The Bare Minimum and Old Money

Our Foreign Corespondent David and I were recently discussing the minimalist lifestyle trend that has been gathering steam in recent years.

The concept is to live with as few material possessions as possible.

A Netflix documentary on the subject can be found HERE.

As I mentioned to David, my wife and I came face to face with this issue when we decided to leave the United States and live in Europe. Hardly the packrats or hoarders, we had nevertheless accumulated a substantial quantity of possessions during our married life.

We had also inherited furniture, silver, linens, dinnerware, jewelry, books, and rugs from 3 generations of ancestors on my side of the family and 3 generations on hers. And that doesn’t include 4 decades of carefully curated clothing, shoes, and accessories we bought ourselves.

When you’re streamlining your life down from a spacious home in the states to a comfortable (but comparatively cozy) apartment in Paris, well, you can imagine the hard choices.

So, as spartan as we thought our lives had been, things had stacked up. Inevitably, we had become attached to our ‘stuff’.

While I think of the minimalist lifestyle as a 2nd cousin to the Old Money lifestyle, I would never the less like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

How alike are these two philosophies? What is minimalism missing? Is it too extreme? Or does America need a harsh, austere alternative to the consumerism we’re all fighting each day?

So enjoy the Netflix documentary if you wish, and let us know your thoughts when you can.


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24 thoughts on “The Bare Minimum and Old Money

  1. I have embraced minimalism and being an OMG. Minimalism simplifies your life and you buy quality and not trendy with old money values.

  2. I think we can look at our possessions as help or hindrance. We all have plenty of “stuff” but at the same time, I would not like to get rid of my personal history and things that bring me joy, including paintings, grandmother’s china and linens, and artifacts I have picked up on my travels. I’ve noticed a trend in “Minimalism” to spend a lot for the “right” item. The money spent is probably more than for an equal but less aesthetic substitute. There is a trend to move towards the minimalism look, rather than on the possibility that our attachment to things might prevent us from moving forward in our lives.

    I’ve also noticed that many of the people following the minimalist trend are either young people starting out, or people who had unhappy childhoods and do not want reminders. This is particularly true of Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus. This is not meant as a criticism or to detract from their overall message.

    I think there is a balance between minimalism and the maximalism we see on reality television. I was a French and Italian major and donated all of my novels in those languages to the local university as they had a need to start forming a European languages section. I have donated a piano to someone who was a musician but no longer had the means to purchase an instrument. We go through our clothes and books regularly and donate them to a local thrift store that helps drug offenders. Are we minimalists? Absolutely not.

    In the tradition of Old Money, we have art painted by my husband’s grandfather and mother, jewelry given to me by my grandmother, a handmade clock from an artisan in Bristol and many other beautiful things in our home. Our furniture does not match because it has been accumulated over time, and our paintings definitely don’t match our sofa. This is our home. Much loved. Lived in, filled with love and a few scratches, two happy dogs and the desire to welcome messy hospitality whenever the opportunity strikes.

    At the heart of OM and minimalism is the desire to live better with fewer things and so that we can enjoy more experiences, rather than spending our Saturdays cleaning our “stuff”. The difference is that many minimalists either have few things to start with, or divest themselves of everything and start from scratch, and OM makes do with what we inherit rather than replacing things when they are no longer fashionable. I think one’s age, and one’s season of life dictates many of the choices.

    1. Melanie, this is the perfect summation of OM and minimalism. Like you, I have inherited items in my home that, God willing, I will never get rid of. They are meaningful and a repository of happy memories of famiily members and good times. A sensible balance is always the best outlook for life, and your thoughtful comment is an excellent example of this.

  3. The pandemic has confirmed that I was correct to keep a working pantry with 3 to 6 months of food, toiletries, and OTC medicines. On the other hand, I truly do not have enough clothes to go two weeks without doing laundry. Hoarding, minimalism and prepping are terms that all tend to have a negative connotation. The trick is balance. I see people who apparently have never heard the phrase reduce, reuse and recycle. Others appear to be constantly preparing for the apocalypse. While some homes are so sparse and stark they have all the charm of a department store display window.

    1. The newly added ‘reject’ comes before reduce, reuse, recycle now. I see this as hard, because sometimes ‘free’ or ‘passed down for a relative’ is hard to say no to. And these things accumulate. We just moved, and my husband found it especially hard to donate/trash/sell things that he was given. While it is a wonderful thing to keep heirlooms, we must stop ourselves from keeping every single heirloom. I saved tons to give to my daughter one day, but alas had 2 sons. Marie Kondo got it right when she says to say “thank you” to the item before getting rid of it. Thank you for the dream of having a girl, thank you for the free furniture, and someone else who needs it more will really appreciate it, more than me, who may have kept it begrudgingly for more years.

  4. This is a concept I struggle with – how to balance ‘stewardship’ of items with ‘less’. Due to owning fully furnished homes (of varying tastes), my in laws have accumulated so much. The most precious items aren’t used of course. How do I keep them in the family, if not as fully furnished time capsule homes ?

