Minimalism, Frugality, and Confrontation

As you might recall, last Sunday, I reviewed a book I quite liked entitled The Joy of Less by Francine Jay, who blogs over at the quite enjoyable miss minimalist. My book review got the attention of several more popular blogs, including Lifehacker, which chose to link to one of Jay’s more intriguing posts, 100 Things I Don’t Own. The resulting furor caused Jay to actually eliminate much of the post, stating simply:

A few months ago, I published a tongue-in-cheek post entitled “100 Things I Don’t Own.” It was meant to be a fun, light-hearted twist on the popular “100 Thing Challenge.” Unfortunately, it has recently caused some controversy; and since I never intended to offend or upset anyone with it, I’ve decided to remove it.

My lifestyle is unique, and I can understand why the post might be upsetting to some if taken out of context. My husband and I share a 500-square-foot apartment, and simply find life to be much easier when we don’t have a lot of stuff. We recently moved to London, and spend much of our free time exploring this beautiful city.

I live a minimalist lifestyle because it makes me happy, and would certainly never judge anyone else by what (or how much) they own. I’m just trying to keep my own life as simple and uncluttered as possible, so that I have the time and energy to truly appreciate it.

So why am I mentioning this? One of the commenters over at Lifehacker asked a question that left me thinking deeply about minimalism, frugality, and confrontation. Here’s what kbbales01 had to say:

Several commenters have noted that an article about reducing possessions generates strongly negative, even angry, comment. I’d love to hear more discussion about this, for example those who felt angry or dismissive after reading her article – what made you feel this way? I’m not making judgements, I am just really curious about talk about stuff can motivate emotional reactions.

In my own experience (and I have plenty of stuff!) as a person who doesn’t have a TV, I find that when someone says “did you see X” and I simply reply, “no, sorry, I don’t have a TV” – there is often a very defensive reaction, and a long rationalizing response, ie, “I only watch PBS! There’s a lot of good stuff, etc etc.” What’s that about?

I see this type of response pretty regularly. Whenever I mention doing something that’s outside the norm – like making laundry detergent or striving to make under-$1 meals at home – I get emails and comments strongly criticizing what I’m doing. It’s so routine at this point that, frankly, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to enraged negativity because it’s not worth my time or energy (think of “the boy who cried wolf”).

Why, though?
Why do people get upset when they see someone else doing something that’s radically different than their own life choices?

I have a few explanations for it:

1. The status quo bias is pretty strong – and often stronger than we think

To put it simply, the status quo bias means that people choose to do the same things they’ve always done unless there’s a strongly compelling reason to do things differently. For many people, saving a bit of money on each laundry load or striving to make a very low cost but still healthy meal is not a compelling enough reason to do things differently.

2. The basic human instinct to avoid loss rather than to gain

It’s called loss aversion and it’s a heavily-known cognitive bias. Again and again, people would rather avoid any kind of loss than gain anything. This is why you see massive stock selloffs whenever the market takes a dip – and you see commentators talking apocalyptically during a normal economic down cycle. It’s also why you see people thinking things like, “Yeah, I could save $50 a month, but I don’t want to lose the possibility of getting off work early and having the house be perfectly cool when I arrive, so I’ll not bother programming the thermostat.” People are usually more interested in avoiding loss – in other words, keeping the house always cool so they don’t “lose” the ability to come home to a cool house mid-afternoon – than gain – that $50 a month they’d save on their energy bill.

3. The Lake Wobegon effect, or illusive superiority

People constantly overestimate their positive qualities, abilities, way of life, and possessions in comparison to others, resulting in a sense that they’re above average in most ways. Thus, if someone else is doing something distinctly different than them, they must be doing it wrong.

The Simple Dollar largely attracts readers who are at least somewhat frugal. Why? People who are frugal think that what I write about is normal and it reinforces the above biases for them. People who are not frugal, on the other hand, think what I write about is not normal and want either to alert me of it or feel superior to me because my way is different than theirs. Because they believe their way is right, they’re often offended that I don’t do things their way.

Guess what? That’s normal.

One of the big reasons I write The Simple Dollar is to show that a normal person has a normal life that incorporates financial responsibility and frugality. People who stick around for more than an article or two quickly realize that I have hobbies and passions and interests, that I dote on my wife and children, and that I have a lot of foibles and quirks (for example, I still want to use the word “unthaw”). I put things that I do and learn out there for one reason and one reason alone: for you to pick and choose among them to find ideas and things to make your life better.

Yes, in some ways, I’m sure you believe you’re doing some things better than I am. But here’s the thing – the reverse of that isn’t true. A typical writer – like me – sharing details about what I’m doing doesn’t have any idea what you’re doing. I don’t know what you buy for laundry detergent or how you wash your dishes or the decision-making process you’ve made for daycare. All I can know is what I’m doing and how I would handle some situation – and all I can do is share that.

If you feel that it’s some sort of judgment against you … well, that’s essentially impossible. I don’t know the specifics of your situation, what you value, what you believe in, or anything else. I only have a handful of tiny assumptions about my readers – mostly that they’re usually trying to better their lives in some fashion. Beyond that, I can’t possibly judge you. All I can do is share, and sharing is the farthest thing from judging.

If I do something different than what you do, make up your own mind about it. I can only see what I do and share what I do. You can see both what you do and what I do and you can decide for yourself which way is best for you. Maybe your way is better – I have no way of knowing.

That’s the idea behind most advice writers you read out there – me, other personal finance (and related issue) bloggers, book writers, and so on. We only know what we know and we can’t know your specific ideas or ways of thinking or ways of doing things. If you feel like you’re being judged, that’s not our doing. Instead, step back and ask yourself if you can’t learn something from this. Why do you feel judged by a statement of what someone else is doing who does not know what you’re doing at all? Dig into that and you might find some things that will change your life. I ask myself that very question quite a bit, and exploring it is almost always rewarding.

Miss Minimalist, you’ve reduced your possessions beyond a level that I would feel comfortable with. I wouldn’t do what you are doing and, yes, I think my way of doing things is better. However, seeing what you do gives me food for thought, and I’ll keep reading. I think that’s always the healthy way to approach new information and advice that’s given openly and reasonably.

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  1. Jonathan says:

    I think that many people react so negatively when hearing about these things because deep down they have some level of guilt or feel somewhat inferior to those who can give up such things.

  2. Will says:

    I’ve followed this blog for years, but this is the first time I felt compelled to comment.

    In response specifically to the notion of not owning a TV, whenever I someone says that, or that they don’t watch TV, all I hear is, “I don’t read books, I don’t listen to music, I don’t go to plays, I don’t look at art, etc.” TV is a medium, a tool for transmitting culture. It may not be “necessary” but to so gleefully decide to cut oneself off from culture like that seems insane to me. Granted with books and art and plays you don’t need to own them to absorb them, TV is just a medium for transmission, so I don’t get the idea of willfully disconnecting yourself like that.

    Granted, there are lots of way to get that same culture nowadays (computers, cellphones) people rarely say, “I don’t own a TV but I access the content via X.”

  3. MikeTheRed says:

    The 100 Things I Don’t Own post didn’t enrage me like it seems to have a lot of the LH readers, but it did annoy me.

    I actually passed the link along to my wife and we talked a bit that evening about why it annoyed us. We both acknowledged that some of it came from the fact that it was such a drastically different lifestyle that the culture shock of it caused some of the negative reaction. However we also nailed down one bit that we felt was legitimate…

    That story, and most of the sort of “Look at what I’m NOT doing” posts that pop up on lifestyle sites (minimalists, personal finance, self-help, motivation etc) have a hint of “I’m better than you” to them.

    One of the reasons I like The Simple Dollar is because it avoids those sorts of posts. Instead of having posts dedicated to the laundry detergent Trent DOESN’T buy, or the foods he DOESN’T eat, he instead focuses on the positive things he DOES in support of his financial principles and goals.

    I think there is an inherent judgement being made when someone proclaims the don’t do/have/buy something versus when they say they do/have/buy something DIFFERENT to achieve the same ends.

  4. Meg says:

    Hi Trent, I have been reading your blog for more than three years now and I have to admit that many times my perception is that you had a “holier than thou” attitude and that you felt you were somehow above others that are not as frugal. I am not sure, either, why I have had this perception at times, but I am sure it is common among your readers and readers of other PF blogs. For this reason, I appreciate when you admit you make financial mistakes as it makes you seem more human and real in my eyes. Just my thoughts.

  5. Micayla says:

    I agree Jonathan (#1) and I’m a little bummed that she chose to cave to such petty people by pulling the post. But we all handle things differently, which is the point of Trent’s post, no?

