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Can’t Afford the Minimalist Lifestyle?

Can't afford minimalist lifestyle - home organization - budgeting - Tiny HouseImage:Gualberto107

I got an e-mail from a reader a few weeks ago about minimalist living.   I replied to her and we chatted a bit, but I wanted to share it with the rest of you in case other people have a similar question.

I think it represents frustration many people feel.  So with her permission I am going to share with you the e-mail and respond.

Here is the e-mail:

I have been doing a lot of reading about minimalism lately, and I absolutely LOVE the sounds of it, and the benefits experienced. The 2 main things that I love about what people who are living minimalist lives talk about are (1) the money you can save and (2) the personal growth and new appreciation for the things that really matter (ex. finding a career that really suits you and fulfills you).

There is one BIG question that keeps coming up for me though… What if you already don’t have your own home (because you can’t afford it), but still want to cut back enough to save money and do the things you want?

I love the thought of de-cluttering your life, and focusing more on the things that matter, but I feel as though I just can’t make it happen financially (move into my own place, have a source of income that allows this, and get away from my 9-5 desk job that doesn’t pay enough). I know that’s a loaded question! But I am dying to find a solution.

There is a stereotype of minimalists that includes a cute little house or an all white interior condo.  It says they don’t have to work a real job but are able to work on creative projects undisturbed.  Someone who has paid off all their debts, doesn’t have money worries, and has extra money for travel or super high quality stuff for their little house.

Sounds nice doesn’t it?

This is probably the way many minimalists wish they lived 🙂

There are minimalists who live in cute little houses or condos, and there are minimalists who can 100% support themselves on work they love, and there are probably minimalists that make good money doing it.  But these are the minority more than the majority.

Minimalism is about wanting less, needing less, and being content with less.  It is human nature to compare and wish for something better and it isn’t wrong to have lifestyle goals, but wanting a better life needs to be a motivator in your life and not a roadblock.

The short answer to this question is – No, you don’t need to own your own home.  Many minimalists don’t, they either rent or travel, or find another creative living arrangement.  Really minimalism is a mind and choices thing more than it is a money thing.

Life is about making choices.  Where much of society is driven by money and/or an amount of material possessions, choosing to be minimalist means you are choosing to be driven by something else – passion, purpose, priorities, or freedom.  Making this change is not easy and it means changing habits and probably sacrificing for it.

Choosing to live minimalist is not something you have to save up to do, and it is not something you reach.  

It is not a number of material possessions you have or any other external measure.  Living minimalist is the change in your mind that has many (though different for different people) external evidences.

Honestly, not owning your own home is probably an advantage.  I have spoken to many people who feel trapped in a big home they don’t want to pay for or take care of.  A house is a financial, location, and often a lifestyle trap.

Many minimalists have jobs to pay for food and somewhere to live.  They work on personal growth or other job prospects in their spare time or are just happy to let work be a tool and focus on living and enjoying life when they aren’t at work.  Many do not make a lot of money but are finding contentment in things that don’t cost.

Our Situation

I am a minimalist and have considered myself one for a few years now.  We became minimalist when we decided to change our life.  We still had a house full of things and needed to work a lot to pay the bills, but we decided to start working our way out of it.

Through the last few years we have made several other changes but our decision to live this way has not changed, it has just adapted to what we can do at the time.  Financially it has seen us make less and less money but we have been happier with our lives.  We don’t have enough money to travel, write, and take pictures all the time (like we would love to do someday) but we focus on making the most of these areas of our life.

Currently we are living in China and are teaching English to pay the bills here.  Though it took us a while to get here, it is not difficult to move to another country and experience it if you are willing to work while you are here.  Teaching English jobs are everywhere, and if you have another profession you may have other opportunities.  Our lives, time and financially, have not changed much since we left America.  We still work to pay the bills but focus our energies on our kids, learning and exploring, serving God, and enjoying life in the present.

I would argue that (usually) a minimalist life doesn’t cost anything.  If you have lifestyle goals that include a house, or the ability to take time off work, then saving money will be important. But neither is a pre-requisite to being minimalist.

The only time when a minimalist life may become too expensive is if you are in debt.  Debt is the enemy of freedom… it sucks… and should be avoided or gotten out of as soon as possible.  Debt can trap you in a lifestyle you don’t want to sustain.  You can still make choices and work to get out of it, but it is the hardest to overcome.

Dream, grow, live, simplify, and serve however best fits with your situation.  Look for ways to change where can, but make the best of the place ‘on the path’ you are at.

Thanks for reading!


  1. I have never had much money or my own house, but I would still say adopting a minimalist life has brought me closer to my dream. It also means I need less money to achieve my dreams which makes them seem less impossible

  2. Brenda Haskin Brenda Haskin

    Really great post. Thank you.

  3. Claire Claire

    Where is that little house?? Gorgeous!

    Great post. Just what I needed.

    • I love it too! I found it on a creative commons site that lets me use pictures for my site.

