What you can learn from a minimalist lifestyle even if you’re nowhere close to adopting it.
By Brad Beckstrom
Minimalism is hard. After five years of working on it, I’m not even close to my original goal of a vastly simpler lifestyle. I’ve worked on applying minimalist ideas in everything I do. I’ve slowly realized that for me there is not some ultimate minimalist goal or destination. The reason is that there’s always stuff coming into our lives. And it’s not just our stuff, it’s our family stuff, our work stuff, stuff related to our home, our hobbies, our kids. The average American home has 300,000 things in it. So, I guess my family’s making progress — we’ve gotten rid of about 50,000 of these things over the past five years.
I think part of the reason adopting a minimalist outlook is hard is that many of us have lived our lives doing the opposite. It’s only much later, after decades of accumulating stuff, that we realize it’s all really just weighing us down. Given this, it’s going to take some time to unravel all that.
One of the interesting things I’ve found is that you can apply minimalism to a lot more than just cleaning out closets and garages. Over these past five years I’ve developed everything from minimalist investing strategies, work habits, and exercise routines.
As I’ve been working to apply minimalist principles, I look around and notice people adding more more more. Like spending 30 minutes driving to and from a CrossFit Gym to spend hard-earned dollars on increasingly complex workout routines. Constantly bringing complexity into life with high-tech toys often built into expensive new vehicles and smart appliances. Using social media, news apps, and productivity apps to create more and more urgent notifications. Complex volatile investment schemes involving everything from crypto currency to weed stocks. Utilizing multiple tools and technologies that were designed to lighten the load, but instead end up adding hours to the average workday.
Let’s simplify this stuff.
I don’t think anyone will ever look at me and my home or family and say “Oh, that guy is a minimalist”. For me it’s not about that, it’s about applying minimalist principles to one part of your life at a time and making small improvements. So, in the spirit of minimalism, if we could apply just one idea across everything we do it would make a big difference. Here’s one idea I use:
I like to think of this as sort of a suitcase analogy. You’re packing for a two-week trip. Perfection is achieved when there is nothing else you can leave out of that suitcase.
Start with one less….
Keep in mind that perfection will rarely, if ever, be achieved. The key here is to learn from applying this rule to different parts of your life from something as simple as packing a suitcase, to more complex matters like running a small company.
Every year I take a close look at different apps and tools we use at my company and look to eliminate those that are underutilized. This is especially important with business or personal items you pay for monthly via subscription fees or dues. Recently, for the first time in 10 years, I switched our mobile phone carrier. It wasn’t because I wanted better service, it was for simplicity. T-Mobile offered a plan in which everything was included and there were no complex fees and taxes ($5.40 per line on my old plan) added to the monthly bill. It’s $40 per phone unlimited flat rate including international text and data, even in-flight data. No need to get SIM cards or pay AT&T for international access when I travel. It’s built in to my plan. No need for the monthly slowdowns we were getting when we exceeded 16 gigs of data. I know what the bill will be every month. $40 per phone. If you’ve ever looked at a mobile phone bill for a family of four who travel, the simplicity in that will appeal to you. They also included Netflix, so one less $14 subscription plan every month.
While I was looking at data, I was also able to get rid of about 30 cable channels I never used and knock our new 2X faster 150Mbs Verizon Fios plan down from $109 per month to $89 per month. I got rid of cable boxes years ago because I was tired of paying rent on them. Instead we use 1 TiVo box and 1 Roku. This is still expensive, but the idea here is to continually hack away at monthly expenses removing unnecessary channels, services, and accessories. Since we don’t have a home phone line I was able to repurpose the free phone number that comes with the package as a home business phone by porting a business number to my Verizon line and drop Vonage. One less $25 monthly bill, one less monthly vendor to pay.
Simplicity Will Save You Money
When you’re trying to simplify your life and your finances at the same time sometimes it’s tricky figuring out which things to tackle first. I’ve often found that life and finances are closely linked so once a month I look at a list of recurring expenses and try to hack away at the non essential. I use Quicken so I can easily pull up monthly expenses from multiple accounts and avoid creating any dreaded spreadsheets.
One advantage of starting now is that there are so many great free tools for tracking your expenses and investments like Personal Capital and Mint.com. Once you get in the habit of listing and tracking your monthly expenses, you begin the notice that the shorter and simpler that list is, the simpler your life has become.
So, even if you still feel like a slob wading through piles of stuff, you’re on your way to a simpler, better life.