  6. Kathy says:

    I think that the strong, negative reaction to anything comes from insecurity and perhaps unintentionally hitting too close to the truth for some people. I guess in this instance is that the truth for them is that they are unhappy. We are conditioned that in order to be happy, we must have things. Lots and lots of things. But deep down we all know that true happiness comes from within ourselves. To see someone who is happy without having lots and lots of things hits much too close to the truth that other people try so very hard to deny to themselves.

    People can only come to accept this truth in their own way and in their own time. Some people will never be able to accept this truth in their lives. Others have never known anything but this truth. And others will come to accept it, but as I said before, they do it in their own way and time.

    I can say this because I have witnessed my own husband go from someone who feels he needs to accumulate all manner of “things” to feel secure and happy, but in the end, all those things did not make him happy. It certainly made me very unhappy, especially having to deal with the clutter Yes, it was clutter as it interfered with our day to day living in our house and made me feel claustrophobic. It was well on the way to a “Hoarders” level of accumulated stuff.

  7. I think you really hit on an important point in that while people may not always agree (I sure do disagree with your point of view often enough) but I keep coming back to TSD and other blogs because they provide food for thought, a different viewpoint and a possibility to analyze my own situation so that I can apply what I learn to improve my life. Some things work, others don’t or won’t.

    I think it is naive to believe that my point of view is “right” all of the time, or even a portion of the time. We all have something we can learn from one another, even if we don’t always agree about everything.

  8. Isn’t being human fun? It is interesting to me to think about how people would “comment” if it were done face-to-face vs. online.

    Nonetheless, when confronted with The Different compared to The Normal I think you are right that people feel not only threatened but perhaps even guilty to some degree…?

    Cheers.

  9. Katie says:

    I’m curious why you think your way is better than Miss Minimalist’s at all? It sounds like she lives in very different circumstances to you and it’s kind of an apples to oranges comparison. Of course you wouldn’t be happier living her life (good! That says you’re satisfied with hers!) but why is your life objectively better?

  10. Stephanie says:

    I read Miss Minimalist and while I don’t feel her degree of minimalism is right for me, I still find her points to be of interest. There are other bloggers on minimalism that tell people that they can only be a minimalist if they don’t have a car! Those are the ones I take issue with.

    I’m not ready to make my own laundry detergent either, but I appreciate knowing that if I do want to try it, I have a good resource! =)

  11. weiszguy says:

    I was so disappointed when miss minimalist took down her “100 things” post. I read it a couple days ago when lifehacker linked to it. Of course there were some things on her list that I wouldn’t do, but that’s beside the point. ALL of the things on her list made me think about my own situation. I thought the post was so well-written that I was going to send the link to all my friends and put it up on Facebook. But by the time I got around to posting, it was gone! I think she really missed out by pulling the post down.

  12. Leisureguy says:

    It strikes me that many people are extremely insecure and feel implicitly judged when someone does something differently than they and, feeling judged, they become quite defensive. If that is someone’s reaction, it’s a signal for some introspection on why they feel so insecure.

  13. KC says:

    I think it’s human nature to try and hold people back. It’s negativism that grows out of insecurity and unhappiness in one’s own life. I’ve always been a positive person and one who strove to do better in their life. I grew up in a small, small town in the foothills of the Appalachians. I always tried to make myself better, studying weird things like music, economics, and (gasp) reading in my spare time. People were always putting me down – family members (not my parents) were always negative and trying to hold me back. I even had an aunt tell me – “Well you’ll get to high school and start smoking, might get pregnant…” WTF?! Anyway…you see where I’m going with this. These miserable people were just trying to hold someone back who was trying to better themselves. Unfortunately I believe that’s human nature. There’s some jealousy in there, but it’s more insecurity and a lack of happiness with one’s own life.

  14. Laura says:

    I’m not that frugal, but I keep reading because I do use some of your ideas, and like others have said, I like to challenge my ideas. I may never make my own laundry detergent, but I do follow a lot of your other advice.

  15. JS says:

    I’d like to see the original post…does it still exist anywhere?

  16. Annie Jones says:

    If I do something different than what you do, make up your own mind about it. I can only see what I do and share what I do. You can see both what you do and what I do and you can decide for yourself which way is best for you. Maybe your way is better – I have no way of knowing.

    Absolutely! I think this is the essence of most frugality/simple living blogs. We say, “Here’s what works for me…your mileage may vary.” And what a boring world it would be if it didn’t.

  17. Steph says:

    Actually poster #1 and #2 just summed up why I get annoyed with people who go on about their minimalist lifestyle. (and poster #1, and 2, I don’t have harsh feelings toward what you said but it just works out that you rang the bell)

    Really? People who don’t live as you do must befeeling guilty and inferior to your superior lifestyle? You don’t think *that* attitude in any way colors their opinion? Some people can never accept “the truth” that your minimalist lifestyle is the best way to live? Gosh, people who don’t live minimally must always be unhappy?

    No one likes being judged. I’m debt free. I have an emergency fund of 6 months of savings. I have 100k in the retirement fund and I’m mid thirties. I also don’t “live frugally” in the sense that I’m at a place in my life that if I *want* some cool new toy, I can afford to buy it *because* I made frugal choices. But apparently since I haven’t pared down everything I own and live on Walden Pond, hand scrubbing my clothes with laundry soap I made from animal fat and lye I scavenged from the dump, I’m “insecure” and “unhappy” and “guilty”.

    I’m not. And I think its awesome that people are finding joy in living more simply than I do, and I don’t judge them, because I know how it feels to be judged as “cheap” for not buying the flashiest, newest, most expensive thing out there. But not everyone wants to live that way, and there is often a self rightious tone that comes thru when these things are discussed.

  18. chacha1 says:

    @Katie, did you even comprehend what Trent wrote?? He didn’t say his way was objectively better. He said it was better FOR HIM. It is a completely subjective viewpoint.

    fwiw, Trent, right on. Too bad miss minimalist got fed up with taking the hits. I’m tempted to write my own “100 things I don’t have” just out of bloody-mindedness.

  19. Karen M. says:

    Your choices are not better, they are just better for you.

    When one writes “I think my way of doing things is better” without qualifying that means *for you* only, it does come off as sounding smug and self-satisfied, rather than happy and content. There are a hundred ways to hoe the row, so to speak, and making your own laundry detergent is only one of them. Living in a 500 sq ft apartment is another. Neither is inherently better than the other.

  20. Johanna says:

    People often react defensively when they find out I’m vegan. I think it’s because there are a lot of nasty, judgmental vegans in the world, and while I try really hard not to be one of them, maybe people who’ve encountered a nasty, judgmental vegan before they encounter me are assuming that all vegans are nasty and judgmental, and they try to pre-empt that.

    Interestingly, I get almost the opposite reaction when people find out I don’t have a car. It’s not “Well, I only drive when I have to, and I carpool whenever I can,” but “Oh, poor you, do you need a ride?” Just this morning, I guy work with stopped me on the sidewalk, about 100 yards from our office building, and offered me a ride. If I’d taken it, I probably would have had to walk almost as far to get to the building from wherever he parked.

  21. Katie says:

    @Katie, did you even comprehend what Trent wrote?? He didn’t say his way was objectively better. He said it was better FOR HIM. It is a completely subjective viewpoint.

    Uh, yes, I did – he wrote “and yes, I think my way of doing things is better.” He didn’t add a “for me.” If he did, I wouldn’t have asked the question. But as it was a question, he’s welcome to say “Oh, I meant to add a ‘for me’” if that’s the case, and my question would be answered.

  22. Mandy says:

    Great article! I have often wondered about this myself. We are criticized all the time for things like not having cable, shopping at Goodwill, etc. I’ve always wondered why anybody else would care – this works for my family and it doesn’t affect them.

    I appreciate you addressing this!

  23. Sean Harnett says:

    I think ultra-frugal people need to be careful not to come across as smug and pretentious. From your quote of Jay:

    “did you see X” and I simply reply, “no, sorry, I don’t have a TV”

    Jay sounds like a real jerk to me right there. You can almost see it between the lines, “no, sorry, I don’t waste my time like an idiot on trivialities like TV. I’m better than you.”

    I also don’t have a TV, but I occasionally watch things on Hulu, or a DVD rental, or at a friend’s house. The polite way to answer “did you see x” might be, “no, but I’ve heard good things. How about you?” It’s almost never necessary to explicitly point out that you don’t own a TV.

    Same goes for vegans, and other “extreme” versions of what most people consider to be a good thing, but don’t have the courage or whatever to fully embrace themselves. You don’t have to be a jerk and rub it in their faces. Unless you get off on their uncomfortable and angry responses, it’s probably best to stay quiet and modest about it.

