Here on Our Urban Farm, we like to do a bit of occasional introspection amidst the rural landscape of our Los Angeles postage stamp-sized plot of dirt. As such, and aided by our half century of living on this planet now upon us, I personally decided to put some serious thought into what I find most valuable in life. Not to take things lightly, I asked friends, my wife, and others whom I respect for their own definitions of value and found respectable answers ranging from kids and family, relationships with God, higher learning, physical health, and even money. While I find all of these answers valid and their accompanying explanations more than adequate to justify them, none of these thoughtful elicitations (nor any combination of them) seemed to resonate with me.
Instead, and after embracing my journey into minimalism, I found my own answer buried within the many readings on the subject I had explored along the way – specifically, the simple ideal of author Leo Babauta, who designates time as his most cherished asset. Put simply, time is the most precious resource we possess; it’s finite, mostly under our direct control (how we use it), and is the umbrella under which everything, including our interactions with people, what we decide to do to make a living, and how deeply we explore knowledge and spirituality, exists. Whether or not we believe in previous lives or eventually attaining the pearly gates of Heaven, this life, this present, is all we have now. And every second we spend in unhappiness is a second wasted and lost forever.
From this philosophy I decided to take a hard, honest look at my life and everyone and every thing in it. Was my marriage truly making me happy? (Answer: yes.) Were the people in my life worth the time I expended on them? (Answer: most of them.) Was my job something I simply did to pay the bills or something about which I was passionate? (Answer: sometimes.) Were the things I possessed truly necessary or more of a distraction from what held true meaning? (Answer: 95% the latter.) Finally, in an overall sense, was I satisfied with how I spent the majority of minutes each day, week, month, and year? If not, was there an easy fix or would reaching a point where my time was my own require major changes (it’s easy to see why midlife crisis is so common)?
The first obvious place to start was with our stuff. I’ve detailed extensively in previous posts how we adopted a minimalist revitalization of our household, so no need to rehash that aspect other than to say the reduction in items owned resulted (and continues to pay dividends) in time spent caring for, storing, and even looking at, said things. Cleaning our home is now ridiculously easy and our spaces are far easier to navigate. It’s surprising how even removing a few pictures can clear the mind as one scans a room and, with the removal of redundant furniture and surfaces (dressers, shelving to hold knick-knacks, desks, etc.), we’ve managed to reduce the dust levels and accompanying allergies.
With the focus off things (and their acquisition), we were able to reduce our expenditures to their most basic sustenance levels, with mortgage, food, internet connectivity, cheap cell phone, plan, and utilities being our only necessary monthly bills. It’s indeed striking how much less one needs to earn when taking emotion out of purchasing; car payments, the latest gadgets, expensive vacations, and eating out require an enormous capital outlay these days. We’ve instead “settled” for a cheaper family cell phone plan, gotten rid of pay television (a $30.00 antennae is remarkably capable for live programming, with Hulu and Netflix providing more than enough shows to enjoy), stuck with an older car, and stayed home to cook meals as much as possible. We’ve also substituted cheaper forays out of town for vacations, such as trailer camping and visiting friends, as well as enjoying more of our own local destinations by bike and on foot.
Without the constant need to fuel consumption, we’ve been able to reduce our workload and reclaim time for walks, talks, visits, and doing more of nothing. I do fairly well writing and running an Air BnB rental on our property, while Alicia spends her work time driving for Uber part time and working a couple of days a month at the local Whole Foods. As we’ve gotten older, the need to define ourselves by what we do for a living (and what we get paid) has thankfully melted away and been replaced by the confidence that we’ll never again be held hostage by jobs we hate and that joy can be found in wanting less and making less. Our flexible schedules have allowed us to spend more time together, which we use greedily to spend out on long walks, gardening, raising our son, watching sunsets, making love, and visiting with friends.
The final piece of the time puzzle was to use as much my newfound time to reach out to friends and those of importance to me along the way in my half century (and counting) of life. Facebook has obviously been of great benefit, and I’ve been able to reconnect with most of my family – including my father, brother, cousins/aunts/uncles, high school friends, Burning Man community, and former co-workers. This I would consider the greatest benefit of minimalism’s effect on my time; people are what matter most to me in the grand sense and to be able to have them – YOU – actively in my life is more rewarding than any personal accomplishment or purchased item could ever be.
Admittedly, it’s not easy to make even small life changes, let alone titanic shifts that could upend your lives, entirely. I risked my marriage, financial future, and family stability to force the changes needed to realize my goal of freeing up more time and, by extension, realizing my own happiness. It was scary, yet exhilarating, and the benefits are only now fully coming into fruition (with more on the way). If I were to pass from this earth tomorrow I am confident I would be able to say that my last breath was my own and that my time had truly come.
This essay is part of my forthcoming book, Finding Happiness Through Minimalism – There’s Nothing To It, publishing in May.