Minimalism and early retirement go together like peanut butter and jelly. Each item compliments the other. Minimalism helps get you to early retirement sooner because you are lowering your cost structure. Early retirement makes you want to simplify life so you can remain retired and enjoy your time more efficiently.
Since 2012, I've worked on becoming a minimalist with uneven results.
Ten years ago, I tried to sell my oversized house, but got no takers. It had two empty bedrooms we didn't need. In 2017, we finally downsized. It felt much better to not have wasted space.
After giving away most of my dress clothes, my closet is pretty barren. But I still have a difficult time getting rid of old t-shirts that provide a lot of good memories.
Finally, I've maintained my one-car household for over 20 years. It'd be nice to go car free, but I've got two little kids to shuttle around.
For two years, I gave up on minimalism by buying a larger house in 2020. With the larger house came more furniture, more maintenance issues, and more cleaning time.
Now I'm intent on going back to minimalism and early retirement due to a series of unfortunate events. We have a tendency to collect more of everything. As a result, we naturally complicate our lives over time.
Become A Minimalist Because Everything Always Breaks
The more often things break, the more you need to spend time and money fixing them. Let me recap a list of things that have gone wrong that makes me want to get rid of things again.
1) Car problems
The biggest benefit of driving a cheap old car is better mental health. You can get a door ding at the supermarket and you wouldn't care!
After a nice five-day vacation in Lake Tahoe, I finished loading my car up with luggage and the children. With an energy drink in hand, I was finally ready to make the three-hour drive back to San Francisco. However, as I swung around to the driver's side, I was startled by the site of a massive gash! WTF!
My car had been left overnight under the valet's care and Everline At Palisades Tahoe had failed to protect it. What transpired next caused me tremendous stress for the rest of the day as I had to 1) explain to my little ones why their trip home was being delayed; 2) spend a couple of hours in a car going to Reno to pick up a rental car; and 3) dealing with the insurance agency, The Resort, and the car rental agency.
In all, I wasted about nine hours of my life over 2.5 months due to this unfortunate situation. When it happened, I remember wishing I didn't have a car. Dealing with accidents, flat tires, inevitable maintenance issues, towing, and tickets is not fun. Owning two cars would just double the trouble!
2) Random property issues
One of the reasons why I'm only investing in private real estate from now on is because something always breaks with one of my physical properties. Here are several recent examples:
A) In August, my tenant's bike got stolen. Apparently, my sister and boyfriend left the side door unlocked, but there is no proof they didn't lock the door. Nor is there proof they stole a $3,000+ bike I did not know was there. Ah, my love hate relationship with owning rentals.
B) In September, I got a notice at my rental from the Bureau of Street Use and Mapping Division. The notice said my planter boxes on my property were too high and had to be taken down. Huh?! The wooden planter boxes looked great and had been around for seven years. I had to spend $3,200 to remove them within two months.
C) In November, a different tenant discovered a cracked kitchen sink pipe on both sides that caused a leak. I had just remodeled the kitchen in 2020. How could the pipe crack so soon? Instead of relaxing on a Saturday, I had to trade text messages with my tenant to coordinate a handyman to take a look. Luckily, my handyman was available the next day and it only cost $150 to fix.
D) On a rainy Saturday in December, all my primary residence electrical outlets in my primary bedroom suddenly stopped working. I found an electrician who charged $145 an hour. After three hours of work, one hour for getting supplies at $85, and $50 in materials he solved the problem. I'm glad to have power again in my bedroom, but now I wonder what other random thing could go wrong.
3) Children getting non-stop colds
Before having children, I might get sick once a year for up to two weeks. Since my son started going to school in 2021, I've been getting sick twice a year for four to five weeks total. With my daughter starting preschool twice a week in 2022, she is also getting sick.
Given we're both stay-at-home parents, my wife and I can't help but catch their illnesses. For the past three months, at least two members of our household have always been sick.
There doesn't seem to be any end in sight since parents will continue to send their kids to school sick because most parents need to work. They can't afford to take too much time off to care for their sick children. I wonder if it's a good idea to homeschool our kids during viral outbreaks and send them back once things calm down.
