Minimalists: Cultivating good money habits from a minimalist

There is no definition of what a minimalist is. There’s a growing movement inspired by living a life of abundance with less, but there is no definition for what minimalism is. Here is an interview with an inspirational minimalist, Joshua Becker:

I was an accidental minimalist. In fact, I didn’t realise what I was doing actually had a term to describe it. I have never been much of a hoarder but I don’t like throwing away things, especially if they are in good condition. Then we had a child and we are a happy family. With each successive pregnancies, I would put on more weight and grew bigger. So the pre-pregnancy clothes got packed away into boxes. There were lots of boxes.

But we were still living in the same apartment before we had children. We were running out of space with each addition to our family. We didn’t want to move to another home but we had to do something about the lack of space. This is where I think my inner minimalist began to surface.

One woman’s treasure …

I really liked my pre-pregnancy clothes. I had spent a lot of money buying them. Money that I had worked so many extra shifts at the local bakery for and money I had saved up and sacrificed other desires for. I didn’t want to get rid of them. Post-pregnancy, I would exercise a lot and lose all that weight. I will fit into those clothes again because if I didn’t then it meant I was also gaining weight. Even if I couldn’t fit into them ever again, I have a daughter that I can pass them onto when she’s older (never mind she’s only 2 years old at that time).

Over time, I forgot about my pre-pregnancy clothes. One day, while moving stuff around to make more space, I came across my boxes. By then I had resigned to the fact that I was never going to be my pre-pregnancy body again. But it doesn’t matter – I still have a daughter who can wear these clothes. I’ll keep them for my daughter. She will like them and she will wear them.

… is another’s trash

The following week, my mother came over and brought the bags of clothes she had worn in the 1970s. They were in fashion again, but I wasn’t interested in fashion. Her clothes were very nice but they didn’t suit my taste nor were they practical for what I need. I am the only daughter in the family and the only person who can wear the clothes. It was the perfect size for me, they are coming back in fashion and are very expensive to buy. I was torn between an obligation to accept the clothes and the lack of space to store them.

Then I realised this is exactly what I was doing with my clothes. I was keeping my nice and expensive dresses for my daughter to wear one day. My daughter who is only 2 yeas old at that time.

Minimalist principle #1: Work out how many you need, get rid of the rest (eg. plates, cups, cutleries, clothes)

A lot of our things were from neighbours and friends who had moved away and wanted to get rid of their kitchenware. In essence, our home became a drop-off place for family and friend’s stuff. I appreciated all of them because most things given to us were in a very good condition. Many were bought brand new and used only by one family. I didn’t want to throw any of it out.


Before children, my household had a lot of kitchenware. We had a lot of plates – large dinner plates, small dessert plates, medium sized plates, soup bowls, etc. We also had a lot of cutleries. Forks, tablespoons, teaspoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons and dinner knives. We also had more drinking vessels than we actually use. Water tumblers of assorted sizes, wine glasses, champagne glasses, coffee mugs and tea cups.

We had plenty of storage space anyway and I was sure we’d use many of these things when we have guests over for a meal. But when children came along, the minimalist me decided all these additional kitchenware had to go. The process I used is:

Identify what you will never use; keep what you will actually use; get rid of the rest.

I got rid of things we’d never use. Goodbye teacups. For the remaining kitchenware, I kept only 5 of the items we would actually use every day. I also kept a set of matching dinnerware for when we did have guests and needed more plates, bowls and glasses. Everything else was donated to our local school for their biennial fete. All proceeds went to the school and we were glad to contribute to the local community.

Minimalist kitchen
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Applying the principle to children’s things

When it comes to the children’s things, we can adopt the same minimalist principle. Work out how many days in a week your household do the laundry. If you’re someone who doesn’t have a clothes dryer or doesn’t like to use one, add an extra day for times when clothes will take longer to dry. Children then only need enough clothes to wear until the next laundry day.

School uniform

My household does a load of family laundry on Wednesdays and Saturdays (we have separate laundry days for delicates and towels). So when it comes to school uniform, my children have 3 sets of school uniforms. This lasts them three school days before we do a load of laundry. They have 3 shirts, 3 pants or skirts and 3 pairs of socks. For Winter, they have one school jumper and a school vest each.

