Our apartment lease was up for renewal last week. Our already outrageous rent is going up by $30 per month and our water/sewer/trash fees are going up another $17 per month. Every year, no matter where we live, I go through the same routine when it comes to renewing our lease. I gripe about the rates. I swear that we’re going to move into a tiny house or a RV or live in a van for the upcoming year. I beg the Universe for a $200/month loft over the top of an empty warehouse in Miami like the one Michael lives in on Burn Notice. I shake my fists in the air when said loft doesn’t magically appear on Craigslist. And then we sign the lease.
It’s silly, I know. At this point some of you might be thinking, if increasing rents are such a big deal to you, why not buy a house?? My mom even made the valid argument that if we purchased a tiny house to put on her property and continued to pay for it at our current rental rate, we’d own in it in less than 3 years. Sounds great, right? Then how come the whole time she spoke, I kept hearing that line from Hotel California running through my brain – you can check out any time you want but you can never leave??
I have commitment issues when it comes to purchasing anything – especially something as unforgiving as a house. I may hate our lease but I know that for a mere one month’s rent (and 60 days notice), we can break that thing and be on our merry way should we so desire. But a house? That’s a permanent investment of your time, money, and freedom. Besides, gone are the days when one could argue the merits of home ownership over renting. For most folks, it’s pretty much a wash nowadays. You either spend your entire life in a mortgage (the average American buys 3-5 homes in their lifetime and only 20% of Americans ever live in a house without a mortgage) or you spend your entire life paying rent.
Our 9th Annual Great Lease Debate (yes, we’ve been renting for nearly a decade now), spurred a thought of another kind this year. When you have no desire to purchase a house, no kids to put through college, no dreams of owning a yacht, a BMW, or much of anything beyond a new pair of ExOfficio undies, and your retirement goals consist of things like take more walks, plant more vegetables, and stay longer at the beach – just what is the purpose of money then?
I know, you’re already making a list of counter-arguments. Money provides security. Money gives you options. Money is there to take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself. Money can change lives when given to the right causes. Or simply – money is necessary to survive.
Believe me, I do know all these things. When I stop by the grocery store this afternoon, they will want money for the loaf of bread I pick up. Our landlord is going to want money for us to continue living here. The phone company will soon come calling for my use of their internet services to create this post. Yes, we’re always going to need money. I suppose my struggle is more on the role of money AFTER one’s basic needs are met. Where does money fits into our lives as minimalists? And how much is enough?
While minimalism reduces most things in life – the clutter, the spending, the stress – it inversely increases other things – time, freedom, and yes, money. For some, this is the intended benefit of becoming minimalist. For us, I’m not so sure it’s as much of a benefit as it is a burden.
Most people dream of winning the lottery and having millions in the bank to facilitate a lifestyle of ease. I dream of a world where money doesn’t exist. Sometimes I look at our financial accounts and think, “Wow, we’re doing awesome! Dave Ramsey and all those folks on FIRE would be pretty proud if they knew just how far we’d come in the past decade. From divorce and bankruptcy to diversified portfolios and IRAs. We got this!” And then there are times when I’d trade everything in those accounts to go back to the days when we thought Redbox was a lavish expenditure.
We’ve lived as minimalists for 5 years now. We’ve downsized and decluttered and refocused our priorities and adopted new ways of doing things, and surprisingly, it has never been a struggle for either of us. Simplicity is ingrained in everything we do and I think that’s why money is such a big deal lately. It’s the last frontier – something we have yet to conquer and place in a neat little decluttered space.
Over the past few years, we’ve played various games with our finances – live on 50% of our income, pay off a newer car in 6 months or less, live in a RV for the summer, set a grocery budget of only $150 per month, etc. – all for the sole purpose of trying to define the role of money in our lives. Sometimes I think the only thing we really succeeded in doing was making money the focus of a life that was never focused on money to begin with.
When we take a picnic to the park or go for a long hike, we aren’t thinking we’d rather be at Disney World. When we sit by the water and watch the ducks swim by, we aren’t thinking about how much better the view would be if we owned the lake house across the way. Whether we have a million dollars or only a nickel to our name, the things that make us happiest remain the same. So maybe it’s time we shift focus. After all, the best things in life really are free and it costs nothing to appreciate what you already have.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on money. What role does it play in your minimalist journey? And just for fun – how would your life change if you woke up broke tomorrow?
Are the wheels turning in your mind? Want to read more on minimalism and money? Here are a few of the articles I turned to when writing this post:
There are Better Things to be than Rich by Joshua Becker
Is Minimalism Just for Single, Rich, White Guys? by The Minimalists
Is Minimalist Consumerism and Insult to the Poor? by Chloe Della Costa