The 5 Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned from Living with Less

I’ve identified as a minimalist for about a decade. Within this 10-year period, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my life patterns, and what truly brings me joy. In this post, I’m going to focus on the five most important lessons that have impacted me the most.

Lesson 1 – A minimalist space instantly decreases my stress

Whether it’s a yoga studio, a Zen meditation temple, meandering through the SFMOMA, or walking into a hotel room at the Hyatt Place (known for it’s minimalist room decor and, as such, my favorite hotel of choice), I can feel the calm spread throughout my body the instant that I enter.

Perhaps being a highly sensitive person (HSP) (check out my other site for HSP and empathic individuals), has a lot to do with the perception of peace and relative ease as it spreads throughout my body. If you’re not an HSP, perhaps you just sense that your mood is better in such an environment.

Regardless of our position on the empathic spectrum, most of us who appreciate the minimalist movement feel better when we are in a minimally adorned space. The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we travel to enjoy a minimalist environment with its low vibrational energy (a stress reducer), decreased visual distractions, and increased experiential white space. We can live like we travel and enjoy a minimalist environment all the time if we are willing to do the work.

Lesson 2 – Owning fewer things means I enjoy my money more

I’m not wealthy, rich, affluent, or even upper middle class. I don’t have any wealthy relatives, and I’m not heir to any fortunes. I don’t have properties that earn rental income, in fact, I’ve never owned a home and enjoyed the tax savings that home ownership in the US affords. Still, even though I’m taxed at the higher rate as a single person in the US, I have many more options for my discretionary income than I would if I had car payments, a mortgage, or other types of long-term debt.

However, I have learned that it isn’t the amount of money I have that makes me feel good, it’s that I have a choice over how I spend the money I have that imparts this feeling of empowerment.

I’m always telling my youngest son:

Money is only comforting when you have it in the bank.”

That isn’t an edict not to spend our money on experiences we enjoy or things we need and desire. Instead, it’s a reminder that when we spend our way to a low or overdrawn balance, there is no joy to be found. I’m going to rephrase that another way:

When we spend all our money, we are miserable.”

For those like me who might’ve grown up hearing mostly negative messages about money, such as money is always scarce and there is never enough, or spending on ourselves is wrong, it can be difficult not to spend our way to “happiness” later in life. We figure that we’ve suffered long enough without the things that we want and even deserve, for that matter.

And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to feel that way, not at all. We simply need to take a good, hard look at why we spend the way that we do and make peace with it, or change it to create a better financial reality.

When it comes to money, minimalism isn’t about doing without what we need or want. It’s about making conscious choices around our money.”

Lesson 3 – The pursuit of more is a zero-sum game

That means that when you add together the benefits of accumulating more stuff, you’ll find that the deficits are equal. For example, if your goal is to accumulate a million dollars in savings, then unless you’ve got a trust fund handy, no doubt you’ll need to sacrifice a lot to accumulate that amount. The benefits of accumulating wealth (security, independence, living debt-free) are offset by the sacrifices made along the way (never traveling or going on family vacations, not buying any new clothes, living with shabby furniture, etc.).

That isn’t to say saving a million dollars is bad thing, just that there are equal and opposite deficits for each promised benefit.”

If we revisit Lesson #2 for a minute, my assertion that having money in the bank is empowering and imparts a sense of security on its own, then saving is a very healthy thing. However, we should be aware that there are sacrifices associated with its accumulation.

As I write this section of the post, I’m thinking about my late father. He retired from a 40-year position with a pension (there were pensions back then) in 1994. He died 13 years later having never traveled outside the US, booked a cruise, or even fix up the family home very much at all while in retirement.

Although he spent his golden years financially secure at home with my mother playing with grandkids and “great-grands” as he and my mother called them, it was a conscious choice not to travel, not to start a part-time business, not to do anything really. That’s how he chose to spend his time and money.

I have mixed feelings about his legacy in this regard. He was a loving father and grandfather and a loyal husband, but he avoided having fun if it meant spending much money.

Personally, I don’t want to live that way. Life is too short not to engage in fun. If not now, then when?

Lesson #4 – Non-minimalists will always think I’m crazy

Most of my friends, both online and offline varieties, find my minimalist lifestyle amusing, if not certifiably insane.

“Oh, that’s just Baz. He’s always been a little different.”

“Minimalism…that’s just weird, you know?”

“If everyone was a minimalist like you, who would buy the stuff that makes the global economy run?”

It’s always going to be like that. Even the ridiculousness of the last comment reveals how, for some, even positive life changes are suspect. (By the way, continuing to buy all that stuff that impacts the global economy creates mountains of pressing consumer debt under which people suffer for a lifetime… no thanks.)

It’s been my experience over and over again that when you change your life in a significant way, most people will react negatively. The reasons for this include—and it’s so silly, really— that your lifestyle change makes them personally uncomfortable. Because they know that they would/could never do the same, they can often sit in judgment. Being the most common defense mechanism on the planet, they reach for the low-hanging fruit of judgement and lob it your way.

When this happens, I let it fall to the ground. I don’t defend my choices because I know that they’re speaking from a place of ignorance.

Only those who actually experience something can confidently speak about it.”

I know others will continue to scoff, ridicule, and criticize. That’s fine. I understand why they do it. Seeing how I live my life with less stuff makes some so uncomfortable they will lash out at those who actually know what they’re talking about.

Lesson #5 – I don’t need very much to live a full life

Living life to its fullest expression has always been mankind’s goal, I think. But a complete life doesn’t have to be a life full of stuff. I’ve learned from my decade of minimalist living that what I truly need to live a full life is limited to the basics:

  • purpose – daily work that fulfills me and touches on my most meaningful work; avocational pursuits that help others
  • money – enough to spend on necessities and on things that add value to my life: tech, travel, books
  • love – from Karen and from my children
  • food – choosing food that benefits my health and well being, one meal at a time
  • shelter – whether it’s my SUV, a motorhome, or just a room, I don’t need much

The difference between minimalists like me and the rest of humanity is that we know what we need. It’s that simple.

When you know what your basic needs are, you can make better decisions. I don’t think everyone should be a minimalist, but I do think everyone should do the work to define their basic needs instead of buying everything Madison Avenue or Facebook and Instagram tells us we need.

By Baz

writer | coach | practical buddhist

Leave me a comment and I'll respond...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.