    People get upset over smug superiority.

  24. SEC Lawyer says:

    I think you’re all missing the point. The reason for the annoyance is that the “Have Not,” in pointing out that he has not, is implying that the “Haves” are wasteful or otherwise immoral. Example: “I don’t have a fur coat.” Translation: “You who do have a fur coat are cruel to animals.” Another example: “I don’t have a TV.” Translation: “You who do have a TV are a mindless simpleton.” The criticism is not ALWAYS implicit, but usually, and unhappily, it’s obvious in the speaker’s tone of voice or demeanor. Most people, myself included, don’t take kindly to this sort of implicit criticism from people of lesser means who think they have special insight about consumption. We rather like the things we have and don’t give a hoot what the Have-Nots think about it.

  25. Great post as usual! I also doubt i’d voluntarily adhere to miss minimalist’s minimalism, but i thought it was inspiring! Like when you hear about a professional athlete’s training regime … you know you’ll never do that but maybe you’ll push yourself a little more on your path.

  26. Ellery says:

    Overall a good post, but the first two things you mention (status quo bias and loss aversion) don’t explain why people react with emotion when they hear what you’re doing. They only explain why other people aren’t _doing_ what you’re doing. So…not really on topic for the post.

  27. Lisa says:

    As a reading teacher, I’m often amused or frustrated (depending on my mood I guess) when adults read something and don’t get the main idea of the passage. The main idea of this passage, that Trent wrote again and again, was that he doesn’t compare what he does to anyone else’s way, he is simply trying to share advice for all of us.

  28. Heather says:

    very very VERY good article!! This is one of the best frugality articles I’ve ever read! I’ve experienced both sides of this dynamic in many different areas of life. Let’s take TV, for example. We have a TV and a converter box, so we get a few channels. I’ve 1. felt guilty when I hear about others who have no TV at all, and wish I could give it up completely. 2. Felt left out when others talk about a TV show that I can’t watch because I don’t get that channel WHILE simultaneously judging them a little for “wasting their time” watching TV (I know, I’m a mess). and 3. felt judged for not having cable or watching more TV.

    I wish I could’ve read miss minimalist’s post! I want to pare down, need to pare down, but need a cheerleader!

  29. Ruth says:

    @Johanna – I think what you said makes perfect sense. Veganism is very frequently a choice made for moral as opposed to health reasons (if not frequently, at least perceived to be frequently.) If you tell someone that you are vegan and they assume that you made that choice because “eating meat is wrong,” the defensive reaction makes sense because you’ve basically told them that you think they are doing something wrong.
    With the car, on the other hand, I think it is (or is perceived to be) a choice more commonly made for financial reasons than moral reasons. Based on that, it makes sense to get a pitying reaction instead of a defensive reaction.

  30. Ruth says:

    As a correction to that first paragraph – they may *feel* like you’ve just told them they are doing something wrong.

  31. Kevin says:

    @Ruth:

    Google “miss minimalist 100 things” (without the quotation marks) — there’s a caches version available via Google. The 3rd link in the results, click on the blue highlighted “Cached” link at the end of the excerpt.

  32. moom says:

    I think there is an instinct to shun deviant social behavior to help maintain tribal cohesion. So many people have negative attitudes to gay/homosexual people, people of other races, people of other political parties, other languages, other religions, and people who don’t eat meat, make their own detergent, don’t watch TV etc….

  33. Tara says:

    I can definitely relate to this post, being both vegetarian and childfree. I get all kinds of judgemental and negative reactions, which I attribute to insecurity in the other person. Those who are comfortable and happy with their own choices are not the ones who are judging me negatively.

  34. _MlleB says:

    I think you might have overlooked a biggie : most people identify strongly to their consumption habits and possessions. Challenge that and you’ll inevitably confront those who can’t sepearate who they are from their stuff.

  35. Cam says:

    I had to chuckle, Johanna, when I read your comment about being vegan. I’ve grown to expect seeing Trent hit with a 2-by-4 in your posts.

  36. jim says:

    I’d like to make a side point about how emotions, tone and humor work or fail to work on the net between complete strangers.

    Miss Minimalist said her original list was “meant to be a fun, light-hearted twist” on something. Well maybe some of her readers didn’t realize it was meant as light hearted or didn’t think it was funny or just simply didn’t get the joke. If you’re trying to be funny on the net people might not get it and react as if you were serious which might illicit some odd reactions. Or if you make a joke about something they think is important then they might interpret it as ridicule. If its “just a joke” that doesn’t make it OK to them if it upset them and “lighten up” doesn’t make them feel better. Not saying Miss Minimalizsts article was like that, but some times people post things they think are funny that aren’t.

    The second comment then says: “an article about reducing possessions generates strongly negative, even angry, comment.” That ‘strongly negative’ or ‘angry’ comment may not have been really angry or negative. If you know the person and see them face to face they might say the same thing and their smile and body language may let you know that its no big deal from them. If you got to know them you’d realize they are emotional all the time, talk loud a lot and wave their arms and use expletives at work too. I have a customer like that. Every thing sounds like he’s mad in email but when you’re on the phone with him you can tell its just the way he is.

  37. Sebi says:

    Just wanted to tell you thatI like your blog very much.
    Thanks.

  38. James says:

    Wow, nicely written. I’m new to this blog but find the information here enjoyable and informative. I agree with some, disagree with others, but that is what a good blog does. I have bookmarked and will continue to read articles here.

  39. jlene18 says:

    I, too, was disappointed that she felt she needed to take it down, as it really made me think. I hope that she reconsiders and puts it back up – and I’m glad that more bloggers are acknowledging this.

    We actually get this a lot, as a family, for cutting cable, homeschooling, lowering carbs/sugars/sodas, walking more, reading more (kids, reading!?! Egads!), lessening our possessions (though we’re nowhere near minimalist yet!), buying experiences, saving money, paying off our debts, saving before we buy, wearing Vibrams (lol!), making our own baby food, not watching sports, and I could go on and on…I would be VERY interested in knowing why people get so angry when they KNOW they’re not being judged – we’ve tried other ways, and they don’t work for us at this stage in our lives.

  40. Geekay says:

    I experience something along the same lines when people discover I’m an Atheist. I don’t have to offer an opinion regarding their belief, my position as an atheist automatically puts them on the defensive. I guess it’s because if I don’t believe in a god, to believe in a god must mean they’re stupid or wrong.

    When you’re a minimalist or vegan/vegetarian you’re also taking a firm position. It tells others that you believe their way of life isn’t good enough for you or is wrong somehow. It doesn’t matter whether this is true or not, that’s how people see it.

    Food, religion and money are all emotionally charged issues. When you touch a nerve, people want to defend themselves.

  41. nona says:

    I have been reading this blog off and on for about 9 months. I am not a particularly frugal person, but I practice frugality about particular things. My fiance and I have a combined income of $300k with no children. We love eating out, expensive clothing, fancy vacations, and luxury trips. However, I have realized that these things can detract and compromise my quality of life. If I am not careful, then they can also lose their appeal if they’re too easily obtained. I read this blog because there are good ideas here. Minimalist and post-consumerism blogs challenge me and make me think. Of course there are times that I think, “Are they serious?” or “That’s too far.” However, I am empowered and challenged by the examples here that show you can live a happy life for less. I suggest that anyone who is angry about these posts, consider the root of that anger. Keep them coming!

  42. jay says:

    Personally, I think many react to statements such as “I don’t own a TV” as a implied comment on your superiority. Not to say that is true, but there are so many people in our society who believe they are superior for one reason or another, it just gets annoying. I’m a strong believer in each of us being able to decide what is best for ourselves, and if it means a particular lifestyle–so be it. So many judgmental people! I suspect, though, were I asked about a TV program, and didn’t have a TV, I’d just say no. No need to share my lifestyle choice. After all, they were just asking about a particular show. And yes, I do realize this was simply an example, but I could list a hundred such examples, where, in a conversation, a simple answer would do, many will choose to insert some little jab/commentary by adding unasked for information: no, ….I don’t eat meat; no, ….I was in church; no, …I don’t wear leather; etc. TMI. My motto: simple question, simple answer. And yes, listing all the things one does without smacks of showing how virtuous you are. Who cares.

  43. prufock says:

    What really bothers me is that now I really want to read that article!

  44. KellyB says:

    Very well written and thought provoking article Trent. Keep up the great work!

  45. Johanna says:

    @Ruth: But I *am* vegan for moral reasons. It’s just that I’m not going to dismiss everyone who disagrees with me on this as a bad person. Glass houses, stones, and all that.

