We’re All Trading Our Lives for Something. Trade Up.

“This is your life. Are you who you want to be?” – Jonathan Foreman

Our lives are, by definition, made up of finite resources. Each of us has a limited amount of minutes, dollars, and units of energy with which to live our lives. And every passing day presents an opportunity to trade our lives for something else.

Unfortunately, most of our lives are unintentionally traded down… lived in exchange for a return of limited or temporal value. We never set out to purposefully trade our lives for things of limited value; but in a culture surrounded by similar pursuits, our lives conform too easily.

At the very beginning, we trade our lives for…

Security – We invest in our knowledge and skill as a means to earn a living. We choose the lives we will live. We seek the right people to place around us. And we trade our time and talents for a steady paycheck with which to purchase shelter, clothing, food… security – the baseline of our existence. Make no mistake, this is not an unwise trade. Security lays the foundation upon which many of our life’s choices can be built. And I’m all for it.

But it seems, after achieving security, most of us begin pursuing…

Comfort – The essential elements of security: roof, meals, clothing are rarely enough. We pursue comfort to be added to our baseline of security. So we begin trading our time and our paychecks for a bigger home in a nicer neighborhood, a softer couch surrounded by entertainment choices, a nicer car with more features, and trendier clothing that makes us feel a bit more fashionable among our peers. Sometimes we intentionally seek comfort; but most often we do because society makes it appear so attractive.

Luxury – After achieving security and comfort, luxury lurks not so far in the distance. We can see it. We can taste it. It appears overwhelmingly satisfying. And we know what it asks of us: just a few more hours each week at work, a little more research to get it right, and a few more dollars spent at the store. Soon, we begin trading the finite resources of our lives for the luxurious offerings of this world.

Victory – Our minds create a ranking system for the world that we desire to climb. We seek more money, more power, more prestige, more fame than our neighbor, our siblings, our friends, or those we read about in the news. We attempt to prove our worth to ourselves and others by beating out others in this self-constructed competition of life. And before we know it, we’ve soon traded our entire lives to win a competition we have invented in our own minds.

Of course, none of these pursuits exist in a vacuum. Each of them thrive in our hearts alongside a steady stream of pride, greed, fear, and selfishness. These emotions reinforce our decision to pursue comfort, luxury, and victory. As a result, we seek them more desperately. And our lives’ most valuable resources are traded for them.

But the trade is a foolish one.

Our lives hold far greater potential than the comfort and luxury most of us trade them for. After all, these are temporal pursuits that can never be fully achieved. They move and shift rapidly with the world around us. They never fully satisfy. They are completely self-centered. And our lives can be traded for things far greater.

Our lives can be traded for significance, social justice, or spiritual pursuits. We can invest our lives into creating a more sustainable planet, beautiful art, moments of joy for others, or causes we believe in. We can help others overcome fear, heartache, or significant obstacles to joy. We can trade our finite resources for the desires and values held deep within each of our hearts – the purest passions unspoiled by the culture around us.

We were created to live for pursuits far greater than comfort, luxury, and competition. (tweet that)

We were created to trade our lives up, not down.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says


    This is an absolutely beautiful piece! It concisely and succinctly answers the question “Why embrace minimalism?” I almost think I should quit writing myself because I could never have said this so eloquently. It’s wonderful that the minimalism movement has you as a leading proponent and voice. Thank you!


  2. says

    This is a great perspective on the “costs” of a consumer driven lifestyle. The progression is very subtle though….sort of like the frog in a pan of cool water. If a frog was put in boiling water it would jump right out. But because it is first put in cool water that is “slowly” heated it doesn’t realize it is being boiled just the same. So too with most of our pursuit of first security, comfort, luxury and then victory. Thanks for putting it is such a nice perspective. I write about this and similar ideas on my own blog. Here’s one I entitled “Need a raise–Cut your overhead” for anyone who might be interested… http://smartliving365.com/?p=868#more-868

  3. says

    But I think there is nothing wrong with trading up if you can afford it and it makes sense. We previously lived in a big house in a horrible neighborhood — but it was what we could afford at the time we bought it. We built equity in the house and then sold it to move to a better neighborhood. To do that, we had to take out a new mortgage (with a 60% down payment using all the proceeds from our sale). We had to move to a smaller house to stay in our price range.

    I feel we traded up and it has made a huge difference in our life. We have a smaller mortgage payment than we did before too. We could have paid off the principle in our old home and had 0 mortgage, but we would have also been unhappy there. IMO, there is no reason not to “trade up” if the decision doesn’t put you in a financial and emotional hole.

    Just another perspective!

