Minimalism Is A Privilege

Minimalism is a privilege. Is it not? This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I embarked on a 1-year-long trip earlier this year and was in Asia from March till the end of September.

Minimalism is a privilege
The view from my house sit in Thailand

It wouldn’t be right to say that just living in alignment with my values is what “allows” me to travel and move around, of course, privilege plays a huge role in that.

Everything that I packed for one year of travel fits into a 40 L backpack. I have everything that I could possibly need, and more, with me, right there in my trusty 40 L backpack.

Everything else that I own comfortable fits into a 121L suitcase that’s currently resting at my dad’s house. There is plenty of room and when my current one breaks down, I’ll be replacing it with a smaller one.

minimalism is a privilege
This backpack and suitcase hold everything that I own

Minimalism and Travel

Shortly after I embarked on my 1-year-long trip I posted a photo on Reddit of my One Bag packing list for a year+ of travel. The /onebag subreddit can be a great resource for all things light and minimal travel.

This is one of the comments I received:

Minimalism is a privilege
A comment I received on Reddit

I replied by simply saying “I looked at other backpacks and figured why not just take with me what I already have instead of purchasing something NEW 🙂” and he then went on to explain the benefits of a lighter backpack and how it would be worth the $30 investment.

Minimalism is a priviledge
What I packed for 1 year of travel

Let me clarify here real quick that something that doesn’t make you money, is not an investment. Buying a new backpack is not an investment and nor is buying a new coat or that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing.

Of course, there were certain items that I needed for this particular trip. I bought a 40L backpack, packing cubes, a raincoat, and two pouches. That’s pretty much it. I purchased my backpack after 6 months of watching prices online and bought it at its lowest. I purchased the raincoat on sale and only bought two packing cubes and pouches to fit my clothing and electronics.

Being able to travel the world and explore at your own terms, is an immense privilege and that’s something that needs to be acknowledged. It’s also worth mentioning that the choices you make and those you don’t have a huge impact. I consciously decided to bring my trusty backpack and had no intentions of buying something new. I simply had no need for it.

Prior to purchasing something, stop and reflect and remember that very little you purchase is going to make you money. Meaning that most of what you buy is a liability, not an asset and therefore, not an investment.

Minimalism is a priviledge
Me with my backpack that holds everything I have with me (except my yoga mat)

Minimalism is not a cult

Minimalism for me is all about living with less, but more. It’s all about living in alignment with my values and spending my money and time accordingly. I am not one to follow the newest trends nor do I feel the urge to replace things just because something a lot lighter and better exists. If there’s no need, then no action needs to be taken.

I recently received a comment that said something along the lines of “How can I live minimal on a low income”. I was dumbfounded, to say the least. Minimalism is not about purchasing stuff, it’s about evaluating what you truly need in your life and what you can do without.

It’s not about following a particular doctrine, minimalism is not a religion after all. There are no set rules nor are there practices that you need to subscribe to. Minimalism is all about you as an individual and what you value in life. What adds value to one person’s life, may not add value to someone else’s life. That’s the beauty of it all.

minimalism is a privilege
I wear all black 99.9% of the time because I like it and it has nothing to do with minimalism.

Choice vs. Necessity

Minimalism is a privilege, an immense one at that. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is what comes to mind. I am sure most of you have, at one point or another, heard about this five-tier model of human needs.

Maslow’s pyramid

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The model consists of five levels. At the very bottom are our physiological needs, these are biological requirements for human survival (think air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.). Once these are fulfilled we move to the next level and so on.

Have a closer look at the pyramid. Where do you personally find yourself at? Wanting to reduce one’s personal possessions usually arises due to having too much stuff. Most likely, and I say most likely because I am sure there are exceptions, your very basic needs, as well as psychological needs, are met. You are good, you might be even thriving.

More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, that means that they are living on less than $1.25 a day. Those people struggle to meet their basic needs. Concepts such as “minimalism” and “zero waste” can only really arise once one is pretty high up on Maslow’s pyramid.

Living minimally by choice is one thing and living minimally because you have to because you struggle to meet your basic needs, (see above pyramid) is a different story. That’s poverty and the two should never ever be confused. Having “the problem” of too much stuff, too much clothing, too much you-name-it, is a privilege.

Want vs. Need

I am grateful to be able to say that I’ve never struggled to meet my basic needs. While it wasn’t always easy, I’ve always had enough food and never had to live without a roof over my head. Of course, life isn’t always ideal, I’ve lived in a room with a mold problem for months, developed a rash, came to my senses, and moved out. Living in London on little money wasn’t easy, and yet I made it work, I wasn’t struggling.

Of course, frugal living helps immensely with that. If it wasn’t for frugal living then I wouldn’t be living the life that I am living today. But again, I can’t stress the importance of choice. I consciously choose to be frugal and I am not struggling over here to have my basic needs met. I am immensely privileged and I am fully aware of that. It’s only because I have my basic and psychological needs met that I can go out there and rave about minimalism, reducing one’s waste and mindful living.

When you say that you need something, think again and take a closer at it all. Do you really need what you intend to purchase? If you take a closer look at the pyramid then the answer is probably, but of course not always, no. Being aware of one’s needs and one’s wants is crucial.

Essential clothing items - the minimalist ninja
My current list of “essential” clothing items during my shopping ban

Minimalism and upgrading

Marketers are trying hard to convince us that the very item we are about to put into our cart is something that we need, is something that we can’t live without.

I use a phone that’s almost three years old. I constantly get told, from all sides, that it may be a good idea to upgrade. A new phone would be faster, you’d be able to get more done, it would take better photos – is what they say. While all those things are probably true it’s important to reflect on one’s actual need. I don’t need for my phone to be 3x faster nor do I need it to take better photos.

The truth is, we get used to new things. We adapt. Hedonic adaption, a psychological process, comes to mind. Hedonic adaption occurs when you return to your baseline of happiness. Imagine getting a new phone. You are beyond thrilled, you love its speed and it takes so much better photos than your previous one. You are so freaking happy, is what you might tell yourself.

But guess what, you’ll get used to it. That’s hedonic adaption. Your euphoria will fade and you’ll soon be chasing a phone that’s even better and faster than the one you currently have.

Think before you judge

I spent the past 9 months traveling through Eastern Europe, India, China, and South East Asia. I’ve seen things that were really hard to watch and difficult to process. Kids defecting on the streets, dogs getting beaten and animals getting killed – all right in front of my eyes.

Before you are judging someone else’s situation, try to put yourselves in their shoes. Why are they doing the things they are doing? Traveling has taught me to look beyond what’s visible and to dig a little deeper. It taught me to get a good understanding of it all first, before jumping to conclusions.

Being able to worry about one’s environmental impact and having the “problem” of having too much stuff is very much a privilege, and this is something that needs to be talked about more.

This post is hugely inspired by this post about Minimalism is privilege.

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Updated: November 2018

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