Becoming a minimalist starts by getting really honest about your priorities and values. When we define what our priorities are, we can focus any available resources on those priorities. For example, if health is a high priority, defining it as such will assist in providing the motivation necessary to allocate extra resources to this priority. Write them down in an easily accessible place. When there is extra time, for example, we are much likelier to spend that time getting some exercise or preparing healthful foods than watching television and ordering pizza again if we have defined health as a priority.
We should consult this list of priorities every time we have free time or disposable income. If relationships are a priority, rather than wasting another weekend away not doing much of anything, perhaps calling a parent or sibling, inviting a friend over or planning a trip to see family members might take precedence. Let’s not fool ourselves; we have time, we may just have to use our time differently. Those things we “don’t have time for” we’re usually just not prioritzing. Instead of saying “I don’t have time for x,” let’s try saying “x isn’t a priority.” If that doesn’t feel good, change it. Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists often says, “show me your calendar and I’ll show you your priorities.” Often, it’s not that we truly don’t have enough time, it’s that we prioritize the wrong things.
Every time we consider making a purchase, consider whether it contributes to any of the top priorities. If not, why would we want it? Do we actually really want it, or do we just think it would impress people if they see us with it? If we’re honest, we’re often spending money in a futile attempt to impress other people. When we have free time, we might ask ourselves what we can do that might advance one of those priorities.
Considering the stories I told in my previous entry about the people who made rude comments about possessions of mine, who wouldn’t feel pressured to impress? I still feel a twinge of shame thinking about those stories. They were hard to share. I wonder how many other people notice my ring and think negative things about my ring, my husband or our relationship. I wonder how many people see me drive around in my nearly 10 -year-old vehicle and think less of me or my abilities as a lawyer. (Thinking, for example, that because I don’t drive a fancy car, I must not have much money and, therefore must not be very successful or a very good lawyer.) This line of thought is so toxic. It is inconceivable to many in our society that one might be able to afford a new car and choose not to in order to focus on other priorities. Just because I don’t have a newer car, it’s assumed I can’t afford one, which in turn reflects poorly on my perceived “success”. That just comes down to a faulty definition of “success”. My husband and I get our bills paid, have enriching and memorable experiences together, and generally enjoy the hell out of our lives. I consider that successful.
We tend to be impressed by ostentatious displays of wealth because we don’t know other people’s financial situation. But why do we assume that people can afford everything they own – and even if they can, what does it matter? Perhaps they scrimped and saved for a long time to buy that Rolex–maybe they just put it on the credit card they still haven’t paid off. Many of those people who seem to have the latest and greatest of everything are often very deeply in debt. Why would we follow that example? What are we trying to prove?
That’s where priorities come in. Making my car last for as long as it makes financial and practical sense to keep it on the road will allow me to allocate those resources to paying off debt and going on the vacations my husband and I have planned over the next few years without the added burden of a car payment.
When we put our priorities at the forefront, it is harder to get distracted by the rest. I don’t care if someone thinks I need a newer car. When I have in mind what I’m saving for and how trying to live up to other people’s expectations could prevent me from reaching my financial and other goals, it’s easy to reject other people’s criticism—even if it is so direct and blunt as the rude people in my stories. Being overly concerned with what other people think of us is just wasted energy. At the end of the day, we are the only ones that need to be satisfied with our decisions. Those people won’t help us make the payments after shaming us into getting “a car that isn’t old.”
I don’t need to “upgrade” my engagement ring so people think I’m more successful. Owning expensive things was never my measure of success anyway. I don’t need to buy a newer or more expensive car so people so people think I’m powerful. There’s no need for me to justify my financial and other priorities to them or anyone other than myself and my husband. Why do I care what I they think? If you take one thing away from this blog, dear reader, let it be this: The type of people who would make such comments are not the type of people we really need in our lives.