As a Buddhist, I should be happy with nothing, like the Buddha was. But I’m also 24 and live in the most consumerist country in the world, so that isn’t realistic. I’ve been making small changes everyday in order to be happy with less. I’ve redefined what success is, what makes me happy and what I do in my free time. I’ve changed how I travel and how I view the world with the goal of focusing on the things that matter and cutting excess out of my life.
I’m not saying that my way is the right way or that it will work for others, just that it has made me a happier person.
1. The Definition of Success
Success isn’t a big house or a fast car. Success isn’t staying in fancy hotels or having a vacation home in Palm Springs. Success is living, loving and being happy, even if it’s in a small shack somewhere.
I have friends who want to have $100,000 cars and $2,000,000 homes. That’s great. More power to them. But unless it adds to one’s overall happiness, why do it? I know that it wouldn’t personally add to my happiness or self-worth so I don’t see either of these as a sign of success but rather a sign of vanity.
Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile business success with the concept of minimalism. After all, a successful business should keep growing. But it should grow in a sustainable way. In a way that delivers value to customers and shareholders. In a way that does good rather than purely chases profit. That is something that I do with both of my businesses while still finding work-life balance. Downtime is as important as uptime.
2. Clothes and Shoes
Out of high school, I bought all of my clothes new from higher-end stores. I was excited to have a part-time job that gave me the income to wear the clothes that I wanted rather than only being able to wear what my parents bought for me. It was nice, but it was excessive.
I’ve now returned to buying from thrift stores and discount stores such as Ross, DD’s Discounts and K-Mart. Now when I buy from a department store or higher-end store, I only do it when they are running a sale. If it looks good and it fits, who cares if it’s new? Who cares what it says on the label?
When I was recently in San Francisco my shoes were hurting my feet. Mind you, these shoes cost me $80. I was annoyed but more importantly I wanted my feet to stop hurting. We were down on Fisherman’s Wharf and happened to walk by a Payless Shoes store. Being desperate, I decided to go inside. What I found surprised me: Payless has really cool shoes for really good prices, including name brands. In the end, I bought a pair of American Eagle shoes and donated my old shoes to the homeless. It is the best $25 that I spent on my last trip and I am very happy with the shoes.
In high school it was completely taboo to even consider wearing shoes from Payless. Kids who did were ridiculed. All because of vanity and materialism. But not anymore. I’m definitely a fan. Why pay more for something that serves the same purpose of something that you can buy for less?
Growing up, we used to stay in some pretty swanky places. My Mom owns several timeshares and my Dad had a large disposable income. Nice places are…well…nice. The staff bends over backwards to make you happy, to take care of your every need. It’s nice to be pampered, but does it contribute to your overall well-being? Does it make you happy? In my experience, no on both counts. It leads to temporary enjoyment, but does little to add to one’s long-term well-being.
After traveling to Europe with my cousin on a super low budget trip and staying in Hostels, I’ve become hooked on the idea of traveling low budget. Even though I can easily afford to stay in 5-star resorts, there is something so real about staying in hostels. You get to meet people from all over the world. You just pay $10-$30 a night for a bed, rather than a big room that you don’t need. You get to go on tours and excursions with super diverse groups of people. These experiences lead to learning more about the city you are in, the various cultures of the people you are with and ultimately more about yourself. You go home having added value to your life and having made new friends.
Another great thing about hostels is that they typically include free breakfast and have an industrial kitchen that all guests have access too, allowing the budget traveler to cook their own food and save a lot of money from eating out.
I now take public transportation when traveling. Hiring a car is an unnecessary expense and parking is typically outrageous in a large city, so I opt to do it like the locals do. It’s typically faster and it gives you time to look around.
4. Eating Out
From 2008-2011 I ate out everyday. Sometimes I ate out multiple times per day. Not only did I gain a lot of weight, but something like 30% of my income was going to food. In fall of 2012 I started cooking at home. Not only is it significantly less expensive but it’s also much healthier. I know exactly what is going into my food and how it is prepared.
I still love eating out and experiencing foods from different cultures, but now I do it once or twice a week rather than every day. I would like to cut back and do it less, but sometimes it is necessary to meet a client or friend for lunch.
5. The Perfect Weekend
The perfect weekend used to cost me a lot of money. It usually involved going out, spending a lot of money at a bar, not remembering most of the night and waking up the next day feeling terrible. Not anymore. Perfection is now determined by a combination of relaxation, nature and relationships. It’s not so much about what I’m doing or where I’m doing it, but who I’m doing it with.
I prefer to spend time with friends, go swimming, relax on my patio with a book, go hiking in the park, go for a drive in the mountains or sleep in and have brunch at home. It’s low budget, it’s still a mental escape from work and I get to spend it with people that I love.
6. Investing In Relationships
My marketing professor put it best. Socializing today is about spending time on Facebook with “500 of your closest friends, many of whom you’ve never actually met, who wouldn’t help you out of a ditch.” That sums up most of my generation. We don’t spend time investing in relationships anymore. We don’t spend time with people. We spend time with computers and video games.
My goal for this year is to spend my time investing in real relationships. To turn off the technology and leave it off. To have dinner without checking my phone. To talk to my friends face to face or on the phone rather than by text or Facebook. It’s a work-in-progress, I haven’t accomplished it 100% yet, but I’ve made huge progress.
Relationships are the most important thing in life. Personal and business relationships. I intend to make the best of every relationship by focusing on the meaningful things in life.