How My Experience With Poverty Affects How I See Minimalism
So many people out there view minimalism as a "trendy" movement, but for some, it is a necessity. I experienced forced Soviet minimalism in my childhood. Afterward, I went through a wave of greedy consumerism. Now, I'm back to owning less.
In this video, I share my poverty experience and my struggles with minimalism and poverty.
My childhood poverty experience
The Soviet Union collapsed when I was seven, but I still felt the implications of living in a poor Soviet country for a long while. Until I was about 24 years old, I owned one pair of pants, one skirt, and three tops at most.
In this picture, I’m 19, and I’m wearing black jeans that lasted for about three years, and my mom’s t-shirt that she used to wear in her younger days.
Five years after this, I got crazy about stuff. I began to earn more or less sufficient sums of money and was lured by stuff.
Becoming a minimalist after my poverty experience
We, the last generation of Soviet kids, saw the deficiency of things, and after having access to certain capitalist comforts and single-use items, we were reluctant to go back in time.
There’s a psychological block that is so hard to break through, and it took me several years to realize that stuff doesn’t make me happier than I was when I owned next to nothing.
The first alarm for me was reading a couple of books by French writers from the experimental waves of the 1960s, namely Elsa Triolet's Roses à Crédit, and Georges Perec’s Things: A Story of the Sixties.
The new literature and philosophy were about the objectification of humans and the harmonization of things. Hardly anything has changed since then.
I recommend those books and their amazing language structure and message.
Handmade stuff is often judged
Since my early years, I tried to make clothing, bags, and other personal stuff myself. There was no way I could buy them, so I tried to DIY everything I could.
It’s a great skill and I’m happy that my mother taught me how to use a sewing machine and how to knit and crochet.
When the Iron Curtain fell, the world became more or less unified in terms of stuff on the shelves. It has become a sort of ill-mannered activity to make or mend your own clothes and talk about it because it shows your poverty. Poverty was a stigma and, obviously, still is.
That’s why small, handmade businesses have a hard time here in Russia now. People prefer store-bought items because those items are considered better or more prestigious.
As per handmade stuff, I often see comments like, “This item looks so neatly made as if it was produced in a factory.” I think it’s sad that people don’t appreciate handmade items, because of their Soviet past, which was like forced minimalism.
Why I will never become an extreme minimalist
Another struggle I have with minimalism is about beauty and self-care. When I was little, we only had one shampoo.
My mother owned only one lotion for everything and she taught me how to make menstrual pads from cotton and scrap fabric. That was pretty awful. It was a traumatic experience.
Now, I can’t imagine myself using these reusable menstrual pads. Thankfully, there are other amazing alternatives that are both eco-friendly and less stressful for me.
Also, I own more than one face lotion and occasionally use single-use face masks, and have two shower gels, giving me an alternative based on my mood. This brings me comfort. I guess I will never become an extreme minimalist in this respect.
I’m not here to judge anyone’s lifestyle. Everyone decides for themselves. I’m just sharing my personal perspective on minimalism and poverty. I hope it resonates with you.
It’s hard to stop wanting more. I guess that’s human nature to get easily lured and enchanted by stuff —- and marketing knows its business.
After growing up below the poverty line and then beginning to have more or less a decent standard of living, it often seems stupid to refuse that personal universe of things — things that bring comfort and a sense of stability.
Here in Russia, and in Siberia in particular, we grasp at every little grain of stability and predictability. We long to be cozily wrapped in things while surviving through rough winters. That’s why minimalism here is a rare beast among people over 30. With this video, I wanted to cast light on this issue.
Poverty experience and minimalism
I still believe that intentional minimalism knows no class or income boundaries. It’s not a privilege; it’s a choice and a particular mindset.
What do you think about minimalism and poverty? Have you experienced poverty in the past? How does that affect your relationship with stuff? Let me know in the comments.