Sally is away this week so, with the TV remote all mine, I found a Netflix documentary film called The Minimalists, Less is Now, in which longtime friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share how our lives can be better with less.
I don't count myself as a minimalist, but do seem to have developed some tendencies in that direction. For example, after 13 years living in Dubai, we left in 2018 with our combined worldly belongings measuring just 3m³ (that's 106ft³), which really isn't much. While I was happy with the lack of baggage, Sally was distraught that our twenty five years together could be packed into such a small space, particularly as she noted the biggest item in the crate was my bike!
It seems that FIRE and minimalism can have quite a lot in common. In both cases, accumulating stuff without good reason will get in the way of achieving your objectives.
For those who are FIRE focused, unnecessary stuff costs money to buy and quite probably to store too. That's money which could otherwise be directed to increased savings and investments and therefore an earlier financial independence date.
As to The Minimalists, they (perhaps ironically) have a whole page looking at the question of What is Minimalism? but I quite like the summary that "minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous in your life". I also like their idea of asking ourselves "does this thing add value to my life?"
I don't imagine that watching one documentary on Netflix makes me an expert on minimalism so, instead of talking a bunch of guff on the subject, I figured I should look inwards instead. A walk through my home, asking myself that question, "does this thing add value to my life?"
I like the word "value", so perhaps it's a valuism and not minimalism that I err towards.
Valuist: someone who lives intentionally, and when they spend money it's on things they value
So here goes. A good start is our apartment, which at 61m² (650ft²) is significantly more compact (minimalist?) than many people's living space. But how about what's inside? I'll walk through each room looking at my own stuff and the stuff that Sally and I share. I'll ignore Sally's stuff because I'm smart enough to know there would be unpleasant consequences if I did pass comment on it!
I only have stuff in the bathroom that I actually use, and nothing else. A good start.
Although I don't have lots of clothes, I still have more than I need. There are two suits that I've hardly worn since my last day of work in 2016, the same goes for my old office style work shoes and shirts. I have at least double the number of T-shirts than I actually need, having just acquired some hand-me-downs from my son (does that make them hand-me-ups?), but I will wear them over time.
Stored under the bed is a small tent, sleeping bag and air mattress that I bought for bike packing three years ago. I've used them once, which doesn't score well on the value scale - I must try to use them again.
These are all in the same room, making good use of the relatively small space.
In the kitchen, we use most of what we have, although things like the Nutribullet don't get much use. At the back of a cupboard there's a water bottle that I never use and a thermal mug that leaks more often than not, so why am I keeping these?
The dining area literally consists of a dining table and four chairs. I reckon that's minimal enough.
The lounge part isn't much busier. A sofa, coffee table, TV and TV cabinet, a few books, pot plants, candle, a couple of ornaments/keepsakes, portable speaker and an Amazon Firestick. I'd keep all of these. Not used much are some board games, yoga mat and a foam roller - I should make an intention to use these more. What doesn't make the cut of "does this thing add value to my life?" are two wooden wine boxes used to put drinks on, an old and now unused Apple TV box and Sally's Amazon Alexa that I only use to set a timer when cooking.
A small space containing a first aid kit, a few more books, some photos and some keepsakes...and shoes. That's where things get a bit dubious, because shoes includes my running shoes:
New Balance 1080 v11 road shoes
New Balance 1080 v11 road shoes (yep, I have two pairs of these)
Saucony Kinavara 10 road shoes
Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 road shoes
Hoka Bondi 7 road shoes
New Balance Hierro V6 trail shoes
All of the above I use. Then there are these ones which are a bit older and probably won't see much use again:
Saucony Endorphin Shift road shoes
Saucony Triumph 18 road shoes
Adidas Terrex 345 trail shoes (the only waterproof running shoes that I have)
It's difficult to imagine I need 9 pairs of running shoes in the apartment - perhaps at least two of these last three pairs should be finding their way to a new home.
Other than beds and bedside cabinets, the only stuff I have in this room are a few more books and a suitcase stored under the bed. There's a tiny annex/dressing area off this bedroom which Sally uses for her online tutoring, but none of my stuff is in there.
Another place where I don't have any stuff.
Basement store cupboards
This is where I keep my bike, ski equipment and the various paraphernalia that goes with them. We've kept some of our kid's old toys, just in case they have kids one day that come to visit. An ironing board, and presumably an iron somewhere, although I haven't used them in years - one of the upsides of retiring early! Keeping this stuff all makes sense. But why have we kept our old vacuum cleaner that doesn't work well, old Nutribullet that is broken, a 10+ year old Wii system that's no longer used and a broken dehumidifier? Then there's another tent that was recently discovered in my sister-in-law's loft - we put it there 16 years ago and, if we hadn't missed it in all those years, do we really think we're going to use it now?
Summary / Conclusion
So that's a quick whizz round the apartment to see which of my stuff does or does not add value to my life. Overall, I think I score quite well, but maybe there are still some areas to take action on:
There are some clothes that I haven't worn for a long time which could be better used by someone else.
I want to keep my tent, sleeping bad and air mattress, but should make an effort to use them. The same goes for the foam roller, exercise mat and board games.
The thermal cup and water bottle that I don't use should go. We don't have a lot of space, so why take it up with stuff we don't use.
While I'm not attached to them, I think Sally will want to keep the wooden wine boxes that we occasionally put drinks on, and although I suspect we'll never use the Apple TV box again, it seems an expensive thing to dispose of.
A couple of pairs of running shoes could be recycled so that someone less fortunate than I can get use from them.
We should dispose of the old vacuum cleaner, broken Nutribullet, broken dehumidifier, and find a new home for the old Wii system, assuming it still works.
First though, I'd better check with Sally. She already thinks I dispose of things too easily but, if these things don't add value to my/our life, what's the sense in keeping them?
As to my valuist ideas, it feels good, I enjoy trying to be intentional in my spending. That isn't necessarily the same as cheap, I might spend a substantial amount on an item, but so long as I know I will appreciate and get good use from it, then I'm fine with that.
Of course, there are a lot of pounds, dollars and euros spent on marketing and advertising, all trying to convince us that we need lots of stuff and we need it now. Our challenge is to resist these messages and decide for ourselves, does this thing really add value to our lives? It's a good question to constantly ask, and a good place to start if you have FIRE or minimalist aspirations.