How To Make Money and Still Be a Minimalist

If you Google “minimalist” and look at the images that come up, you’ll see a lot of pictures of white walls and rooms with nothing but a table and chair. I even saw one picture of a bunch of empty hangers on a rack.

I think this is probably the most well-recognized type of minimalism out there, and it possibly comes with the idea that these people live this way because they have no other choice. Because this is how poor people live, right? They can’t afford any possessions so they have a bunch of empty rooms and no clothes in their closets.

If you realize that this stereotype is often incorrect, then you’re ahead of the game.

Because the truth is that the people I know who don’t have a lot of money often have a LOT of stuff, much of which they don’t actually need. Meanwhile, people who choose to be minimalist have very little stuff they don’t need, and often have lots of extra money.

Did I just blow your mind?

Now here’s something else I’m going to tell you: as a minimalist, you are going to find me talking a lot about money. Here’s why:

  • I believe the average person has very little education or understanding about money, regardless of how much they make. I’ve been taking a course called Lifebook. In today’s video, the instructor said something very interesting and profound that is so true. (I’m paraphrasing here) In the United States, we spend almost 20 years in school learning about everything but money. Then we graduate and spend most of the time for the rest of our lives figuring out how to make money. So I figure the more I can spread knowledge about money, the more people I can help.

  • In general, I believe there is a lot of negativity around talking about money. It’s considered impolite, and possibly even greedy to ask questions about money or talk about how much you make or how you make it. I used to feel that way, until I discovered the roots of my money issues and resolved them. Now I understand that money is not good or evil; it is simply a resource and its effects are decided by the person who has it. If you want to be a force for good in this capitalist society, money is a NECESSITY. The more you have access to, the easier it is to effect positive change in the world. So the more transparent we all can be, and the more we can learn how to be comfortable with money, the easier it will flow into our lives and help us achieve our goals.

So in the spirit of transparency, I’m going to give you my own story as an example of someone who has more and more expendable income because I a minimalist. Then, to prove I’m not just an outlier, I’m going to give you some other examples of minimalists who have plenty of money.

In 2011, my husband and I moved from a 1600 square-foot house to a 40-foot long travel trailer. We did this for a lot of reasons, and one of them was money.

Another reason was my brother, who lived in another state, was in a near-fatal car crash while his wife was pregnant with their first child. We had very little extra money after we paid all our bills, which meant that we couldn’t afford to rush out to be with my family like we wanted to.

So we decided we were going to move to where he was, be around to help and also be more present for our niece as she grew up. The problem was, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and we lived in Arizona. The housing market was horrible at the time; houses in Arizona were worth very little while houses near San Francisco cost a lot. There was no way we could afford to buy in the bay area, or even rent.

But we could afford an RV, and space rent in an RV park in the bay area was roughly 1/4 to 1/2 of the rent for a 1-bedroom apartment. So we moved out to California and into an RV park.

Then a bunch of other things happened, like my husband’s job offer fell through at the last minute, and then for years I worked full-time for about $40,000 per year while Ryan worked part-time or not at all. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were considered in the “Very Low Income” bracket for our county for most of the years we lived in the bay area.

Yet we still managed to pay all our bills and even put money into savings. Meanwhile most of my friends and co-workers, already in their 30s and 40s, lived with parents, rented rooms or had to make well over 6 figures just to have their own place. Those who owned homes were the ones who were dual-income families in high-paying jobs, usually both attorneys or something of that nature.

None of them lived in an RV like we did, though. It never even occurred to them; especially in an affluent area like the bay area, “trailer parks” are looked down upon. And a lot of them are not nice. But it didn’t really matter much to us, because we were in the location we wanted at an affordable price.

When my income level jumped up to over twice what it had been, we didn’t change much. We still only owned one car, we wore the same clothes, ate the same food. There was no nice apartment in our future. We didn’t run out and buy the most expensive RV we could afford, either, or even move to a more expensive RV park.

At this point, we own even less than we did, even though our income has steadily increased. My best guess for this year is that we’ll make at least $125,000, but our expenses remain at about $32,000.

Why? Because we have enough without spending a lot. We live rich lives filled with lots of love, happiness and travel. No matter how much money we make, we will never want to live in a big house and “settle down.” We plan on living and traveling as nomads for as long as we are physically able.

Now, I promised I would show you I’m not an exception to the rule that minimalists can have plenty of money.

Courtney Carver from Be More with Less downsized her life after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She got rid of all her debt, sold her big house and let go of most of her stuff. She also left her high-paying marketing job and is pursuing her passion through her minimalist-based business, which now earns her more than the job she left. Yet she and her husband choose to live very happily in a 2-bedroom apartment with just a few possessions.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the founders of The Minimalists, and are childhood friends that at age 30, had all the things. Big houses, luxury cars, and all the toys. But their 80 hour per week jobs to pay for all that stuff gave them little time to enjoy anything, so they flipped their lives around completely and created their minimalist company. They talk, they blog, they write books and make films about breaking free and becoming minimalist. And they’re happier than ever, all the while having plenty of money left to give to the charities they care about.

Then there’s Leo Babauta from Zen Habits. This guy’s conversion to minimalism helped him get healthier, lose 65 pounds, and get out of debt. It gave him the freedom to move from Guam to San Francisco with his wife and 6 kids. He says he now makes more working for himself than he ever did before he began the minimalist lifestyle. Despite that he moved to a less expensive area (Davis, California) and does not own a car.

There are many more examples out there, but I think you get the picture. Done right, minimalism can let you have more money than you need without working more.

Or if you prefer, it can mean needing less money so you can work less. Either way, you will have more freedom to focus on the things you really care about. Your choice.

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