Do you find yourself in an endless cycle of working and then buying things in an effort to relax, entertain, or “reward” yourself? Have you ever pondered how much more money and personal freedom you’d have if you could limit your spending to only necessities?
Questions like these are being asked, and answered, by an increasing amount of former “mindless spenders” who are choosing to regain control by limiting their consumption and transforming their relationship with money and material items with a quality versus quantity approach to life, also known as minimalism.
Take for example, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. They’re two former corporate professionals who willingly walked away from handsome salaries and material-laden lifestyles at the end of their 20’s, to live “a meaningful life with less stuff.” They write about their experiences for more than 100,000 monthly readers at their site, The Minimalists.
MintLife caught up with the reformed spenders for insight on the impact that changing ones’ focus on consumerism has on personal happiness, fulfillment, and the perception of money.
What is Minimalism?
The idea of reducing consumption is given a variety of terms including simple living, life hacking, and minimalism. Like all movements, there are varying degrees of intensity. (Contrary to what you might envision, minimalism does not mean sitting a furniture-less room, or a life of dumpster diving to score goods for free—although, it can).
Fields Millburn explains, that for most minimalists, the idea is simply a gradual shift toward eliminating the unnecessary “stuff” that clutters the mind and controls life. Further, there’s no defining criterion around who benefits.
“We recently embarked on a 33-city book tour, which 1,700 incredibly diverse people attended, from retired-CEOs to Occupy Wall Street folks, and everyone in between,” says Fields Millburn. “Irrespective of our backgrounds, we’re all attempting to find a more meaningful life. Minimalism is a tool that can help.”
How minimalism begins
Not surprisingly, budgeting with Mint can shed light on opportunities to downsize and take baby steps toward minimalism, allowing you to spot the expenses that deliver little in terms of life satisfaction, but erode your paycheck. Minimalism is about making conscious lifestyle changes to remove unnecessary costs, which are different for everyone. When you systemically eliminate such financial drains and create a shorter path to debt elimination, more freedom beyond the pursuit of a paycheck is revealed.
“It’s about starting somewhere small—but making sure you start,” says Fields Millburn. “This will help you build momentum– the key to moving on to more involved, simplifying tasks.”
Changing your perspective
While minimalism has the obvious payoff of less clutter, it can also kick start a shift in the perspective of money and personal fulfillment beyond material items. Ironically, Fields Milburn and Nicodemus realized there was a price to pay in order to shift away from a material-based life, including dedicating two years to paying off debts before they could ditch their corporate jobs.
But, the process of ditching stuff, property, and expensive cars wasn’t a sense of loss. ”We weren’t downsizing, we were uprising,” says Fields Millburn.
Finding new passions
Whether you’re a TV junkie, attached to a smartphone, or constantly engaged with social media, minimalism is about managing such mindless “vices,” not only to unload costs, but to realize the value of time. Like most Americans, Fields Millburn and Nicodemus discovered that the habit of spending was a hard one to break.
To reverse the impulse, Fields Millburn took a cold turkey approach, striving to eliminate the purchase of material items for a year (and blogging about it on the site). Four months in, he realized that his need to buy unnecessarily had dissipated, and he had a greater appreciation for what already owned.
Now the pair experiment with different ways to minimize, like temporarily ditching the Internet at home, and opting to access it at a coffee shop or library, or getting rid of a cellphone for a short time. When they experimented with the elimination of cable and TV, they found more time to revisit activities that fueled their passion, including reading, writing, and sharing meaningful experiences with friends.
When gym memberships got the axe, they took their workouts outdoors and walked more than ever. Fields Millburn says that having less stuff and financial stress has revealed new opportunities and energy. “Now our only bills are rent, utilities, and insurance. We encourage people to ask themselves: Is my dream worth the sacrifices I need to make?”
He adds, however, that minimalism is based on personal choice and requires experimentation. “Minimalism isn’t about deprivation; it’s about shedding the extraneous stuff in favor of what’s important.”
Money takes on a new meaning
Regardless of whether you have it or not, money has power in your life. When shifting to minimalism, Fields Millburn and Nicodemus recognized the conundrum such reliance on “stuff” presents. “For the longest time we were focused on accumulating more money so that we could purchase more things. We both had these ‘great’ six-figure jobs, but we were spending more money than we earned.
When it came to removing money as an anchor in our lives, we had to consider the price of our dreams.” Though they had achieved the traditional definition of success in the form of a title and paycheck, the pair realized that their passions didn’t lie in that pursuit. In fact, it was competing with their ability to pursue what they loved. “At age 30, we now make less money than when we were 20. But we’ve never been happier.”
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.