Extreme minimalist living

Voluntarily living in less than 175 square feet is a skill. It is not a skill I possess or wish to possess, but I have respect for the people who do and am inspired by their way of life. They find a way to do without traditional conveniences of a home. They sacrifice a great deal of comfort to pursue whatever it is that matters to them more.

This week, I’ve been mesmerized by two articles on extreme minimalist living I want to bring to your attention. The first article from Salon is about a graduate student named Ken Ilgunas who attends Duke University and has chosen to live in his van instead of an apartment:

Living in a van was my grand social experiment. I wanted to see if I could — in an age of rampant consumerism and fiscal irresponsibility — afford the unaffordable: an education.

I pledged that I wouldn’t take out loans. Nor would I accept money from anybody, especially my mother, who, appalled by my experiment, offered to rent me an apartment each time I called home. My heat would be a sleeping bag; my air conditioning, an open window. I’d shower at the gym, eat the bare minimum and find a job to pay tuition. And — for fear of being caught — I wouldn’t tell anybody.

Living on the cheap wasn’t merely a way to save money and stave off debt; I wanted to live adventurously. I wanted to test my limits. I wanted to find the line between my wants and my needs. I wanted, as Thoreau put it, “to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life … to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Ilgunas continues in his article to describe how he cooks meals over a propane stove, doesn’t clean his dishes, and has no friends at school so that his way of life won’t be discovered.

The second article from the New York Post goes inside the $150,000 175-square-foot condo owned by Zaarath and Christopher Prokop:

The couple wakes up every morning in their queen-size bed, which takes up one-third of the living space.

They then walk five feet toward the tiny kitchen, where they pull out their workout clothes, which are folded neatly in two cabinets above the sink. A third cabinet holds several containers of espresso for their only kitchen appliance, a cappuccino maker.

They turn off their hotplate, and use the space on the counter as a feeding area for their cats, Esmeralda and Beauregard.

“We don’t cook,” Zaarath said, adding that their fridge never has any food in it. “So when you don’t cook, you don’t need plates or pots or pans. So we use that space for our clothes.”

Once in their running attire, the two change the cat litter box (stored under the sink) and start their small Rumba vacuum — which operates automatically while they’re out, picking up cat hair.

They then jog to their jobs in Midtown, picking up along the way their work clothes, which are “strategically stashed at various dry cleaners.”

Be sure to check out the amazing photo gallery that accompanies the second article.

My immediate reaction to both articles was that I wanted to purge everything I own and give extreme minimalism a try. Then I remembered that cooking is a passion of mine and I would be unhappy if instead of pots and pans I had workout clothes lining my cabinets. I am incredibly impressed by all three of the people in the articles, however. I have more than a few things I can learn from them.

(Image by Angel Chevrestt at the New York Post.)

67 Comments for “Extreme minimalist living”

  1. posted by Emma on

    Great articles, and so interesting to read all the comments! One thing that hasn’t been mentioned already: To me, Ilgunas saying that he “has no friends at school so that his way of life won’t be discovered” implies that he knows he’s doing something wrong.

  2. posted by Diana on

    This strikes me as an adult form of “dorm living.” In that light, it’s merely unusual.

    It also makes me wonder what the actual square footage that a person inhabits. For instance, if you use an 800 square foot laundry facility once a week that is utilized by another 800 people over that week, then you add another square foot to your living space. Similarly, you add space for each restaurant, grocery store, work space you use. Count your garage/storage areas too. Is it feasible to calculate this out? Is it of any use to know?

    Ultimately, from my point of view it’s not really minimalist living if you are inhabiting in a small dorm-sized space but living extravagantly otherwise.

  3. posted by Shalin on


    That is impressive to the point of nearly freaky… I don’t think I could deal with picking up work clothes that are at “strategically located dry cleaners”…

    But hey, 10 points for being happy, clever, and the follow through ;)

  4. posted by Héctor on

    I agree with some commenters. I am also surprised by them, but I feel really sorry. That guy having no social life? A van?! And, does that couple save any money by eating out every day? I would be pretty concerned about their health.

    From my experience (I’ve lived for a year on a 95 sq. ft room (the catch: shared kitchen)) and is totaly manageable, no need to make that kind of “sacrifices”.

    I admire, however, their conciousness about consumerism and minimalism.

  5. posted by Kimberly Collins on

    I noticed with the couple that they have a space where the cat condo is where they could put a small closed shelving unit to store a crockpot, toaster oven and some food. They could cook all kinds of things that way, especially since they have a pannini press too wich can be used to grill fish, chicken and steaks.

    Also, a loft bed with a built in futoncouch below would be great for that space so the bed wouldn’t be their only option for sitting. You can store things under the futon couch like pull out containers for storing clothes thereby freeing space for food in the kitchen.

    They could move their cat condo and put it where their bar is, and get some sort of hanging shelving unit above the cat condo for their bar. I know they are trying to live minimally, but eating out all of the time is unhealthy and expensive, especially in NYC. They aren’t utillizing that space very well.

