The Beauty of Minimalism


We are buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even know

The Minimalists

At last! I finally got round to watching the film “Minimalism” on Netflix which features Josh and Ryan aka The Minimalists.

I loved the film and I’m fascinated by the overlap between minimalism and financial independence.

Minimalism is simple. Its where you stop buying, worshipping and hording ever more stuff – physical possessions.

What I love about minimalism is that it’s 100% positive and the benefits are immediate. And where you then take it is up to you. Minimalism might just be a prompt to de-clutter or it could become a gateway drug to pursuing financial freedom.

You should definitely watch the film for yourself…but here’s a free taster:

Full-fat financial independence appeals to people who want to get rich as well as those that just want to get better with money. If I look back on my motivations when I got started, they were a mixed bag…mostly of fears (of poverty and homelessness) but also partly of greed desire (I wanted to be rich).

On The Path to financial independence, people often start by thinking about buying less as a necessary evil – a way of accepting less now to get more in the future (more freedom yes, but maybe more more stuff as well?).

I started out thinking that way but the journey changed me. What started off as a get rich scheme ended up changing me into a minimalist. What started off as forced frugality ended up becoming a preference for simplicity.

When I was 18, I wanted a Ferrari. But I realised that if even if I had the money to buy it (I didn’t) that would be a really, really dumb use of the cash.

I realised that £100,000 invested & earning 10% a year would allow me to live off the interest…and that was an tantalising idea. I still wanted the Ferrari…I just realised that I couldn’t have my money and spend it. I had to choose. You can afford anything, you just can’t afford everything.

I still admire the craft, the labour and the soul that has gone into designing and making a Ferrari. I still admire them; it’s just that I don’t need a reward / treat / consolation prize for being trapped up in The Prison Camp.

Minimalism is about beauty

Minimalists love beauty, efficiency and elegant simplicity.

I love the idea of rich people voluntarily choosing less because its better. Like Steve Jobs who only had black trousers and polo necks and an apartment with bare floors. I’m pretty sure that dude could have afforded more shit. But it wouldn’t have made him happy. It would have been a distraction, using up valuable headspace.

Perhaps you have to have tried buying happiness to appreciate that the more, more, more promises of consumerism are a scam? Apparently Jim Carey put it this way:

I wish everyone could be rich and famous so they’d realise that those things don’t make you happy

Being broke, being in debt and being trapped in a job will all definitely make you UNHAPPY. Money is just a tool that gives you the power to change this.

Remember: power is the ability to control your own life.

Saving the world

The financial independence movement is a way of reducing our impact on the environment. If you read Your Money or Your Life, it’s pretty clear that environmental reasons are a big part of the motivation for the authors. Come for the money, stay to save the world.

But with the focus on financial independence, a lot of people interpret that as saving money at all costs. This can turn into penny-pinching for people with a scarcity or fear-based mindset. Fear was an effective motivator for me to earn and save more…but living your whole life based on scarcity and fear is miserable.

Minimalism means that you don’t worship physical stuff but it absolutely does not rule out investing in yourself. You can still spend money on valuable services and wonderful experiences. Let’s imagine you had always wanted to spend 6 months in Barcelona learning Spanish. A money hoarder would not spend that money. But a minimalist would. They’d have no problem with an investment in their life experience and their self-development.

Buying a Hummer, not so much.

Its not about money

Minimalism is not really about the money (although it will save you a ton of money over your lifetime).

And that’s a good thing because money drives people nuts. As soon as you put your head above the parapet and talk sense about money, people try to shout you down.

People associate public debates about money with politics. So debates about money often stray into politics and envy. People who’ve made bad life choices with money (and who hasn’t?) wail and demand to be bailed out with other peoples money.

Here’s where both the right and the left-wing of politics are going wrong. Both sides make the same mistake of assuming that having more money / stuff is always the answer. It usually isn’t.

The beauty of minimalism is that its personal and it’s under your control. If you’re broke and can’t find the important stuff because you’ve filled up your attic / garage / basement with shite then you are the problem and blaming politicians is not the answer.

I was recently at the charity shop reflecting on the irony of giving away our books on de-cluttering. I could no doubt blame [insert name of politician here] for tricking us into buying them but, let’s be honest, this one is on us.

It’s good for your soul

Human beings are part of nature: we are not above it. We evolved over millions of years to live in a simple natural environment with few possessions. As hunter-gatherers we were often nomadic and we travelled light.

Then we “hacked” the world: we invented the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the information (IT) revolution and those 3 things are now making us sick. We weren’t designed to graze constantly on processed carbohydrates and junk food. We weren’t designed to work 40+ hours a week doing the same thing over and over like photocopiers. We weren’t designed to stare at a screen, hunched over waiting for the next dopamine hit notification on social media.

Minimimalism helps reconnect us with a more natural way of living so its good for your soul.

The benefits start right now

If (and its a big if) the benefits of financial independence all lie 15-20 years in the future and if (there’s that word again) its all about sacrifice and deprivation until you enter the sunlit uplands of financial independence, then that’s a bad trade.

