The hidden cost of minimalism


Cost of renting versus buying

The Hofburg, one of Vienna’s splendid palaces. Definitely not minimalist.

There are many reasons to be a minimalist: freedom, happiness, sustainability, peace of mind. One more ‘down to earth’ reason is: money. By being a minimalist you generally save a lot of money, since you don’t spend it on crap you don’t need. That means you can either work less and enjoy more leisure time, or spend the money saved on more valuable experiences like travelling, time with family and friends, or learning new skills (to name a few).

However, there’s a hidden cost to minimalism too. I was reminded of this again when I visited Vienna last weekend. Travelling light as usual, I had some comfortable clothes, some warmer ones, and one nice looking shirt with me. Fate would have it that I ended up spending two nights in a rather fancy venue with a strict dress code: elegant clothing, jacket required for gentlemen. Fortunately the place had jackets for rent for 5 euros per evening (about $7). They weren’t the best looking jackets I’ve seen, but not willing to pass up the opportunity of entering, I rented one twice.

Don’t own stuff you rarely use…

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Ever since I decided to reduce my possessions to two bags and a suitcase, I no longer have any suits or formal wear. I don’t need them for work (which is 99% online), and rare are the occasions when I need dress clothes in a social setting. Yet over the years I’ve probably spent more than the price of a new jacket on renting ones. I’d consider investing in a nice blazer if there was one that folded easily and wouldn’t wrinkle, but as far as I know those don’t exist.

I’m not unhappy about my choice not to own suits, and if it means I have to pay for renting one every now and then, so be it. But it is good to stop and consider that I may spend more on suits because I don’t buy them. Not buying stuff isn’t always cheaper. The same can be true for a car. If not owning a car means you have to take taxi rides all the time, you might end up spending more on road transportation than if you had owned one.

Another common case is that of specialised equipment. I have a good friend who is the opposite of a minimalist. He lives in an enormous house with his wife and kids, and for every task at hand he buys a dedicated tool. He has a huge range of tools available, enabling him to use a DIY solution to pretty much any problem that comes up. He never needs to rent anything, nor does he have to hire a craftsman to fix something in his house. In the long run he might be cheaper off than others who would not buy so many things.

…or even some stuff you use all the time.

For me the biggest expenditure to which this principle applies is rent. I always rent furnished flats, and usually on short-term contracts (less than a year). This has cost me vastly more money than if I had simply bought a flat and furnished it. And I have nothing to show for it. From a purely economic point of view, I would have been much better off just buying a flat and furnishing it.

Yet my decision has been a conscious one. What the extra cost has bought me is freedom; the freedom to move from one place to the next at no more than a month’s notice. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So if you’re a minimalist for financial reasons, think twice before deciding not to buy something. If you end up renting it often instead, or employing specialised service providers, it may cost you more in the long run than simply to buy it. But that hidden cost might be worth incurring. It’s the price of those other good reasons for being a minimalist: freedom, happiness, sustainability, peace of mind.

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