Something a friend posted on Facebook got me thinking about this.
Proponents of the minimalist philosophy frequently hold up people living in other countries, particularly impoverished countries, as proof of the idea that material possessions don't necessarily equate with happiness. And while I'm actually on board with the "material wealth does not equal happiness" idea, that particular argument always struck me as a bit off.
In order for minimalism to be meaningful, it has to be a choice. Living with nothing because you have nothing isn't a choice...it's just living.
In other words: if you can afford to buy lots and lots of stuff, but you deliberately choose not to, then I will buy that you are actively living some kind of minimalist lifestyle.
If you don't own much of anything because you simply have no money, no access to consumer goods, and in general, no way to own more than you already do, then I really don't see how it qualifies as minimalism.
I'm reminded of Dan John's observation "One of the things people talk about is how buff prisoners are. 'Ah, to have the discipline of a multiple offender,' you might think."
His point, if you read the article (and you should) is that prisoners can get in great shape because most of their choices are taken away. They are told when to eat, when to sleep, and when to train. If you remove all choice from someone's life, they can accomplish a lot. Some Communist countries created amazing athletes with this approach.
To bring this back to the minimalism thing: I'm not against minimalism, nor am I against the idea of recognizing that there are plenty of people out there who are very happy despite not having access to much of the "stuff" that people in the US feel like they need. It may be illustrative, but I'd hardly call what they're doing minimalist. It's only minimalist if you're making a choice to rid yourself of stuff.
Just a thought.