In response to the uncertainties of the economy, more Americans are embracing a not-so-American way of life: minimalism.
It’s the golden rule of financial management: Save more; spend less. But it hasn’t always been the American way; the opposite mantra is what got our economy booming in the 1950s, and it’s what tanked it in the 2000s. A new breed of American consumer is popping up, and it’s reminiscent of a Depression-era way of looking at things. Behold, the minimalist.
CNBC has this story about Tammy Strobel, an upper middle class woman who had plenty of stuff—too much, she decided. After she and her husband came across a website that challenged people to scale back their possessions to 100 items or less, they decided to downsize.
Now they own an apartment that boasts a spacious 400 square feet. Strobel runs her freelance web design and writing business out of her home, while her husband pursues his doctorate. Strobel has two pots for cooking, three pairs of shoes, and four plates, and her $24,000 salary takes care of the bills. They favor bikes over cars. They also said goodbye to their debt.
This new philosophy on consumption focuses more on experiences, and less on material goods.
One major finding is that spending money for an experience—concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco—produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff.
“‘It’s better to go on a vacation than buy a new couch’ is basically the idea,” says psychology professor Elizabeth W. Dunn, who co-authored a scholarly paper titled, “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right.”
The question “Do I really need this?” is a tough one for many Americans to answer—defining “need” these days can be tricky. Our culture, our society, and the American Dream tell us that more stuff is the key to contentedness.
But Strobel and other minimalists—with their strict “one item in, one item out” policy—argue that the opposite is true: A simple life, free from the tug of “the next big thing,” is much more conducive to contentment.