  46. Sarah says:

    The only thing I find offensive is the use of the word “normal” these days. It’s like they way people use common sense…really? There is no such thing as common sense…there is what you learned as you grew up in a household that you began to value whatever your parents or guardians valued…if you had parents or guardians. There really is knowing what you know based on what you learn growing up…if your parents or guardians valued drugs and alcohol then you grow up valuing those things whether you like them or not and if that’s all that is valued in house than as a child you don’t have much choice in that. If you are a foster or group home child you probably have a different idea of what family is than a person who grew up with a nuclear or step family. There is nothing common in this world we are all individuals who are unique and know about different things according to what we know and learn as we grow up.

  47. Sarah says:

    This is common about anything that deviates from the norm. It’s like how homeowners have (many times) encouraged me to buy a home, regardless of whether that actually makes sense in my life right now. Or when I said I wanted a small wedding, people said “oh, that’s what you say NOW, you just wait!”

    Going of the “script” of life, even in small ways, is actively discouraged. Very weird.

    (On another note, I’ve noted some people who don’t have TV or other “basic” essentials sometimes, not always or even often, brag about it as though it is a moral victory of sorts. I’m all for not having that stuff if it doesn’t bring anything to your life, but if you say it with intense pride, it’s a little irritating. Because, so what? You don’t have a TV? Well, I don’t have a blog. In both cases, the answer is… so what? who really cares?)

    @prufock – lifehacker also provides a link to a cached version

  48. Okay, I went and looked at a chached version. Being a frugalist but NOT a minimalist, she’s something I would never read. I do have to say that I don’t see much tongue in cheek stuff thats evident-and I do have a sense of humor. While I would never judge her choices, it does seem to me that loking at her list she could never entrain or open her home up, that every enjoyment comes from going out of the house. Im just the opposite.

  49. Robert says:

    @Katie: I suspect that Trent put that line in there in an effort to be ironic. He had just stated that people like to believe that their way of doing things is superior to others who do things differently without sufficient justification for that belief, and then he makes this comment that implies the same about himself. Perhaps it’s his way of pointing out that he is as human as everyone else, and can fall into the same “traps” from time to time?

    In any event, as jim mentions in #21 it is often hard to properly judge the intended tone of comments or posts online. People will write something that they believe to be humorous or at least obviously not meant to be taken seriously, but others may develop a far different interpretation. Unfortunately, short of putting “smilies” everywhere the best solution I have found is to try to grant others the benefit of the doubt, at least if a comment or post is open to interpretation.

  50. Todd says:

    Good post, Trent. I think Johanna is exactly right, though, with her Vegan example. You might want to add her idea to your list: “People often react negatively because others have put them down for their choices and they are attributing the same motives to you.”

    Many who make choices that are outside the norm are incredibly self-righteous and scornful of those who don’t make the same choices. Thus I think many of your readers accuse you of having a self-righteous tone when that may not have even remotely been your intention.

  51. Kevin says:

    @prufock: see comment #18

  52. Malaika says:

    After reading her 100 things, I can’t see why anyone would respond negatively. She wasn’t preachy about it at all, it was simply a list of things SHE could live without. Unfortunately, some people are just incredibly small, and take offense at nothing. If you’re happy with the choices you’ve made in life, you won’t be mad at the next person for the choices they’ve made.

  53. Ashley says:

    Wow! What a fabulous post!

    I think it brings such viceral reactions because it touches at the nerve of human nature… it has a real “I don’t judge others, therefore I’m superior” tone.

    I consider myself a minimalist…we don’t have a clothes dryer, dishwasher, microwave, cable, cell phones, high-speed internet. I appreciate the savings. That said, we both have smoking habits and enjoy a few cocktails each evening…hardly righteous behavior, but at least honest. We would probably be better off giving up our vices, but we cut back in other ways. Who’s to judge?

  54. Sarah B.B. says:

    Very, very well said. I have been feeling very criticized lately by people’s responses to the fact that I homeschool my children, or that I use baking soda & vinegar to cleanse our hair rather than use shampoo. Often I feel attacked by these responses, and I have had a hard time figuring it out (and not feeling downright depressed by it). Your analysis is so right-on-the-money, and somehow comforting, so thank you. As always, thank you. I love your blog, I appreciate the time you put into this blog, and I think you’re really pretty cool.

  55. Amy B. says:

    A bit off topic, but I sense a similar defensiveness about the kids and parenting decisions that we make. I spent an afternoon with another Mom that I didn’t know that well, and felt like she spent her whole time explaining her parenting decisions to me.

    I concur with the commenter who noted that those who are defensive and judgmental are usually those who are most critical or insecure in their own choices.

    Where does this desire to “fit” come from?

  56. Ashley says:

    Amy #31,

    I personally think the desire to “fit in” is fueled by the media, culture, advertising, and pharmaceutical companies. It is imperative that you feel something is “lacking” so as to create a demand for an anecdote to fill the hole.

  57. Amanda says:

    @18 I liked her list! I “need” some of those items. LOL but can see why she doesn’t.

    Johanna- I’ve recently become a plant eater for health reasons. I’ve noticed the same reaction. It gets people thinking about their health and the defensiveness comes in when 1. They want to change and can’t or won’t and 2. Some of them feel I’m judging them.

    Loved the car story. LOL!

  58. Kathryn says:

    I didn’t have a TV for 13 years. I wasn’t in a relationship & did a lot of reading. I tend to be a “TV-aholic” & when it goes on it stays on. I found, for that time, i was better without it. I didn’t miss it all that much. A friend felt bad for me & gave me an old one. Turns out the picture didn’t work, but occasionally i’d plug it in & listen to “60 Minutes” – my mind made up the picture so well that later i was sure i’d seen the program.

    But i quickly learned that saying “I don’t have a TV” opened me up for a grilling, or even more often, the other person’s justifications of their viewing habits. “I don’t watch much,” “I only watch the __________” news/educational tv, etc. Notice, i didn’t say i thought TV was BAD, simply that i didn’t have one. It was weird how so many people felt they had to justify it.

    I learned that it was easier to say, “No, i missed that program. What was it about?” This seemed to encourage conversation & a better conversation than getting into my lack of owning a TV.

    I enjoy TV. My husband & i are very much into SciFi & other similar programs. We enjoy the ability to record & watch at our own convenience & be able to avoid commercials. I also find that i’m much less addicted to it. Of course, years ago i didn’t have the internet to occupy me as well.

  59. Leah says:

    I think people like to have their choices validated. When they see something as a “need,” it’s actually a little threatening when someone else seems to manage just fine without it. For example, I have several friends who see their Wednesday night happy hour as a big, important thing in their lives. I would go with them but not have a beer. It took them a long time to figure out that I wasn’t judging and I wasn’t being snooty. I just don’t like beer and choose to spend my money other ways. But it’s really easy to take things like “I don’t drink beer” or “I don’t own a TV” as a referendum on your own choices, especially when you don’t know the person who is making the comment.

  60. Ratchet says:

    I love it when I tell people I don’t own a TV and they start getting all defensive and squirm around for awhile. It’s so funny and very entertaining too! People are so insecure that this little act of non-conformity is like a personal attack on them. LOL!

    Miss Minimalist’s list was not that earth shattering to me and I have no idea what people got so fussy about (didn’t read the comments). I do own some of things on that list, but I don’t even call myself a minimalist. I can easily see how someone could get by without that stuff. What on the list is so inconceivable? She also didn’t mention the things she does own–I bet she owns some things that I don’t.

  61. graeme says:

    You have to remember that it is people who tend to be negative in general, that shout the loudest. For each of the negative comments, there are many, like me, who enjoy the blog highly yet choose not to post a comment. This I have found to be true for a lot of content on the internet, and life in general.

  62. coco says:

    Most people, i’ve found just have a profound need to judge and be negative. We live in the deep south and don’t really fit the “norm” here. I am a near vegetarian, i have adopted 2 children, a chinese boy and an african american baby, we are a 1 income family, we have one cell phone that is 7.00 a month, we are fairly extreme minimalists and don’t buy much or have big christmases. All these things we are constantly called out on, it gets tiring which is why i am so happy to have online contacts such as this blog. Another thing i really hate when people try to explaing that they don’t eat much meat, watch much TV etc. when they find out someone else doesn’t. I watch LOTS of TV and have direct TV with a jillion channels, it is our one form of entertainment and if someone told me that they didn’t have a tv, i’d probably say “poor you”! LOL

  63. swilder says:

    It is such a shame that so many people are negative about other peoples choices. Anything that is not deemed normal is an oddity. It’s the glass half empty concept. Instead of taking what someone else does and seeing it as “thinking outside the box” the response is why would someone want to miss out on x. We didn’t have cable for years and people couldn’t understand why. Look at Amy Dascyzyn, family members would give her aluminum foil to save her from recycling hers. That wasn’t the point of her story, it was reaching a goal and her journey to get there. All of the stories that are shared should give people hope and possibility. Often times I have thought we need to add classes on thinking outside the box in school about using the things we have and accepting the differences in lifestyles.