    • says


      I don’t see your move as trading in a wrong direction. You have a smaller home in a better neighborhood. Your new house may have cost more than your old one, but you were buying safety, not just a McMansion to impress your friends and relatives. You were spending your money wisely and trading for quality, not just mindless “quantity.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Joshua said that security is a good investment and I agree. Sounds like you maximized your bang for the buck, and that’s the object of the game.


  4. says

    Great post Joshua! It’s all about figuring out what you value and choosing what life you want to live. Some people are happy with a life of luxury and that’s what their life is meat to be. Others are on a search for meaning, experiences, and the adventure of being alive.

    Whatever floats your boat, as long as the life you’re living is true to YOU.

    Trading up means staying true to YOUR path, whatever that looks like.

    Thanks for your great writing!

    • Sue says

      Wow. This is fantastical, very poignant for me at the minute. Having got to a comfortable lifestyle myself about 10years ago, in the blink of an eye, my situation did a 360° turn. Gone was my marriage, here was ex’s new woman(whom I actually think the world of now, tho that’s another tale to tell atop a rock). A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, son became overwhelmed by the separation and I was working as a staff nurse on a Neuro ward. With many folk in the later stages of MS. Thankfully, my daughter was 3 and wasn’t fully able to comprehend the situation. Few years passed by, voluntarily redundancy was offered, which I accepted. Anyhoooo, feeling like my security, my family unit was broken as my son lives with his dad, comfort, freedom and purpose had be whipped from under my feet.
      Everything I have ever worked for was disappearing. Life as I’d know it for 17years (length of relationship with kids dad), was gone.

      Anyhoo, although I felt I had died a thousand deaths in that awful period of my life, I look back with fondness upon my ex husband. He has blossomed in his career, he has the money, the massive house with exquisite furniture(he actually has the very same dinning table as I do, tho his is in the garden), cars, clothes, holidays, and a lifestyle that I once thought would be mine. Me. Hmmmmmm……well, I am no longer registered as a nurse, and paid employment is very limited due to my health. My house is needing help and love. My holidays are staycations, and my clothes are second hand. Yet I grow my own fruit and veg. I forage, I make cordial, wine, jams and mushroom soup!!!! I can sew, knit, fish and grow herbs on my window sill. My husband of almost three years is me in lameness. My kids are the very best of my heart, both doing well in school. Both happy.
      And me.
      I sit here, at my dinning table aware that it may actually be a garden table to some, and I feel safe. I feel secure. I am surrounded by comfort. And luxury is abundant. I feel the comfort of a peaceful, meaningful life. I find myself muttering wise words, given to me by a complete stranger, many many times in a day. ,,’if you want more, be more’. Be the person you want to be. I am.

  5. says

    I feel like this is one of the major flaws of self-improvement. You’re always looking at the negative – the things you can improve – and fail to appreciate the good, what you’ve accomplished, or the person you are today. It’s a constant struggle for improvement. Once you’ve accomplished one thing, it’s on to the next (bigger, better) change or goal. Rare are the moments when people stop, look around and say to themselves, “Hey, life’s pretty great!” and just be happy in the moment. Great post!

  6. Ellen Scott Grable says

    This is exactly why I sold all my chachkes on Ebay and my excess furniture on Craig’s because that something for me is sailing. Being able to pursue my love of sailing and green boating (using solar and wind and water turbines for a -0 carbon footprint) is why I will happily wear my friend’s hand me downs and cook dinner at home from my own organic produce I grew.

    Once I am fully certified I can sail anywhere in the world and introduce others to the joy of the wind and the sea. Life is good everyday we are alive to enjoy it.

  7. says

    I have seen this in action so many times. People misunderstand their real purpose in life—their why—and give years in exchange for emptiness and a sense of personal defeat. That’s part of what motivated me to write Live Your Why. It is critical that people discover and live their whys so they will stop trading their lives for things that really don’t matter.

  8. says

    This is so well written and so true. I see it all the time, people suffering in poor health and exhaustion, working so hard to pay for all the “stuff” they aquire in order to feel good. But do they feel good? No, most are miserable and unhealthy. It sounds cliche, but truly the best things in life are free! Thanks for sharing….

  9. andres says

    When you notice all you trade up just for what , but its never too late to cut back and
    re-enjoy the real beautiful things in life.

  10. says

    Guilty, generally.

    However, we have started to make some subtle changes that make more sense. 1) We have sold or donated many items that weren’t being frequently utilized, providing a little more money, a little more elbow room and a lot less maintenance. 2) We got rid of almost all credit, paying off debt to $0 and holding a single card for backup. We have 11 payments left on a car, then that’s over. 3) We’ve been diligent about building savings; even $100 a month helps. 4) We spend money predominantly on experiences, not things. A trip, instead of a bauble. We remember the trips forever.

