Having less can feel like more
One of the happiest times in my life was when I had the absolute least amount of stuff. When I went backpacking through Europe, all I took with me was what I could fit inside a 40 liter carry-on backpack. On top of that, about halfway through my trip, a bunch of my stuff was stolen and that same 40L even had extra space in it. This idea of having only what I actually needed or added value to my life was one of the most profound experiences of my trip and of my life.
It's really weird when you're getting ready to leave for a trip like that, especially if you've never done it before. I have a room, closet, and garage full of stuff, so what do I take with me? In an instant, you realize how much shit you have that you absolutely do not need.
When you do finally leave, you immediately start to meet a ton of likeminded people out traveling that are the happiest people you have ever seen. They are happy with so much less than we are expected to have here in the U.S. Growing up American, I always felt like we truly were number 1 and that we have everything figured out much more than the rest of the world, but I can tell you that although we do some things very well, that just simply isn't true. One of the biggest things I noticed during my travels was just how much happier other people are than us. We tend to value work, money, and things, whereas most of what I saw in some of my favorite places like Spain, was that these people valued lifestyle, relationships, and happiness before all of that other stuff.
Since I have come back from my trip I've been slowly selling all of this "shit" that I used to think I needed. The thing about doing this is 99% of the time, you don't ever even think about that stuff again. I was reluctant about selling my TV in my room because I thought, like most people, that I need to have a TV in my room. Well, finally I just did it and I literally forgot that I used to have a TV in my room. It added no value to my life.
The problem with buying so much stuff...
In a movie full of amazingness, this quote is one of my favorites from Fight Club. This didn't really mean anything to me when I first saw this at a younger age, but now I completely see what it meant. We as a society buy so many things on credit, loans, or just owe money in some way to have something. But as soon as you buy that new car and have a car payment to make every month, that car owns you. That payment makes you get up in the morning to go to work, at some job you probably hate, because if you don't then you can't make your payment anymore. When we buy a car, house, and have credit card debt we are now completely controlled by these things and they make us work for them. When we make big purchases we tend to always figure out what our budget is, a lot of the time with money we don't actually have, and then say, "how much can this get me?" How much house can I get for my 500k budget. Why not just figure out what you actually need, and stay out of debt or save the rest of the money to do awesome stuff with your life?
If you can stay out of debt, then you are completely free to do whatever you want. For this reason, I decided to stay at home and work my ass off through school to pay for it as I went rather than taking out student loans. Now all of the money I earn is mine and I can do whatever I want with it rather than pay interest on a loan. I think one of the best ways to live a happy life is to do whatever it takes to stay out of debt. To describe what I'm saying in one of my favorite quotes...
"We buy shit we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like."
I don't mean to sound preachy in this post, I just want to share my experiences and what I've learned as it has changed the way I think and made me so much happier. Also, minimalism can mean different things to different people. Being a minimalist doesn't mean you have to live like the Alaskan Bush people or whatever new weird show is on the 'History Channel.' You don't have to give up things you want in your life, you just need to examine why you want the things you do and whether or not you actually need them.
At first, I felt like it was hypocritical to consider myself a minimalist triathlete. How can I call myself a minimalist in one of the most gear intensive sports in the world? Because I love triathlon and it makes me happy! Adopting any form of minimalist lifestyle shouldn't feel like giving anything up, it should feel like you're becoming more free. I own three bikes. That doesn't sound minimalist at all, but I love my bikes, they add value to my life, and I ride the shit out of them. I've personally still got a long way to go but just going through the process of getting rid of all the extra stuff I don't need in my life has been awesome. If I could define minimalism in my own words as an instruction on how to do it, it would be:
Before you purchase something, ask yourself if it will add value to your life and make you happier.
Sounds pretty simple, huh? Well it is!
It hasn't only made me feel so much more free, but it literally changed my future and what I've decided to do with my life. My whole life I always wanted to be rich without ever really knowing what that meant. Mostly, I just knew I wanted to be able to do the things I wanted and I knew I would need money to do them. It turns out the things I want, like travel, really don't cost that much and are easily attainable if you're smart with your money.
Rather than spending your money on your next thing. Spend it on your next experience! Things bring a temporary rush but experiences change you. Ever since I started saving to backpack Europe I became kind of obsessive about this. Now, whenever I buy something, I think about how that money could be used for an experience. A $50 thing that I don't really need like more clothes could be days in Southeast Asia with hostel, food, and everything. This way of thinking let me save up while in school bit by bit to spend 3 months in Europe and that was the best experience of my life.
I'm not one of those people who thinks that "money doesn't buy happiness." Uhh, it definitely does in this weird society we've set up, but only to a certain extent! I'll say that again... money does buy happiness, to a point, and then it doesn't. Will having enough money to eat and take care of your necessities make you happy? Yes, of course. I remember in one of my college classes we looked at a study that addressed this particular issue. It showed that more income drastically increased happiness in people up to about 70k per year and then it completely leveled off. This obviously varies depending on where you live and I think you can be just as happy on a lot less than that but the fact is that once people weren't struggling to make it, more money didn't equal more happiness. Buying a second car will give you a little rush, and then in a few months you won't even care anymore and you'll be looking at the next purchase to make you happy. There is always some imaginary just out of reach goal where if I could just make this much... or I could just buy this... or just get this promotion... then I'll be happy. If this has ever been you, or even it it hasn't but you want to know how to be completely happy in the present moment, I strongly urge you to read this book...
One of the biggest things I've noticed when thinking about and adopting a minimalist lifestyle is the absolutely insane amount of clothes we all have. Take a lesson from Obama and feel how good it is to limit your wardrobe. Obama would either go blue or grey suit everyday to limit his decisions in the day and resist decision fatigue, which is an actual thing. When you get rid of all your clothes and just buy good quality items that you actually do need, you rid yourself of always having to make a decision about what to wear and then you can invest money in good quality items that look and feel great. Not to mention, it is so much better for the environment! The mass amount of cheap quality clothes we have is hugely detrimental to the planet in consuming so much energy and generating a ton of waste.
Why are we so miserable?
In the entirety of human history we are living in the best possible time. It's really crazy when you think about it. Even just a couple generations ago, to my grandparents time, they couldn't do near the stuff I can do now. I have a super advanced computer in my pocket that lets me talk to anyone in the world instantly. I can travel the world, book everything I need on the go, and manage everything as well as keep in touch with people I meet all in that same tiny pocket computer. Not to mention just having the ability to fly anywhere in the world is still super new. On top of this, all of our basic needs are pretty much met here in the West, so how could we possibly be miserable? Depression rates are sky rocketing and more and more people are feeling unsatisfied with life, always looking into the future and never appreciating the present.
I think a lot of this is the advertising that is constantly shoved in our face along with the American dream lifestyle that you never have enough and you always need more. As soon as you start to become aware of this constant barrage of advertising and people telling you your life isn't good enough, you realize just how rampant it is. That realization also gives you the power to just let all that shit go and not give it any more of your attention.
You don't need to go throw all of your stuff away
You don't have to get rid of everything you have in order to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle, although getting rid of all of the crap that accumulates in our lives feels pretty damn good. Just stop buying crap. You'll soon realize you're saving a lot more money, and you can take that and live life the way it was meant to, by doing stuff that excites you! One day you will die, and when that time comes, I don't think you're going to care at all about how much money you have or all of the things you own. I'd be a lot more pumped on everything I experienced and the impact I was able to make on the world.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think about adopting a more minimalist lifestyle.
Jake is a triathlete and coach with a passion for travel and everything triathlon. He loves sharing his knowledge and experiences with others.
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