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The Thin Line Between Minimalist & Moocher

Minimalism seem to be all the rage right now – I see it as a collective reaction against the excesses of the past decade, coupled by the necessity of having to cut back amidst economic uncertainty.  But could you cut back so much that you step over the line between minimalist and cross into moocher territory?

48687413 img 2340 300x181 The Thin Line Between Minimalist & MoocherAfter I read this article, “The Cult of less” in the BBC, I think the answer is yes. The article features Chris Yurista, a D.C. travel agent and DJ who says that technology has replaced the need for most of his possessions and even a physical home.

Since boxing up his physical possessions and getting rid of his home, Mr Yurista has taken to the streets with a backpack full of designer clothing, a laptop, an external hard drive, a small piano keyboard and a bicycle – an armful of goods that totals over $3,000 (£1,890) in value.

The DJ has replaced his bed with friends’ couches, paper bills with online banking, and a record collection containing nearly 2,000 albums with an external hard drive with DJ software and nearly 13,000 MP3s.

That’s great and all – who doesn’t aspire to a life filled with meaning, not clutter? But I wonder what Mr. Yurista’s friends have to say about his lifestyle.  To be fair, he could be chipping in for rent and utilities (or do other things to thank his friends for their hospitality) and the article just didn’t mention them.  Or, perhaps Chris has access to cheap or discounted hotel rooms through his job, and he only leans on his friends for infrequent overnight visits.

If that were the case, then BC has done Mr. Yurista a disservice by portraying him so unsympathetically – the blogosphere is already pointing out the paradox: in order to live a minimalist, residence-free lifestyle, you have to find people who ARE willing to rent an apartment and pay for utilities.

If this wave of minimalism will help us reexamine our relationship with “stuff,” that’s great.  If Chris Yurista were building his digital, rent-free lifestyle on the backs of his stuff-carrying, rent-paying compatriots, however, then he might be a minimalist, but he is also a moocher.

Where does minimalism end and mooching begins?

  • Laura - LOVE this article! I work in consulting, so 4/7 nights a week are spent in a hotel. Some of my colleagues have opted to give up their apartments and just stay in hotels the other 3 nights, but it's very frustrating when one of those people asks to stay with me. I am VERY open to having guests, but it strikes me as sleazy to avoid paying rent just to ask to stay at my place. ReplyCancel

  • evrydaymnmalist - Well the fine line is when you can't pay for your own room & board, then you are a moocher.

    If you have to rely on other people to pay for you, then you are a moocher.

    Getting minimalism mixed up with the idea of having so little that you can't support yourself, is just ludicrous.

    Minimalism is just simply having less, but using everything you have, and not having anything you don't need or want around you to clutter your home and your mind.
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  • TheAnalyst - I read this article a few weeks ago and just thought it was unrealistic and that Yurista is a mooch! If I had a friend who wanted to live with me, simply b/c he didn't "need a home" rather than can't afford or other reasons, I would be annoyed. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like he is taking advantage of his friends. I also felt that if I had such a minimalist life, as the people in the article do, I would feel very lonely and cold. While I believe many people, especially Americans have way too many possessions, I think some items may have sentimental value and meaning. Yes, I love my laptop and phone as do these featured minimalists, but I also enjoy my old dusty books, plants, and furry friends. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - One thing I found very interesting (and maybe I'll develop this into a longer post), is that our idea of tech-enabled minimalism now is very limited to the upper/middle/educated class – in order to live a location-independent lifestyle, travel with very few items (an iPad, a smartphone, etc.), we have to have attained at least a certain degree of wealth and/or be pursuing a certain type of knowledge-based career.

      Also, there's the fact that having our fewer physical possessions doesn't mean that we are actually living with less – if that makes sense. If I have 100 paper books and Joe Schmoe has 100 books on his e-reader, he might have more physical room because an e-reader is only the size of 1 book, but I think it's a little facetious to argue that he is more "minimalist" in terms of book selection. Or, if someone has 40,000 songs on their iPod – what's the difference between that and another guy having 40,000 songs on 4,000 CDs aside from the physical space issue? ReplyCancel

      • TheAnalyst - Great points! It is so true that living this lifestyle still requires a significant amount of cash and education.

        The more I think about this article, I believe it is good for some. But for me, I like my own place to come home to away from the rest of my world. ReplyCancel

  • Jaime Lila Donovan - I'm all for owning less, but it seems that many people who define themselves as minimalists are going to extremes. I've read these minimalist websites and the people all seem to be about living with 100 things or less, then they post what they own, and no offense but really why do they post how much they own? I don't think anyone cares how many items another human being owns. Not to be rude but its not anything that's relevant but the blogger.

    I don't think stuff is evil. I like having a decent amount of stuff, it helps my life easier. I don't own an excess amount of stuff either. I'm more middle of the road, I'm not a minimalist but I'm not a hoarder. I don't even rent storage. I talked to my bf about this article, he's a programmer and he says that hard drives tend to go bad as well, so while there are advantages to going digital, there are downsizes as well.

    A lot of minimalists say that minimalism helps them avoid consumerism, but I don't agree. I mean, you are a consumerist anytime you go shopping for groceries, buy clothes, etc. There are times when buying things is needed. No one says a person has to go to extremes with being a consumer and rack up debt. But we are consumers from time to time. What about when a minimalist wants to buy things just because they want to?

