I can still remember how disoriented I felt when I first came across the concept of minimalism in 2003.
While reading a financial newspaper in my Rio de Janeiro office, I came across an article describing the lifestyle of Andrew Hyde, a successful serial startup entrepreneur who had deliberately whittled his worldly goods down to 15 items.
I read the article and then I read it again, certain that either my eyes or my rudimentary Portuguese were deceiving me. Such a philosophy went against the then-current core belief that more is better and better is certainly the road to happiness, right? The luxury car, the bigger house, the lavish vacations … the carrots that kept us burning the midnight oil in search of success and mega year-end bonuses. My minimalist moment was akin to Neo taking the red pill in the Matrix.
The Less You Own, The Less Owns YouMinimalists believe the pursuit and acquisition of physical possessions will never fully satisfy the desire for happiness. In the minimalist way of thinking, “retail therapy,” or finding temporary fulfillment in buying a new item, is anathema; and oniomania, or compulsive buying, something to be pitied. By clearing clutter from our homes and our lives, we can make room for life’s most important aspects: health, relationships, passion, growth and contribution.
In 2003, being a minimalist, especially in an urban city, could be as challenging as being a teetotaler in New Orleans or a vegan in Dallas. There was Netflix and Audible, but neither was a streaming service. There was no Uber, no Spotify, no Kindle, and no Hulu. Today, however, thanks to smartphones and apps, ownership of things has never been less necessary. Car-sharing companies such as Zipcar have lessened the need for a second car, and e-books and streaming services for movies and music might either eliminate or at least halt the hoarding of books, DVDs and CDs (many still in their plastic wrapping).
There has never been a better time to be a minimalist. Indeed, from time to time, without even realizing it, we are all minimalists. When we take vacations or travel on business, most of us travel happily with a small fraction of our worldly possessions. Frequent flyer road warriors who mastered the skill of traveling for a week with only carry-on luggage were early adopters of minimalism.
In my own journey towards minimalism I reflected on what is needed to do the work I do as a reinsurance actuary, as opposed to other careers such as my sister’s, who is an optometrist. Her office is filled with things, from a visual field perimeter machine, a pachymeter, and an optical coherence tomography machine to an extensive inventory of spectacle frames and contact lenses. All of which, of course, is necessary for a successful optometry practice.
I, on the other hand, have lived in nine cities in seven countries, and I can attest to the fact that actuaries don’t really need a lot of equipment to be up and running. These days, armed with a high-end laptop and access to unlimited cloud-based storage, an actuary can hang up his or her shingle literally anywhere in the world with access to reliable wi-fi (and good coffee).