People are often scared off by the term ‘minimalism’ and it’s easy to see why, what with bloggers constantly challenging you to live with less than 100 things and bragging about how everything they own fits in one bag. (There’s even a beginner’s guide to one bag living, you know, in case you’d like to give it a try.)
Those are extreme examples, however. The kind of minimalist lifestyle I’m advocating is decidedly more low-key. You definitely don’t have to sell your house and live in a van to pay off your debt.
Let’s Talk About Debt
According to the New York Times, Americans now owe a whopping $1 trillion in credit card debt. Rising credit card interest rates are partially to blame for pushing folks even further into the long-term debt trap, but there’s a much bigger problem at play here.
Simply put, Americans are drowning in stuff and it’s this obsession with ‘more’ that’s keeping people in the red. These clutter stats compiled by Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist show just how big the problem really is.
On the other hand, the British have revolutionized their spending habits with something they call the ‘experience economy.’ Perhaps we could take a leaf out of their book?
Saving for a Rainy Day
A survey conducted by Bankrate.com revealed that around 21 percent of Americans aren’t saving any of their income at all. Their reasons for this ranged from having too much debt, too many expenses and not having a good enough job. (Worryingly, 16.4 percent admitted they simply hadn’t gotten around to it.)
Part of saving means sticking to a budget, something this Time article claims is the one task most Americans can’t accomplish. Granted, a color-coded spreadsheet isn’t a one-way ticket to financial freedom, but it’s a good start.
For the dual-income family with two cars parked in front of an overflowing garage, it could even herald the end of living paycheck to paycheck. Well, along with some of the other tips mentioned below.
How Minimalism Can Help
Minimalism shifts your attention away from the things you own (or would like to own) and allows you to focus on what really matters: relationships, creativity, travel, exercise and so on. It creates space in your life, room to breathe.
When you recognize that stuff doesn’t actually make you happy, a world of possibilities opens up. Suddenly you’re no longer driven to accumulate. Okay, so how can you get rid of your debt and start living the life of your dreams?
Sell All Your Stuff
In 2008 Adam Baker and his wife were deep in debt. The birth of their first child caused them to take stock of their lives. In his TEDx talk: Sell your crap. Pay your debt. Do what you love, Adam explains how they went from being in the red to spending a year traveling abroad.
Take a look around your home. How much of what you own do you actually use? We often hang onto our possessions out of habit or because we think we might need them someday or because we’ve attached some kind of value to them. And yet, there they sit, taking up space and gathering dust. If you’re not sure how to declutter, there are plenty of blogs that will walk you through the process.
Assess Your Spending Habits
We often spend without thinking. If you’re in the mall and something catches your eye, do you immediately fish out your credit card and buy it? Life on the hedonic treadmill is all about chasing rainbows. You’re only ever happy until the next shiny thing comes along.
You don’t have to stop buying stuff completely, but it is important to put a halt on the impulse purchases. The next time you find yourself reaching for your wallet, stop. Tell yourself that if you still want the item in question in a month you can come back and get it then. Chances are, you’ll have forgotten you even wanted it long before the month is over.
Most importantly, create a budget and stick to it.
Downsize Your Home
According to NPR, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled in size over the last 50 years. Do you live in a house that’s bigger than you really need? Claudia and Garrett downsized from a 1,500 sq ft house to a 536 sq ft home and crushed their debt.
You may have kids and not be able to downsize as drastically as the Two Cup House duo, but at least consider the possibility that your house is more than you require. Aside from the mortgage, owning a bigger house means more upkeep and maintenance. It’s also more of a time-suck than a small place, because there’s more to clean.
Become a One Car Family
For a lot of families, having two cars is non-negotiable. With jobs in different parts of the city, kids in school and extra curricular activities, having one vehicle just wouldn’t work. But a lot of times we fall into the convenience trap of owning two cars just because it’s easier, or worse, cool.
Take a long hard look at your day-to-day life and consider your alternatives. Can you bike to work, use public transport or carpool? Can you and your spouse take it in turns to drop the kids at school so the other can walk to the office?
Owning a car is great. It gives you the freedom and independence to come and go as you please. The thing is, freedom comes at a price. Take a moment and think about what you could do with the money you’re currently spending on your car.
If you’re already a one car house, what about becoming car free? We sold our car more than four years ago and haven’t regretted it for a moment. Best of all, our monthly transport costs have dropped by 80 percent.
Build a Capsule Wardrobe
Fast fashion has turned clothes into a habit. The documentary The True Cost shows the negative impact the clothing industry is having on our world, but it’s having a negative impact on our personal finances, too.
Nowadays clothing is cheap, which leads us to believe that our fashion habit isn’t costing us that much. Because everything is made to last a season (at best), we end up spending more in the long run.
A better alternative is to build a capsule wardrobe that will last. You might spend more at the outset, but because you’re buying good quality items you’ll keep them for the long haul. Another bonus of the capsule wardrobe is you’ll save your cognitive load for the decisions that actually matter.
Making Early Retirement a Possibility
For older generations, retiring at 65 was the norm. You just accepted that you’d work until that age whether you wanted to or not. Nowadays, more and more people are quitting their jobs much earlier than that.
It comes down to planning for the long game rather than falling prey to the allure of instant gratification. In the well-known Stanford marshmallow experiment children were offered the choice of either one marshmallow right away or two, if they waited 15 minutes. (Watch the clip to see how the kids responded.)
Minimalism helps you become the kind of person who is happy to wait for that second marshmallow. (Because we all know two pieces of candy is better than one, right?)
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