I’m going to let you in on a little secret. For years I lived what you might call a “maximalist lifestyle”.
There’s been all of this talk lately about minimalism, people going car-less, and even some who own less than 100 things.
Guess what? That’s not me.
I used to be the biggest pack rat you’ve ever met. I’d collect just about everything you could imagine. I had over 400 movie ticket stubs, dozens of plastic tennis trophies, and even a shot glass collection of places I’ve traveled. I mean honestly, what the hell am I going to do with 100 shot glasses? That’s a lot of tequila.
I don’t know why it’s so, but I have an extremely hard time getting rid of stuff. I have sentimental attachment to the stupidest things. That random spelling test from 3rd grade, a box full of baseball cards worth a combined total of $2.97, a token from the Philadelphia Subway. I mean really, for any of you that have ever been in the Philadelphia subway system, there is nothing that is memorable about it.
So why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this now to let you know that you’re not alone.
As I mentioned, there’s been a lot of talk about minimalism these days. However, the fact of the matter is that I bet most of the people reading this (and reading those other blogs as well) are closer to maximalists. Let’s face it, the vast majority of us like stuff. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It gives us the ability to shirk the notion of having a real adventure and really experiencing the things life has to offer, by distracting us from the fact that those grander things require more effort and more sacrifice.
But now to ask a question that’s been asked many times before. “Does all of that stuff enrich our lives?”
The answer isn’t as cut and dry as some might like to make it seem.
Last year I did the best I could to eliminate clutter and stop being the pack-rat that I know I am deep down inside. I sold my car, gave a bunch of crap to friends and Goodwill, and set out to travel with nothing but a small backpack.
It was awesome. For a period of time I was the guy with less than 100 things. Everyday was an adventure and I didn’t once find myself lacking and yearning for stuff. I loved the fact that I didn’t watch tv for half a year. I really felt I’d changed.
Then I came back to the United States.
It didn’t take long for the allure of stuff to suck me back in. Now don’t get me wrong, since I’ve been back over the last few months I really haven’t bought much, or anything really, that falls into the category of “stuff”. Almost all of my spending has been towards living expenses, travel, or savings, and I’m proud of that.
Update: That was until I bought a video game today for the first time in 4 years. Man, I hate to admit I did that. Talk about a time suck – but I digress…
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want stuff. It’s so easy to get sucked into wanting things you don’t need. Whether it’s that new watch, a new camera, or even a car, when you’ve spent your life living as a maximalist, the urge to want doesn’t just go away because you told it to.
No quite the opposite. The more I tell myself I don’t want stuff, the more I realize, I kinda do. I know I’m better off without it, for a multitude of reasons. But the comfortableness (is that a word?) just sucks you back in.
So what do you do?
Well I think the first thing you need to decide is whether or not you actually have any desire to be a minimalist. It’s awesome for some – but not so much for others. For me personally, I fall somewhere in between. I don’t necessarily want to be a minimalist, but I do want the freedom to be able to have adventures, travel, and do all of the things that can be more difficult as you do things like get married and start a family.
In order to accommodate this, here is what I’ve done:
- Minimize monthly expenses. Find a house or apartment with a month to month lease. Do everything you can not to end up with a car payment. Only get a cell phone if its entirely necessary ( I swear my new phone, really was necessary!). By limiting your reoccurring burdens, you keep yourself flexible enough to take off when the opportunity presents itself.
- Shoot for quality, not quantity. A lot of people like to have nice things – myself included. I wear Seven jeans and have a bit of an affinity for nice watches. That said, I don’t buy a lot of crap. I really have very few items these days. I might buy a premium product if I need it, because I know it will get use. I’d rather have one really nice pair of jeans, than four mediocre pairs. That ends up being cheaper in the end anyway. Long term, I may spend more money per item, but I end up saving a lot because I don’t need a lot of stuff.
- Budget. I’m sorry, this is “success in life 101”, yet for some reason very few people do it. Figure out how much you’re bringing in each month. Determine your maximum monthly spending budget (taking into account savings). If your maximalist ways aren’t jiving with your income then you’ve got some work to do.
It’s unclear if I’ll ever be able to overcome my maximalist desires. But given my issues, I’m pretty proud of my ability to analyze what’s truly important to me at this point in my life, and limit my spending and hoarding accordingly – despite the urges that try to convince me otherwise.
As much as I’d love to think that one day I’ll be a true minimalist, you’re much better off checking out The Minimalists if you want to see some awesome people who done an incredible job of simplifying their lifestyles.
I’ll let you know if I ever make it there.