More, more, more is the mantra of today’s culture. Accumulate more things, more money, more social media likes, more food, more career success, more responsibilities, more house, more gadgets and more clothes.
Success in life is often judged by external indicators like luxury items, popularity, salary, or status items. Unfortunately these are, in reality, poor guide posts as they aren’t indicative of true wealth, contentment or positive lifestyles. The reality behind the shiny facade is often debt, money worries, stress, poor health and disfunctional relationships.
I’m firmly of the belief that we’d be better off individually, and as a society, by heading in the other direction. We need to reject this acquisition mindset and the boundless consumerism that everyone is caught up in. Instead, we might just experience greater fulfilment and happiness from a more moderate lifestyle and being less concerned by the opinions of others. Getting to this point may require an initial focus on less in order to restore balance as we pull back from our lifestyles of excess.
The problem is that it’s never enough
Unfortunately, in today’s consumerist society, what we have is never enough. We want more, and are encouraged to want more, bigger and better. Collectively we are better off and have more than any generation before us, but it still isn’t enough. Even when we have everything we need, the marketing machine tells us we must have better, upgraded versions of our endless possessions.
The chase for more never ends and results in constant discontentment. The more we buy, the higher our expenses; the harder and longer we have to work, which means less time to enjoy life and more stress; we then spend more on goods and services to compensate, or attempt to make us feel better, and the vicious cycle continues.
In chasing the uncatchable we are putting increasing strain on ourselves and the environment. Unlimited wants with limited resources is unsustainable for both our own wellbeing and that of the world in which we live. “Having it all” is unattainable.
Areas of life where I’m focusing on less
Regular readers of my blog know that I have spent much of the last year in the pursuit of less. In an attempt to simplify my life, regain time, improve my finances, health and happiness I’ve been focused on stripping things back and finding more balance.
I’ve embraced a more minimalist lifestyle with the view that it’s better to have a few things that you really love rather than lots of crap. Not only does less stuff help with decision fatigue, but it also reduces physical and mental clutter, frees up time to focus on passion projects and family, and creates space to find joy from experiences rather than things. As a result we’ve been been downsizing, decluttering and simplifying, with endless bags of things going to charity or being sold online.
In October 2019 I also embarked on a No New Stuff year long challenge. In the spirit of consuming less, spending less and hopefully learning to live with less, I instigated a self-imposed shopping ban. No new clothes, shoes, books, magazines, comics, exercise gear, household items, electronics, camera gear or gadgets. The only things I’ve allowed myself to buy are the basics – groceries, cleaning products and gifts for others. It’s still very early days, but I remain on track, succesfully resisting the Black Friday and Christmas sales period. Only 9 months to go :).
Having discovered the Financial Independence movement last year I knew immediately that I had to spend less and dramatically reduce our expenses.
In 2019 we achieved a savings rate of ~48%. This involved material changes like selling our large family house and moving to a much smaller home. We also made less dramatic but, in aggregate, impactful reductions in our expenses by cancelling things like the unused gym membership and changing auto insurers.
Striving for Financial Independence is the impossible to lose bet. The path is simple (spend less than you earn and invest the difference) and the result empowering.
Like many middle-aged men I’m carrying a bit of extra weight that I’d like to get rid of. So I’m trying to consume less calories and exercise more.
The other thing that I’m beginning to experiment with is shifting to a mostly plant-based diet…..I’m not ready yet to try a fully vegetarian or vegan diet. In the words of Michael Pollan, I’m trying to adopt a healthier approach to eating “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Moderation and balance sounds pretty sensible to me, so I’m giving it try.
I coined the phrase “Financial Independence Live Lightly and Simply” or FILLS to capture what I hope is a holistic, sustainable and balanced lifestyle ambition. It’s about making greener choices, becoming a more informed consumer and investor, and setting a positive example for those in my personal sphere of influence.
So far it’s been small steps like reducing our housing footprint, using reusable bags, consuming less and shifting our eating habits. I’ve got more ambitious plans which can’t be implemented until 2021 (watch this space!), but for now it’s about making better day-to-day choices, using less and wasting less.
The traditional formula and accepted truth is that if you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, then you’ll be happy. Needless to say this is rubbish advice.
I’ve had a good, well-paid career but have become sick of corporate life, the long hours and need to be available and responsive 24/7. The money, responsibility and status of my role aren’t fulfilling me or making me happy.
With this in mind, I’ve given notice to my employer that I’ll be leaving work in June. What’s next? Some slow travel and then finding something more rewarding, stimulating and purposeful. I’m going back to basics and will be thinking carefully about how and where I spend my time and energy.
Less and better balance
I really like the Swedish word, Lagom, meaning “just the right amount”. It implies moderation, balance and simplicity which aligns very closely with my belief that we can’t keep chasing more. For most of us caught up in materialism and consumerism, this in fact means we need to focus on less until finding a sustainable balance in our lives.
Our purpose in life isn’t to accumulate or consume as much as possible. This is an empty, temporary and unfulfilling existence, chasing the unattainable. There is certain peace that comes with simplicity and less stuff, less waste, less clutter of thoughts and the mind. To me, this is the superpower of less and a more sustainable way to live.
Thanks for reading
Mr Simple Life