One of the reasons why my wife and I decided not to have more kids is because we don't have the capacity to take care of more in the way that we want. An unhappy home full of fights and potential divorce would be counterproductive to raising kids.
In retrospect, having one kid was easy in comparison to having two. Having zero kids makes life even easier. But, of course, we wouldn't trade our kids for the world. We just know our limits.
Being an early retiree without kids would probably force me to go back to work due to loneliness and boredom. There's really only so much traveling and play one can do before both get boring.
4) A more and more complicated net worth
Money is awesome for being able to do more of what you want. The more money you have the more passive income you can generate. However, the more money you have, the more you can lose as well!
2022 is a great reminder of how quickly funny money can disappear in a bear market. At the extreme, people like Mark Zuckerberg have lost over $80 billion in the past twelve months.
Personally, I've lost a larger absolute dollar amount in 2022 than I did during the 2008 global financial crisis. Although my percentage net worth decline is not nearly as bad as the 35% decline I experienced in 2008, it still hurts.
The quick evaporation of stock market wealth is why I will likely always have a minority of my net worth invested in stocks. It's hard to be disciplined to always sell stock gains to enjoy life.
Therefore, I'd rather invest my money in real estate and alternative assets. It's nice to concurrently enjoy wealth and potentially make money at the same time.
However, the more different types of investments you have, the more complicated your net worth. The more complicated your net worth, the more you have to track. There are also more tax documents to file. Investing can be like filling a closet full of unnecessary clothes.
The thing is, I've still yet to meet someone who made a fortune mainly from investing in index funds. However, there's something to be said for having a simple investment portfolio.
5) Website issues and channel growth
I enjoy running Financial Samurai. It brings me joy and purpose in fake retirement. However, every once in a while, some random tech issue pops up.
For example, in December, my posts stopped releasing to various RSS feeds, like Feedly, every time they get published. My e-mail management system also stopped automatically picking up the posts. So I have to create each e-mail by scratch.
It's not the end of the world since there are only about 2,000 RSS feed readers. My posts still get indexed by Google. Further, I can still manually send out my posts via e-mail that now take five minutes to create. It's just annoying things just randomly stopped working.
Now I've got to spend up to $400 trouble shooting the issue. In the meantime, I'm recording more podcasts because they release to the RSS feeds. Publishing podcasts is a reasonable solution in the meantime. The show notes of each episode links to the posts.
If I just had Financial Samurai, or just had a podcast, or just had a weekly newsletter or just wrote personal finance books, early retirement life would be simpler. But these are the sacrifices I make to have an omni-channel presence. It’s been hard to prevent work creep over the years, which is why I limit my FS hours to 20 a week.
From 2009 – 2012 all I had was Financial Samurai. I had a minimalist online presence because I had a day job. Perhaps I should return to simpler times again.
A Simple, Minimalistic Life Is Wonderful
The ironic thing about early retirement is that it frees up time to deal with these random problems that consistently occur in life.
Due to early retirement, I don't need to hire a property manager to manage my rentals. Early retirement also enables us to take care of our little ones at home indefinitely if they are sick.
But even if you have tremendous free time, you still don't want to deal with these issues. You'd much prefer to have fewer problems so you can do more of what you want. Since you rationally do the most enjoyable things with your free time, the opportunity cost for early retirees not doing things is greater.
For example, let's say you have to skip work to take care of your kids. A bummer for sure. But at least you don't have to work and will likely still get paid. As an early retiree, you might have to skip doing something fun for a week to take care of your kids.
Yes, this is a first-world problem. I'm just pointing out that everything is relative. With Lean FIRE, practicing minimalism helps free up even more valuable time.
Once you've got almost everything you want and experienced almost everything you've desired, it's best to simplify.
Related: Trophy Husbands, Trophy Wives, Trophy Homes, Now Trophy Kids, Oh My!
Things I Plan On Reducing Or Not Buying
Here are some things I will offload in the name of minimalism:
- All clothes I did not buy or that don't fit. I have too many oversized t-shirts that were given as free swag. I’ve also held onto some work clothes for 10 years just in case I return. But I’m never returning now.
- Any shoes over two years old to protect my ankles from rolling over. The heels wear down, creating more risk.
