An Approach to Minimalism: The Waste Watcher’s Diet

Anytime I read about minimalism, my first thought is that I need to start decluttering, which would be a terrifying project considering the overstuffed closets in my modest condo. But while that would be quite beneficial, and it’s something I’m slowly working on, it’s not the only approach to minimalism.

Minimalism can be a great way to save money and grow wealth. Here's my approach to watching your waste and living simpler in order to reduce your expenses.

The Financial Argument for Minimalism

There are of course two ways to increase your wealth: increase you income and reduce your expenses. People spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase their income, from getting a raise to developing a side hustle. In fact, one of my most popular posts on this blog, Making Money at the Flea Market, is all about a side hustle.

But increasing your cash earnings isn’t the only way to have more money. Keeping and growing your money is another way of building wealth. There’s a whole bunch of things you can do to increase your cash on hand and to have the money you want to grow for really important things in your life such as building a college fund for your kids, saving for your retirement, or taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip to India to see the Dalai Lama of Tibet, just to name three.  Besides, working at anything from the flea market to any kind of side hustle you can think of will take some of your valuable free time away from you and what’s truly important in your life.

Minimalism is about having less and keeping things simple. This means less to buy, less to store, less upkeep, and most of all, less spending. It’s another path to reducing your expenses and saving money.

The “Waste Watcher’s Diet”

So let’s talk about how you can increase your wealth and reduce your waste line. Yes, I said it, your waste line. It’s that invisible line on your monthly budget that makes it extremely difficult to button your jeans each day, just like it is for real when you indulge yourself on tons of junk food over a weekend and then try to see the numbers on the bathroom scale on a Monday morning looking over your bloated tummy. Yes, you know what I am talking about. So here’s a crash course on a cash diet, commandment style.

Thou Shalt Not Buy What Thou Doesn’t Need

The easiest way to increase your cash and have more money is so simple. It’s called a little self-control and some good judgment, meaning it’s what you spend and how you spend it.

The first rule I can tell you is this, whether you buy anything or not, don’t use your credit for everything you want, see, like, crave, and just have to have! Credit cards can be a good thing for when you really need something important. Things like paying the guy for that new tire you need when traveling on a desert road out in Arizona or paying the retainer for your lawyer’s fees in Mexico when they suspect you of being a part of El Chapo’s drug gang and arrest you.

But most of us wander through our day using our credit cards for things like $6 lattes and a copy of People magazine at the newsstand. That’s just wrong.

Put yourself on a cash diet allowance. That’s an amount you budget and swear to maintain for all those little feel good things you waste your money on every day. Take a number that you decide on say like $25 a week and stick to it.

You shouldn’t totally deprive yourself of every creature comfort and you won’t if you take a proactive approach about what you want to spend and track it. When you have a plastic credit card that says “get out of jail, not so free”, you may be in big trouble and not know it until it’s too late. Think about this, saving just 20 bucks a week from silly spending means over 1,000 extra dollars in your pocket this year! I’m willing to bet you can do that with ease.

You’d probably be surprised at how many people carry zero cash around in their pockets today and are totally dependent on their credit cards and also their debit cards which, by the way, don’t do a thing to prevent you from overspending on a whim (can you say “overdrawn” and tack on a $37.50 fee from the bank for that $6.00 latte?).

Thou Shalt Share Stuff

You don’t need that power snow shovel just like your next door neighbors, only bigger and better, do you? Consider sharing something with your family, friends, or neighbors and save some dough.

Thou Shalt Respect Stuff

Do not waste things. Americans buy more than they need and wind up wasting tons of things like food as an example. About 40% of all the food we buy in America winds up thrown away! Buy only the things you need and will use and actually use them.

Thou Shalt Live in an Appropriate Sized Home

Did you know that the living space we use today has increased about 63% since 1970?  Houses built in 2014 averaged about 2,600 square feet in size (a new record!) compared with the 1970’s average of 1,600 square feet.

No matter what you read about the trend towards tiny homes, most of us want and buy big space, sort of like the “Ponderosa” in the Bonanza TV show of the 1960’s.  It was big and spacious and then what? Besides the cost of keeping all of it running with bigger utility bills and furnishings (and in the Ponderosa’s case a bunch of expensive ranch hands on deck for chores), there’s filling up that big box with all kinds of the stuff we accumulate. There are plenty of garages lining suburbia out there that don’t house the family car anymore these days. They are more likely to be stuffed with tools, boxes, and the lumber that Dad was going to use for that shed he never got around to building in 2006.

Living in a smaller, appropriate space can save you thousands. In fact, just doing that alone could finance your retirement all by itself (do a little quick math here: save $300 a month, invest it and multiply it by 30 years…you get the idea).

And try to avoid filling your oversized living space with stuff that has made Lowes and Home Depot and Ikea millions and millions of bucks. Only you can stop the insanity!

