A revised and updated version of this essay can be found in A Minimalist Abroad: Essays on Finding Happiness, now available at Amazon!
There are things we never seem to have enough of, notably time, money, and energy. During the work week we spend our time making money, and on the weekend we’re so tired we don’t have the energy to spend that money. Or we spend all of our time and energy making money that just goes to cover bills and debt, so we’ve blown all of our resources and feel like we have nothing to show for it. We always wish for more. We drink coffee and those nasty carbonated drinks in skinny cans so we can have more energy, we want to stay healthy so at the end of our life we might have more time, we dream of winning the lottery so we’ll have what we presume will be an excessive supply of money. We think that more will bring us happiness. We get caught up in these visions of having more in some undefined future that we squander what we have in the here and now. We forget that life is a finite resource.
The World Ends Tomorrow and YOU MAY DIE!
Well, no, probably not…but whatever you do, just keep reading!
Life Is A Finite Resource
No one wants to admit that our time on this planet is limited. In youth, we think we’re immortal and indestructible, and in middle age we lapse into denial and mid-life crisis as it dawns on us how frail and limited we truly are. As someone who likely has more years behind me than in front of me — and that’s not being morbid or fatalistic, that’s just objective reality — I don’t have resources to squander. I need to make everything I have count. I need to earn money, but I need to make that money last, because I don’t want to have to work 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, until the day I die. I only have so many days left on this planet, so I want to be picky about what I spend them doing and who I spend them with. I only have so much energy in a day, so I don’t want to waste it on pointless activity that leaves me with nothing left for the things I really want to do.
I’m not just talking to the older people who are reading this. Hey kids: Your days are numbered, too. Start using them wisely.
- Your money is limited — spend it wisely, make it matter.
- Your time is limited – spend it wisely, make it matter.
- Your energy is limited — spend it wisely, make it matter.
You Are The Sum Of Your Choices
No one wants to be told to save your allowance, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and eat your broccoli. There’s stuff we want, things we want to stay up late to do, and so much tasty food to be eaten. I used to know a guy who would buy DVD and BluRay movies and boxes sets every week, then complain that he had no money to go out and do things with friends. I’ve worked with people who stayed up until 2am playing video games, then grumbled about how tired they were when they dragged themselves into work at 7am. When I was in high school, I had a friend who literally ate nothing but fried chicken (the frozen, bake-in-the-oven kind at that) who whined because he always felt like crap and would sleep all day if his mother had let him.
It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with collecting movies and TV shows, playing video games, or eating friend chicken (or any sort of junk food). But when you make choices, those choices almost always come with consequences. If you make conscious choices, you don’t get to complain about those consequences. If you prioritize buying movies over going out with friends, just own it. If you want to play video games into the wee hours, because that’s more important than being awake and alert at work, own it. If you’d rather eat fried chicken than feel well, own it.
And it’s not that they couldn’t see the connection between their choices and their outcomes. It’s not that it was a mystery why there was no money to go out to dinner or to a concert; he knew where he’d spent the money. It didn’t require Gregory House, M.D. to diagnose the cause of my coworkers’ fatigue; they understood why they were tired. My pasty and lethargic friend was fully aware that a green salad once in a while would probably do him a world of good. They didn’t want to manage their finite resources. They wanted more, and they weren’t willing to sacrifice.
Minimalism Is Sacrifice
Because minimalism requires sacrifice. Hell, who am I kidding, minimalism is sacrifice. You sacrifice your wants in order to meet your needs. You prioritize your needs so the most urgent and important things get dealt with first. You prioritize your wants to that you get the things you really, really want before the things you kinda-sorta want. At least, that’s what you should be doing.
Minimalism forces you to make some hard choices. Those choices reflect who you really are. It strips away the pretense. If you know that ext month your friends are all going to a concert and you’d like to go, but you choose to buy that boxed set of season 7 of that TV show you don’t really like any more but you already have the boxed sets for the first 6 seasons and you need to complete the set, it’s because you care more about that boxed set than the concert and/or your friends. That’s who you are. If you choose to stay up until 2am playing video games and come to work looking and acting like zombie, it’s because you care more about playing games than holding down a job and all of the other responsibilities having a job represents. That’s who you are. If you choose to eat nothing by fried chicken (and again, how he wasn’t dead by the age of 18 is beyond my comprehension) knowing that it makes you fat and sick, it means that the taste of friend chicken is more important to you than your health. That’s who you are.
Life is a finite resource. How you spend it defines who you are. Spend it wisely.