Author: Jared Brown, CFO
If I asked you to name off one thing that would improve your life dramatically, right here, right now, what would it be?
Assuming you're like me, and most other people, your answer would probably be some exorbitant amount of money, right? I mean, If money wasn't a worry, you'd be free to go where you want, buy what you want, and most importantly, spend your time and energy how you want with little to no constraints. That money would markedly improve your quality of life, without the strings of demanding labor attached.
Now that I have you daydreaming about that long-time fantasy you've had of winning the lottery or receiving some whopping windfall, let's take it back to reality. The odds of you winning the Mega Millions lottery are about 1 in 176 million; for comparison, the odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 500,000 in any given year, and the odds of being killed in a shark attack are about 1 in 7 million. Needless to say, an eight-figure sum of cash most likely isn't going to come knocking at your door.
Unfortunately, you'll probably be like most of us, which means you'll likely be working for a living, and your best means to an enjoyable lifestyle will be through developing in-demand skills, building a professional network, working diligently for 40 or more hours a week, and saving and investing wisely.
When you reach the point in your life where you're working full-time or beyond, you'll be tempted to upgrade your lifestyle along with your earnings. I mean, after all, you studied hard and worked harder, so you should enjoy the fruits of your labor, right? This is the point where you'll get that swanky downtown studio apartment or suburban house, that newer car, an updated wardrobe, and start going out to the fancy restaurants that charge an arm and a leg for a microscopic Filet Mignon. This is also, shockingly, the downfall of many working professionals, believe it or not. Let me explain why.
When you increase your income, you tend to inflate your lifestyle, and you end up with more stuff. More cars, more clothes, more jewelry, more pets, a bigger house - the whole nine yards. You feel as though your life will get better through means of acquiring more stuff, so that's exactly what you do. However, instead of making your life better, you keep adding more and more to your plate and, dare I say, make it worse. Think about it this way: you're working a demanding job because it's well-compensated, so you're dealing with longer hours, higher expectations, and inevitable mental fatigue as a result. Not to mention, you have that mortgage on that McMansion you bought, your Audi Q5 comes with some hefty maintenance and insurance costs. Oh, and you've been going on those steady dates to Michelin Star restaurants and getting bottle service every weekend, so that's packing quite a punch on the monthly credit card bill. The mirage of the high-roller lifestyle you envisioned after watching that one reality show has washed away, and you're inundated with obligations. The endless checklist of responsibilities, bills, and lavish extracurriculars has you caught in a limbo of stress, sleep deprivation, and overall chaos.
This is where minimalism comes to the rescue. Minimalism is intentionally living only with the things you need, so you can focus on the things that matter most: the things that support your purpose. The goal of minimalism is to live simple and only buy the things you need to go about your daily life, sparing yourself the rest of the hocus pocus of modern life. You see, we only have so much time each day, and the goal of minimalist living is to cut out the things that don't make beneficial use of that time.
Approaching life with the minimalist framework allows you to reduce distractions, increase savings, and free up your limited time, effort, and capital for your own uses. It gives you more freedom to walk away from unfavorable situations, improves your self-discipline, enables you to think clearly, helps to set firmer boundaries, and prevents life from pulling you away from your priorities. Whether you want to use that time and energy to work on new skills, focus on friends and family, or travel more often, you've given yourself the ability to do it while reducing the burden of financial stress, or that desperate feeling of needing to keep up with the Joneses.
Let me make clear that the goal of minimalism is not to live in a waterless, powerless shack in the wilderness with $10 million socked away underneath your mattress on the floor by the time you're 60 years old. The goal of minimalism is simply to tune out the noise of rampant consumer culture, and only spend time, money, and energy on things that improve your comfort, fulfillment, and happiness.
Minimalism is also about introspection. It starts with looking inward, rather than hoping to find contentment through external gratification,and focusing on what truly makes you happy. Would working seventy hours per week to get that raise and promotion you need for the new sports car or the big house make you happier, or would you be better off driving a ten year old Toyota and living in a small condo if it meant you had more time to spend with your family, friends, and hobbies? Would that recent bonus be better spent on upgrading your lifestyle, or saving up the difference to invest and put you ahead on becoming financially independent, assuming your needs are already met? I'm not saying it's bad to be ambitious, or even materialistic, but I would urge you to consider your motivations for your decisions; are you making them for external validation, or are you making them for your own quality of life?
Practice minimalism, and make more room for the things in your life that really matter: community, public service, family, friends, hobbies, and health.