There is a real case to be made for minimalism as a lifestyle. I have learned this from a couple of angles, which I’ll explain as I go in this blog. Suffice to say, we as consumers, and particularly American consumers, are highly guilty of purchasing things we want versus need, or the newest version of something despite the slightly older model working just fine. It’s a sickness to a degree, especially given the financial consequences.
If you have read any of my other posts on personal finance, you are probably familiar with at least the Dave Ramsey name. Chris Hogan is part of his team, and together they preach this truth all the time:
Don’t Go Broke Trying to Look Rich
If you aren’t familiar with one or both of these guys, I highly recommend you look them up and start digging into the material they share. It has helped change my life and my financial destiny. I have openly shared my debt journey and recovery in multiple blogs and videos. I want to make sure people understand how easy it is to fall into the traps of credit cards, car leases and other pitfalls the consumption-based world we live in encourages. I was guilty of this, and I dug a debt hole that I was not sure I could ever get out of. Please, learn from my mistakes. Stop buying stuff to impress people you don’t even know. No one really cares what kind of car you drive; if that is a criteria for friendship or dating someone, keep looking for other options.
One another note, I used to be in the moving business, or as I liked to flower it up and make it sound cooler, “The Relocation Business”. While I did work on the corporate relocation side, let’s not kid ourselves, I was a salesman for a moving company. Anyway, going to people’s homes on move out or move in day was part of my job, and it was amazing to me how often people had so much stuff that was still in boxes from the last time they moved. Items they had not used or needed, but they were not going to leave them behind. They were “possessions” and things that at one time held some level of importance to them. I hate to break it to you, but 90% of the things you own are easily replaceable, are sucking cash out of your wallet, and in some cases you are paying interest on those items that you “had to have”. Now they live in a box on your garage, never to see the light of day. Some people rent storage units to keep more crap than they can fit in their house! Pointless.
I have four different family members who are moving this year, which sort of puts me back in the moving business, as I get recruited to help in one way or another. All of them, regardless of income level, age, and other demographics, have way too much stuff in my opinion. Example: I made three trips to Goodwill this weekend as one of the family members is out of time to exit their former residence. Suddenly things that were somehow important before have no monetary value and are literally getting dropped off at a place that will resell them to turn a profit. Another family member is in major purge mode as well, and they are selling things on OfferUp and Craigslist for pennies on the dollar. They paid full price for those items, but not they are fire-saling them to make room and to downsize for their new home.
I do not have much sentimentality when it comes to items of family members. I have only a scant few photos and over the years when I was moving myself, I weeded out some of the other items over the years. Memories have far more value to me than an item ever could. There is nothing that I think back on and say “Man I wish I still had that _______. Because I was in a cycle of moving about once a year for a good decade, I had reason to travel light. It made my own life easier, and because I was bouncing from one two bedroom apartment to another, I had limited space to store things anyway. Maybe that helped to form my opinion. Now that I am older and have the means to accumulate more “toys”, I have even less desire to do so. I am sticking in my “Ruthless Minimalism” mindset.
My wife and I own a small house that we love. We bought this one by design; not a larger one with more rooms than we need, or “in case someone visits”. We have yet to have anyone who wanted to come visit us that was completely offended that we did not have room for them in our home. They stay at a hotel nearby or with someone else. And to be clear, in the five years we have lived in this house, this occurred once. ONE TIME. That is not a reason to have a four bedroom house, fully furnished (and room for a lot of extra crap) in case someone may visit sometime. We also didn’t choose to live in an upscale neighborhood either. Our neighborhood is great, it is near a coffee shop that I frequent, Sprouts, Whole Foods and Fry’s are within walking distance, as well as a few restaurants. It’s great, we love it, and we choose this location based on that set of criteria, not a “better zipcode” or anything like that. It’s all irrelevant in our minds. The backyard has fake grass and the front is maintained by the HOA. If you are paying attention…the theme here is EASY, low maintenance, and worry-free living.
I am not the only one who thinks in this manner. If you have not seen the documentary “Minimalism”, I would highly recommend you watch it. I hyperlinked it so you could jump to the trailer on YouTube and get a sense of this interesting film. The quick overview is basically two guys who had “made it” it in the tech world and had nice cars, cool places to live in big cities, etc. etc. They both came to the conclusion that they were not happy despite having many the trappings of the materials world. They decided to change all that, and thus the story begins.
I can tell you from my own personal view that clutter is visually disturbing to me. I find it mildly uncomfortable to see things piled up here and crammed into corners there. It feels like it weighs me down. As the old saying goes: “The things you own end up owning you.” I think this is particularly true when you are financing those extra things that you don’t really need. If you are “house poor” because you bought more house than you could comfortably afford, this is a great example of what I am talking about. And here’s another question which no one wants to face: What if things change? You get fired, get really ill and can’t work, etc.? How are you going to make ends meet? We don’t have this worry. I could deliver pizzas and cover our mortgage payment if needed. Seriously. My wife is the same way, which is a big plus. I think it would be difficult and the cause of a lot of domestic strife if only one of us thought this way and the other was the opposite. Choose your partner wisely…
One last example to share, and this one is a doozy. A family member on my wife’s side who I was not close with passed away last summer, and everyone else was tasked with dealing with his estate. No one had been to his home way out in the hills north of Phoenix for many years, and the first time we arrived, we were floored. The home looked abandoned, despite him living there right up until the day he died. It was filthy, and we all wore the good N-95 masks to go inside his home. He was a hoarder, and how anyone lived in conditions like that was beyond all of our comprehension. He was not poor, so he had options to live elsewhere and/or in better conditions. He got used to it, and due to the slow accumulation of stuff, maybe didn’t notice how bad it really was.
In effort to clean up the place and get it ready for resale, I and other family members were taking items out of the home and setting them on the driveway. Everyone took what they wanted for themselves, but that barely made a dent. I asked what we were going to do with the other things, and someone said: Take whatever you want, we are just gonna donate it otherwise. Being the industrious individual I am, I loaded up everything I could into my SUV. I had to clean up the items, but I put in the work and got everything ready for sale on OfferUp. I made over FIVE GRAND reselling brand new items in beat up boxes. This person had bought multiple fans, heaters, catering items, and much more that was never touched. He had them just to have them, or because he was a compulsive buyer, no one is sure at this point.
Think about that, I am selling his items and making five grand, imagine he spent on these items when they were new. My sweetspot for pricing these items was 40% of the retail price for a new item, so just based on that he had spent well over $12,000 on redundant items that never left the box. I paid less than that for the vehicle I drive. He had money, but he was not extraordinarily wealthy, so these items were a bad decision financially, and they contributed to him living in squallier. The things you own end up owning you.
A while ago my wife and I decided we would lean into the minimalism journey a lot harder. We purged a bunch of stuff of our own, taking clothes to a local charity and selling as many unneeded items as we could. We funded a vacation to Nashville off of items we sold from the house. Not one thing was replaced because we missed it or needed it. NOT ONE. Obviously those items were “extra”, and we would rather have the money for another trip versus having another item sitting around collecting dust and taking up space.
I highly encourage you look into this lifestyle, for multiple reasons. Less consumption of useless items is better for your personal finances, better for the environment, and better for your psyche. It is like lifting a weight off of you when you do a purge of items around the house that serve no purpose. The things you own, end up owning you. You will feel lighter, you will have more room, and you will learn what is really important and what is just fluff. Our entire economy is built of “fluff”, but that doesn’t mean you have to be complicit. It’s your life, do your own thing, make your own rules. High school is over; stop putting so much value behind what others think of you.