  64. Terri says:

    As a Lay Carmelite we are called to a simpler lifestyle. But since I am not a nun and didn’t start out as one- I have stuff. Too much stuff. Its an ongoing process of realizing and then giving up what we truly don’t need in our lives. Your post is just another reminder for us to examine just what is important to us and discard the rest- its a universal call to a simpler cleaner more focused life.

  65. Bob says:

    Great Article!!!!

    I think you hit on a major societal issue. Very thought provoking.

  66. I’m deeply offended by the way you live your life and frankly I think I’m better than you. I will not give you the details of my life because that will lead to comparison. I just want you to believe me. ;)

    Actually I think people react negatively to not watching TV and living frugal because they feel such lifestyles are difficult to maintain. They tie their happiness to the TV and not looking at how much detergent costs. I also think that this can sometimes bring up feelings of worthlessness that they’d never know how to be so frugal either! I get that feeling when I read or watch great people’s biographies, world athletes or hear about the Seals training program.

    Some people are very well disciplined. So much so that I feel crappy in comparison to them. Personally I don’t make my own detergent, though I am now considering it! But it took many small steps to get to this point. In the past when I didn’t watch my budget closely, I would have been annoyed by someone telling me they make their own detergent. I would probably try to dismiss them as a crazy person in my mind. But this is because it hit a part of me that realized I was not “on the ball” with my own finances, in fact way off. Hearing about this would just illuminate this fact too vividly for my mind to handle at the time. That world seemed too far away.

    At that time I would be able to take other financial wisdom that was closer to goals I could reach. Socking away bonuses and extra money into an RRSP was something I could handle. Mostly because I didn’t have to think at all. I just had to set up an automatic withdrawal to my RRSP every month. Set it and forget it!

    People are very bad at understanding the difference between what is good for them and what can be good for others. We see the world through our limited view of our own circumstances. I still agree that I could not handle making detergent by myself at that time. It was too much of a change and I’d probably stop doing it, making no progress in my financial life. Possibly deterring me from trying other financial management tricks because I became so frustrated.

    BTW – I met a guy who went through the Seals training program and I think he’s crazy! LOL How can someone go through that kind program?? On top of that he’s also a Nuclear Physicist. How do I compete with someone like that? I think the answer is “I don’t”. Maybe in future I can, who knows. Discipline takes time.

  67. I’ll go a step further and say that defensiveness can be a sign that you’re hitting what’s already a sore spot with them b/c they know they should be improving in an area but haven’t taken the steps to do so. “I don’t own a tv” may bring to their mind, “Oh, man, I know I watch too much tv, but I don’t want to stop.” It’s not feeling like a judgment from you; it’s a reminder of a judgment they have of themselves.

    Same can go for stuff: “Oh, man, I know I have too much stuff, but I just don’t want to let go of it/I’m just too lazy to deal with it. And look at all the money I’ve wasted. If I get rid of my stuff it’ll be admitting I’ve thrown money away.”

    Extreme minimalism can be a reminder to them that they should be doing better in their own lives. Why are they reading this stuff if they get defensive about it? That’s the real question, and I’d guess that, deep down, they’re looking for motivation and inspiration. But when they feel overwhelmed in light of someone else’s “success” based on what they think they could be doing in their lives, they lash out.

    Not everyone, of course. But I’d wager this is what’s going on in the minds of some.

  68. valleycat1 says:

    So, Trent, how about your ’100 things’ list – or a challenge to your readers to list theirs?

  69. valleycat1 says:

    Here’s the link to the list that #18 kevin found: http://jakchat.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/111990

    Her post is so unoffensive to me (even though I probably own at least 95 of the things she lists), I can’t begin to see how people would have gone off on her about posting it, given the focus of her blog overall. Except that it sounds like most of the negatives were generated after the link from a different type of site.

  70. Anyone who got that crazy about anyone living a minimalist lifestyle has some serious, serious issues.

    I’d tell them all to get a life.

    To each his own.

  71. Jill says:

    I thought this was an excellent post and I loved your explanation. As a person who has reacted on both ends of the spectrum (been defensive to choosing a non status quo path), I can identify. I just read because it’s food for thought and for ideas. I think it comes with some maturity and being comfortable with who you are and who you aren’t and some folks just arent’ there yet. And like all things, from politics to frugality to finances; it’s very often not WHAT people say that ticks them off, it’s HOW it’s said.
    Thanks for an awesome blog, Trent!

  72. Cigar Jack says:

    @David Agreed!

    These sites are opinion and advice. Everyone is different and has different needs. Even though I would not enjoy such a minimalist lifestyle reading sites about it does give me ideas of what I can cut out of my own life.

    I know all about negative comments. I run a site about cigars. Cigars aren’t for everyone, I’m not going to force you to smoke one. But every once in awhile I get BLASTED in email/comments. Some get posted, some don’t. My Site, My Rules. Can’t let the rude people get to you. I think it was Penny Arcade had a comic that said it perfectly but with much cruder language. Average Joe + Anonymity = Jerk

  73. Thanks for addressing this, Trent.

    I’m accustomed to writing for my small group of minimalist readers, and had honestly never considered how the post might be received by a general audience. I have to admit, I was stunned by the hostile reaction. It’s hard to misinterpret comments like “I want to punch their face off so badly after reading that list.”

    I ultimately removed the post after I received some threatening emails. Of course, I understand that everyone has their own opinion, but I felt that the negativity had completely overwhelmed the content, and spirit, of the original post.

    My husband and I moved to London last year. We sold almost all of our possessions (to avoid the high cost of shipping them) and started over. In the process, we realized that we didn’t really need many of the things we had once considered “necessities.” Some weren’t practical (like dragging a couch up to a small, fourth-floor walkup), some no longer suited our lifestyle (like owning a TV when we spent most nights and weekends out), and some we just never found the need for (stapler, food processor, file cabinet, etc). The move was a great opportunity to acquire things only as we needed them, and learn what really fit our lifestyle. I thought it would be fun to make a list of common items we found we could live without; and since there had been a recent flurry of commentary about the 100 Thing Challenge, decided to present it in that framework.

    I regret that the post was terribly misinterpreted by the Lifehacker community, as I would never tell anyone else what they should and shouldn’t own. My objective is not to evangelize, but simply to share my own (somewhat unique) experience. After reading the post over many times, and still not understanding what sparked such vitriol, I decided that it just “wasn’t ready for prime time.” Much of the material contained therein is covered in more depth elsewhere on my blog (which, perhaps, is better context for it).

    On the upside: I received many warm and supportive emails, and a number of new subscribers, for which I am very grateful. Thanks to everyone for your encouragement, and I look forward to sharing with you the *joy* of minimalist living!

  74. Tyler says:

    For those of you that want to read the original article, someone posted the google cache on another website: http://jakchat.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/111990

  75. Diana says:

    I love watching people freak when I tell them I’m getting rid of stuff or don’t have certain items. I live in an apartment that is not cluttered at all. When I recently moved and told people I was paring it all down by 1/3 many people would get instantly defensive. It was so funny. I’d point out their defensiveness and ask why – I wasn’t asking them to get rid of stuff. They’d get a funny look on their faces and then usually become speechless.

    Same with owning a house. I know all the reasons for having one for investment purposes, but I’m single and I don’t want one for all the reasons they tie up time and money. I share rent with a friend. Half price is good. I save the half I don’t spend. That is good. Another single friend owns a house. She says she wouldn’t if she could do it all over again.

    Having very little compels me to get out and enjoy the outdoors, get involved with other people, use libraries, go to the second-run showhouses for $3 instead of $10 at first run places. Having very little gives me very much in terms of life. I see a lot of people bogged down by their stuff and living lives on a short leash, running up credit card bills to get more stuff. Maybe all this gathering is an attempt to fill an empty space in their souls.

  76. Annie says:

    I have gotten to the point in my face to face life where I downplay my frugality. It gets annoying to be lectured about how “dirty” and “expensive” it is to use family cloths, how “cruel” it is to my kid to not own a television (I was even cruel when I had a TV but no cable)….the list goes on.