Thou Shalt Be Kind to Mother Earth

You were taught as a kid to be kind to your Mom, weren’t you?  Well, Mother Earth is no different.  Recycle and compost whenever possible. Everything has its useful life and time but don’t dispose of things that can be reused, and help save the planet. We are so much the wasteful tenants of this planet, using things like there is never going to be an end to them. I know you can’t do it alone and that’s why…

Thou Shalt Influence Others

Spread the word and let others know of the dangers about pollution, waste, and what it is that they can do.  Make sure you tell it whenever you can to your children and friends and family. It can be for the most selfish reasons like saving them money and enabling them to leave a place for their children to enjoy, but whatever the reason it’s really important.

Thou Shalt Buy Used, Not Always New

Do you really need to buy junior that new Chevy? Yes, I know he’s heading off to college but it’s only 6 miles away and he could take a bus, get a ride from his friend, or even…wait for it…get a used car? Everything from vintage clothing to classic books can be purchased used and given a new life, end waste and save you lots of money.

Did I say books? Don’t forget to check out your local library. It’s a great source for all types of media, classes, and more. It’s what civilization is founded on!

This list is really the basics. Instead of complaining and racking our heads with a million ways to make money, live larger, and spend more, try this approach toward minimalism. First of all, it’s relatively easy to practice living within and even under your means. You are in control of that.

Secondly, it’s a very freeing feeling to know you are doing a positive thing not just for yourself and your family, but for everyone. There are always those who just won’t make the attempt to curb their desires, but I’d like to think that there are more of us who will understand the concept of this greater good and its personal benefit.

Can you name something that you do or will do to control your “waste line” and stay on a cash diet this year? Do you have a problem with waste and how are you dealing with it right now?


  1. I love the phrase “Waste Watcher’s Diet” We are doing our part, but as I’ve said before food is still an area we can improve. We are trying to cut back during our weekly trips to the grocery store and not over buy, which tends to lead to waste. We try and meal plan which helps us only buy the things we need and will use.

    1. Meal planning is definitely a very important part of controlling the costs. Interestingly enough, I took a look at my food costs over the last 5 years and I found in 4 of them, I was very consistent in what I spent. And when I consider the inflation factor, it must mean that I am actually buying less, which makes me feel good. Thanks, Brian, for your comment.

  2. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    Thou shalt find a new home for that which is no longer needed. Seriously, we have tons of stuff we no longer need…clothes, toys, books that we will never read again (or never read in the first place). Much better to donate it to charity or a friend who could use it, as long as it’s still in usable condition and not junk. It won’t save you money (although if you sell it, it might increase your cash flow) but it will save space and sanity.

  3. Jax

    I almost violated the “Thou Shalt Not Buy What Thou Doesn’t Need” rule this weekend. I decided that I wanted to play a board game, but instead of playing one we already owned, I suggested we look at new ones to buy. I almost bought Trivial Pursuit- but resisted when I realized I didn’t have my Christmas gift card on me. I didn’t want to put it on my credit card, and decided we didn’t NEED it and left Target empty handed.

    One habit I want to hone this year is not always looking for new when something needs to be replaced. Used sometimes is just as good, if not better, and usually cheaper than new.

    1. Jax, that’s practicing some really good money saving habits. When it comes to using a gift card, I’ve been in that spot where I just didn’t have it with me and passed on making a purchase. I do try to keep my gift cards in my wallet more frequently than I used to just so that won’t happen. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    I just donated a carload of stuff this weekend and it felt sooo good! The interesting thing is, I tend toward minimalism (on many fronts). You won’t find knick knacks on my shelves or a closet full of clothes. But, somehow, all this extra “stuff” still found it’s way into my life (mostly in my garage). It’s a constant process, I think.

    I love the point you make about side hustles taking valuable free time. I have been a stay at home mom for 16 years, but experimented with a full-time side hustle a few years ago. I wasn’t making a ton of money, though it certainly did help. After a few months, we decided the extra money wasn’t as important as the large amount time it was taking away. Time is a precious resource!

    1. Your free time is really extremely valuable; the importance of time is something I’ve written about before. When I did spend a significant amount of time with my flea market side hustle, I wanted to make sure that the money I was making made it all worth it because I was spending almost every weekend September through December at it. I think that you have to do the analysis about how important that money is versus the tradeoff. Thanks, Amanda, for your comments.

  5. Jack @ Enwealthen

    The main way we keep the clutter under control is by living in a small space. When you don’t have much room, everything that comes in the door needs a place or it doesn’t come in.

    Of course, we also have designated spaces for donations – whether it’s outgrown kids clothes, books, etc.

  6. Holly

    After my stepdaughter moved away 3 years ago we cleaned out her attic bedroom. Wow, we are talking over 10 garbage bags full, some went to the dump and the rest to thrift stores. When my MIL moved out I again went through a huge decluttering…and I found 2 urns!! One was her husband’s who had passed away and the other was her future urn. You never know what you’ll find!! I was glad to return both to her. So, we’ve cleaned out alot. All my clothes, including jackets & winter coats fit into my one bedroom closet. I love it.

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