Thoughts on Simplicity and Living Well
What would you be doing if you could do anything in the world? Travel the world? Climb five days a week? Write that novel while living in Paris?
What is the bare minimum it would take to do the thing you’ve always dreamed of doing? Chances are, doing what you dream about is a lot closer than you’d think. The key is not earning more money or accomplishing more. The key is simplicity, cutting out what is unnecessary (usually comforts), and growing more comfortable living on less.
In many cases, the big things you dream about doing could be done much sooner than “someday” by cutting out the extraneous things that hold you back. Your obstacles might be higher than others, but there’s a good chance that doing what you really want is not impossible.
In 2015, I spent seven months traveling South America. I lived on a budget. But I also got to do everything I wanted. I climbed glacier covered mountains. I ate fantastic food (steak in Argentina, ceviche in Peru). I rented a truck and spent six weeks driving the Carreterra Austral through Patagonia.
I lived my dream year. And it all worked out to about ten thousand dollars, including airfare. It could have been even cheaper, but I spent triple my normal budget by driving through Patagonia.
I’ll admit, I’ve got fewer obstacles in my way than most people. I recognize the amount of privilege I’ve had in my life. I graduated college without debt. I’m a single guy with no kids. No question that makes it easier to do extended travel. But over the last four or five years, I’ve also been intentional with my life choices. I’ve tried to cut out things in my life that suck up resources. For example, instead of buying a home, I spent three years living with 8 roommates. That might drive some people crazy, but it meant my rent was dirt cheap and I could save most of my income. I cook most of my own meals. I buy clothes maybe twice a year. I have never earned more than $35,000 a year in my life. And with my meager income I’ve traveled to more than 45 countries. I’m able to pursue the risky lifestyle of being self employed. There’s no guaranteed income. But because my expenses are low, I have greater freedom to pursue my dream career.
That wasn’t by accident. It happened because I have prioritized quality of life over quantity of comforts. America’s addiction to comfort and (a perception of) security keep many people from living better lives. Some people love their jobs. But if not, why work at a job you don’t like so you can pay for things that end up cluttering your life? What would you do if you were free from that?
Take Matt and Sarah Park for example. About two years ago they moved into their van, and have lived there full time since. Before they moved into their van, they lived in an apartment. But whenever they weren’t working, they would go climb or camp. Yet they always felt tied to this place they were paying for but barely living in. They realized if they cut the apartment out and didn’t feel the pressure to pay the monthly expense, they could do more of what they were passionate about. Now, the two work about two days a week working in a gear shop, live in their award winning van, and spend their days climbing or being outside. It’s true, living in a van is a unique experience that’s not for everybody. But because they are not attached to having a big house, they have the freedom to live their dream life on a fraction of most people’s income.
Six years ago my ex-wife and I traveled through Europe for six months. Together, we spent $6,000. We spent less money traveling through Europe, (in a time when the exchange rate robbed us of half our buying power), than we would live on in the US. No, traveling on a tight budget was not the end of our marriage. In fact, that was the best we ever did together.
Living simply is the fastest way to living fully. The less clutter, the fewer material possessions you have, the freer you are to live your best life.
The people who have the most freedom are not those who have the most, but those who need the least. People who are the least attached to possessions and comforts are the most free.
Income alone doesn’t provide the dream lifestyle. Most of us know plenty of rich people who have no time to enjoy their wealth. Sure they’ve got nice furniture and big TV’s, but they also work all the time or have crushing debt. I’d rather have the van and freedom than all the money in the world and no time.
The question is not, how do you become rich enough to do what you want? The question is, how can you cut back enough on the things that are insignificant, to live the life you want today?