    We also are renters, and have grave doubts about the value of home ownership, especially in light of the housing crisis of the past several years. Renting means someone else has to handle maintenance and upkeep, and gives us the freedom to pick up and go if the road calls.

    • says

      You seem to have got it right. Having no debt is really a freedom. I am also trying to live by the same principle and it does allow you a great amount of freedom. You can breath rather than getting suffocated in life. I have a lot of friends who lead a luxurious lives packed with debts. I feel sorry for them.

  11. says

    “And before we know it, we’ve soon traded our entire lives to win a competition we have invented in our own minds.” That is amazing wisdom and insight! Thank you Joshua Becker.

    I see all sports as falling into this category. And “athletes” are paid untold millions to play out this fantasy competition. They’re entertainers, actors who show others the mind invented competition. Wow.

  12. Deb says

    I understand where you are coming from about comfort. But I have a different view of it. To me comfort is a very good thing. In it’s most authentic form. Not because someone has a big house, expensive couch, kushy car etc. I see comfort as nurturing ourselves in this spastic society we live in I find comfort in cuddling with my golden retrievers, a luscious cup of mocha coffee, watching a sunset, the fresh breeze in autumn,or early morning bustle of birds from my deck. None of this costs me a thing (well maybe the mocha) and definitely takes up no room /space in my house. But it does feel my heart with joy and peace and comfort.

  13. Jason says

    This is a great post! And so, so true. I think it is also worth mentioning that many people have a very inflated notion of what “security” actually means. For many, it goes far beyond food, clothing, and shelter. I have recently made a decision to give up the cubicle life in pursuit of something more meaningful to me. Yes, I will also be living on half of my current salary, but as long as I have the basics covered and can live the life I want to live, isn’t that enough? Where did this idea come from that we must have a bastion of money, insurance, and possessions around us to truly be “secure”? Quite an illusion, in this man’s humble opinion.

    • says

      I truly agree with you. I have done similar thing in life… After working for 18 years in different, cream advertising agencies in Bombay. I left my job in 2009. Reason being that I wanted to travel and see the country I live in. Also I was fed up with the power politics of organisations. While deciding to be on my own I knew that I am trading the security of money with my freedom. It was a tough choice to make… because one gets used to having a salary (that too a fat one) at the end of the month… But I can say now I have never been happy like this before. I live simple yet rich life.

  14. Jim says

    It seems that part of our human nature is prone to shortsightedness. We may too easily choose that which seems to offer immediate gratification at the expense of those things that would require more effort but that would give us a more lasting fulfillment and joy.

  15. Nancy says

    The lightbulb went off for me several years ago. Working, working, working and spinning my wheels. I made a decision to begin getting rid of the “stuff”. Half of it I didn’t even realize I had. To sit in a cubicle with alot of ignorant people who thought they were great, but I don’t think they had a clue who they were. Myself included. So after 28 years of working in a big Company and watching the things that went on, I made a decision to leave. I felt like I was constantly looking for the right job for the $$ but none of the jobs were even close to what I dreamed about doing “someday”. I have all the great other things…a great husband and a great son. I can see the “stuff mentality” everywhere and the competition of keeping up with the Jones’. I think shopping is a pyschological thing to make people feel better for the moment cause I really don’t even know any happy people. Its a tough thing to move out of. It takes alot of time. We moved away to get away from all of that. Now starting over, but with a minimalist mindset. Very hard thing to do, but hoping it will make a big difference.

  16. says

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  17. Marisol says

    so glad and thankful for the participant who came to class because she follows u on face book!

    PTL for His anointment on you and the speakers He brings to Okoboji! I feel I’m on the tranfiguration Mountain, & like peter and John desire to stay here. I’m sure the leaders and speakers need a rest because you are Human;)

    praying w/ much thanks and delight for REFRESHMENT!

  18. cynthia strauff schaub says

    an out-of-the-ballpark post — I am lucky enough to be retired, after living a pretty minimalistic lifestyle before it had a name, so I have the time and freedom to follow my heart. My hope is that everyone will be able to do this, and sometimes a job that doesn’t quite fit the bill is necessary, for the short-term at least. But there is always some time for the soul For those “wage-slaves,” and I was one of them, Don’t give up! Carve some space, always.

