Minimalism and Effective Altruism

Minimalism and Effective Altruism

Minimalism is all about focussing on what’s most important to us and removing unnecessary distractions. The idea has value because there are so many things that divert us from what we really want and that’s why minimalism covers areas like decluttering your living space, spending wisely and optimising free time, attention and effort. This ideology complements that of effective altruism, but the altruistic intentions of many can’t be converted into actions due to a lack of money and time. This post will show you minimalist ways to free up more of these two valuable resources while improving the quality of your life.

Freeing up money


A minimalist's wardrobe only contains clothes they dearly love and regularly wear. This also means that you'll be more likely to look after these items and repair rather than hastily ditch them. However, a survey commissioned by Ariel in 2017 found this to be a rare approach, with the average Brit spending over £1,000 on clothes annually. According to the report, the average woman owns 95 items of clothing whilst only wearing 59% of them regularly and the average man owns 56 pieces with 62% of them worn regularly.

Project 333 is a minimalist challenge and an excellent response to such overconsumption. It helps people establish how many clothes they need to get the enjoyment they seek from fashion. It involves dressing with 33 items or less for 3 months including clothing, accessories, jewellery, outerwear and shoes. Those who take the challenge often still meet their fashion needs and benefit from reduced spending and increased contentment.

Living Space

Perhaps the way minimalism can save you most money is through your home. By only owning necessary and emotionally valuable items and knowing how to use space efficiently, your ideal home can become much smaller and therefore less expensive without sacrifice. It makes sense to look at every square metre of your living space as having a price tag because it really does. What’s more, it’s common to barely use much of the space we’ve worked extremely hard to afford. A survey studying families in large Los Angeles houses showed that they used at most 40% of their living space over two afternoons and evenings.

There are emotional benefits to living in smaller spaces too. Ajahn Brahm, one of the world’s leading Buddhist authorities, has recounted the value of growing up in a small house. “One of the things which you learn living in such close quarters with other members of your family is how to get on together. When you live in such a huge place where everyone has their own rooms…it means you’ve got too many bog holes, too many places you can go instead of fixing up the social problems which you have with your siblings or with your parents or children.”


A minimalist is likely to only have a car if it brings them enough necessary use or satisfaction to match the required cost and maintenance. For those whose cars pass this test, minimalism encourages you to buy one that meets your primary needs. However, many factors that influence a car’s cost fall outside these needs, like its badge, top speed, design, colour, ability to corner, technology and add-ons. A minimalist approach can free up extra money across each of these areas by encouraging us to buy cars that come with a much lower price tag while still getting the required job done admirably.


We often waste food, and therefore the money this food costs, not to mention the tremendous toll on the environment and often on animals. This can be because the food becomes unsafe to eat over time due to not planning meals, not noticing we have it amongst a large quantity of other items in our cupboards and fridges, or leaving it to languish by choosing to go to a restaurant to pay for even more food. Another source of waste is serving portions that are larger than what we (or our family members or guests) care to consume, so we end up scraping considerable amounts of perfectly good food into the bin. A survey from a waste and recycling advisory body states that the average UK household wastes £470 of perfectly edible food a year. Being minimalist in your food shopping, cooking and eating can help reduce this waste by only buying things you need and will end up eating. (TLYCS follower Jose Oliveira wrote an excellent blog about this topic: Changing What’s on Our Plate)

Negative Feelings

Buying clothes, food or other retail products in response to boredom or underlying emptiness is unfortunately common. Living minimally avoids such spending and thereby results in significant cash savings. More importantly, when you don’t use products to temporarily overcome these feelings, you’re inclined to seek more long-term solutions to their arising.

Freeing up Time

Social Time

Minimalism encourages you to consider the current value of your social time and remove or lessen any aspects that don’t effectively bring you happiness. This can include hobbies, friendship groups, activities and social commitments. A quick review can free up social time that has little or even negative effects on your happiness, leaving just the relationships and activities you truly value.  

Books, Movies and TV Shows

Some of our free time involves trying out books, movies or TV series and we pick many of these up despite being somewhat doubtful of their quality and whether we will even enjoy them. For those starved of free time, limiting your viewing and reading to works that you’re convinced will be thoroughly enjoyable or useful is a quick and easy way to free up time for potentially more fulfilling uses.

The Internet and Social Media

Because so much is available on the internet, it's easy to spend a lot of time viewing or reading content with only a vague relation to things we care about. Being signed up to receive notifications and emails from huge numbers of websites and apps can also leave us frequently distracted by irrelevant offers and announcements. All this time adds up because we use the internet so much every day. A report from communications watchdog Ofcom states that Britons spend an average of 24 hours a week online and for a quarter of adults this figure rises to over 40 hours. Therefore, a quick review of your habits can be highly effective for creating more free time.

Cleaning, Organising and Maintaining

This matches the point about your living space. If you live in a large house containing lots of possessions, a significant amount of your free time can involve cleaning, organising and maintaining. The value of minimalism here is straightforward: you’ll have the stuff and space you need for your highest happiness and won’t have to spend time looking after anything superfluous.

In summary, minimalism is a highly effective tool for improving the quality of our lives in a wide range of ways. It can decrease our stress, increase our happiness, benefit our planet (which in turn benefits us) and it can free up significant money and time that we can save or spend in much more meaningful ways. One of those ways is to support those living in extreme poverty. Even having the option to live more minimally demonstrates how lucky we are when having things like books, movies or cars of any kind are incomprehensible dreams to those struggling to survive on less than $1.90 a day. Simply removing or lessening those things which by their sheer abundance clutter and complicate our lives can give us the resources to alleviate the deep pain and suffering of others, with the bonus that this in turn has been proven to increase our own happiness as well. This is a beautiful opportunity for us to take advantage of.


For those interested in finding out more about minimalism, I’d recommend the following:

Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things (available on Netflix)

The Minimalists – Start Here


Marie Kondo: “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” – Talks at Google (or book on Amazon)

10 Minimalist Challenges To Help You Win At Decluttering

Banner image by jinkazamah, bed-room 3, from Flickr under Creative Commons license 

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About the author:

Robert Mathers

Robert Mathers is an Online English Teacher to students in China, Taiwan and Japan. He pledges to give at least 10% of his income to highly effective organisations and supports Buddhist ethics, veganism, minimalism and organ donation.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.