Thoughts From A Poor Minimalist
Does Minimalism Glamorize Poverty?
We tackled this question over on Black Minimalists and posed it on our instagram:
This is a topic and question that has been posed over the years as the minimalism trend grows. It sparked a lot of debate in our community so I thought I'd share my response to the question with you.
"In popular debates about whether the trend of minimalism is the glamorization of poverty, the word “choice” is often the defining word separating the minimalist haves from the impoverished have nots. Even my three team members above have referred to the word "choice" in their opinions.
Personally, I find it a bit perplexing to say poor people lack choice and thus agency. Can you choose to be a minimalist and lack certain resources, i.e. be poor? From what I’ve read on the subject, it would seem not, but here I am, living proof.
I grew up poor and by current U.S. societal standards, I’m still poor. I’ve lived in some type of low-income housing, including a trailer park, for most of my life and have received government assistance in various forms. I also have a college degree which ironically has both elevated and further impoverished me at the same damn time.
I flirted with a middle class lifestyle while working my last full-time job five years ago. I chose to return to poverty and pursue a minimalist lifestyle after becoming disillusioned with the emotional, spiritual, and mental labor required to ascend to and maintain an average middle class life. Part of that labor also stemmed from an inability to reconcile a poverty mindset with a newly (physically) abundant one.
Additionally, I know many people in the larger minimalist movement and within the black minimalist community who have chose minimalism as a way to skirt poverty or at least maintain what they have while living the most healthy, sustainable lifestyle they can manage.
Choosing poverty is not glamorous at all, especially when you truly understand what it means to be poor. Would I rather not be poor? Absolutely, and I hope not to stay poor for much longer. What being poor (and minimalist) has taught me is to understand my values, who I am, and what I need and want at this point in my life.
What gives me solace and empowers me in the midst of my poverty, is what I’ve found this time that has alluded me previously, freedom. The freedom to use my limited resources in ways that service my mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. The freedom to not let any label, be it poor or minimalist, define who I am, and to know I’m not defined by the stuff that I own. The freedom of knowing I’m living better, lessening my footprint in this world, and impacting my communities to do the same. This freedom comes from minimalism.
Are there minimalists from privileged backgrounds who romanticize and commodify simple living? Of course, but why do people even care if someone wants to live a life they perceive as poor? At the end of the day, even performative poverty still consumes less resources and lowers negative environmental impacts, which still benefits everyone.
When I hear people rejecting minimalism because of the perceived festishization of poverty, their arguments reek of smugness, but also some unacknowledged truths. I think the undercurrent of their disdain for minimalists comes from a belief in the American Dream where your value equals the amount of stuff you own and they don’t want to give up their stuff or they haven’t yet obtained all the stuff they think their entitled to per the dream. It’s a real fear to be considered “poor” let alone actually be poor, and they know their consumptive lifestyle is doing more harm to actual poor people than minimalism."
Read the other Black Minimalists team members' responses here.