Minimalism: Fad or Solid Debt Payoff Tool?


When I moved from my hometown in Ohio to New York City, I became sort of an accidental minimalist. By no means did I believe I had too many things in Ohio, but there was no way to transport it all to the tiny half bedroom that was my first place in New York. I still remember separating everything I owned into three piles: store, take with me, give away. Once the entire contents of my room were displayed on the floor (practically burying my friends in the process), I was completely shocked to see how much I really had.

After all was said and done, I filled two suitcases to take with me. I wasn’t sure how I would get by with so little, but even that ended up feeling like too much after a plane ride, a subway ride, and a six flight walk up the stairs to my new apartment.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to begin accumulating more things again…but I had to be mindful of what I bought. Most often a new item meant getting rid of an old one lest I end up with a closet that remained permanently open and overflowing. But as much as I hated playing closet tetris anytime I needed something new, I grew accustomed to having less stuff over time. And eventually I actually started to like it.

There’s something truly freeing about not being encumbered by so much stuff.

As life was forcing me to learn to love minimalism, the very idea of it was becoming a movement across America. People were vowing to reduce their belongings to the bare minimum in an effort to find peace and happiness. And now people are taking it to the next level to improve their finances. But the question is, can living a life of minimalism actually help you pay off debt?

Minimalism Defined

Have you heard of this movement yet? You can find out a lot about it by reading The Minimalists:

“Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.” — The Minimalists

This directly harkened back to my early New York days. As much as I love shopping (yes, I have to admit that I love shopping), I could never make an impulse buy. Whenever I saw something I wanted, I was forced to evaluate if I really need it and where I would put it. If there was no room, there was no purchase.

So, as someone who has more or less lived this lifestyle accidentally, it came as a surprise to me that there are now people actively seeking out. But why should it have? Didn’t I just say that this brought a special kind of fulfillment – even freedom – to my life? I guess I thought it was just me…

…until one of my good friends and blogger, Cait of Blonde on a Budget, talked about her very own journey with minimalism. She too decided that her life was being inundated with things and that enough was enough. Not only did she make a pact to go through all of her belongings and reduce them drastically, she also took on a year-long shopping ban. Now that’s a level of commitment I never thought I could do. But yet, it’s making a big difference in her life – both for her savings goals and for herself.

How Minimalism Reframes the Debt Perspective

What can minimalism mean to your budget? It goes without saying that buying less things is one way to not accumulate more debt – but can the minimalist movement also help you pay off debt? And how?

First of all, the simple act of clearing through the clutter – even if you don’t think you have clutter (pulling things out of closets and out into the open is a real eye-opener) – has a way of also clearing through mental clutter and making room for clarity and a fresh perspective. Debt can leave us feeling like we’re without. Seeing how much we really own can show us how much abundance we actually have. For me, this was a reawakening, a reframing of my perspective.

When I went through my things, I stopped feeling deprived by debt and I started realizing that I had much more than I realized (and perhaps much more than I needed). But I was also angry. Here was the pile that led to my daily financial struggle…had I been given the choice, I would have given it all up to never have had debt.

Truth be told, we don’t always see or feel how our debt accumulates. When was the last time you looked at your credit card statement and said to yourself, “How did I spend this much last month? This MUST be some sort of mistake.” I know I’ve been there too many times myself.

But when the accumulation of debt is right in front of you in those three piles to store, keep, or give away, suddenly you have a visceral reaction to your debt. So that’s where it all went…

Using Minimalism As a Debt Payoff Tool

First of all, minimalism is an effective psychological debt payoff tool. Once you get over the shock of seeing all of your things out in the open, the natural next step is to go through a cleansing or a purge. The desire to no longer want to be beholden by stuff is strong and it can be long-lasting. If you do go through a purge, chances are you’ll feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders.

The weight that debt places on our psyches cannot be underestimated. Anything you do that frees your mind while paying off your debt will give your mind more room to handle the debt and thrive in the journey.

Think of your brain like your computer’s internet connection. It only has so much bandwidth to work with. Because of this limited bandwidth, every webpage you open can slow it down. So too your brain slows down when you overload it with mental stressors. The more of those you can shut down, the faster your brain will operate. And embracing minimalism is a pretty clear cut way to shut down those stressors so you can focus more on what you need to do to pay off debt.

Aside from that, there’s the practical financial benefit of minimalism. Not only can embracing this lifestyle help you live on a more frugal budget (thus helping pay off debt faster and prevent the accumulation of new debt), but actually selling your superfluous things can give you a debt payoff boost.

Remember, any extra payment you can apply to a credit card, student loan, mortgage, car loan, or any other kind of debt you have makes a difference. So even if you’re not able to earn as much as you’d like off of what you can sell, that extra little bit would never have happened otherwise. No step is too small when it comes to defeating debt!

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Maintaining Minimalism as a Lasting Change

Like all new habits, minimalism comes with a roller coaster of emotions. It can go from overwhelming to freeing to almost addicting. But also like all new habits, the novelty will wear off and you’ll need to remain mindful to keep the lifestyle going.

I never stopped feeling freer from having less things, never. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to have new things! I’m a shopper whether I like it or not; and that’s something I’ll have to battle for the rest of my life. (My parents love to tell stories of how I even loved to shop as a kid… I don’t know where it came from but it was always there!)

For me, maintaining minimalism is a lifestyle I prefer – but not one that is always easy to maintain. I still have to make myself think twice before a purchase and to even consider giving up other things if I do make that purchase. But it has helped me to stay out of consumer debt…in my book, that’s absolutely worth it!

Image credit: 55Laney69

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  • bookishheather

    If you like shopping but don’t want the burden of having the stuff, you could always go shopping (especially this time of year) for someone in need. A couple of weeks ago I shopped for a board game and a coat for one of those wishing trees that are set up for less fortunate kids.

    I’ve been on a minimalism journey as well for the last five years, and enjoy getting reminders on the RfZ blog about why I’m doing it, all the benefits, etc. I think my closet may need a round of purging soon…

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      Heather – that is SUCH a great idea! I love, love, love this idea :). Thank you for the inspiration :).