Duff McDuffee on Minimalism vs. Frugalism

Minimalism is primarily an aesthetic, hence why minimalists generally like Macs and iPhones due to their simple and elegant beauty. Minimalists’ decisions about how simple to be often seem arbitrary because they are based on aesthetic concerns, not practical ones — but minimalists often confuse the two. For instance, many people rave about how usable the iPhone is, but in fact it is a mixed bag — what it is, is beautiful. But Apple makes many design decisions to choose beauty over usability, which is why iTunes is so confusing and hard to use for example. Living with less than 100 things is another example — what constitutes a “thing” is arbitrary, “100″ is arbitrary (but a nice round number), digital “things” not counting as things is arbitrary, etc. It’s more about a feeling that is generated from the aesthetic in a specific person who likes that aesthetic than about saving money, conserving resources, not being owned by one’s stuff, focusing on what’s most important, etc. which are also concerns but are subject to the overall aesthetic. So when Leo Baubata says “stop buying the unnecessary,” what he really means is “don’t buy ugly things or too many things such that your minimalist aesthetic is ruined.” For what is truly unnecessary to the minimalist is that which ruins the simple aesthetic.

Minimalism vs. Frugalism

Beyond Growth is a great website because it firmly works in the mode of Tyler Durden's line that self-improvement is masturbation. I enjoy the criticism found there even if I don't always agree with it. In this particular piece, I think Duff raises good points but glosses over others. I will now cut to what I think is relevant.

I agree with Duff when he says that minimalism is more about aesthetics than frugality. Minimalists will argue that it is about buying quality. Then, there is the issue of clutter. Clutter and hoarding are actually frugal activities unless you are paying extra for the storage space. Here are some points to consider.

1. Minimalism as an extension of the Apple cult.

Most minimalists are Apple fan boys. They are heavily devoted to the products and to the company, and it is mostly for aesthetic reasons. I am not an Apple fan boy, so I can agree with the author. I have some Apple products such as an iPod shuffle and an iPod touch. Both have infuriated me at different times because I could not get them to do the things I wanted them to do. And the iTunes software really sucks. It is not elegant at all. But I deal with it because it beats the alternative.

My computer is a cobbled together machine from second hand parts that runs Windows XP. The bulk of what I do is on the internet, so as long as I have Google and Facebook, I'm doing well. The reason I don't own an Apple computer is simple. Those things are too damn expensive, and I don't need to buy that shit when the bulk of what I do is on the internet. I am all for simplicity since I use Chrome for my browser, and I like the way Google designs their layouts in a simple straightforward manner. All I need is an inexpensive PC. The truth is that Apple is a luxury brand. I will have more on this topic in a future post.

2. Aesthetics matter.

I think looking good matters. I like living in a sparse minimalist apartment. Not having a bunch of clutter is very pleasing to the eye. When I write or do some sort of design, I aim for simplicity. Simplicity can be achieved by anyone regardless of budget. You can be simple regardless of whether you shop at thrift stores and Walmart like I do, or you shop at IKEA and the Apple store. The difference is not simplicity but elegance. If you want elegance, you are going to pay more. I'm not into the elegance thing which is why I call my own brand of minimalism "blue collar simplicity." If you want to know the difference, I will choose a denim jacket from Carhartt over a fleece jacket from The North Face.

Aesthetics goes against the frugalist ethic when you pay more for those luxury brands. I am fine with paying more for quality, but I think it is dumb to pay more simply because of a brand when you are not getting additional quality. This is buying the Lexus which is simply a Toyota with better branding. Minimalists that buy those luxury brands will argue that they are buying fewer things which are higher quality. But I know better. I agree with Duff's term in the comments section about "reverse peacocks."

3. It isn't just the money.

Frugality is about saving money. That's it. As such, frugal people can be hoarders and often are. Free and cheap stuff is plentiful. Why waste it? I see this on just about every episode of Hoarders. The reason these people accumulate their clutter is because they don't want to waste the things. Some hoarders are shopaholics, but others are simply people who accumulate free and cheap stuff being unwilling to throw the things away because they may serve some use someday. But this is pointless and absurd. Someday never comes. The result is wasted space, wasted money on storage space, and wasted time maintaining the storage of the clutter.

Minimalism isn't just about saving money but also about saving time, eliminating stress, and developing more focus in a multitasking world overloaded with information. The reason I turned to it was in response to my nagging issues with time, money, and energy. My desires exceeded my resources, and this meant making choices which created its own problems, Minimalism was the answer to these things. Frugalism only answers the money issue.

I like Duff's piece and the comments. He has started a debate which I think is healthy, and this is a piece you will want to read and consider.