I’m not a materialistic person. Since I was in high school, I have gravitated toward a career path in education that does not facilitate a life of luxury; therefore, I’ve had to be mindful of my expenses.
Do I have fun and buy nice things? Yes, on a budget. Do I believe in self-care? Sure. I’ll go on vacation; it might be in a hostel, cheap hotel, or friend’s home, but I’ll go on a trip. Do I believe in self-indulgence? Sometimes. However, because of the career path I’ve chosen, self-indulgence can happen only so often.
Due to my desire to be intentional with my spending, I follow social media accounts such as becoming minimalist to inspire me to live a life with more meaning and simplicity.
Being a minimalist is most challenging for me during the holidays because that is when sales are inescapable. After reading Reflections on Black Friday Shopping by Joshua Becker of becoming minimalist, I felt guilty about my Black Friday shopping spree. In this blog post, Becker argued that this day was a “celebration of unbridled consumerism.”
Then I stopped feeling guilty when I remembered a past conversation with my friend. She stated that shopping sprees are not bad as long as you plan for them in advance. Like anything else, consumer habits need to be judged within the proper context.
After my Black Friday spending, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and came across The classist vilification of the Black Friday shopper by Nadra Nittle on Vox. Nittle interviewed Kenneth Rogers, Associate Dean of Research at York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design. Their conversation examined Black Friday in the broader context of American market forces. Rogers argued that “in financially troubled times, Black Friday might be people’s only chance to have access to certain things, to buy what they need.” Therefore, it may be unfair to criticize people’s Black Friday spending by saying they value material goods over family. Nittle wrote, “Since research has found that low-income people, minorities, and mothers are more likely to take part in Black Friday sales than other groups, they bear the brunt of this criticism, a combination of racism, classism, and sexism.”
My conversation with my friend and the article by Nittle reminded me that being a minimalist and taking advantage of bargains on Black Friday are not mutually exclusive.
If they seem mutually exclusive, it is because well-known minimalists do not appear to encounter the same issues that I do. For instance in Becker’s post, he wrote, “For this one day [Black Friday], it means I can cook pancakes for my kids when they wake up, or I can enjoy a cup of coffee with my wife.” That is awesome for him, but I do not live near any of my family members. I haven’t for more than nine years. I live outside of Boston, my parents live outside of Chicago, and my sister and her family live in London. My relatives are scattered across the United States, Philippines, United Kingdom, and Finland.
I wanted to visit my sister in London for the holidays, but I couldn’t justify the plane tickets when I saw the prices even months in advance. As I was shopping around for cheaper prices, she encouraged me to skip the trip; she didn’t want me to break my bank trying to see her. This year like so many others, I will have to ship gifts to my sister and her family instead of celebrating the holidays with them.
I’m okay with shipping presents to my sister and her family because I grew up seeing relatives do that with each other all the time. Like so many immigrants, my parents, aunts, and uncles have sent gifts and remittances to loved ones back home in the Philippines for decades. We’re in good company with this tradition. This isn’t a practice specific to my family or culture; it’s a global practice. The Philippines is the country to receive the fourth highest amount of remittances ($10,536,000,000) from the United States according to Remittance Flows Worldwide in 2016 by the Pew Research Center. Only Mexico, China, and India receive more than the Philippines. Guatemala, Vietnam, Nigeria, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras round out the top 10 countries receiving remittances from the United States.
When you have a global family like mine, having experiences with them is more expensive than sending them money and gifts; therefore, sending them money and gifts isn’t materialistic for people like us. It is a necessary practice to show love and affection when you don’t have the luxury to be with them in person.
Do I think Becker purposely wrote his blog post trying to shame people like me? Of course not. At the same time, it goes to show why it is essential to promote minimalism in contexts that encompass a wide array of personal circumstances and cultural nuances.
If we continue to lack diverse role models of minimalism, the general public will continue to perceive it as a niche lifestyle that only a specific subset of people can attain. If you’re not sure what I mean by “specific subset of people,” read Is Minimalism for Black People? by Cameron Glover and Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy by Chelsea Fagan.
Given how different my individual circumstances and cultural contexts are from those who preach minimalism, I’ll be more intentional about expanding my idea of what it means to be a minimalist. Rather than feel guilty that I am not fulfilling the movement’s minimalist stereotype, I’m going to redefine what it means to be a minimalist with a lifestyle like mine.