Need little, Want less


What possessions do you actually need? When I was younger, "stuff" was important to me, for example, I wanted to have a cool collection of music and films. Take note of my younger perception there “I wanted to have”.

One of my earliest evolutions was moving beyond “wanting stuff”. I want to share how my mindset shifted, where I think the need for stuff comes from and lastly how adopting a minimalist mindset helped me financially and mentally.

This was my first step to getting my shit together financially. It was an interesting journey, this article flows into the next one I plan to write about understanding where the fuck you spend your cash and how to unfuck your finances.

"Stuff"

I think part of my evolution in mindset towards minimalism is to do with age. When we are young we tend to “want” lots of things to give us comfort (toys, clothes, music, etc). "Stuff" is seen as status among kids, growing up I never had all the cool toys (I did have some though). That importance morphs as we become adults but not for the better, think shiny penis extensions on wheels bought with car finance.

My parents tried to help with trends but they just didn’t have the means that other kids' parents did. I hated not having cool toys, child me thought that stuff = friends.  The Gameboy came out when I was young (around 9 or 10 I think) all the rich kids at school had them. There would be huddles of kids round the lucky kid that owned one, waiting for “a go”. It didn’t stop there, it could be Transformers models, fancy football boots, the latest trainers. Even if my parents could have afforded it, they wouldn’t have wasted their cash on every last piece of plastic crap I thought I needed.

As I embark on my own journey as a new father, I think about how I am going to strike this balance with my son. Explain to him that whatever the thing is he wants right now, so badly, so passionately, there will come a time in life when he realises that “stuff” is meaningless.

At the same time, I want (like all parents) for him to be happy, to have a nice childhood, accepted by his peers and have what he needs. I’m probably going to end up buying him crap to keep him happy. Welcome to parenthood bro.

One of the questions I have asked myself is where this need for "stuff" comes from? What drives it? I think in its most basic form it is a primal instinct, to acquire resources, to survive. On the other hand there is a definite problem with our society telling us we “need” to buy "stuff". I noticed this when I first moved to New Zealand, the adverts were everywhere telling me to buy this, buy that, about this sale and that sale. My wife and I talked about it at length and concluded that we were tuned out of it when we lived in the UK because we grew up with it. The slight cultural difference between New Zealand and the UK made it really obvious to us. It is actually quite a frightening thing to realise, just how much of our day to day life we are being sold at and it is getting worse.

In a nutshell, I think our “need” to buy "stuff" comes from a primal urge to gather resources to survive and is exacerbated by consumerism.

Minimalism

There is a definite trend for minimalism these days. The Netflix documentary “Minimalism: a documentary about the important things” is worth watching. It was cool, although, to be honest, it only reinforced my beliefs about reducing the amount of "stuff" we had (confirmation bias anyone?!) I am fairly cynical about any “documentary” I watch on Netflix, there are some with definite advertising agendas hidden in them (I name no names). 

Coming back to the point, I first noticed how much crap I had when I moved from rented accommodation to my old house in Manchester. There was so much of it, just shit that I didn’t use. I decided that if I hadn’t used it for six months, I didn’t need it. This was my first purge.

As Clare and I prepared to emigrate we became more militant with purging our lives of stuff. The usage rule moved down to three months. Going through this exercise really drove home to me how much money I had wasted on nothing. When we got to New Zealand, we had no money to spare and next to no possessions. We brought possessions that mattered to us, which was basically: cookbooks, other books, kitchenware, framed pictures we liked, clothes and sports kit. Being skint was great for us, every “buying decision” had to be carefully considered. This really drove home to us both that we did not need a lot of crap.

In other words…

We needed little and wanted less

Why minimalism is cool

There are a couple of benefits to having fewer possessions, some I have touched on already. I will start with the most important one for me, having less stuff means there is less potential mess. I don’t know about you, but I have come to loathe mess and clutter as I have got older.

Having fewer things kicking about the place means that there is less to tidy up, less to clean, less to clutter up my living space. This gives me a calmer home and calm is very important to me. A calm home environment lets me focus on the important stuff in that environment: family.

On the other hand, I am not a monk. Clare and I do allow our possessions to grow but they have to be useful and more importantly be used. For example, books, if I read a book and think I will read it again, I add it to my shelves.  If it isn't a keeper, I donate it to charity.

The second key benefit of minimalism is financial. This one is a lot bigger than you might think. Did you ever wonder where all your money went? Why you lived from paycheque to paycheque? I certainly did. When we started evaluating our buying decisions we found we had plenty of money left over. In my next article, I am going to talk about getting your finances under control (it is isn’t that difficult).

Over time, evaluating buying decisions has grown from small possessions such as books, games, clothes, electronics, etc to include large expensive possessions or experiences such as cars, holidays, white goods, furniture, etc. Whilst I have never bothered with trends I have definitely let money burn a hole in my pocket in the past.

My past negative behaviors would have been to buy on credit (I never did this with car finance by the way) and pay it off over time. I am pleased to say that now Clare and I weigh the benefit of every purchase we make. That comes across as stingy but if when you go through that process you realise “actually I don’t need this” you just saved cash you could be investing. On the other hand, if you realize “I really want this” the question then turns into “can I afford it this month” The spin-off benefit is delayed gratification (something missing in today's world) which makes the eventual acquisition of whatever it is all the sweeter.

A word or two of advice on buying things. Savor the moment you buy that new thing you have wanted for ages, enjoy that delayed gratification. Just like the paint job on a new car, over time it fades, just as it loses a third in value the moment you sign the paperwork! When you use that object, take a moment to appreciate how much you wanted it and how good it is to have it.

How to reduce "stuff" and keep it that way

Here is a quick summary of how to get all that clutter out of your life and keep it that way.  Basically, you just need to add a bit of structure. 

How to purge stuff from your life

Evaluating stuff before you buy it

Final thoughts

Minimalism is quite straight forward. Some people find it easy, others do not. It can be hard to break that consumer cycle but stopping and asking “why?” is a powerful tool. When you start doing this, you might find like I did and my wife did that there is a powerful negative current of stress linked to your buying.

For example, had a shit day at work? "Fuck it, I'm buying an expensive bottle of wine, the new Foo Fighters album and a new pair of shoes on the way home from work".

Unfortunately, society wants you to do this, advertising is trying to make you buy all the time. Don’t be a sheep, go the other way, do what the majority are not doing. Conversely, life is for living.  I am not saying live like a monk in a cell with a candle and a bible (well you can if you want) if you like collecting things (as I like collecting good books) do it. Just evaluate your reasons for doing it.

Once you get into the groove of this habit, you might find it is not just your perception of stuff that changes but your perception of the things you value and need in life. My final thought is going to build on the title of this article, here goes:


Need little, Want less, Enjoy life More

Peace and Love, Andy

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