Your Stuff or Your Life │How Minimalism Gives Life

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it."  Henry David Thoreau 

That quote by Thoreau should be posted everywhere; in the bathroom mirror, when you take out the garbage, and when you head to the grocery store to buy food.

So, how much life have I exchanged for things I thought were important?

I think about that question often. As a minimalist, it's become a solid tenet of my ideals. The whole point of minimalism is to stop the endless cycle of accumulating. More specifically, accumulating things we don't need.

I remember buying a car a few years ago. My current SUV was hitting that mileage limit where almost anything that went wrong meant it was a repair that cost more than the car was worth.

So, we bought a much newer car, only two years old; the newest car I've ever owned. My husband and I aren't into buying things that depreciate when they drive off the car lot. So, two years was a nice way to still have something newer but not so new that we would be paying for deprecation once we parked it in our garage.

I got a Jeep Cherokee and I love it like one of my children. It's reliable, perfectly sized, and gray: one of my favorite colors.

What I didn't like was the car payment. We had put a small down payment on it, but it still didn't alleviate the pain I experienced every time I made that payment. A cringing and wincing came from my face that would rival any teenager as I wrote that check. It wasn't fun.

I hate car payments. I hated the ball and chain feeling I had with it. I HATED having that $400 a month bill that was like flushing money down the drain.

Because what did I have? Sure, I had a car that got me from point A to point B.

But I also had hours of work from me and/or my husband that went to this egregious bill. The alternative would've been to save up the money and pay for it in cash.

The issue was we needed a car, and we needed it sooner rather than later. This is why almost everyone has car payments: it ameliorates our desperate need for transportation and fills a void quickly.

But it comes at a cost. A premium, really.

The agony I created from paying that bill wasn't worth it. It cost me anger, energy, time, and money all for what... a hunk of metal on wheels.

My old car would cost too much to fix and wasn't worth the repairs, but the trade-off was a newer shiny car with a fat old car payment

I realize life isn't always easy and simple. Especially when it comes to cars. We buy what we need because we need it! But, I could've done things differently.

At the time, this was just before my journey into minimalism and I knew I needed the car. But, I hated debt regardless of whether I was a minimalist or not. Paying off my mortgage early was always on the table for me, minimalist-minded or not.

Years ago, I read a fantastic book called, Your Money or Your Life. It dives deep into the nuances of cultural wants versus true needs as well as learning to save money through mindfulness and good habits. It also discusses exactly what the title states: Are you willing to sacrifice your life for stuff? How far are we willing to go to have what we think we need?

The questions that book raised stuck with me.

Today, I question whether I would've done what I did buying the Jeep eight years ago. I probably would've bought the Jeep, but it would've been an older one and I would've saved up - if not for the whole thing - for at least half of the cost as a down payment.

I believe there is a way to have it all, but it comes down to patience and timing.

I can have the Jeep, but I will have to wait and save up for it. I can get the car I'd like to own, but it doesn't need to be quite as new. I've learned that stuff doesn't equal happiness, either. I loved my car but was miserable with the payment. 

Needless to say, we paid that baby off early. I think we went out to dinner after I made the last payment, too. It was a momentous occasion.

You can apply this concept of "your stuff or your life" to all parts of your life. From the clothes in your closet to your kitchen gadgets (that don't get used) to even larger things like mortgages. 

How hard will we have to work to act like we can keep the purchase we made?

As Thoreau so eloquently put it, it costs us what we are willing to give up.

If we don't want to give up our lives for things, then we've addressed the issue at the core (which is also a minimalist core value): Our health, our family, and what we already own right here are more valuable than any shiny thing we need over there.

If we can't afford it, if it costs too much, then we'd be wise to wait until we can afford it.

When we wait for what we need, we often find we can live with less (and with less frivolous and costly items), and live with a focus that transcends the consumeristic culture by which we're surrounded. 

Next time you're purchasing something large (or want to) ask yourself: What would Thoreau say about this?

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