Further thoughts on decluttering: frugality as a function of needs

The challenge of decluttering

The first post of this year was a radical one for me. As I delved into the idea of decluttering, I realised that the biggest challenge was not to get rid of material stuff but get rid of emotional attachments to various things that I own. In fact, I have gotten rid of many items which I was not using at all but had some utilitarian value to someone. I gave these things away gratis, hoping that the receiver would find some use of an object that was gathering dust in my house.

There is a Latin proverb, Ómnia Mea Mecum Porto – meaning “All that I have, I carry with me.” I am not a minimalist. Yet, I find certain charm and romance in the ideas behind it. In case you are interested, pay a visit The Minimalists and read through their blogs. Although the idea is not original, as evident by the ancient Latin proverb and countless other similar parables in Indian and Oriental literature, they have certainly put forward a use-case (one of many) and mechanism of implementation (again, one of many) in this corporate-driven, consumer-friendly society.

Cusp of inflection

Maslow’s hierarchy defines five levels of human needs – physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation – in that order. While those still struggling with the bottom-most needs are undoubtedly living a frugal life, it is very surprising to see those dabbling with the top-most are also living a frugal life. Poverty is not fun and shouldn’t be taken as a game. On the other hand, if one has amassed too many things, then those things, beyond covering the physiological and safety aspects, only provide mere means of fulfilling the next two needs. Those who have walked through Maslow’s pyramid and have seen each of the levels getting satisfied, invariably come at a cusp of inflection where they realise that those things only provide one or some means to fulfill their need for belonging or need for esteem but don’t actually fulfill them. In a way, these are red herrings of existence.

I would put that cusp somewhere between esteem and self-actualisation.

Many individuals have gamified this process. A random search landed me with pages that bore titles such as, “n days to declutter your home”, “live with n items or less”, “n ways to feel less busy”, etc. etc. Just like books that claim to “Teach yourself <insert programming language here> in n days”, these don’t work. Gamification doesn’t help either. We have to take a hard look at our habits, behaviour, living strategy, financial strategy and develop some insight before we can truly even start walking this path.

Too extreme?

There are people who have gone to the extreme. Here are two videos that might give some idea. The first one is about Peter Lawrence.

This second one is about a guy named Mike Roberts

It is worth noting that Peter lives alone. Mike, on the other hand, has strained his marriage. His children aren’t too happy about it either. In both cases, it is a very egocentric way of living[1]. Yes, asceticism can be egocentric. You have to read no further than Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha to understand this. I believe that there is a point of balance where comfort starts to give way to excess.

Like all other balances in life, it is very difficult to attain. Leo Babauta, the blogger behind the highly successful Zen Habits, seems to have struck some balance. He lives with his wife and children and lives a very simplistic life[2].

Frugality, financial independence and the cost of maintenance

This is another aspect of decluttering that has been touched upon by people like Jacob Lund Fisker and Mr. Money Moustache (He prefers to keep his anonymity). Both focus mostly on decluttering via financial strategy. Since finances are tied to expenditure and expenditure is tied to materialistic possession, this aspect becomes very crucial is the whole exercise.

I can’t help but appreciate the fact that financial independence is so closely related to decluttering. Or maybe, for someone who isn’t looking out for complete financial independence, it provides a way of saving some capital that we can invest on ourselves.

Reading through Jacob’s essays and book, I noticed that I had glaringly underwritten a key aspect of hobbies in the “Finances” section of my earlier post. It doesn’t emphasise the cost involved in maintaining the tools of the trade. The cost of maintenance spills beyond items that we own to satisfy our hobbies. Even utilitarian items (say kitchen stuff) requires regular repair or replacement. The solution is to invest in high quality items such that the ownership cost per unit time come out to be much cheaper. I will admit that I have bought may substandard items before and have repented later. Not to mention, lost some serious money.

So, what’s my take on this?

I still don’t know. I am not keen on gamifying the process. I would rather take it slow, internalise and understand the implications of the decisions I take while I walk through this process of decluttering.

Note:

  1. My conclusion on Peter’s way of living is based on this video alone. He has written a book. Maybe, it explains his viewpoints better.
  2. Again, my perception of Leo is based on his blog and certain interviews he had given.
Sitting is the new smoking
Small expenses add up
  • Rohan Roy

    Minimalistic living is growing as a trend in Japan. But there is also another fact that not every person can accept such a lifestyle and minimalists have serious issues in the personal life except few people. Leo Babuanta clearly mentions that minimalistic life is not as same as simplistic life. He doesn’t say it is necessary to be minimalistic to be simplistic. In the end, it is peace of mind that matters.
    It is certainly better than owning many things and have your space and mind cluttered. But you could have a phase in your life where you could go minimalistic; it could be more of a self-realisation journey.

    • 54uv1k

      Agreed.

      There’s a recent crop of blogs and lifestyle channels that romanticise it are more focused of novelty of a different experience. This doesn’t work in the long run. Needless to say that you’ll find lots of articles and blogs which say, “Why I stopped being a Minimalist.”