Living Minimally: What’s The Point?

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Have you all heard of the minimalist movement? The tiny house movement?  They’re both so interesting and appealing to me. When I see people living so simply, minimally, so tiny, it reminds me of when I was a kid playing with my Polly Pocket dolls and how everything miniature just felt so much more magical, sentimental and inviting. I really admire people who can give up so much and be so happy (if not cramped)!

In 2012, my husband and I bought our first house. It’s nearly a hundred years old and has so much charm and character. When we first saw it and walked through its halls we knew we would put in an offer. It was advertised as being 1900 square feet but when we moved in, our furniture did not fit. We had to give away quite a few pieces. It wasn’t until we installed our HVAC system that we figured out that it was actually 1500 square feet. In 1920, when the house was built, they included the unfinished basement in the square footage. Well, we don’t live down there so we don’t include that as living space in 2016. Anyways, boring house details aside, when we bought this house, we immediately had to downsize and realized that we weren’t going to grow into this house. We would have to shrink into it. With 5 people living in 1500 square feet, we have about 300 sq. ft. per person. For upper middle-class American standards, that’s pretty small.

But that brings me to my point. Upper middle-class American standards.

Most of the world lives in very small, minimalist spaces, and usually not by choice. Right here in my own city, the average house price is $140,000. But that’s on the side of town that I wouldn’t choose to live in. The houses are sometimes very small, in disrepair, and the schools and neighborhoods are often unsafe and violent. Many of these “tiny houses” are public, low income townhouses. The families that live in these “tiny houses” may not be able to afford closets full of clothes, the newest technologies, and rooms full of toys for their kids. And so they live minimally. They live tiny. Sometimes hungry. But more often than not, they are still  happy. But I can guarantee that this is not the minimal, tiny living that the movement had in mind.

My family chose to live across town for $100,000 more. We can afford a safe neighborhood. My children are surrounded by books, technologies, and resources to help them succeed in school. They have parents (me and Jason) who read to them, do their homework with them, volunteer at their school, spend quality time with them; all things that cultivate and help ensure academic success. All because we can afford to. And we can afford to choose to live minimally if we want. We can choose to downsize. To not spend money on cable, food, toys, clothes, and activities. And we have access to resources that teach us and encourage us to spend quality time with our children. We don’t live in a generational cycle of forced “tiny living.” We live in a generational cycle of economic health, education, and choices. That’s what the minimalist and tiny house movement misses. It misses the choices that people  who are privileged have.

My question to minimalists and people who live and aspire to live tiny is this: What is the point? I would like to aspire to have less things, to teach my children to live counter culturally by not wanting more for the sake of having more. But to what end? I think that the minimalist and tiny house movements are on to something. I think that it is a worthwhile cause. Upper middle class American culture does live too big and consume too much. But when we work to give up so much, what do we exchange? What do we do with the extra money? The extra time? Do we then spend it with the poor? Do we help those who have no choice but to live minimally and tiny?

Tiny living can be something amazing. It can free us up to give hugely. To make new friendships. To spread out our resources. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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