Note: This is a guest post by Mike Donghia of This Evergreen Home.
On the surface, the message of minimalism is about less stuff.
But dig a little deeper and it’s clear that for most of us trying to live simply, minimalism is a means to an end.
Minimalism is a pathway, not a destination. It frees up your time, money, and energy to pursue more of what matters most to you.
How you choose to invest that newfound wealth is a separate matter altogether. The wealth you attain can just as easily be used to pursue a frivolous life, as one that is rich in meaning.
The former I’ll call cannibalistic wealth, for reasons I’ll get into shortly, and the latter I’ll call true wealth. Let’s dive deeper.
Have you ever noticed how eating a small amount of junk food stimulates your appetite for even more? When it comes to junk foods like Pringles or Oreo cookies, it’s easier to eat none than to stop at one.
Certain kinds of pleasure are like that. The pleasure itself is undeniable, but doesn’t quite scratch the itch, and so you go back for more.
In the case of junk food, it’s clear what would happen if this became a regular pattern. In order to maintain the pleasure of eating whatever you want, whenever you want, you would have to sacrifice other pleasures— like the enjoyment of good health, regular energy, and a wider palette of tastes.
That’s what I call cannibalistic wealth. It is a form of wealth that, given enough room to expand, will consume other forms of wealth that you enjoy.
To carry the financial imagery just a bit further, when you invest heavily into cannibalistic wealth, it’s possible to lower your overall net worth rather than raise it.
Here are some examples to be aware of:
Luxury goods and experiences. You can make wonderful memories on an extravagant vacation, splurging at an expensive restaurant, or purchasing a beautifully crafted item. But if you allow yourself to expect this level of experience, you may be trading away your ability to enjoy simpler, less-refined pleasures in the company of those you love.
Status and popularity. Who doesn’t love to be appreciated, enjoyed, and even respected? It is natural and good to occasionally enjoy the spotlight when it is pointed at you. But make this one of your highest aims in life, and you may lose a sense of inner contentment that doesn’t depend on the applause of others.
Comfort and ease. We all have a psychological need for comfort to some degree, and rest is an important and beautiful aspect of being human. But make comfort your true north, and you will come to resent anything that looks like hard work or inconvenience. And let’s face it, so many good things in life require the messy struggle of discomfort to produce good fruit.
Just to be clear, nothing in this list is necessarily bad. There is nothing wrong with enjoying them provided you are able to enjoy them with the right perspective. My personal approach is to try to enjoy these things as pleasant surprises when they arrive in my life, but not to put too much time seeking them out. Far better to invest in wealth that is more robust.
True wealth is the real deal.
While it is possible to corrupt these forms of wealth, and turn them into something they were not meant to be, they tend to be enjoyed more innocently.
Instead of robbing you of other pleasures as you enjoy them more frequently, they tend to expand your world, compound your happiness, and add richness to your life.
Here is just a small sample of the kinds of true wealth you might pursue:
Physical energy. Ample energy to live your life with full engagement.
Worryless sleep. Rest your head on your pillow in peace.
A project of your own. A bit of work that is untainted by the demands of others.
A hearty appetite. Nothing better than to arrive at a good meal with a strong hunger.
Mutual intimacy. Drawing close to another human being through conversation or touch.
Having enough. The realization that you have all the raw materials you need for a meaningful life.
Deep laughter. Found most often alongside close friends in unrushed environments.
Occasional surprises. Enough to keep alive your child-like sense of wonder.
Solid hope. Something to look forward to that will endure.
Minimalism is great, but it’s not enough on its own. Practicing minimalism will not automatically make you content or turn you into a better person.
The choice is up to you to decide the kinds of wealth you will pursue with the freedom that a simpler life enables.
I hope you will choose wisely and invest into wealth that multiplies life both for you and those around you.
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.