By Brad Beckstrom
I know, I tend to get excited about things. I’ve always been like this. Periods of intense interest in something that wanes over time, then comes back full force months, sometimes years later. Minimalism is one of those things.
Minimalism often shows up in different places in my life. It could be frugality, architecture, lean investment strategies, work, art, even fitness. When I write about it I like to call it living lean.
One thing I’ve noticed is that minimalism sometimes gets painted as a movement for people who aren’t interested in success and the financial, social, material trappings that come along with it. Then I’ll see an article in the New York Times talking about how minimalism is now conflated with self-optimization and the rich who can afford to leave things alone.
To some extent, it’s both. If you’ve ever watched the show Billions, you’ll notice the minimalist offices and penthouse apartments of the hedge fund traders in the show. They are using their money to save time by minimizing distractions. Using money to skip lines, travel in private jets, have an empty desk in a spotless office. All of the “little things” are taken care of by staff and assistants. However, with minimalism, there is something deeper going on.
You certainly don’t need to be a billionaire to take advantage of the life benefits of practicing minimalism. In fact, I’ll say that once your needs are met, the wealthier you are beyond that, the trickier living lean and minimalism is. Why is that? Well, think about the wealthiest person you know. It can be a friend, relative, neighbor, a boss or coworker you know well enough to know they’re loaded. How much time do they spend working? Do they own more than one home or more than one car? How do they dress? Do they have a lot of people working for them? Do they seem to have a lot of stuff in their lives keeping them busy? As the rapper, Notorious B.I.G. famously said “Mo Money – Mo Problems.”
I remember at one point in my life I had over 60 people working for me. I owned multiple rental properties including an office building. When I wasn’t working, I was often running off to the store to buy stuff. My wife and I had two young boys and a large home that needed constant upkeep.
With every Christmas and birthday came more parties and more stuff. An embarrassment of riches, with many gifts going unopened or stored away for a rainy day or to re-gift later. It was like a pile on. We were spending way too much time managing stuff. Luckily, it was at the peak of all of this that I discovered minimalism. All of this stuff was not only cluttering our lives but cluttering my brain. I knew it would be a long journey from where I was at that point to where I am still headed. I started blogging about it just to keep track of this journey and keep myself on pace. Big surprise — I’m not there yet.
Along the way, I have learned many things about living simply and thinking big. Here are a few:
The average U.S. household has over 300,000 things. If you allow it, “stuff” will literally take over your life. It’s not just shopping for, paying for, and owning stuff. It’s the care and maintenance, the storage, and finally the disposal of stuff. I found that the larger the home, the easier it is to begin storing stuff. First in the storage room, closets, then the garage, spare bedrooms, etc.
Fortunately, with two kids in college, we’ve started to make some serious progress in the disposal phase. Filling up a large box for goodwill or charity nearly every month.
Once you hit the “stuff wall”, meaning you just can’t fit anymore crap in your house or your apartment then you can begin to see the real benefits of getting rid of it all. This is really where the work starts. It’s easy to accumulate and then put stuff on a shelf. Some people never see the benefits of lightening the load and they continue to hoard stuff into old age. Leaving it to their families to either dispose of or add to their own already large piles of stuff.
Our long-term goal is to live a truly minimal life at home, allowing us to travel 4 to 6 months to a year. We will always maintain a home base near family and friends but our goal is to have a much simpler lifestyle.
Here’s our plan
- Purge. Continue our journey to purge all unnecessary items from our life. Continue to give away stuff filling up a moving box for free pickup each month. We use a company called GreenDrop that will come and pick up large and small donations allowing you to pick the charity that benefits.
- Detox. Completely use up old detergents, soaps, cleaners, paints, etc. and properly dispose of remaining items through the county. Our goal here is to get down to just a few types of multipurpose soap that can be used throughout the household instead of the individual containers of crap that we use now. This seems like a simple chore but I’ve actually been working on this for several years!
- Simplify our investments. Years ago we started consolidating accounts with Fidelity. This includes an after-tax brokerage account, Rollover IRAs, SEP IRAs, SE401K, HSAs. We directed investments in most of these accounts to a basic set of index funds including a Total US market Index fund FSKAX, an international index fund FSPSX, a total Bond index fund FXNAX, a REIT Index fund FSRNX, and a core position fidelity government money market fund that has a current yield of about 1.3% that’s linked to a debit card allowing us to withdraw cash anywhere in the world with no fees at the best rate. See more details on our lean investment strategy.
- Wear stuff out. Once both of our sons have graduated from college, our plan is to sell our home and work with a charity to donate most of our remaining furniture and any stuff we haven’t already purged. Until then, we are wearing stuff out with some help from our dog and cat. Not replacing anything we think we can get another five years out of.
- Stay healthy. One of the greatest benefits of simplifying your life is the time it frees up for more important things like your health. We transitioned from barely having time for two or three workouts a week to much simpler daily exercise plans that includes miles of walking.
- Become experts at traveling light. We currently travel 5 to 6 weeks a year. International travel is often far from simple. After years of practice, we are finally starting to get it right. Packing lighter, having the right bank accounts and credit cards for international travel, maximizing reward programs and finding the best values in travel.
- Figure out our home base. This is a tricky one. When we sell our home will we buy a smaller one, a condo? Can we be close to family and friends, airports, downtown? The fact is we don’t really know until we fully embrace how many “things” we can live without.
One thing we know is that on our next move and our next journey we will be thinking big, living simply, and traveling light.