My Struggle with Frugal Minimalism

Minimalism VS Frugal - my personal struggle with frugal minimalism #frugalminimalism

Frugal minimalism sounds great, doesn’t it? Live frugally, spend less, buy less, and live a fuller life. But that isn’t always the case. On a regular basis, I struggle between being frugal and being a minimalist.

I love that we have less in our home, I really do. I’ve stopped buying material items at stores and no longer use the excuse of “retail therapy”. However, when it comes down do acquiring something for free that I know will get used in our home, I have a really tough time.

Why frugal minimalism?

Anyone can be a minimalist. Me, you, your neighbor’s third cousin… literally anyone can live a minimalist life. There is a certain group of minimalist that also live frugally. Not necessarily because they want to live frugally to say, increase their savings rate, but they live frugally because they have to.

My family is a great example of why someone would be a frugal minimalist. I quit my full-time job in late 2018 to stay home with our son. Our income was swiftly sliced in half. While my husband works full-time and still pulls in a decent enough salary, we are considered lower middle class.

With the wage gap increasing and companies resisting paying employees more, there is an increasing number of people in debt and struggling to pay for all of their necessities. Therefore, they have to be frugal.

To be frugal means that you are always on the look-out for a good deal. It could be that can of beans that is only $0.30 on sale or it could be the 50% off sale at the thrift store that you look forward to (or both!).

Another way frugal people live is that they use something until it falls apart. A great example is the car you drive (well past being paid off) or the jeans you wear (worn, faded, and a few holes) but both still do their job. It’s the “wear it out” principle of frugal living.

Living minimally or living a minimalist lifestyle means that you only have what you need, what brings you joy, and nothing else. You’ve decluttered your home or maybe you’ve always had just what you need. You live simply and never purchase any excess.

My family is somewhere between being a minimalist and being ultra frugal, so I call us “frugal minimalists”. In frugal minimalism, we buy only what we need, but if something is a great deal, I will buy only a few extra because I know my family will consume or use that item within the next three months. I love a good sale, but I don’t go overboard.

I still struggle, I mean really struggle, sometimes with bringing things into our home because they were free. They were free so why should I pass it up?! I have gotten into the habit of bringing these “free things” into our home and “editing” them later.

Minimalism VS Frugal - my personal struggle with frugal minimalism

My personal struggle #1: “But my son might love it like I did”

I recently went back to my childhood home and purged all the belongings I hoarded as a kid. Why I asked my parents to keep 29 friendship bracelets for all these years, I will never know.

Some items (like the copious amount of mediocre crafts I collected) were easy to trash. Some were easy to put into the “sell” pile. Other items like my stuffed animals were hard (which sounds ultra-silly writing this on my blog as an adult). I was a stuffed animal sympathizer – they just had to go home with me!

At times it was difficult because I could remember where I got the toy from or who bought it for me. Even if I couldn’t remember where a toy or stuffed animal came from, my decision to let go was caught up by one thought: but my son might love it as much as I did.

That sentimental attachment that reemerged after years of these items being in storage was now stronger than ever. But it wasn’t my attachment – I had pushed it off onto my son thinking that he already loved this stuffed bear just as much as I did.

Which is not true. He could care less as a one-year-old whether or not he gets that stuffed bear now or three years from now or never. It was me who cared.

Our family’s goal with minimalism is to make sure our son knows more stuff does NOT equal happiness. More time with the people you love equals happiness.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you might have realized that I don’t talk a lot about sentimental items. Why? Because I have quite a few… it’s been a process to let go of things. Culling my collection of childhood items was just the first step. I feel much better and eventually I’ll make a post on how to do it. But for now, I’m still adjusting to finding new homes for my once treasured items.

Read later >>> How to Deal with Decluttering Guilt

My personal struggle #2: “But I don’t want to pay money for this”

This is the struggle most people who practice frugal minimalism probably have: I don’t want to buy it again.

If something is offered to me for free (like toys my son might one day play with and love) I have a really, really hard time turning it down. Toys, extra knick-knacks that would make great gifts, fabric, photos… basically anything. That’s just me being a cheap-ass frugal person.

When I couponed, that was the thing that sucked me in: but I’ll use it someday… and why pay full price later when I can get it for cheap now?! Now that most products I bought we no longer use (read more), I’ve transferred that thought to items for my son. Why would I pass up this free toy/clothing that he might one day want and have to pay for it then?

The truth? If I’ve lived without up until this point, I can probably live without it going forward. My son won’t know the difference if he was to have that item or not. I won’t know the difference either if I never had the item in the first place.

