Why am I simplifying my life?

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I describe, briefly, simple living in my about me page. But I’ve been spurred to expand upon why I am attracted to simple living by this post by Mike Burns.

People are attracted to simple living for a variety of reasons. These could be reducing stress, environmental concerns, or a desire for more free time that the practice of owning and accumulating stuff takes away from you. For me, though, the primary concern is flexibility.

I was originally drawn towards simplicity by a desire to become more independent financially, and this in turn came from the fact that I was unhappy at my job. After a long period of fruitlessly searching for a different employer, I slowly began to realise that I might need to take a substantial pay cut to find other work, take a short-term contract or part-time position, or even just totally get out of employment for a while in order to get away from the anxiety my work was causing me. The prospect of a reduced income made me consider what I could afford in an ongoing sense. That is to say, I had savings in the bank, but what were the long term implications of living the way I was living, day-to-day? Was it sustainable with a lower income or a period of unemployment? I realised that simplifying my life, downsizing my possessions, and reducing some of my commitments would leave me more adaptable and able to deal with disruptions to the steady employment that I was used to.

In the end, I did successfully find a different, more interesting job and didn’t ever take a pay cut, but the desire for flexibility stayed with me.

In the course of my job search I also looked for opportunities abroad. This finally culminated in me actually getting one of those opportunities and moving, although that came much later. In considering all aspects of a potential international move, I realised the obvious: being internationally mobile is more difficult the more possessions you have. I’m not a minimalist for minimalism’s sake. In fact, I’m not a minimalist at all. I’m only interested in holding onto fewer material things to the extent that it makes it easier for me to get up and move for more interesting opportunities, or more pessimistically, in the face of natural or economic disaster. As an added bonus, it makes the house easier to clean.

I wouldn’t be existentially bothered if I owned two cars, a dog, a mortgage on a four bedroom house full of stuff, and a subscription to a gym and a golf club. But accepting all of those things into my life would mean a huge reduction in my ability to adapt to changes.* My interest in living a simpler life grew out of a concern for flexibility in the face of uncertain employment prospects, but from there it’s grown to encompass other disruptions as well: social, environmental, family or whatever else may occur. Maintaining a simpler life, being careful of what I allow into my life, affords me flexibility to respond to new opportunities and allows me more options in the face of adversity.

*The subscriptions, maybe not. I’m generally pretty good at avoiding the sunk cost fallacy, but reminding myself to not consider sunk costs does take some mental effort.


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