Our school doesn’t yet have a second-hand uniform shop and having a distinct logo and design makes it difficult to get rid of unwanted uniforms. So we get a lot of uniforms given to us. We get hand-me-downs from older cousins who no longer fit into their uniforms and we also get clothes from friends who have left the school.

Keeping only what my children need to use before the next laundry day has helped me decide how many sets of uniforms to keep. Whatever we keep is used every day and when they are no longer usable, they will get a replacement. Anything we don’t need is given away to neighbours and friends whose children go to the local school.

Non-uniform clothes

This principle also applies to other clothes that children have. Again, if we know when laundry days are in the household, we can work out how many sets of clothes to keep before the children will run out of clothes. School holidays are a bit tricky because children (especially young children) are likely to go through many more sets of clothes during the school holidays. They play outdoors a lot more, craft a lot more and they also spill their food and drinks more frequently. Keeping one or two spares may be helpful.

My preference is to just do an extra load of laundry instead of keeping spare clothes. Space is tight for us and there isn’t much space to keep one or two spares with so many children. In any case, I find that by the time the children run out of clothes, it fills up the washing machine anyway, so it makes sense to just do a load of laundry then. Their clothes need to be washed eventually and if there are enough dirty clothes then doing a load of washing isn’t using more electricity or water unnecessarily.

How does this cultivate good money habits?

Deciding how many items they need help children distinguish between wants and needs. It is an opportunity to test the family’s guiding principles on how to decide whether something is a want or a need. When children are in the habit of keeping only what they need, they are more willing to share their excess with others. This, in essence, is philanthropy in the making. Being a minimalist means we have more to give to others.

Minimalist principle #2: One thing in, one thing out

This is one principle I love to keep clutter out of our home. After I culled many of our things, I introduced the principle of one thing in, one thing out.

The idea is that whenever we bring an item into the home, we must find another item to get rid of.

So if I bought a new blouse from the shops, I have to get rid of another top from my closet. Whilst I love this principle, it is something I have to remind myself to do consistently. The fact that I inevitably have to declutter every so often suggests I am still working on this minimalist principle. But when I remember it, this minimalist principle worked very well!

Applying the principle to children’s things

This principle worked best in my household with the children’s toys. My children don’t buy many toys. In fact, we hardly ever go to a shop just to buy toys. But their toys seem to multiply on their own. They are given toys from grandparents and friends for their birthdays and Christmas. They also bring home little novelty toys in party bags from birthday parties they attend. Then there’s the garage sale or school fair bargains they find every so often. Unless I have a system in place to manage the influx of toys, it can get out of control. Especially with 3 children.

Children’s toys

So I introduced the one-thing-in-one-thing-out principle for their toys. Yes, you can keep the brand new Lego that Aunty Monica just bought, but you have to find something else in your toy box to get rid of. It’s your choice to use your money to buy that cute stuffed dog, but if you want to keep it, you have to find another stuffed toy to get rid of.

This works really well in keeping clutter at bay, but I’ll be honest. To keep this up is TIRING! The reactions from the children are always the same:

  • Howls of protest. ‘But I just bought this unicorn last month! Now I have to get rid of it?’ (the answer is Yes, if you REALLY can’t find anything else – how about that old teddy bear that you found in a garage sale five years ago?)
  • ‘Is this a good enough substitute?’ – while showing me a matchbox car in exchange for the box of Lego (the answer is No. You can’t get rid of a tiny matchbox car for a big gigantic box of Legos! There’s just no space).
  • The best one is when they disappear into their rooms for hours to find something to get rid of and then say ‘I forgot I was supposed to get rid of something. I can’t find anything’.

This happens every single time. With all three children. One of me vs three of them. No wonder this is the minimalist principle I often just let go of. But then I pay the price of having to declutter the children’s toys every so often. My 11 year-old is better at this minimalist principle and understands the purpose of this principle, so perhaps when the children are a bit older, I can be more consistent in enforcing it. For now, I’ll insist on this minimalist principle when I remember and have the energy to deal with the reactions that inevitably arises.