    1. When my grandmother downsized her home she struggled with the thought of giving away my grandfather’s collection of antique dental equipment. We convinced her to loan the collection to a museum housed at the University dental college. Each year, the museum teaches the incoming doctors a course in dental history and thousands tour the museum. My grandfather would approve. He was passionate about educating the next generation. Sometimes we have to realize we are no longer the best stewards of family heirlooms. Nearly 30 years have passed and the entire family is content to leave the collection on loan.

  5. My husband and I are facing the downsizing problem now. We also have generations of heirlooms from both families but only want to take with us the objects we absolutely love. We are offering the family heirlooms we don’t want to family members first and then to friends. After that, we will sell, donate or relocate the remaining items. I will only be the keeper of family objects that mean something to me or my immediate family. No guilt will be going with us when we move.

  6. This reminds me of one of your previous posts. I think it was called “Nothing New” or something like that. It’s a similar concept. You probably already have almost everything you need. Just don’t buy a lot of new stuff, especially cheap or trendy stuff. Also, minimalism doesn’t have to be harsh or austere. It’s really about living your life unimpeded by a lot of extraneous possessions.

  7. For me the “life style” is about family as well as heritage. I too inherited silver, china, crystal and some very fine antique furniture. I could never give up the coin silver teapot made in 1770 or the Irish tilt top tea table made in 1760. The china, silver and the rest will be continue to be passed down along with the stories of where they came from and who in the family owned them. I can not imagine ever going “minimalist” in our family. It would to much of a change, I believe, for any of us to make. We are used to our “things” our habits and our little rituals to give them up. Jane Keller

  8. Having just moved, I am very familiar with how much stuff I have! Faced with decisions of what to keep, and looking at my considerable wardrobe of clothes and shoes needed for a midwestern climate and various occasions (work, casual, dressier events, sporty activities), it came down to keeping a lot of it. The reason, though, is I do find the quality of clothing has declined so much in the last 10-15 years. So many coats and nice items still fit, and I know I could not replace most of my things and get the same level of quality without spending a lot of money. To me, it seems to make sense to not “Konmari” it all just to see a pristine closet. I would fill it up again when I needed something anyway. As for other things in my new home, as Melanie’s wonderful post says, it makes me happy to be surrounded by items collected over my lifetime so far! I just got married, so we are both bringing things in, and it is an adjustment, but so nice to see our things together.

  9. I am an OMG and a second son. Even though my brother did not have to buy his own furniture when he married, there was still enough left over when I married. A few other relatives also chipped in so we could make a home.

    Eventually all will be recycled into the next generation, which is coming sooner rather than later.

    We are Scottish-Canadian up here so even our clothing is recycled and kept. In an aunts large attic (where the clothing storage is) there are boxes and boxes of perfectly good clean clothing that some have had a go round of three + generations. The boxes are labelled, i.e., infants to todlers, boys sizes 4-20, etc. Family rule is that when you return it, the returning party has repaired any missing buttons, sewn up a tear, etc. If an article is deemed not worthy of being returned, buttons are removed and saved and the fabric itself is saved for quilt pieces or something else.

    The younger generation in our family now has a hoot and a holler going through the boxes when it their turn. They are amazed at the quality of the items, especially the shoes from the 50’s and 60’s.

    We have nice homes with nice things. Many antiques that we take care of but constantly use as that is what they are there for.

  10. Further to this topic and expanding the thought after reading the interesting comments I decided to go to the internet and type in the question: ‘ The difference between minimalism and frugality ‘. That is taking frugality to be an OM trait and a more ‘popular’ version of the word thrifty which (I) certainly don’t hear much anymore.

    There are a number of interesting opinions. The one I found the most constructive, if that’s the word, was under a site called @ jackkrier – the difference between……etc. (It seems to be a paid-for site that offers a few free reads so sneak in and get this one gratis.)

    Another site put it quite well too. It said minimalism and frugality were best illustrated as a Venn diagram. They overlap where they have common values but otherwise have their own or exclusive (values) so they should not be considered fully synonymous with one another.

    The one will not lead to the other either, especially as minimalism can in fact be ‘expensive’. Whatever some might tell you.

    Remember this, however: we will all, every one of us, be minimalists one day.

    “ Shrouds have no pockets .”

  11. My wife and I wrestled with this question recently as the fires in northern California forced us to consider what we’d pack if we had to evacuate in a hurry. It didn’t require much thought– she’d gather a few photo albums, perhaps a painting or two, two kids, two cats, hop in our Toyota van, and go. I’d follow them in the sports car Grandpa bought in the 1950s– and if it wouldn’t start, so be it. Mother Teresa died with two saris and a bucket.

  12. Thank you for directing us to the Minimalism documentary, which I’d never seen. I am a professor, as is my husband. We have been watching many of our students increasingly graduate with crippling student loans to a job market offering stagnating salaries, and which has now almost evaporated during the pandemic. I found minimalism a concept that might be very helpful for many of our young people, as it reframes living simply as a positive choice with a beneficial impact on the planet, rather than a failure to overcome the parameters of a difficult economy. It promotes frugality in a positive way (though as David pointed out above, frugality and minimalism are not necessarily the same thing) while showing that life can be lived well on less.