  6. posted by DW on

    people like this make me want to throw-up! its always some rich yuppie just trying to get attention!

  7. posted by Heather on

    @Mike: it’s not necessary for your average non-manual-worker to shower and put all of his/her clothes in the laundry every day. I alternate showers with sponge baths and wear pants more than one day (sometimes shirts, too). If I hang a previously-worn item in my closet, I slip an empty keyring over the hanger so that I know that the item needs to be washed sooner.

  8. posted by Simple Living News Update on

    [...] Extreme Minimalist Living [...]

  9. posted by Julie on

    From one extreme to the other. From clutter to deliberate void. This couple has to be rich. $150K for a closet (our first 4-bedroom house cost us $125K 9 years ago), eating out everyday (not ecofriendly) and having their clothes drycleaned (idem). I sure hope they don’t plan on having kids. They’ll be in for a rough awakening. Anyway, extreme minimalism is living in the woods or the forest, just like aboriginal peoples. Those examples are no models for me.

  10. posted by WilliamB on

    Avoiding debt is a wonderful goal. On the other hand, so is basic hygene. The lad could have washed his dishes, his person and his clothes. I feel badly for the students who had to sit next to him in class. And while it’s true that some people prefer solitary living, it sounds like this guy doesn’t. He didn’t say that he prefered to be alone, he said he avoiding making friends so they wouldn’t discover his literally dirty secret. Bleck.

    I have no problems with the couple in the tiny apt, although as someone living on the same planet they do I would prefer they didn’t dry clean so often.

    PS – the article wrong about their having only one appliance. There’s a grill and a food processor in that photo as well.

  11. posted by Bonnie on

    I agree that both articles seemed to showcase people who were uncluttering to the point a severe degradation in lifestyle. It’s not really sustainable over a long period of time.

    To me, being uncluttered isn’t just a physical thing but also a mental thing. The first guy seems to be doing it at the cost of his physical health and the second couple haven’t really decluttered.. they just have elaborate workarounds as to where outside their home can they stash their stuff. I wouldn’t want to deal with the stress of having my stuff spread across multiple places over town but that’s just me ;p

    I live in a 258sf apartment and I love it. I am able to have friends over, dinner parties, entertain and share it with a puppy. My tiny home is still a haven :-) (http://www.apartmenttherapy.co.....-23-082031).

  12. posted by ms. brooklyn on

    Different strokes for different folks. I could live alone in 175 sq ft (I know because I have.) But if I had to share that space with another, I’d throttle him in about 3 days.

  13. posted by Tara on

    Wouldn’t you think the people in the tiny apartment would want to do *something* to make it more visually interesting — some paint, some artwork, a photograph — something?

  14. posted by Katrina on

    They don’t cook? Um, maybe they should take all the money they spend on eating out and get a bigger place so they can eat nutritious meals. This is stupid!

  15. posted by Linda on

    Yikes — too small for one person, let alone two people and cats. I couldn’t do it.

  16. posted by Scott a Minmalist on

    Actually, cooking is a HUGE part of the sort minimalism myself and like minded others close to me practice. The whole idea is to not be strapped down by goods and services. As much as I admire that couples strategy, it doesn’t jibe with the what I consider minimalist. No matter how small your living space is and how few resources you use in the home, patronizing restaurants and dry-cleaners on a regular basis is not very minimalist.
    Restaurants are beacons of waste. I know first hand from working in many. They use a lot of resources to stay open and they source produce and meat in the worst way possible. In addition to that, restaurants are more expensive than cooking at home. What you spend on one meal at most restaurants could yield two or three meals at least at a grocery store, depending on your diet.
    Dry cleaners use chemicals to clean clothes and are a generally lazy way to do laundry. A big part of minimalist living is not being lazy. Our culture of laziness and convenience is why people like myself choose minimalism.

    Three Easy Ways to Act Like a Minimalist:

    1) Don’t buy shit. Just don’t buy it. If you see something you want to buy refuse the urge. Then in time if that thing becomes a need, buy it. I lived in my apartment for 3 weeks before buying a shower curtain liner, because mopping the bathroom floor after each shower was not as effective as I had hoped. Always try the hard way before you buy something to make things easier.

    2) Don’t drive. Ever. For any reason. No matter what you think, you do not need to drive. I live in L.A. and I do not drive. If you live in a decentralized community find ways to initiate car shares and get local politicians to put together a public transportation plan. Cars and gas will not be around forever. Take the steps now.

    3) If it is broke, fix it. This can be applied to almost anything you own. Shoes, computers, lamps, air-conditioners, pots, pans, refrigerators, ect. Even most electronics can be repaired and refurbished if you contact the manufacturer. Try it.

  17. posted by Minimalist lifestyle – six steps to unclutter | Three Thrifty Guys | Helping you keep a few more bucks in your pocket on

    [...] a minimalist lifestyle and I came upon this article on living an extreme minimalist lifestyle. http://www.unclutterer.com/200.....ist-living. This blog is very well designed and gives some great tips on decluttering your lifestyle, which [...]

Comments are closed.