You’ve heard it time and time again, I bet: Minimalism is where it’s at. It’s how to declutter and take back control of your life. People blog about it. It’s all the rage in many alternative-living communities. But, I also don’t believe in it.
This article is a part of the Kill It! series of articles aimed at streamlining your life into a well-oiled machine.
Don’t get me wrong, minimalism isn’t bad. There’s nothing wrong with the tenants of minimalism. After all, minimalists live with less. They understand that value is a more important qualifier than price alone. Minimalists the world over preach that the less stuff we have, the happier we tend to be.
And you know what? I agree. I’ve seen and experienced in my life the incredible power of downsizing and ridding myself of stupid stuff. It is an amazing feeling to live in a 200 square foot Airstream and honestly feel like we have enough.
But, I also don’t believe living that small is required to take control of your life. And, I also don’t particularly like the word “minimalism”. To me, it’s a bad word choice for the movement.
Hold it! May I interest you in some non-secret secrets?
Why “minimalism” is the wrong word
I wrote about the value of ditching the word “minimal” months ago, and I stand by my words. People don’t like to think of their lives as “minimal”.
According to Dictionary.com, one definition of the word “minimal” is “barely adequate or the least possible“. Or, how about “the least quantity or amount possible, assignable, allowable, or the like”.
Pardon me for being blunt, but that just sounds horrible.
And by the way, who is to say what is truly “minimal” in your life? If you buy a $50 set of silverware instead of a $20 set, is that against the tenants of minimalism? After all, that $50 set isn’t what represents barely adequate. You don’t NEED a ceiling fan in your bedroom either, or that car in your garage or driveway, or your laptop computer, or…
Your mindset is one of the most powerful forces in your decision-making process. Don’t focus on something with a negative connotation in order to better your life. That is entirely counter-productive. None of us are seeking to skate by in our lives with the bare minimum.
Forget the term “minimalism”. Actually, forget the entire movement.
Living a sensible, not minimal, life
The point of this whole Kill It! series isn’t to teach you how to live a life of the bare minimum. Of barely adequate. I am not here to criticize your spending habits or argue that you should never treat yourself to jewelry, or a big screen television or even a nice car. If you can afford them and they bring you genuine happiness (but not an escape!), buy them.
The truth is you can live well – in fact, in the lap of luxury, and still set yourself up to achieve financial independence and retire super early. The key in all this is living a more sensible lifestyle by making smart decisions with your money that directly add value to your life. Think about your happiness, first and foremost. Forget adequacy.
Every decision that you make, ask yourself this simple question: Is it a Value Add?
If it is, then it’s probably a good decision for you at that time. Good decisions can (and do) include spending money. Adding value comes in all different forms, like:
- Volunteering in your local community
- Buying prime-cut steak instead of choice
- Opting for a more expensive bottle of alcohol as our “sipping drink”
- Monthly date nights with our spouses
Unfortunately, minimalism doesn’t automatically make us better people. If it did, we’d all be minimalists. The movement means well, but it also clouds the underlying concept of living within your means and ridding our lives of excess by using a label that almost any dictionary in the world would define as something that a lot of us generally want no part of.
And naturally, we all need to understand what makes us happy. Hint: It might not be stuff. In fact, it probably isn’t stuff. For most of us, the secret to our happiness isn’t buried in things. Things are a diversion.
What happens if we live within our means?
Note that I said within our means, not below it. Within.
Living within your means is a lifestyle choice that prioritizes a new and non-ridiculous way to spend your money. Maybe we don’t need that 70-inch television from Costco after all, or that pricey prime-cut filet steak every week, or those $100 date nights every month.
Heck, a true minimalist may not have a television at all. But screw that. Be honest with yourself about what makes you happy and do those things. Just don’t be an out-of-control maniacal spendthrift when doing so. Within your means.
That’s right – if you want that pint of expensive “designer” ice cream, throw caution to the wind and buy it. Enjoy it, but enjoy it over time. Meaning, don’t crash in front of your television and destroy that pint of delicious ice cream like it’s going out of style.
Or hell, do that. But do it every 6 months, not every week. Moderate yourself. In other words, be sensible, not minimal.
Treat yourself when you feel like you need to. But, doing it too much makes each treat less special, and it probably costs you some cold hard cash, too.
Live within your means, not below it
Achieving financial independence and early retirement doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to live below our means. A feeling of “sacrifice” doesn’t usually put a smile on our face, does it?
Living within our means is enough.
I keep saying that life is a mind game, and I believe that to this day. Everything we see, hear, smell and do is a representation of reality that we build in our heads. The buck stops up there in the ol’ cranium, every day. Every time.
Once we master that mind game, we begin winning. Think of it like a water filter, and the stupid stuff we used to do are dust and tiny carbon deposits in the water. Our brains act like filters to strip out the waste, leaving in its wake only pure, crystal-clear water. Clean drinking.
Giving yourself a label doesn’t provide that filter. Simply “living with less” doesn’t do it, either. Actions are wonderful things. The power behind actions spurs amazing changes in our lives. But unless we believe in those changes, we’re missing the critical element of what accounts for so much of our happiness: Our minds.
I leave you with an equation: Belief + Value = Victory.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.