November 10, 2015
A friend once told me it is wiser to invest in experiences then in obtaining more possessions. Experiences last a lifetime after all. Not to mention there are few items that actually last that long, as its not in the interest of the companies that produce them. The sad truth is that in today’s consumer society the more you own, the more it actually owns you... Enter minimal living.
No, I'm not saying to go live in a monastery. Life happens and that is great! I’m married with a beautiful daughter. We own a house, a car and a lot of other stuff that sometimes needs fixing. All I'm saying is to spend your money on experiences or items that really add value to your life. As another good friend once said: there is nothing wrong with being frugal. In fact there are a lot of reasons to consume less, because you:
- have more money to spent on experiences or items that really add value;
- make less of an environmental impact;
- have more freedom (both financially, mentally and time-wise);
- get lots of other perks like saving loads of time when moving, plus your house is easier to clean.
Spend less, travel more
Let's take a look at my favorite way to experience: travelling. Sometimes people are wondering why I am able to travel as much as I do. It's not because of my income really, but just a matter of prioritizing where you spend your money on. Like most of you I have a family to support, a mortgage to pay and other financial obligations. The crux of ‘saving money’ is to develop a philosophy. Part of that mindset is to be aware of your spending and trying to keep the following costs as low as you like/can:
- food: my wife and I love great quality food, but only buy what you need, stop throwing stuff away and shop smartly;
- fixed costs for housing: why pay more money than you should? It's often worthwhile to shop around and switch your utility & communication companies regularly;
- transport: this expenditure is a hungry but sneaky one. Use your car less and walk & bike more (healthier and more environmentally friendly too);
- entertainment: prioritize! Either go out for a night on the town with your significant other, buddies, or… save up and spend it on a city break.
The other part of that mindset is applying some general principles to everything you buy:
- always ask yourself – when buying an item or investing in an experience – whether you really need this?
- whether it will continue to add value to your live (not just now, but also tomorrow);
- wait 30- days when you want to buy something expensive. This kills impulse buying;
- evaluate your possessions regularly and sell what you don’t use (good way to recycle plus you get something in return);
- when you do buy items, try to go for quality instead of the lowest price. You might pay more initially, but it might last longer. Hence in the end you generally save money.
So you see? It’s quite easy to safe money when you put your mind to it. And travel itself doesn't need to be expensive. I'm always amazed that a lot of families are more than happy to spend €200,- on a day in some theme park, and then complain they can’t afford a holiday. While that same amount can get you four return tickets Amsterdam - Lisbon. Transport is often the most expensive bit. Skip expensive hotels and rent private apartments where you can cook your own food. Go camp, use hostels or go couchsurfing.
My own struggle
That being said, it's not always easy. I'm a bit of a bibliophile for example, hence the huge library collection in my study. Although nowadays I buy almost only e-books: it is a little cheaper and way easier to store. But I'm somewhat of a collector of naturalia and cultural artifacts as well. And that's when the going is tough. Because I obviously needed to own that sawfish rostrum and everyone definitely has to own at least one early 20th century Lee-Enfield sword bayonet produced by the Wilkinson Sword Company... By applying the above general principles I will probably acquire less items in the future. And at least most of my collection will keep their value. So here's to following my own advice and bring my messy and chaotic study back to an orderly and functional room!
Minimal living and photography
The philosophy on minimal living applies to photography as well. Both in terms of taking actual photographs, being in the field and the gear we buy. Photography is a huge market. We life in an age that photographers themselves are actually a bigger market then stock photography. Hence, you can easily be overwhelmed and tempted with what’s on offer. So when you start building your camera equipment choose wisely. It is generally best to invest in objectives then in camera bodies. And when you do buy glass, buy the best you can afford, because it will keep its value. I am still using a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM for example which I bought in the analogue era and that still works perfectly. The same general principles apply to buying photography accessories. Do I use this frequently or not? Unfortunately I have a wide range of stuff that can only be used in specific conditions, like underwater and studio photography. But still: evaluate what you own and sell the stuff you don’t use.
Another way of thinking about minimal living and photography is by looking at the weight. The more (and heavier) stuff you have to carry on your back, the less fun it is. AKA: the lighter you travel, the more time and energy you have to enjoy the experience. Ultralight travelling is very inspirational in that regard and you can take away useful lessons from that philosophy. So be selective when packing your backpack before going out into the field. I might eventually switch to a mirrorless camera, but because I shoot wildlife (often fast moving) this technology is not for me yet. I increasingly do leave my battery grips and tripod at home though. My next trip to Ethiopia should see me packing a minimum amount of clothes as well. Maybe even only two pair of quick drying, odor-free wool boxers…