  4. Yes, I would argue that for us/me adopting a minimalist lifestyle has been almost the opposite. Minimalism for me right now means having a massive declutter. I have a cupboard full of stuff I never use just in case ‘one day’ I might. I’m also 6 months pregnant so I’m sure that a lot of it is nesting. And then rethinking what we do spend our money on. So I probably would have bought a lot of meaningless trinkets on our break last week but I realised they’d be in another donation box next year probably…
    We still have debt. We have a mortgage in the UK but rent in Luxembourg. Not that I would describe myself yet as a fully fledged minimalist anyway. But it seems it’s different for each person…

  5. Sarah T. Sarah T.

    I struggle between my “ideal” life, and the one I live with my family. In my fantasy, we live in a very small house or camper in a year-round mild climate, with very few personal effects, plenty of space to roam, have a big garden, live off the grid, etc. In reality, we have a 1400 sq. ft. house with a full basement in suburbia on 1/4 acre where I can’t manage to keep my 3 tomato plants alive. I can feel bad about my lack of “minimalism” or I can choose to embrace what I have and where I am. Good storage/freezer space means I can buy extra when I find a good deal at a store, which makes grocery shopping easier and less frequent. The kids have a large basement to play in during the cold winter months. I live close to Aldi and Costco, where I can buy pretty much anything I need at a reasonable price.

    It’s easy to see how green the grass *could* be, but another thing completely to appreciate the grass you have. And that is really the essence of minimalism- contentment with what you have.

  6. Laura Laura

    My debt- student loans- is the reason I chose minimalism.

    I didn’t know that I was choosing it though! In fact I didn’t know minimalism was even a “thing”.

    I thought- “I have these large, interest accumulating debts. I want to get rid of those asap because I feel like a slave to them.”

    First thing I did was clean out! Sold computers, phones, furniture, antiques, etc. I decided to just have the bare minimum!

    After then, cut out other bills- cable, phone, magazines, etc.

    I was feeling great after that. Cleaning the house was so easy. No more planned days of organizing. Not more moving around furniture or knick-knacks to vacuum and dust. No more wasting time on gadgets.

    Then I stumbled upon blogs and websites dedicated to what I had done.

    “Simple Living” “Minimalism”

    I hadn’t come up with this “new” awesome way of life, there are others out there just like me!

    What I need to minimize now is my diet.

    You need to help me with that, next, Lorilee.

    • We didn’t know what it was called when we started either. … I will work on the diet idea 🙂

  7. I think that one of your commenters was dead on. Being content with what you have is really what it is all about. It doesn’t matter where you live, or what you have. All minimalists are different. That is what makes us interesting. Not everyone wants white walls or a small house. Learning to love your space and what you have is key. Thanks for this post Lorilee.

  8. eema eema

    nice, thoughtful post

  9. For our family, minimalism is a way to SAVE money. We buy a lot less, make do with what we have, re-use and re-purpose instead of buying new.

    I have seen some minimalists advocate things like just getting rid of everything you don’t use regularly because “you can always it when you need it.” Sorry, but even if I only use the turkey roasting pan once a year, I have room to keep it, and it seems silly to buy a new one each year instead of storing that one. Ditto for the shoes to wear to events like weddings.

    Also, while we do declutter what we don’t use, if we simply have too much of something, we quit buying it until we wear out what we have. For instance, instead of getting rid of the 3rd and 4th sets of sheets, why not save them on a high shelf until the others wears out?

    Obviously someone who has 42 extra sets of sheets will need to act differently!

    We do own our house currently but once all the kids are gone plan to rent a smaller place. I don’t think owning your own home is a requirement for minimalism.

  10. Jesse Jesse

    Really nice breakdown of what minimalism is. It’s often glorified by those 1% people and giving people new to being a minimalist a pretty high bar for success, and missing some of the realities.

  11. Fabienne Fabienne

    Since 2 years I,m enjoying to be a minimalist. Free of clutter and depts. but today my beautiful life is over. We will have to ask for credit to help our family who is in big trouble. Will have to pay for 10years dept. and almost the half of my husbands salary. Nothing will remain to enjoy life. Only working and paying. I,m devastated. Sorry to sound so negative. I think I need to adapt to this new situation. I,m sure that my minimalistic lifestyle will make it easier. Thank you for your encouraging posts.

  12. 1. Being content with less
    2. Buying Less
    3. Giving away or selling what you don’t need
    4. Saving more money since you waste less
    5. Focusing on family instead of expensive electronics to keep us entertained
    6. Finding a hobby you love
    7. More time for meditation, self-improvement, family and spirituality
    8. De-cluttering your home
    9. Finding a career that fulfills you, instead of one that just makes great money.
    10. Less stress and anxiety

  13. Deb Deb

    When my g/f and I had a serious financial shift in our income, it was necessary to re-assess our currently lifestyle. We were two years into a home ownership, with two vehicle payments and money to burn. The event we experienced was like hitting a brick wall at high speed. However, we remained positive and made many adjustments to our way of living, though not really very willing at first. I was working full time and fortunately made enough to scrape by. Ramen noodles, beans, rice and frozen veggies got us by diet wise. We didn’t want to lose the house and one vehicle payment was soon to be satisfied. So were persevered.
    That was five years ago and though our financial status has improved, we now spend very frugally. The vehicles are paid off, we grow many of our own vegetables (having learned to garden), so we eat better too. We recycle paper, glass and plastic and no longer are slaves to television. We now enjoy our crafting, refinishing furniture and redecorating our home and yard. Long gone are the fancy cell phones, having gone to a simple no contract plan and inexpensive phones. We own one laptop and one desktop computer, used mainly for school work. We now ride bicycles to town both for purpose and fun. We walk, hike, we share, we enjoy real life that does not cost a lot of money and it’s all very good.
    This week was one to declutter my closets of old, unworn clothes, toiletries and piles of no longer used art supplies to make room for a few new ones. FEW..being the key word.
    It’s exciting to look for new ways to live minimally and more green and I recommend it to all!

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