Many of us recognize we have a problem with spending. Our problem is, we do too much of it. We never have enough money left at the end of the month and we don’t know how to change that. I’ve often heard that the key to being in good financial shape is to spend less than you earn, and do it for a long time. And while that formula certainly will work, it’s too cliched to be meaningful. How, exactly, do I spend less? You don’t know what it takes to keep a family clothed and fed. And how, exactly, to I earn more? You don’t know what my boss is like. This week let’s look at minimalism as a practical method of spending less. As an added benefit, this method will help us look deeply and meaningfully into our inner lives, and help us decide what is most important.
Have you ever thought about how much you actually need to live comfortably? Minimalism is an approach to, well, everything, that helps us get to the least common denominator and stay there. A minimalist tries to find the least amount required to get the job done and still be comfortable, and then hover right above that minimum. For example, how high does your water heater need to be turned up? Why not find out? Go to your water heater right now and turn it down a notch. Tomorrow morning when you take a shower, are you able to get the water hot enough for your tastes? Yes? Then turn it down another notch. Keep doing this until the water is not hot enough for your shower, then turn it back up a notch. Now you’ve found the right level, and are saving as much as possible on your energy bill.
While we’re in the shower, how much shampoo do you need? Can you cut your normal amount in half? If you do, can you still get your hair clean? Again, keep cutting the amount of shampoo until you find the amount that no longer gets the job done, then add back just a little.
This method can be used in just about every area of your life. I’m always looking for new areas I can cut back. But beware, you may end up cutting back farther than you at first anticipate. Using the minimalist method I discovered I don’t need any shaving cream at all! I kept cutting and cutting the amount until there was none left, and I still got a close – and comfortable – shave. (So now I’m thinking there must be some sort of conspiracy in the personal hygiene industry, but that’s a topic for another column.)
Consider minimalism in every part of your life: your work commute, the food you eat, the clothes you wear. Consider finding the minimum amount of Internet, TV, and telephone you need. I bet you’ll be surprised at how much you can trim without even noticing.
This post was originally published in the September 19, 2007, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View (registration required). Actually, this post didn’t appear in the paper. It will be in there next week.