My personal struggle #3: “What if I need it again?”

When decluttering, especially when ridding our home of useful-enough item, this was tough: What if I need this again?

The Minimalists (you know, they guys with the documentary?) suggest that if it costs less than $20 and you can obtain it within 20 minutes of needing the item, you can declutter that item.

While that sounds amazing in theory, it’s just not practical for my life. What if I need super glue to hold my well-loved Chaco Sandals together for just one more season? The frugal spirit in me HATES the idea of buying a new $5 super glue every time I need it. What a waste! Yeah, it’s just five bucks and yeah, it takes up space in my junk drawer. But keeping it saves my sanity and my money.

Often times when I declutter non-consumable items (aka not super glue), I ask if I did get rid of this item but needed it down the road, is there a similar item I already own that I could make do with? They answer is sometimes yes! We’ve been intentional when purchasing items and make sure that they can serve more than one function.

Setting limits with frugal minimalism in mind

As with most things, it is good to have committed limit on how much you’ll consumer or own. The more you own, the more clutter you’ll accumulate. The more food you consume, the more weight you might gain. It’s easy, right?

We have limits when it comes to purchasing items and when we are offered items for free. I can thank my husband for this one. While he loves being frugal, he would also love to only have a table and bed in our house.

Here are some of our self-imposed limits on bringing items into our home. Of course, like many of my lists, this won’t work for everyone. Your version of frugal minimalism or minimalism in general might be different than ours.

  • Food – When a food item is on super-sale, I allow myself to purchase two. This gives us one to consume now and one to consume later. That gives us less to store and we know it will be eaten before it expires. **I will even stray from my grocery list if an item is at its rock-bottom price**
  • Personal care items – items that are used on a monthly/weekly/daily basis we purchase one month at a time. So if something goes on sale, I already know how much will get used in a month’s time and can purchase as necessary. When we already have enough for another month (or two) I won’t purchase the item.
  • Clothing – While my husband and I have not purchased new clothing for ourselves in a while, we have strict ideas around what we buy for our son. We only purchase a maximum of two sizes in advance. Little Guy just turned two and has plenty of growing to do. This way we can shop end-of-season sales or splurge at the consignment store with little guilt. For us adults, we buy clothing only to add a key piece to our wardrobe if we feel there is a gap or to replace a well-loved article of clothing.
  • Miscellaneous items – With other things that are brought into our home for a bargain or free, we practice the “one in and one out” rule. I have to keep myself in check and sometimes will struggle, but if I can’t say that the item was of genuine need and can’t get rid of another item, I should probably return the item I just purchased.

Frugal Minimalism isn’t for everyone. It takes dedication to keep clutter at bay when purchasing items frugally. With effort, you can truly create the frugal, minimal lifestyle you dreamed of.

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  1. Thank you for this article. It is exactly were my struggle is too. I like to own less and have everything neat and organised, but I hate paying full price later; that’s why I often buy too many sale items etc. It helped me to read how you deal with it and what you’re thoughts are on this dilemma. Greatings from the Netherlands!

    1. I’m so glad you found this helpful! We are all learning all the time from each other!

  2. My husband and I had the goal of my being a stay at home mom and a homeschooling family. By being very frugal we were able to achieve this goal and to send our son to college. We were able to pay for music lessons and many activities for our son as well. Now we are retired and we have more spending money. I lost a bit of control being locked down since Febuary. Buying clothing is my weakness. I’m now able to buy NEW clothing. What a thrill!! I’ve given myself til after Christmas to buy clothing and then I’m taking a break. My girlfriend helped me declutter my home a year and a half ago. Things are generally in good shape. I will need to organize my clothing again. I’ve been very smart with what clothing I have bought so I’m refusing feeling guilty about my splurge. Life isn’t about owning things but some items bring you joy. My best friend and I cut out so much raising our children we kind of lost ourselves and felt frumpy in our 50’s and 60’s. We both have figured out what we really wanted in our lives to not feel frumpy. For her that is manicures. Not for me! But clothing and having my hair done matters to me. Give yourself little treats and alone time with your spouse. Memories matter and some items are important to different women. Be frugal just don’t totally deprive yourself as we did.

    1. Wow, Natalie! I love your story. You’re absolutely right – deprivation from certain things (like clothing that fits well and is nice) can lead to discontent in your lifestyle. I’m so glad you’ve found the perfect balance for you with frugal living. 🙂

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