    I don’t go around their houses and tell them “Why are you spending money on the high-dollar toilet paper? That’s stupid!” yet they feel the freedom to call me stupid for my choice to use and re-use cloth.

    It’s not fair, it is not “live and let live” and it really stinks.

    I wish I knew of a way other than silence to avoid the criticism.

    I read the article about the 100 Things. I rather enjoyed it, and found I didn’t own many of those things myself! It is sad that the post was pulled :(

  77. Annie says:

    Here is a copy of the article that was removed:
    http://jakchat.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/111990

    Thanks to the rescuer! I was unable to pull it up on the Google Cache!

  78. aj says:

    I personally have a LOT of stuff…and I am making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of stuff that clutters up my house medium sized house. I was raised to be a packrat…and sometime in the last 8 to 10 years I finally opened my eyes & realized that I didn’t need so much stuff.

    This revelation may be contributed to becoming wiser with age, being “fly-washed” with the help of FlyLady , and/or the fact that I finally found my true self again. I felt I had been a little lost, and strayed a little for a number of years…working my way through a bad marriage, and some bad decisions made for all the wrong reasons. Now I am happily married, and have 3 wonderful kids. What more do I need than that? (Now of course the kids need LOTS of things…but I have been able to teach them to think before they spend, or ask themselves is this a NEED or a WANT. They do well for being so young…much better than I did at their age!)

    I hung on to everything and would spend money on whatever…now I see I don’t need to. It took a great deal of facing the voices in my head – correctly identifying the emotions I was feeling and dealing with them head on instead of escaping the situations by just going shopping. Now having a healthy Emergency Fund is what makes me excited! It is peace of mind for me to know that I can handle whatever may come my way.

    My Dad, I am afraid, could easily be classified a Hoarder. I didn’t see it when I was younger, but now I look around my parents house(s) I wonder how my Mother has been able to deal with this all these years…(yes, they own three lots in a row…one is just an old house packed full of stuff, one they live in & is packed full of stuff, and the other is very nicely decorated, decluttered, and used for entertaining, lol…because there is too much stuff in the one they live in! Not trash, just stuff…EVERYWHERE)

    I thought miss minimalist’s apartment looked wonderful! I envy her for having such an open light apartment that will require so little of her time. That is really what it all boils down to for me now…I want more TIME to do things with my kids while they are still young. I want to be able to get out and DO things while I am not too old…so the less I have to maintain, clean, dust, wash, fix, pick up, put away, etc. the more TIME I have available for my family.

    Being frugal is just another way to gain more TIME. Being frugal is fun for us…it is opening your mind to the possibility that there may be another way to do something.
    Looking at things from a different angle, getting another view point, opening your mind to new experiences…I certainly don’t know everything (no one does) and I love to read blogs like TSD to get ideas that I may not have had on my own.

    My husband loves making the laundry detergent! I love the fact that I know exactly what is in it and I don’t have to worry about harsh chemicals, as we have stopped using anything with harsh chemicals in it and started using more natural methods of cleaning which has really helped our family’s health.

    Although some people have looked at me like I was a little crazy when I might mention some of our newly adopted frugal methods, so I really just don’t mention it much…I just do my own thing, knowing that the changes I have made have helped my family save money which means my husband doesn’t have to work as much, which means we have more TIME to spend together, and we are healthier, craftier, and hopefully more open-minded than we were before.

    The more things I get rid of the closer I feel to being in control of everything, closer to my goal, closer to my family. I know we will always have more than we probably need but I am not going to be obsessed with it…I know that I still need to purge more by the light feeling I get looking at miss minimalist’s apartment. It made me smile…it made me feel free! I thought “Wow! Wouldn’t that be an Awesome place to live!” So I know that MY STUFF is weighing ME down. Everyone is different, and we all live different lives.
    I never understood why people get upset or defensive regarding frugality or minimalism…Thanks for explaining the psychology of it all.

    By the way, judgemental people are the only ones judging- the rest of us really don’t care! Live & let live! Don’t worry, Be Happy! Live Long & Prosper!

  79. deRuiter says:

    Problems arise because frugal people tend to accumulate more money than “spenders” and the spenders feel, despite all their stuff, at a disadvantage, a bit guilty for throwing away money frivolously. Reading finance blogs is supposed to be interesting, to give a person ideas. Whether the idea is, “I’m going to try that and save money.” or “No, that’s not for me, I don’t need to save money that way.” it’s useful to read others’ ideas. I’m a Dave Ramsey type, and I disagree wildly with Rick Edelman (prepay your mortgages!) but I listen to Rick every Sunday morning with great interest. I’m fascinated with why Rick Edelman thinks as he does. I don’t dislike him, I like him, even if I think he’s on the wrong track for ME.

  80. Karen says:

    Good article. I quit worrying about what people think long ago. Much happier now!!

  81. Bill says:

    Wow I just read her list I have 94 of those things, if we drank coffee we would have 98. I’m surprised she took it down that was a pretty clever post and very appropriate for a blog on minimalism.

    Like deRuiter said above it is good to listen to people that disagree with you, that is the only way to learn. How boring would it be if every comment was “Great post I agree!”

  82. Margaret says:

    Good grief. I just read the cached post, and I do not see anything offensive about it. It’s pretty much her saying, “don’t have it, don’t need it” 100 times. What’s offensive about that? Were people really having a meltdown because she doesn’t have any glue? Ridiculous.

  83. Nancy says:

    I agree with a lot of the above comments, but I wanted to add that I think the anonymity of the internet also can contribute to people being a lot more rude in posts than they would be in person.

  84. Laura in Seattle says:

    This is dead on. Excellent post Trent!

  85. Rebecca says:

    I like miss minimalist. I read the original post when she did it and it gave me a lot to think about. Her post is titled 100 things I don’t have, not 100 things you must live without.

    There are many things in this world that we have that are actually wants, but we have become so used to them that we define them as needs. She rethinks that, and has come to find that she is indeed very happy without many of those things.

    We also had many things like that, a 2nd car, air conditioning, a dishwasher. For various reasons, when each of those things died, we opted not to replace them. People thought we were crazy, but even though it was a bit stressful at first, we soon started to realize that for us they weren’t needs at all and are now very happy without.

    I often wonder about other things I could do without, like the microwave, which if it dies, I don’t think we will replace.

  86. Jenna says:

    Trent, you’ve hit on a fascinating aspect of human nature. I have been on both sides of the judge/be judged coin. I get judged often for not being married to my BF of 6 years and not having kids despite our ripe age of 33. People seem to always want others to make the same choices – maybe it makes them feel better about their own choices to go with the crowd. Interestingly, since I became conscious of my own spending/waste/consumption, I find myself judging others for small things that seem so “common sense” to me (though I don’t usually verbalize them). I always have to bite my tongue when people have massive amounts of purchased bottled water that they drink sitting in their home. Human nature is really interesting – we judge even when we try not to sometimes. Great post – you should address it again sometime!

  87. Carrie says:

    I didn’t think there was anyone other than my mother who uses the word “unthaw”!

    I think that people are generally ego-centric and they think everything is about them. They can’t believe someone is simply making a comment like “I enjoy watching American Idol” without it meaning, “You are so backward if you’re not into the what’s hot in pop culture. You’re such a moron if you don’t own a TV and you must be poor and not able to afford one.” In reality, the first person is just making a personal statement. The second person is perceiving it as some kind of judgement or attack and they react defensively.

  88. i-geek says:

    I took a look at that cached copy of the Miss Minimalist post and I wasn’t offended either. There are things on that list that I have and have no intent of giving up (for example: I do use a food processor, we grind our own coffee beans at home, and we’re so physically close to our neighbors that I refuse to remove the window coverings). However, IMO it didn’t read as accusatory or judgmental at all. It seemed more of an invitation to investigate one’s own life and see if there are any extras that are unnecessary and perhaps more clutter than anything else.

    It is true that people perceive judgement where there may be none. Our house is not air-conditioned. It is a very small, well insulated one-story home with good cross-ventilation, and it isn’t cost-effective to install central AC. Window units are more trouble than they’re worth for several reasons. We got used to the summer heat and are rarely bothered by it now. However, when the subject comes up and people find out that we don’t have AC, the responses are interesting. Many seem to think that we’re doing this for moral reasons, when really we’re just cheap and lazy. ;)

  89. This “outside the norm reaction” happens for people, who 1) like to emulate others and 2) associate their opinions with who they are as a person.

    I’d say that’s a pretty normal way of being.

    Coming into contact with someone who behaves differently will be seen as a judgment on who they are as a person.

  90. Rebecca says:

    Trent, count me as a die hard user of the word “unthaw”!

