One of my earliest articles for MSN Money was called “Living ‘poor’ and loving it.”* In the essay I noted that there’s real joy in knowing that you have everything you need and some of what you want.
But what if your goal is to have more than one of everything you need, and a whole bunch of what you want?
My daughter, who blogs at I Pick Up Pennies, wrote about this in a post called “I like stuff.” Abby enjoys clothes, accessories and technology. She wishes she could be a minimalist, but she isn’t one – even though she writes a personal finance blog.
It seems to me that some people consider “minimalism” a synonym for “frugality.” But it ain’t necessarily so. I can get by with very little, but I choose to keep a bunch of things that make me happy.
Splurging and purging
Some of the pieces I’ve read about minimalism make it seem like the moral high ground: I have less stuff than you, therefore I am purer in my frugality.
I’ve also detected a whiff of class snobbery in some discussions: “I have 10 billion books but no television set and certainly no commemorative Slurpee cups or ‘Star Wars’ figurines.”
Understand: I am opposed to mindless consumerism. Some people simply can’t seem to quit buying, even after it stops doing them any good. Check out an episode of that “Hoarders” television program if you want to see extreme examples.
Others buy and buy, then donate or sell it all so they can buy and buy some more. (Abby calls this “splurging and purging.”) Certainly I’ve seen quite a few things still shrink-wrapped and price-tagged at yard sales and thrift stores.
But some people appreciate pretty things. Or they just want to collect the whole set. So what?
One of my best friends has a wide variety of books, DVDs, figurines, posters and ephemera concerning her favorite actor. A close relative of mine spends a ton of cash on gardening – but she budgets for it. Hundreds of hours spent outdoors every summer makes her happier than, say, dinners out or a closet full of designer clothes.
A dedicated model-maker might ditch furniture to add more display cabinets. And just try telling a quilter that she has “enough” fabric.
These things make them happy. Why should we care how much stuff they have? They’re the ones who have to dust it.
A matter of personal choice
Stuff isn’t inherently evil. It’s our attitude toward stuff that bears watching. When we’re obsessed with acquisition to the detriment of family or budget or long-term security, it’s time for an intervention. (And maybe a yard sale.)
Abby practices what she calls “frugal materialism”: She and her husband enjoy their belongings but they try to shop intentionally rather than constantly. They discuss before they shop. They buy with frugal hacks such as Swagbucks and cashback shopping, and seek out those yard sales and thrift stores.
These are good tactics for those who aren’t minimalist by nature. You can avoid being overrun by belongings you can’t really use or fully appreciate. (See “Hoarders,” above.) You can also avoid going deeply into debt to get the things you want.
It’s your life. You get to decorate it the way you like. If you want one of everything and two of some things, well, it’s your money.
And if living with just a few carefully chosen objects makes you happy? Then live that way, and the heck with what other people think about your decor. Or your lack of collectible figurines.
*This piece is no longer available on MSN Money. However, I posted the original (longer) version on this website as “Poor, poor (but not pitiful) me.“