We live in a world where we’re bombarded with messages telling us our worth is correlated with our bank account. And that the best way to prove our worth to the world around us is through wealth, accumulation, materialism.
If you have a lot of money, you must be successful and important. A large house, a nice car, expensive clothes, lots of stuff, these are all outward displays of wealth, and therefore, worth.
We all know this. It’s why people buy mansions and sports cars. No one really needs those things. They buy them because they believe they’ll make them feel a certain way, and tell a story about who they are to the people around them.
It’s why ‘keeping up with the Jones’ is a thing.
Most would agree though that nothing could be further from the truth. We are not our stuff. Our worth as human beings is not dependent on our money or what we own. If I met someone who believed that was true, I’d think they were a shallow, misguided asshole.
Then again, our economy thrives on the very idea. Our consumerism is fueled by exactly this belief. We buy things because we believe they will make us feel a certain way. Because we believe they convey something about our worth and who we are, to the world around us – whether we admit it to ourselves or not.
What’s interesting to me, is that studies have shown that those of us who feel more insecure in our self-worth, tend to be more materialistic. And the more we value material possessions, the worse we feel about ourselves. Kinda crazy, right?
In The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser explains his extensive research on the topic. He shows that being materialistic makes us miserable. The things we covet because we believe they’ll increase our feelings of self-worth and therefore, our well-being, do the exact opposite.
After adequate food, shelter and clothing, stuff doesn’t just fail to make us happy, it makes us miserable instead.
His findings also show a hopeful counter effect. When we become less materialistic, our well-being improves. And as our well-being improves, we tend to become less materialistic.
After becoming a minimalist about six years ago, I’d agree with all of this. (And for the record, becoming minimalist is an ongoing process, an unfolding. It’s not like you just declutter your sock drawer and then you’re all like: Bam! What’s up? Who’s a minimalist now, bitches!? This guy!) But escaping consumerism isn’t easy. We’ve been raised in an environment that profits from telling us we need stuff to be happy (or pretty or skinny or popular, whatever). And the voices advocating for that idea are relentless.
Today I want to share a few of the benefits I’ve uncovered by adopting minimalism as my own tiny rebuttal to those voices, in case you were pondering a jump into the lifestyle yourself.
As mentioned above, I’ve found it to be true that the less stuff I have and want, the happier and better I feel. I think it’s probably what Kasser is talking about, our self-worth. When I stopped equating my self-worth with how much money I had or the material possessions I’d acquired, or worse, comparing myself to everyone around me, I felt better about me. We don’t actually need much to be a healthy, happy, successful person. And nothing improves wellbeing like being happy with who you are. (This is generally speaking of course, on most days. Because let’s be serious, nobody likes themselves all the time.)
It was when I adopted minimalism that I started to really think about what makes me happy, to ask myself what a good life looks like. I realized that trying to stay present and appreciate each moment is what makes life richer, not having more stuff.
I rediscovered the simple pleasure of writing that I’d naturally enjoyed as a kid. I realized that having a glass of wine with a girlfriend is one of my favorite nights out. That I could enjoy every morning just a bit more by taking a second to appreciate the smell of the french press and the warmth of the coffee mug in my hands. I realized that spending a morning catching up with my Grandma on the phone was a better use of my time than shopping. And I realized that it’s how you feel in a dress, and not the designer who made it or how much it cost, that determines whether or not it was a sound investment.
It’s just little shit like that that does the trick.
You’d be surprised at how these tiny little thoughts force you to pause for a second and add up to big dividends in your overall happiness portfolio.
#3. Financial Stability
I started working at a hedge fund in 2008, which was like the worst time ever to start doing that. I remember the day the economy almost collapsed very clearly. I remember the founder of the hedge fund calling an emergency meeting around the trading desk to tell us that we were going to be OK. I didn’t believe him for one second, the lanky, billionaire bastard.
I was 25 years old. I was almost 15k in credit card debt. I had my own apartment, my own car payment, a bad shopping habit and I was watching the news, not to mention the faces of the analysts around me.
I was terrified.
The state of my financial life at the time was cause for massive stress. If the fund went under and I lost my job, I was, to put it lightly, quite fucked.
The following week, H.R. went around like some sort of secret police force. I remember praying that none of them made eye contact with me. More than half the administrative staff was ‘let go’, as if they’d always wanted to leave but just hadn’t been allowed to yet.
I somehow managed to keep my job. My financial life had been spared. But I realized through the unfolding of that mess just how lucky I was.
Even if I would have been fucked, I wouldn’t have been nearly as fucked as some of the people around me. I didn’t have a mortgage, I didn’t have student loans, I didn’t have children to feed. I just had some consumer debt and a Volkswagon I couldn’t afford, and rarely used.
So as the abysmal bonuses were doled out the following January (I know, I know, at least I got a bonus.) I made the decision that every penny I above what I needed to live off of, was going straight to paying off my debt. I somehow convinced my mom to take over my lease when hers was up. I moved into my friend’s living room in Manhattan and got rid of my apartment. From that time on, my goal was to never be in that precarious financial situation again.
And I pulled myself out of it through minimalism.
I made a decent living, I just had to stop buying so much shit I didn’t need. I got rid of what I wasn’t using and stopped wanting more. And I did it easily once I decided that less was more.
It was fun (sometimes) living in my friend’s living room and we all saved money that year. By the following year I was not only out of debt, but I’d saved enough money to quit my job and give my first business a real shot, which felt amazing. Knowing I could live my current lifestyle for almost an entire year without a single dollar coming in was a freedom I’d never felt before. It was amazing. If I’d been in that situation when the economy took a nosedive, I would not have been nearly as terrified. Lesson learned.
Minimalism helped me put my financial life back together again and I’ve never looked back.
It’s curious, isn’t it? How hard we all work to make money to buy things we don’t need, that don’t make us happy, and then complain about how hard we have to work to keep up that very lifestyle.
And I’m not saying at all that there’s anything wrong with stuff by the way. Or money. I love money. And stuff can be lovely. It’s just that thinking stuff is going to increase our self-worth or in someway make us happy, is where we all go wrong.
Minimalism helps us escape that mentality. And in escaping our compulsive consumerism, we reclaim the very things we were after in the first place.
What do you think? Have you experienced any benefits of adopting minimalism? Have you been contemplating declutter your own sock drawer? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
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Also published on Medium.