  19. says

    Oh wow, as usual, you’ve done it again. You’ve caputured my heart. I just wrote a post on my blog this morning about the purpose of why I write, why I have created my little space, and that is to “trade up” the pursuits we all so often find ourselves weighed down in, and to use my voice, my words, my gift, to encourage others to be vulnerable with their gifts too, and reconnect our hearts beyond the superficial profiles. Beautiful post! I have been wanting to ask you, would you ever consider a guest post on my blog? I list you and Becoming Minimalist as one of my top suggested reads, and I would be so honored if you had any interest in popping by to say a few encouraging words.
    ~Best, Julie

  20. says

    This post is what sooo many people, need to embrace. I’ve worked a job for 20yrs. now! Thinking for 15 of them I was going to be what I was dreaming I should be! (That was my pride).
    When the company that I’m employed at, changed hands, and not into mine. My life was changed. I was already doing things that was destroying my self, and my family, however, I came to believe seriously in a power greater than myself.
    I’ve worked thru so many obstacles, some caused by myself, and others that I should have already been pursuing.
    I still fight the battle in my mind, that I should be more than I am, but know that I’ve been well taken care of by my creator. It is constant. I’ve been enjoying reading your blogs Joshua. It keeps me from going over board.
    This weekend I will have family pictures taken. Knowing that if it wasn’t for someone greater than myself, who heard my heart, this would have never happend.
    I will continue to embrace minimalism the best way I can. I will continue to work my way out of the debt that spending for the wrong reasons attained.
    I will continue to give thanks for the things in life that really matter and are still here with me.

  21. says

    Thank you for this–we climb and climb and are too often not satisfied. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to live more simply; was happy to find your blog.

  22. VCO says

    I think this should be required reading in every school, place of worship, New Age gathering…well, every where! You have put into easy to comprehend words how to live a brilliant, spiritual life.

  23. says

    Oh I haven’t even made it out of the security area on this list! I would like to advance to comfort…HA… Love your blog I share it all the time! It has helped me over the last few years rid myself of almost a full home of things! Allowed us to move into a much much smaller cabin in the woods and really have clarity! No more busy, no more rush, no more clutter !! Oh I hate clutter now ! Without all the stuff I am more organized and I get to spend more time with my kids not cleaning or tripping over our stuff ahaha!! I thank you and my kids thank you!! My husband doesn’t know he should be thanking you but he should winky winky (cause he can find his socks now!) Thanks!!!

  24. says

    I really love everything about this. Trading our lives for something that is going to give us value long term is not the way people choose to live at the moment. It’s hard to get your mind around it and figure out what is really important to you.

    I’ve found that to live the life I really want, I need less money then I originally thought and am able to pursue my dreams. The few things that I trade up for comfort have really decreased and the value of the life I live has increased. Thank you for the amazing read, yet again.

    I can’t share these blog posts enough!

  25. says

    What a brilliant piece. I think the best thing we can do is to share joy with others and enable others. Having luxury items can only make you happy for a little bit; able to help someone in need can bring way more joy and happiness in the long run.

  26. Steve says

    Thank you. I was considering buying a tablet today, for one feature I thought I needed; a luxury feature. Instead, I will hold unto my trusty circa 1990s Palm m515; which continues to run year after year. Oh, more importantly, this advice came just in time as I approach moving from the Luxury phase of life to the next. This advice, a good reminder really, will have an important coloring on that direction.

  27. Vijay says

    Thought inspiring and timeless article. Makes you think about why you are wanting what you are and if it makes sense in the bigger picture.

  28. says

    Great post Joshua!
    This is one of a handful of pieces I’ve read over the last few days all highlighting the danger of living a life of comparison and competition. Definitely a message that is resonating with me right now!
    Thanks for the work you do.

  29. Annie says

    This is a great article. We live in Newcastle, 150km North of Sydney Australia. I’d like to say it pleases me no end to know so many families who left the rat race of Sydney so they would be able to have children and not have to work full time to pay a mortgage. The average house price here is less than half of the cost in Sydney.

    People here slow down and enjoy their families. I am surprised at the number of mothers I have met who have not returned to work after 12 months or more of maternity leave.They continue to live within their means and enjoy their time with their young families.

  30. Annie says

    This is a great article. We live in Newcastle, 150km North of Sydney Australia. I’d like to say it pleases me no end to know so many families who left the rat race of Sydney so they would be able to have children and not have to work full time to pay a mortgage. The average house price here is less than half of the cost in Sydney.

    People here slow down and enjoy their families. I am surprised at the number of mothers I have met who have not returned to work after 12 months or more of maternity leave. They continue to live within their means and enjoy their time with their young families.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. We Are All Minimizing Something | September 27, 2012
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