the long run.

Why buy a cheap vacuum cleaner that will break in a year when you could buy a nice one that will last 5 years or more?

Why buy paper towels over and over again when you could buy reusable ones once and save the environment and your wallet?

Why buy trendy clothes that will go out of style in three months when you could buy staple pieces that will last years?

The problem with The Impulse Buy is that it focuses only on how you feel right now.

Minimalism instead encourages you to think long-term.

(Reminder: not everyone is able to spend more money up front to save money in the long run, and that’s okay! That doesn’t mean you should wait to replace that worn out shirt until you’ve saved money for a more expensive one. Minimalism is about finding what works for you and your budget, remember?)

Be Responsible with Your Savings

As you start spending less and living a more minimalist lifestyle, you’ll notice you’ll have more money left over every month. It can be easy to allow that “extra” to lure you back to an impulse buy. Don’t let it!

Instead, think about using it to:

  • Pay off debt
  • Put it into savings
  • Invest
  • Save for a big essential purchase
  • Save for something on your bucket list
  • Or just buy the daily essentials you’ve struggled to afford in the past

If you want to practice financial minimalism, consider banking with a credit union. A credit union can simplify the banking process by eliminating fees and the need to talk to AI chatbots. Real humans always make everything go more smoothly.

Want a Financial Institution that Cares About You and Your Minimalist Journey?

Bank with a credit union.

Find Yours Today

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