Minimalism – How Not to Buy Shit

One of the conclusions I’ve come to in recent years is that, for me, I’m happiest when I have a lot of free time. The time to read, listen to music, go hike, climb, meet friends, be creative, write a blog post, learn new things etc. I suppose I could slave away and wait for my retirement at… probably 75 by the time we reach retirement age? But I’d be old with sore joints, possibly with dementia but most likely dead. So I’ve spent countless hours pondering late into the night on how to create more time for myself – now rather than later.

Work, it seemed, took most of my waking hours. 8 to 10 hours a day of my life was spent working for money – essentially selling my life away so that I can pay someone else’s mortgage and buy shit that I don’t need. So I moved into a van and dramatically lowered the cost of living by about two thirds. Around this time, I began practicing minimalism as a necessity, simply because I didn’t have any space to store stuff.  But the techniques that I’ve come to use that help me stay lean materialistically, proved to be very useful on multiple occasions and I thought I’d share it here today.

We’re constantly bombarded with advertisements that are becoming more subtle and targeted these days and it’s very hard to fight against a multi-national corporation’s well honed marketing strategy based on personal data. A click of a button and a hit of dopamine reward. I’ve never been a big spender but somehow my house filled up pretty quick and never had much savings. So here are the steps I now take to stop buying stuff I don’t need. I’ve recently went though the complete process with a Bluetooth speaker so I’ll use that as an example but it can be replaced with any consumer items you might be tempted by.

Step 1: Ask “Do I really need it?”

I mean REALLY need it? Most of the time, the answer is no, and it acts as a prompt for me to take a conscious step back for a second and make a rational move towards  more important matters in life. I began wanting a Bluetooth speaker about a year ago and the answer at the time was a clear no. There were other people with perfectly functional Bluetooth speakers whenever I wanted to play music out loud.

Step 2: Ask “Can I substitute/repair/make do with what I already have?”

If the answer to Step 1 was yes, this question usually puts a stop for me. It’s more specific. I already had decent headphones if I want to listen to music well, and although far from ideal, I could just about cope with using the phone speakers. And on a side note, I also recently started stitching and patching trousers with holes in them. Being able to repair stuff is pretty cool but if the answer to this question is a hard NO, move onto the next question.

Step 3: Ask “How much value is this going to add to my life, really?”

If it gets to this stage, I first think of the value of the product by thinking of all the other things I could spend the money on. I thought about the road trip around Scotland that cost me about the same price of £150. With a current monthly budget of £300 that’s half a month of travelling, exploring and generally being free. Is it worth it? If yes, I move on to the thinking about the value of the specific item. It’s life span of say 3, 4 years, realistic frequency of use, and the pleasures of having a marginally better sound quality than a £50 speaker.

For most things, these three steps work a treat for me. But for the speakers specifically, now that I’m stationary and working outdoors a lot, the value of having Bluetooth speakers have risen dramatically. I’ve coped for a long time with phone speakers and had reached a level of desperation for better quality sound that I’ve not felt for a long time. I didn’t want to use headphones too much for fear of damaging hearing with excessive use. Listening to music, podcasts and audio-books made working outdoors so much more pleasurable. So I decided to purchase the cheaper £50 one. It’s 1/3 of the price, but the difference in sound quality was not that big. Sure, I’d appreciate that deeper bass and crisper, brighter mids but I decided to prioritise the £100 difference for another road trip.

A year in the thinking is a bit excessive. But a week delay in purchasing to step back and reconsider is probably a wise move. For me, the savings I get from not buying things I don’t need add directly to the number of months I can stay on the road without having to work and save up again, so there’s an extra incentive. But I’m sure everyone has something that they’d rather be doing than work. A cup of coffee at £2.50 (and maybe a muffin + other things coming to well over £5?), do you REALLY need it? Can you make some at home for a fraction of the cost and bring it in? Does it really add that much value to your life that you’d spend nearly an hour of work to pay for it?

An average Briton spends £2210 annually on coffee, apparently. For an average person, that’s a month out of a year working for a beverage. For me that’s my half a year’s worth of travelling budget… With that amount of money, I could fly to anywhere in the world and back at least twice. Or get a single return and backpack around South East Asia for 2, 3 months, cycle through Europe for a couple of months or get a semi-decent van to convert. I admit these examples are biased towards perspective changing experiences over materialism, but I’m sure you’ll agree with the idea of redirecting economic energy (that you traded for your limited time on Earth) to something most valuable to you.

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.” —Edwin Way Teale

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