    Lets say that you are a minimalist but rarely shop but then you see a cool new moleskin sketchbook and you want it more than anything, you become a consumerist at that point. Even if that's the only want you buy all year. Again I'm all for owning less, I just don't see why this guy couldn't have decluttered his house instead of getting rid of it. What about when he meets a girl he wants to be in a relationship?

    What about when he hits his 40s & 50s? Most people at that age want a house that is paid off so they can focus on retirement. Minimalism seems like a trend that most won't stick to. I'm also leery for anything that people do that seems extreme. Its like sure follow your bliss, be happy, but does it need to be so extreme? Does one need to crash on their friends couch?

    I got a feeling that once this recession blows over, that many Americans will go back to their normal ways. Right now being a minimalist and frugal seems to be the rage, but most people don't want to live like this their entire life. Although I do hope that most of us will stay out of debt. I just got out of debt and it feels very freeing. ReplyCancel

  • onegirl - I love how the article states that he has designer clothes. Who cares? __I think this guy is a mooch, and if his friends like for him to mooch off them, fine. __Interesting article, but I won't be reading it. He probably smells. HA!!HA!! ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I caught the "designer clothes" reference too. But I try to keep in mind that stories are condensed in articles and that many times what we really mean to say doesn't make it on to the quotes. ReplyCancel

  • Nunzio Bruno - What I would be really curious to see is if he's making any kind of drastic increase in say a savings rate. If being minimalist means cutting back and he still is working – then barring his expenses if he is indeed chipping in with friends he should be banking quite a bit more. That begs the question (much to @jamie's point above me) then to what end does a social experiment like this go. Is it a permanent lifestyle or is he working towards a bigger goal and forcing himself to stay disciplined like this will ensure he gets there. I'd be excited to have a chat with him myself :) ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - From what I can glean from the article, the move into voluntary "homelessness" is more of a lifestyle change than a financial change. So I don't know.. but if Mr. Yurista somehow reads this post, I'd LOVE to have him as an interviewee! ReplyCancel

  • Bonnie - He needs to grow up and get a studio apartment. ReplyCancel

  • Goal Jungle Girl - Great post! Minimalism is supposed to be about living a completely independent, sustainable life…you don't own more than you can support. Most minimalist seem to be really proud to live completely of their own means. (See the Tiny House movement as an example.)

    This goes to the extreme of under-supporting yourself, and you certainly aren't gaining independence.

    An ethics class once taught me the rule "What if 100% of the population followed this idea/rule/guidance? If the results would be bad, then the idea might be too." I think that applies here…if 100% of the population tried to live off others…it couldn't work. ReplyCancel

  • KNS_Financial - I think that this whole "minimalist" movement has become a huge fad! Yes, there are people who have re-evaluated their lives and decided that they don't need a lot of stuff to be happy. But it seems as though people are just trying to push the envelope to see how far they can go – almost like a competition.

    It's getting to the point where frugal "minimalists" end up judging others for owning more than 50 items! I don't think that most people who are embracing this lifestyle will stick to it. ReplyCancel

  • payingmyself - I think if you're borrowing/mooching off of friends and family for the things you have gotten rid of, then you're not a "minimalist" because you're not really "living with less" – you're just letting other people own/pay for stuff for you. Minimalism should be about surviving without excess – if you're borrowing the "excess" from other people, you're just surviving without owing the excess. ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca - Homeless guy with a laptop, or keyboard in this case. The guy I read about who lived in his car and wrote a book about it, has far more integrity IMO than this individual. It was a fascinating read as well. http://www.carliving.net/

    Honestly, it goes to moocher when you cross the line from "Your stuff" (no matter how little there may be) to "Their stuff".

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  • Frugal Capitalist - I missed the part where he initiated force to compel others to "pay his rent" or otherwise accommodate him. If he chooses this lifestyle and others choose to encourage/support it, well- that is their choice. Economic transactions between consenting people are fine and beyond the scope of my judgment. I would think people who want to minimize consumption would encourage "sharing." ReplyCancel

  • HJY - http://www.bostongalsopenwallet.com

    Yes, interesting article. I first came across it over at Bostongal's site, ReplyCancel

  • Sandy L - Love the article.

    I think the line is crossed to moocher when it's a one way exchange.

    I have a friend who doesn't have a lot of money but when she visits she always chips in in her own way. She usually brings her laundry, BUT she'll also usually watch my kids so my husband and I can go out on a date (which we rarely get to do). That to me just feels like two people helping each other.

    I love house guests, but I have other people who just suck all the hospitality they can and offer nothing in return or worse expect to be waited on like you're their butler. They eat all your food without offering to chip in, they do the nasty in your guest bed and shower, they drink your beer without bringing their own. When they leave, you're exhausted and disgusted with the mess they created. ind that won't stay with us any longer because they definitely fit the mooch category. My mom says never go to someone's house empty handed.

    You don't have to have a lot of money to chip in. You just have to be thoughtful.
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  • Ellen - Darn it… You've ruined my retirement plans. I was going to sell the big house and spend 3 months with each of my 4 children. But as you've pointed out – I'd be a mooch and that won't do. ReplyCancel

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