  13. The most elegant systems are well designed and perform a single function very well and are maintained. Use that principle for items you need (not what you think you want), If you need to get a dumpster and get rid of your junk.

    Example:(Minimal Kitchen)
    Refrigerator – Get the minimum size that you need. No ice maker or water dispenser (They break down).
    Basic stove – keep the oven and burners lined with foil.
    Double Sink with drying rack – great if you have kids. Nice family chore.
    Kitchen Armoire – Forget the cabinets they are too high too low.
    Minimal process – Dishes are washed, then the person who dries puts some cloth gloves on and puts the serve ware and cutlery in the kitchen armoire.
    Coffee – Stovetop Percolator (YOUR DONE, no PODS or PAPER FILERS) or a French Press.
    Cookware – Two Cast Iron pans, a dutch oven, sheet pan and roasting pan.(Don’t get an air-fryer, fried chicken is a once awhile treat, do it correctly use LARD and a Cast Iron Pan. )
    Table – Go to a consignment shop get a farm table and fix it up with some paint.
    Electronics – I picked up a used Henry Kloss Model One table radio and filled the kitchen with music.

    Try to own one Television or none at all.
    A story – In 2012 my wife made us get a new TV. The TV I went into the marriage with was given to me in 1985 and worked great. Times change and rather than argue I went with it. Well this flat screen thing broke down, and the cost to repair it was more than the cost of the TV. To this day I have psychological issues over this. A television is now a “throw-a-way”.

  14. I am quite pleased to see that you’re recommending JFM and Ryan Nicodemus’ documentary. They’ve served a great number of people, myself included, as mentors in the practice of living better with less. For anyone who enjoys the documentary their podcast is also very good.

  15. I have definitely become more minimalist over the last decade and I think that there is some overlap with minimalism and the old money approach to life. If you buy fewer things, you can have better quality things. Also, you can use your financial resources to invest in your own (or others) education and in travel rather than in ‘stuff’. As a result of my growing minimalism, my last house move was the easiest in years. I do understand the points made by other readers though about stewardship and being the custodian of furniture, paintings and other items for the next generation and the need to find a balance. I just don’t have that experience personally as I am not from an Old Money family. The only things I have from my grandparents are a teapot my grandmother bought in Assisi, Italy 70 years ago and a leather bound Bible with family births and marriages of 3 generations in the back. I love and treasure both items but I am not sure my grown up children are going to be thrilled to inherit either!

  16. Minimalism is fine (and thrifty) if it prevents you accumulating modern consumerist junk. But to dispose of inherited furniture, silver, etc. strikes me as wrong. After all, one never really owns family heirlooms, but rather enjoys them and then passes them along to future generations.

  17. The Minimalists are extreme and I have been spectacularly unsuccessful applying their ideas to my life. It would take me 2-3 months of full time effort to get to a minimalist level of stuff – it’s not a priority at the moment, but it will be someday.

  18. Minimalism is quite the concept and has its place within the fabric of life we live, and to those whom consider it a way of justification you are applauded, however, it’s not for the faint of heart, nor those that have embraced heirlooms as the people they represent. I’m my opinion, the concept is designed to create a reality of being content with having enough and needing no more; unfortunately, the human experience has not allowed that to become a conditioned standard.

  19. Hi Byron. Having just gone through our house to get ready for retirement, I can attest to the amount of stuff that accumulates. It took me months to go through things, mostly because it was difficult to part with and I would put it aside and go cry for a while, as the people I inherited from are all passed away now and the memories came flooding back. In the end, I parted with quite a lot, and I am not sorry in the least. I feel as though I gained another 1000 sq feet of space and lost 30 pounds. Seeing me do this, my husband tackled his stuff and also discarded quite a bit and is still not done. He is not sorry either and even said to me that he’s liking this “minimalism thing.” In the end, neither of us are sorry, and we both feel relieved to let it all go. Time to move on. Hope


  20. Things do get out of hand, when homes are passed down. The values that lead one to treasure a great-great-grandparent’s portrait need not also burden us with every cup, book, nail, spare part, light globe, cleaning product, kitchen utensil, couch and so on, acquired by every descendant since.

  21. This issue is incredibly sensitive to me. I am the only daughter of an OM family. I have family papers, wills, birth, death and marriage certificates dating back to Jamestown. Yes. THAT Jamestown. I have a table and china cabinet from the late 1700’s and early 1900’s respectively, as well as a buffet I brought back from a 5 year stint in England. I have inherited hats, as well as beautiful jewelry and furs from my grandmother. Add books that are in my own home library from 1930 to present day. I have a daughter that is not interested, nor is my daughter in law. We moved to the beach in Puerto Rico a few months ago and I’ll be having an estate sale. We came for the slow pace of life and the climate – for the non-political as well as the weather. (Yes, we are a US territory, but we don’t vote for President). Scaling down my wardrobe was not a big deal. But I am finding that trying to decide what is absolutely dear to me is very, very difficult. It’s not just because we are downsizing, but also the sand and salty air. I’ve left it until after the new year. Decisions, decisions.

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