  91. Stephen says:

    Look: certain people who go on about how frugal they are, or how they’re vegetarian or don’t own a TV use a very preachy and judgmental tone. This is common enough that The Onion satirized it in an article about the “man who doesn’t own a TV” from 10 years ago:

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-constantly-mentioning-he-doesnt-own-a-tel,429/

    The people who hear that sort of thing and react negatively are not necessarily doing it out of some sort of deep-seated insecurity. They’re probably reacting out of just simply being annoyed.

  92. Angela says:

    I subscribed to your blog a few weeks ago and I have really enjoyed reading the posts. I consider myself to be very frugal. I like that you often clarify that there isn’t only one way of doing things but that we have choices in how we want to live. I wouldn’t do everything as you are doing but I certainly enjoy your thoughts, ideas, tips. It always makes me think things through and examine my own life to see what changes I could make. Thank you.

  93. Erin says:

    I like reading blogs of someone who is more extreme than I am – more frugal, wealthier, more healthy. It pushes me to think if I could adopt some of the things they do. When I first read about making your own laundry detergent my first thought was No way! But now? I’m going to do it when my stash runs out. I realized that I don’t care about laundry detergent, so why not?

  94. Claudia says:

    I think the some of the first posts here explained well why people took offense. Some of the posts said people felt guilty or jealous. I read a lot, but I also watch TV. I can not fathom a life without reading, but that does not make me somehow better or smarter than others. I know some people who will say they don’t watch TV, in such a way that everyone knows they are clearly saying, I’m smarter and better than you because of this. Or people that claim to eat healthy and exercise who also are clearly giving the impression that they think they are superior to everyone else. That is why people take offense, no jealousy involved.
    I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. My choice, if you want to that’s your choice, as i.e. everything else is also.

  95. Lorina says:

    BRAVO!! I LOVE this post! I have been reading you for some time, but have never commented. . . just my way. But this post really spoke to me. I hope many people take the time to read it through and even more time to stop and digest it!!! THANK YOU for writing this!

  96. Paula Kastelec says:

    Yours is one of the best sites Ive ever been on.

    I have lived on a budget all my life and never wanted for anything ..Of course I dont Have a need for foolish things..
    I think homemade soap, meals from scratch and all the other tips you share with us are very necessary for people to utilize..We have become a society of ‘I want it all and I want it now’ Thats why so many people are in so much trouble now.
    They think they are entitled to all the things that we older people had to work very hard for.
    Ive made clothes,decorated cakes, learned to paint , wallpaper, sheetrock , build furniture,
    make draperies, slipcovers,etc and my husband and I have taught people to do some of these things..
    We taught ourself how to do things that we couldnt hire someone to do and along the way we felt the pride that comes with accomplishing these things..too many people want too many things without putting too much effort into getting them..Keep up your good work and you not only will be a great success you will have very well balanced and successful children..Keep up the good work………….

  97. Systemizer says:

    “… I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to enraged negativity because it’s not worth my time or energy (think of ‘the boy who cried wolf’).”

    Maybe due to hypersensitivity you’re misinterpreting legitimate criticism as “enraged negativity,” and, as a result, you’re selling yourself short by ignoring it.

    (Think of “The Fox and the Crow”)

  98. Geekay says:

    Weird. I wonder why my previous comments never came up.

    Anyway, I can understand people’s irritation if someone comes across as snooty or superior. It doesn’t matter how comfortable I am in my own lifestyle, I would still find that kind of attitude annoying.

  99. littlepitcher says:

    @KC–Lived the life. I still give ‘em the quote from “A Hard Day’s Night” about “a Bewk?” when I am harangued about reading. Pop culture does have its uses.
    Also from small towns–the idiom about “making a killing” is very real where small-town police departments are understaffed and corrupt. The folks who can kill you, bury you under the gravel driveway, forge your signature on a property transfer, and move into your house lock, stock, and barrel really don’t like minimalism at all. Nor do auctioneers, flea marketers, or whole-house burglars. Folks who ridicule your minimalism are not your friends, no matter what they may call themselves.

  100. Brittany says:

    I think “unthaw” is a rural Midwest thing. I use it all the time and my city friends and coastal friends mock me mercilessly.

  101. Smarmy Marmy Haha says:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/
    The longer I’ve been on the internet the more true that becomes ~_~

  102. Landon says:

    I just had a similar confrontation with a friend of mine after I showed him my blog. I even wrote a blog post responding to his criticisms (see the entry entitled ‘Point-Counterpoint: Frugality is Misery’.

    The problem is close-mindedness in my opinion. How can you criticise a minimalist lifestyle if you’ve never tried it? And just because *you* can’t fathom a life without an addiction to “buying stuff” doesn’t mean that others can find joy and satisfaction without that addiction.

  103. briang says:

    a note about the strong negative reaction kbbales01 receives:

    When the reply to “did you see x” is “no, I don’t have a TV,” it is a direct challenge to someone’s values. A simple reply is “No.”

    Your reply is complex because it says both “no” and “I didn’t watch it because my value system is superior to yours because I need to state I don’t own a TV in response to questions about activities involving TV.”

    In other words, you’re being self-righteous.

  104. terri sue says:

    i just found tsd recently and was thrilled. right now my husband and i are de-stuffing our house. we’ve lived here for seven years and seven years ago it was easy to maintain and clean. now it is not and it is because of all of the stuff that has come to live with us since we moved in. mostly it has been my fault. i am bi-polar. contrary to most bi-polars who go on mad buying sprees when they are manic, i go on them when i am depressed. i think if i just buy something i’ll feel better. it doesn’t work but for a short time and so i buy more and more. well no longer because i have bought us into serious financial trouble. my psychologist of 12 years died of liver cancer 5 years ago. i have found a new psychologist two months ago and we really started making breakthroughs two weeks ago i’m beginning to feel stronger now. i have serious physical medical problems and am now content to just stay home take care of the house, my husband, and do part-time babysitting of my granddaughter. we did well until i had a nervous breakdown in 1993. we did live minimally. my husband and i have been vegetarians for 29 years. we’ve never had cable and don’t watch t.v. even though my husband worked for a t.v. station for 25 years when they laid him off two years ago. we use our t.v. to watch movies when we want to. we do watch t.v. when there is extremely bad weather. i’ve had friend ask me how we can without cable or a dish. they are usually quite surprised that a person can still use an antenna. ours is in our attic pointed perfectly by my ex-t.v. worker husband. there is not a baking mix in the house. i make everything from scratch except pasta and canned goods. we used to buy canned legumes for the convenience along with dried for certain recipes. now i buy only dried, cook them up and package them in one pound amounts to stick in the freezer. the only difference is i have to remember to get them out in time to thaw. this afternoon my husband took apart our audio amplifier as it had quit working. we certainly didn’t have the money to go buy one but even if we had this is the way my husband has always handled things. after much looking and testing he found that all that was wrong with it was two blown fuses. $1.92 at home depot plus he gave it a good cleaning. thats one less thing in the land fill. when our children were little we used to sing an old shaker song together with them as we would skip around in a circle.
    tis a gift to be simple
    tis a gift to be free
    tis a gift to come down where you ought to be
    and when you find yourself in the place just right
    it will be in the valley of love and delight
    when true simplicity is gained
    to bough and to bend we will not be ashamed
    to turn, turn it will be our delight
    till by turning, turning we come round right

    that’s my goal. that’s where i’m heading back. the simple dollar has been a big help with my goals. thank you, trent. i appreciate everything you write. also thank you for the bean cooking times you sent out this last week. i had them in books, but now i’ve just got them up on the cupboard door… so much easier!

    terri sue

  105. Cody says:

    I get the same type of defensive attitude from people when I tell them I don’t drink and I don’t even justify it with religion. Some people can’t get their heads around others who do anti-establishment things based on principle and some even get offended as this article points out. Screw all of ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

  106. Daniel says:

    People who write Open Source software and give it away also get a similar reaction: “What! You gave it away? You should be selling it!”

    When I tell people I don’t lie to people, even at great inconvenience to myself, even if my girlfriend (when I have one) asks me if the dress looks good on her, people have a similar anger reaction.

    I think a good explanation is an effect I read about that I can no longer remember the name of (someone please let me know if you find it); the effect is that if you (I’m paraphrasing) “punch a hole in someone’s worldview they become enraged and consider it justified and necessary to hurt you”.

  107. MIke says:

    The reason people react negatively for the most part is because many of the people who have given up TV, meat, materialism, etc. adopt a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. TV is a great example, you run into people all the time who say ‘I don’t OWN a TV, I haven’t watched it for years’ and give you a sneer like you are somehow less than them because you still feel the need to watch the ‘idiot box’.

