Extremes in Minimalism, Frugality, and Early Retirement

masonjaraceI enjoyed reading this NYT article When the Gospel of Minimalism Collides With Daily Life. The “Minimalist Mom” was profiled who vowed to not buy their kids anything for an entire year (2013). How does she live now?

These days, she warned, their two-story London house is far from minimalist. “Lego bricks strewn across the floor, poster paints cluttering the breakfast table, children’s drawings covering the fridge,” she said. In hindsight, she said, some of the trade-offs she made as the Minimalist Mom, like spending days looking for free toilet-training underpants for her toddler, “may not have been the best investment of my time.”

Ms. Garlick cautions those flirting with such a lifestyle change, “Chasing any ideal, whether it’s minimalism or anything else, isn’t the way forward.”

“Family life,” she added, “and actually any life probably, is at its best when it’s a bit scruffy and messy.” Being the Minimalist Mom entailed some daily mental gymnastics, she said, and required her to say no to her son about buying certain things, purely “in pursuit of a principle.” Today, she said, she feels more relaxed and happier, without the added worry of so much minimalism.

I’m sure she felt a lot of pressure to keep up with her commitment. It can be hard to keep projecting the perfect life (credit: Fowl Language)…

instaparent

Perfection is exhausting. I figure if two people cut their consumer waste by 50%, that’s the same effect on the environment as one person living as before and another person fitting all their waste into a tiny jar.

The perfect frugal early retiree. I observe this dynamic at work in the “frugal” and “early retirement” communities as well. Very quickly, an ideal forms. Small home. 15-year-old used econobox car. Better yet, bike 30 miles a day or use public transportation exclusively. At least two side hustles and your hobbies must consist of couponing, dumpster-diving, and visiting garage sales to resell on Amazon and eBay.

My goals is to not teach my children any specific ideal, but instead that the world is full of options. You don’t need to spend like everyone around you, and you don’t need to live like everyone around you.

I have to admit, I enjoy reading about extremes. You can learn a lot from people living at the extreme and it can help inspire a change within your life. The key is to not treat it like a religion (“gospel”). Pick and choose what works for you. It shouldn’t feel like you’re in a cult. Otherwise, it’s conformity all over again.

Our family does not fit into any ideal. We have not optimized our life solely based on savings rates and early retirement. We chose to have three kids (higher expenses). We chose to work half-time instead of paying for daycare (lower net income). We intentionally spend more so that we can travel (supplemented by points and miles) and are also putting some funds aside some money for future education to take advantage of time and tax-exempt 529 growth (hopefully the kids will see this and appreciate compounding returns and long-term investing).

Comments

  1. Sometimes I enjoy reading about extremes to see how creative people can be but I don’t enjoy the militance that can develop over time, or the myopia that results. I think the extreme frugality early retiree is one I have trouble with because so often its proponents scoffs at the idea that you’d have any good reason not to chase their path and that there is no happy medium, turning it into a weird moral failing. I much prefer picking the strategies that fit our lives and choosing the trade off.

    • I agree, I think over time I have definitely come to better understand other people’s decisions. If you look at even people who are either wealthy or otherwise financially free, most of them still work in some form or another. If you do it consciously, it’s okay to spend more and work more.

  2. I am teaching my kids that are now in their 20’s about options. They have the opportunity to live their lives in so many different ways. Being able to live where you’d want to retire, yet be able to save is wonderful. To evaluate if you like to settle in to one home, town, location, or if you are an adventurer who wants to move around, explore and live in different places. To ask themselves what makes them feel satisfied, that it shouldn’t be about just money and the making of it. It should be of saying they enjoyed their experiences, their job, their passions, their family. I am glad that although I didn’t do well in the ‘early retirement’ I did enjoy taking mini-retirement trips of 3 weeks to 20 days with my family every other year. Then finally I moved to where I wished I could afford to retire while working. Now, I no longer feel the urge to travel, I’d found my comfy place.

  3. Great post. Love your comment about letting your kids appreciate their options, and making their own decisions. For me understanding the impact of those decisions is key. As long as it is an informed choice, which it evidently is for your kids. You can’t do more for your kids than teach them about compound returns and long-term investing

Speak Your Mind

*