Lesson No. 1: Less stuff equals less stress.
A few years ago, I got an assignment to interview The Minimalists, a couple of guys who’ve become so famous for their minimalist lifestyles that they’ve been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.
Not surprisingly, The Minimalists failed to jump at my interview request for a less-glamorous article on a self-storage blog. Still, I found plenty of other minimalists — people who’d cast aside automatic consumerism and its relentless pursuit of new fads, phones, clothes, cars, and electronic gadgets.
I listened to stories of scrappy minimalists buying smaller homes with lower (or no) mortgage, cutting back to one car, ruthless decluttering, and trading in a soul-killing job for lower-paying but fulfilling work. I was intrigued by their boldness and daring ideas.
“All the clothes I really need are a couple of T-shirts and two pairs of pants,” one minimalist told me. That’s not true for me, but it works for him. All the minimalists I spoke with had at least one thing in common: Once they got rid of piles of unnecessary possessions, they were happier people.
I think it’s because they released themselves from the pressures of advertising, peer approval, and societal standards of success. When these minimalists alleviated those pressures, guess what else they got rid of? A lot of debt.
That doesn’t mean you have to live with no furniture or possessions. But it does mean that you no longer mindlessly consume things that pull you deeper into debt and create a claustrophobic prison from which it’s difficult to tunnel out. Minimalist Anthony Ongaro, founder of Break the Twitch, practices “intentional living” through minimalism, habits and creativity, according to his blog.
“There is a better life beyond meaningless consumption and impulsive habits,” Ongaro writes.
When I bought my house, I charged a sofa and dining room table on a retail credit card, only to sell those items later on Craigslist because they were too large. I charged framed prints and artsy mirrors to my Visa card. Throw in a few smoke alarms, patio chairs, and a zillion other things a new house needs and before long, I had around $3,000 in credit card debt.
It didn’t take long to ratchet up the balance further. A car repair, vet bill, and another artsy mirror for the bathroom soon raised my credit card debt to $5,000, and I was paying around $75 a month in interest on top of the bare minimum payment. I was surrounded by nice things but had to work an extra job for a year and a half to pay them off. Was it worth it? I don’t think so.
That’s why the minimalists intrigued me. Because by the time I wrote about minimalism, I was well on my way to embracing its practice without even knowing that’s what I was doing.
When I sold my fancy sofa, I bought a like-new couch on Craigslist for $150 from a medical student who was never home to sit on it. Now I don’t have the stress of worrying about my dogs messing up my cheap (but nice) sofa. We can all binge-watch Netflix without fretting about multiple looming credit card payments.
I drive a paid-off 2003 Toyota Matrix with 200,000 miles, shop at Aldi, own a basic smartphone, buy lots of name-brand, never-worn clothes from thrift stores, and don’t have cable. While that may sound like a deprived life to some, I’ve never been happier. Living frugally allowed me to save thousands of dollars so I could sock away enough savings to my quit my job and make a go of working full-time as a freelance writer.
There was a time when I actually had to make all those sacrifices in order to pay off my credit card debt. Now that debt is gone, and those same practices are what keep me from shouldering a new debt and all the anxiety, shame, and regret that accompany the burden of owing more money than you can afford.
So the minimalist outlook taught me that the less debt I have, the better I feel. The less cluttered my home is, the more relaxed I am. When I have only a few bills to pay each month, I’m not as anxious or worrying about late fees because I missed a due date.
Less debt, less stress. It’s as simple as that. If you want new clothes or a newer car or a fancy sofa, do what your grandparents did: Save your money, little by little, and plop down the cash when the item is on sale. Then that’s the end of your suffering.
You’ve seen commercials of a happy driver zooming along an empty highway in a gleaming new car. That person seems so free. But he’s not. That new car owner owes tens of thousands of dollars and can’t quit his job now, no matter how much he wants to change careers.
Real freedom is having little or no debt hanging over your head so you’ve got money to travel, go out with friends and buy expensive snacks to munch on while lounging on your dog-hair covered couch. Minimalists know that. Now you know it, too.
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Article last modified on October 4, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: What I Learned About Debt From Minimalists - AMP.