    I’m not saying that you do this at all, but it’s almost 100% of the reason that people give this reaction, they’ve been burned by elitist snobs one time too many. Someone said basically the same thing about how they are a Vegan and are sometimes hesitant to tell people because they know of Vegans who like to preach and act superior. It’s not insecurity on our part, it’s us getting tired of the BS.

  108. anonymous says:

    Re: I didn’t see it, I don’t have a TV

    I think that people become defensive because by saying “I don’t have a TV” you are saying: “I don’t value watching TV, which is why I don’t have a TV, which is why I haven’t seen that program or any other program you might ask me about.” You are doing it to help explain why you haven’t seen that program, but by saying that, you indicate that you have made a value judgment in your life that is different than the judgment someone else has made in his/her life, and that makes people feel defensive. You drew attention to the difference between you, which implies to other people that you are indeed judging them for the fact that they own a TV and use it.

    There is no need to say “I don’t have a TV” in response to “did you see …?” Just say “no, I didn’t happen to see that” and leave it alone.

    I don’t find it odd at all that the other person gets upset when you see the situation from this perspective.

  109. Joless says:

    I think people are suspicious of the motives of anyone who does anything a little differently. I found this recently when I dropped my working hours down to 4 days a week for no particular reason (no kids etc) other than I just want a better work/life balance. Instead of being happy for me, some people were very confused or untrusting about why I wanted to do that, or how I could afford to do it, or why my employers would consider letting me (I just asked and they said ‘why not’). Very odd and not what I expected at all.

  110. Adam S says:

    regarding:
    In my own experience (and I have plenty of stuff!) as a person who doesn’t have a TV, I find that when someone says “did you see X” and I simply reply, “no, sorry, I don’t have a TV” – there is often a very defensive reaction, and a long rationalizing response, ie, “I only watch PBS! There’s a lot of good stuff, etc etc.” What’s that about?

    —————–
    You are severely over-analyzing the problem. People aren’t being defensive because you aren’t “normal.” (and I would argue that there is nothing abnormal about not having a TV…)

    The problem is that when someone asks if you watched Survivor, they are searching for something to talk about. Something to have in common, something to make time pass and feel like they have made some type of connection from someone.

    In short, you could have just answered the question. The answer to, “did you watch survivor?” is “NO.” When you say “No, I don’t have a TV” you are drawing the conversation back to yourself. But the person asking didn’t want to talk about you or your habits, they just wanted to talk about the goings-on of others in a TV show.

    Unfortunately, we “Survivor” watchers have no one to talk to about the show anymore. If the answer isn’t, “No, I hate reality TV” or, “No, Survivor is so ten years ago,” than the answer is “No, I don’t have a TV.” We don’t care if you don’t like reality TV, or if you like other reality TV, or if you don’t have a TV, or if you have ten cats. We just wanted to talk about survivor!

  111. RWG says:

    I read the “100 things” post after reading about it on The Simple Dollar. I enjoy TSD and other frugality/moneysaving websites and find their insights helpful even though I don’t agree with everything i see here. I read the 100 Things post because I was planning to buy the “Joy of Less” book and wanted to get an idea of what i could expect.

    My gut response to the 100 things was very negative. The list of 100 things she and her husband live without seemed to describe a lifestyle that was unrealistic and without pleasure; and also suggested spending money rather than doing things at home.

    I was surprised to see that there were dozens of comments posted and all were favorable. I posted a comment that was critical of her post but not mean.

    I did not pick up on any sort of humorous/tongue-in-cheek mode in her post. Rather, it came across as having a “let them eat cake” sort of attitude regarding what other people can and cannot live without. Her reasoning behind why she doesn’t own some of the items she listed implied that the lifestyle she and her spouse have adopted is superior to those of us who have not gone that route.

    While I did not specifically address her flippant tone in my post, I did say that I found her post to depict a life that sounded somewhat anorexic and joyless, and discussed the “usefulness” of items like a few pictures in frames of people I love, or the dining room table for having people over to share a meal. I like having a couch because I like my visitors to have somewhere they can sit. I also like sitting on it to read. I have running shoes because I walk almost every day for exercise. I don’t have yoga gear or hiking boots like she does because I don’t do those activities, so I guess those things could go on my list if i were to make one, but it would be disingenuous of me to list them.

    I ended my post by saying that despite this post I planned to investigate her book further and that I have a long way to go in my frugal/minimal lifestyle and that I still plan to get her book. (at that time, that WAS my plan.) Not exactly a mean or negative comment, just a different approach to her post.

    Around the same time that my comment was posted, (under my name “Robin”) a handful of other comments were posted that also took a different stance than hers. These comments all seemed to be in the general spirit of a debate among readers with differing points of view.

    Imagine my surprise when the next day, when I looked back at her blog, she had removed the post due to what she perceived as a firestorm of criticism.

    At that time, the blog itself was gone but the comments were still there so I read them all again, searching for the mean-spirited remarks she referenced. I found none.

    I am a freelance writer myself. As such, when I publish an essay, whether in print or online, I am sharing my thoughts and ideas with the entire spectrum of the public, not just those who agree with my point of view.

    As a writer, the greatest reward that I receive for my work is NOT the money I’m paid to write it. Usually the paychecks are small. The greatest reward I receive is that people actually read what I have written.

    When they then take the time to respond to my writing, regardless of whether they agree or not, that is even more of an honor.

    I have struck up interesting and fulfilling friendships with readers who have sent in letters to the editor to challenge my points in some of my writing. We still don’t agree, but we respect and enjoy each other nonetheless.

    Miss Minimalist was willing to leave the post online as long as the readers told her how wonderful it was. Only when the comments turned critical (NOT negative) did she get defensive and pull it off the web.

    Interestingly, none of the favorable posters mentioned that they thought the post was funny, indicating that the intended humor of it went over everyone’s head, not just those of us who disagreed with her.

    I hope Miss Minimalist will reconsider her decision to pull her comment. I think all her readers can learn from what others wrote. Alas, I doubt that I’ll buy her book now, as I detect a spirit of closeminded-ness in her, based on this reaction.

  112. RWG says:

    PS Sorry about the spelling errors. In a bit of a hurry today. –rwg

  113. vsheehan says:

    Trent Hamm
    sorry to go off topic. Any chance you would do an article on how to live simply when your kid is on the Autism spectrum and has digestive issues? We never were able to save because we paid out of pocket for our sons medical and therapy needs. I have never owned much instead our paycheck went to our son’s extra needs.I never owned a TV wont pay for cable only internet lowest electric bill in the neighborhood excreta but we live pay check to paycheck. After our recent need to start over because of a change in salary we had to dump all therapies even though they worked. One thing we still do is make sure our son has access to foods he can eat with out Digestion issues. His diet is Wheat, corn, and dairy free. We have to do a rotational diet as our son started getting asthma after 1 year of a rice based diet so we had to incorporate other starches. Right now I pay more for our son’s food needs then electricity(therm at 85). How can you meet a kid with medical needs and live frugal? Would love to have some money in the bank for him when we are not around to help him anymore.
    Thank you in advance for your time.

  114. micah says:

    Who cares? I minimize my entire life, including what other people think. So, I don’t care.

  115. TJP says:

    I’m a pretty frugal/minimalist person and I would probably have about 20 of the things she listed if I wasn’t currently enrolled in college. My friends think I’m crazy because of my minimalist approach to life, yet I am still shocked by a few certain things I read other minimalist doing. Would any of you mind giving me a well though out responses to the following questions?

    1. How do you live without a washer/dryer? I live in a semi-rural area so if I didn’t own one I’d have to wash my clothes in a pond or something.

    2. How do you live without air conditioning? Is it due to your local climate? I live along the gulf coast and without AC I would probably die from the damn combination of humidity + heat. That humidity is a killer. I find I’m pretty frugal by keeping the AC on 78 during these god forsaken summers.

    3. Why would someone reading these blogs be offended enough to email the writer? Seriously, if frugality angers someone that much why bother reading blogs that advocate it constantly. This makes no sense to me.

  116. Mary says:

    What a great article–just because my choices lead to a different lifestlye than my friends doesn’t mean that judgment should pass either way. And yet people do seem to want to justify their choices, often by putting down those of others.

  117. Janie Riddle says:

    We have lots of stuff and are in the process of downsizing. We have had reason to have no TV, eat differently, and live differently to survive at times. I have found people who critized sometimes were people who had had to do without as younger people and did not want to do without now. I enjoy your post. We are still working on money control issues and probably always will. It cost between 400 and 500 dollars out of pocket for my medical expenses. Keep on learning and sharing.

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