Now, let’s be clear, I think that many of the benefits of pursuing FI start right now. And I don’t accept that you need to live a life of miserable deprivation to get there. But I will agree that pursuing financial independence often feels like you are prioritising your future self over your current self.

In contrast, the payback for minimalism is SUPER-FAST. It’s so powerful just to have somewhere to put your keys and wallet when you get in the door. The Escape Artist is an utter clown and must have taken years off my life with the self-inflicted stress from not having a set place to keep my keys / wallet etc.  And its not just me: apparently the average person spends one year of their precious time on this planet looking for lost stuff.

In RESET, David Sawyer makes the case for de-cluttering which I’ve summarised here:

  • Clutter overloads your senses and adds to your stress levels
  • If you have a cluttered house, its likely you have a cluttered approach to food and waste money every week throwing it away
  • Clutter makes you live in the past
  • Clutter makes you feel as if you’re not in control
  • Clutter is inefficient and prevents us taking action to meet our goals

Some may question why de-cluttering is included in a book about money management and financial independence but David is absolutely right on this.

It’s for everyone

Everyone can get better with money and everyone can use the tools, techniques and mindset of financial independence.

But at the same time, the problem with financial independence is that its seems too big a mountain to climb for many people. I know achieving FI is possible because my own experience proves that (to me). But that doesn’t prove its possible for everyone.

With Minimalism, its obvious that anyone can do it. I mean really…you just start by tidying up.

There are no excuses

When it comes to money, I’ve heard every excuse rationalisation going.

People have told me (with a straight face) that there is no ridiculous spending in Britain (apparently that only happens in America). I’ve heard people blame politicians, the Patriarchy and the Beer Pixies for taking their money.

The reality is that those people are self-sabotaging. We can do better than that.

I’m not saying that everyone can get to financial independence by 40. But I am saying that everyone can buy less shite.

As Jordan Peterson might put it:

Tidy up your goddamn room, bucko.

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  1. I love The Minimalists. I can’t quite remember, but somehow I think I started with them and then found my way to the whole FIRE thing from there. “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works”. The best ending to a podcast ever.
    I discovered David Sawyer’s Reset book through an online running group. It always amazes me when things you are passionate about all align. So in his book there was FIRE, minimalism and running. What’s not to love?
    I’m definitely not there with minimalism yet, but I’m working on it. I definitely buy a lot less crap than I used to, which rather helpfully is good for my FIRE journey too.

  2. paullypips · · Reply

    There is plenty of food for thought in this post and of course it’s true that none of us can live perfect lives. But making choices about what is “essential” in your life is really the most important thing. All else is clutter. For me this applies to both possessions and also to actions. Remove clutter from your home and from your lifestyle – you probably don’t need Facebook, Twitter, the News et cetera to be happy.

    The hardest part for most of us is getting started, procrastination is the enemy. I still find myself sometimes wasting my time on my PC when I could be doing something useful. It’s too easy to delude ourselves that doing the undemanding thing is a good use of our time. I know Jordan Peterson is controversial, but his “tidy your goddamn room, Bucko” statement gets to the heart of it for us all.

    As always, many thanks for a motivational blog – please keep up the good work, Mister TEA.

  3. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

    Great post, Barney. Decluttering was probably the most important transformative process when I “reset”. The physical nature of it, and immersion in it, gives you great time to pause and reflect, and really get what FI is all about, see all the dots joining up. Weird, I know, but true.

  4. Brilliant work as always. My journey to minimalism started after I cycled 18k km from Perth, Australia to Bolton, England with a couple of bags and a tent. You realise how little you need to enjoy life. I drove my mrs up the wall at first but now she’s on board. Loving your blog pal

  5. Matt D’Avella produces some fantastic content on YouTube, I’m surprised this is the first time I’ve seen him referenced in the FI/Personal finance blog community.
    Great post – love the blog!

  6. Supercars – i use a trackday, Thruxton is my reward of choice, whenever i reach a financial
    goal i set. I also validate it by comparing the cost with that of joining a golf club – thankfully
    i have no interest in golf and a blast around Thruxton in a fast car, 2-3 times a year, i reckon
    is better than golf 2x a week.

  7. Hi,

    Minimalism is great and adds benefits to my life. Less stress and more peace of mind.


  8. Castlearcher · · Reply

    Great post thank you. Watched the film last night – the main chaps reminded me of Bill and Ted for some reason; ” Be excellent to each other! “. Hopefully the FIRE film will make it onto Netflix soon…

  9. Really like the post EA, I am also currently on a spree of ‘minimalising’ my life. The suprising thing for me was all the positive unintended consequences – sense of calm, even more frugality, how tidy everything became.

    My experience below 🙂

  10. I love these points, especially the future self over the self now, that’s definitely where I’m at and I’m prioritising needs this year. Love the blog.

  11. […] another TEA article, I realise I am actually, in my own small way, a genius. Somewhere to put your keys? I always […]

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