What minimalism can do for your mind and money

Materialism and consumption can erode bank balances, and chip away at health and happiness.

I am a hypocrite. It's become obvious in recent weeks as I consider two competing – and conflicting – sources of inspiration I seek out through social media.

On the one hand, I follow Marie Kondo, the best-selling author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and a number of her devotees. They are minimalist converts and I practically salivate over the photographic evidence of their clutter-free cutlery drawers, wardrobes, pantries.

They barely have anything in them and it is glorious. On the other hand, I follow a host of bloggers, boutiques and retailers who have me coveting their wares as routinely as they post them.

The upshot is I want none of the things as quickly as I want all of the things.

Of course you could argue these objectives need not be conflicting: if you are judicious in the way you shop – and stick to quality over quantity – you will end up with less.

But the sheer volume of desirable bed linen, furniture, jewellery, shoes, bags and childrenswear, to name just a few categories, on display via Instagram lends itself more to crammed cupboards than spare space.

Which brings me back to minimalism and my quest to embrace it.

I am frequently astounded at the volume of stuff our household manages to accumulate – seemingly without effort. I haven't exactly adopted Marie Kondo but nor am I a hoarder. And I don't have the time or the money to shop as often as my Instagram feed might prompt me.

And yet? We have a house filled to the brim with stuff I am not exactly sure we need.

Which is why I genuinely delight in decluttering. Recently I divvyed up a mountain of baby clothes and associated paraphernalia we no longer need: some went to the charity bin and some went to friends. Some, after servicing three babies, was unsalvageable and went to the bin. The satisfaction in offloading was sublime.

Naturally I was immediately overcome with the desire to give this treatment to every cupboard and storage box in the house.

It focused my mind, not for the first time, on the mental and financial appeal of living with less.

Research has repeatedly shown that materialism and consumption not only erodes our bank balances but it chips away at our happiness and our health.

"The failure of additional wealth and consumption to help people have satisfying lives may be the most eloquent argument for re-evaluating our current approach to consumption," the authors of Worldwatch Institute's 2011 State of Consumption report wrote.

A few years ago I committed to a personal fashion/finance challenge: I didn't buy anything for six months. I "shopped" my own wardrobe daily, I didn't look in shops and I wasn't tempted to cave, which says more about the power of habit than my will power. 

So rather than simply saying I am going to embrace minimalism I am committing to three new habits. If they stick I'll be posting my own Marie-Kondo-esque images in no time.

Be ruthless

The treatment I gave our redundant baby clothes can be repeated in several cupboards – not to mention various hidden storage receptacles – around our house. I can't do it all at once, but tackling a different room one at a time, with the "keep, sell, donate" hat on, is the only way we will cull. And, boy, we can cull. Being ruthless and realistic is mandatory: if we haven't used the item in the past 12 months chances are we never will. The reward for your endeavours lies in the sweet relief of having a functional toy box, pantry or linen cupboard.

One in, one out

This is a no-brainer in theory but requires just a little effort in practice. First, if you are buying something new you need to consider what you are willing to offload. And not just hypothetically – what are you actually going to donate, sell or bin?

Second, once you buy the new item, actually discard the old. It shouldn't need saying, but, personally, my intentions don't always translate into immediate action. A case in point: I recently bought some new sheets but I still haven't moved the tired old set on. They remain in the linen cupboard creating unnecessary clutter and mess ... which is not the minimalist path.

Make do

A few weeks ago we had a wedding to attend and despite the allure of buying something new – and trust me there were some terrific contenders – I exercised restraint. I shopped my own wardrobe instead. I don't have cause to don a cocktail dress or evening wear that often so even the older dresses in my wardrobe are in relatively "new" shape.

Making do is a different mindset: I skipped the rush of wearing something special but experienced a rush of pride because I resisted. The proof will be whether I repeat this restraint.


This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 12 May 2017. It represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.

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© AMP Life Limited. This provides general information and hasn’t taken your circumstances into account. It’s important to consider your particular circumstances before deciding what’s right for you. Although the information is from sources considered reliable, AMP does not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. You should not rely upon it and should seek qualified advice before making any investment decision. Except where liability under any statute cannot be excluded, AMP does not accept any liability (whether under contract, tort or otherwise) for any resulting loss or damage of the reader or any other person.