Many people called themselves “minimalists” because they don’t have the money for more possessions. Given the opportunity, they might go on a spending spree, or they might stay minimal. There’s no way of knowing because the option isn’t available to them.
Using that label in this way kind of misses the point. Calling an impoverished person a minimalist is like calling someone who’s never heard of meat a vegetarian: without the intentionality behind the label, the label loses its validity.
When you do something, you should ideally do it consciously. If you decide to stop eating meat, you should do it because you choose to, because you’ve thought out the pros and cons and weighed the decision carefully, rather than being forced into it due to conditions beyond your control.
With no options, there’s no decision. With no decision, there’s no purpose. With no purpose, there’s less chance you’ll be changing for the better, and in a direction that aligns with your beliefs.
It’s not just what you do that matters, it’s why you do it. Paddle, don’t just float and call yourself a swimmer. Take the time to figure out where you are and where you want to be, and act accordingly.
Update: April 4, 2017
This is one of the top questions I’m asked when I’m interviewed about minimalism or do a Q&A after a talk. “Am I a minimalist if I just don’t own stuff because I don’t have the money to own all the things I want?”
Any label is flexible if left undefined, but the way I use minimalism, anyway, is in the intentional, philosophical sense. Unless we’re delving into the aesthetic realm, in which case it’s many of the same concepts, but applied to structure and aesthetics.