How does this cultivate good money habits?

Be very careful with this one. It is something that will need your constant reminder to the children about the purpose of this minimalist principle. Are you clear on why you have this principle?

Encouraging this minimalist principle makes the children appreciate what they already have. If they are not willing to give up the toys already have, then they don’t need to buy the new toy. And if they are so willing to give up the toy they bought only last month, then it’s time to have a conversation about wasting their money.

On the other hand, this minimalist principle can encourage a child’s throw-away behaviour. Some children may justify their purchases by the fact that they are getting rid of clutter and therefore good for the home. Others may justify their purchases by the fact that they are doing a good thing in donating their toys. How you navigate this depends on what money lessons you want your children to learn from this minimalist principle. It’s the conversation that matters.

Minimalist principle #3: Does something else work just as well (multi-use items)

Many households have basic kitchen appliances such as a freezer, microwave oven, dishwasher, oven, kettle. My household was no different.

When we added more children to our growing family, space in the home became more important. Everything had to earn the right to its space. This meant being very ruthless with what we have and deciding whether we really need the item. Before deciding to buy new appliances, we need to think about whether something else we already have in the home can do the same job.

It helps to think about how our ancestors lived before these modern conveniences were available.

Little home, no kettle

For a very long time, we had an electric kettle to boil our water. When our kettle decided to call it a day after 10 years of use, I decided not to replace the kettle. I thought about how my grandparents boiled water without an electric kettle. We decided to start boiling our water over the gas stove, using a saucepan.

Then we had another problem. We used a normal saucepan, not one that is specifically designed to boil water. Normal saucepans don’t come with a spout. So how are we supposed to pour out hot water to make our coffee or tea? A soup ladle didn’t work because the ladle didn’t have a spout either. Most of the time I end up spilling hot water everywhere and not much ends up in my coffee mug. I resigned to the idea that perhaps I need to buy something after all – either a special ladle to scoop hot water or maybe just a new electric kettle. Then I spotted our measuring jug. It’s Pyrex and heat-resistant. It’s a jug used for measuring liquid, so it has a spout. This would be perfect for pouring out hot water!

So today, we are a household without an electric kettle. Instead, we use a small saucepan to boil water and a Pyrex measuring jug to scoop and pour our hot water. That’s one kitchen item gone forever … Hello space!

Applying the principle to children’s things

I’m going to pick on children’s clothes again. This is because if I don’t keep an eye on this, their clothes will multiply and not only do they affect our storage space, they also have an effect on other aspects of our life. They use up our time to wash, hang, fold and keep way; they use up our energy to find missing items (socks and underwears are the best at playing hide-and-seek) and they are an eyesore when left lying around or even hanging up on the clothes lines!

Boys’ shorts

I mentioned that during the school holidays, children may need more clothes because they tend to get them dirty more frequently. I decided there was nothing wrong with wearing school shorts during the school holidays. There is no logo or design that identifies them with the school and the shorts can be bought at a local retail store. Who’s to say the boys are wearing school shorts rather than one I specifically bought for other purposes? So their school shorts become their spare shorts during the school holidays, which means I no longer need to keep any more spare shorts.

Girls’ shoes

My daughter now wears the same size shoes as me. This is great! It means when she wants to wear nice dress shoes, she can just wear one of mine. I don’t see any point in buying her nice sandals when she doesn’t wear them that often. She usually spent most of her days at school or sports training. It will be very rare when there is a need for her to wear dressy shoes. If I bought her shoes, she might wear them once or twice before she outgrows them. Whereas if she wore my shoes, even when she outgrows them, I’ll still be wearing those shoes.

How does this cultivate good money habits?

Children who are encouraged to look beyond the immediate intended use of an item to find other possible uses will be able to creatively minimise their spending in the future. Before spending their money on buying new gadgets, they will first evaluate whether their existing gadgets will perform the functions of a new gadget. They are also less likely to give into peer pressure of buying the latest and newest of anything. Children often embrace this minimalist principle because it taps into their already creative minds.

Motivational, Dreams, Life, Texture
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