- Donate children's books and toys to organizations that giveaway books and toys to needy families. During the pandemic, we accumulated a library of children's books. I know other children between 1-5 will love them too. Giving the gift of education through books is the best.
- If my condo tenant ever leaves, I will sell it if the conditions are fair. The condo is relatively low maintenance given there is an HOA and the condo isn't big. When the time comes, I will happily reinvest the proceeds into a diversified private real estate fund.
- Sell my primary residence if I ever upgrade our house again. No matter how much money you have, you can only live in one place at one time. No longer will I buy a new place and then rent my old place out since I've hit my physical property limit.
- Reduce the average length of my posts by 20%. Shorter posts are easier to edit and easier to read. Further, it increases my chances of not burning out.
Becoming a complete minimalist may be a challenge given we still have two young children. However, we will try to instill in them the philosophy that “less is more.” Moderation is the key!
Reader Questions And Suggestions
Readers, have you embraced minimalism? What are some of the things you want more of and less of? Do you think minimalism and early retirement go hand-in-hand?
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34 thoughts on “Minimalism And Early Retirement Go Perfectly Together”
I feel like minimalism is becoming a lot more popular nowadays. Not having a bunch of material goods that you need to get rid of is a great thing. This is especially true as we get older and aren’t as physically able any more.
So that’s why your RSS feed shows up in bunches… I was wondering why I was getting two/three posts at a time from you in one go :)
Yep. Hopefully fixed now. Always bugs to squash with software. Sigh.
I’m big on minimalism and try to incorporate it. I’ve:
1. donated lots of clothes, toys, electronics, other items over the years.
2. wait a week or two to rationalize before I buy something.
3. no longer buy random/trendy stocks and stick with low cost funds.
Btw do you have a post on real real estate investing vs REITs/crowdfunding and the risks/rewards compared to one another?
Property investment minimalism:
As a real estate investor, only buying a property that fits into a “box”
( being defined as a specific set of parameters which can be property size, property work load/turnaround, number of units , certain distance, not buying in certain areas)
Using the same vendors for all properties. Same backup vendors. If you switch for one, you switch for all (after a trial).
Integrating a property into a system versus creating a system around a specific property.
The down side ( or upside ) depending on how you look it is lack of market diversification or investments diversification.
Being disciplined enough to know what can or can not go into the box.
Also determining when the box is subject to modification
Minimalism = intentionalism. Back to your example about filling a closet with unnecessary clothes…….
Understanding that any acquisition you make has to be intentional and with a purpose. To be careful as to not acquire new garments for the sake of filling a closet. All garments will require tending to, either in manual or physical format. Periodic dusting, occasionally a button will pop off, modification of waist size…. Remembering if it was pressed?
Looking at a pair of shoes and thinking sure, this pair of Hoka Cliftons will be worth the additional expense and space in closet. They will provide value and utility outside of “every day” pair of shoes. So yes , it makes sense to own them and have the occupy space in your life.
Using the same concept on a property and evaluating it in a similar manner . Will this property cause me further debt and stress? Is this the seed that goes to pay for an advanced education for my child. Is this the property that provides the ability for additional travel adventure funds? This may not be as relevant in the portfolio *building* phase as you are working to survive rather than thrive. There comes a point though where the risk and effort maybe require thoughtful property minimalism on determining if that 3 piece suit deserves the limited capacity of your wardrobe. There might be a time to sell certain properties within the portfolio as well just as you would in evaluating your wardrobe.
You can use a property to create freedom but also a new growth opportunity.
Thank you for this thoughtful analogy.
For your point regarding investing in real estate, if you live in coastal area, would you invest in real estate in the area given the low rental yield and uncertain appreciation? Or would you put the money in US treasuries ( >4% now) or perhaps Fundrise instead?
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Interesting thoughts on minimalism. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it anymore. If I focus on what I ‘need’ for comfort today, I’m not fearful or saddened by not having sentimental T-shirts in a closet. Of course, traveling the world on 2k a month and a backpack on wheels helps me stay minimalist.
Great post! Minimalism is super important for making mental space for more important things! These are some of the things I do to keep my life simple:
1) No pets
2) Besides playing in my adult soccer league, I only exercise via running, jumping rope, and calisthenics. No exercise that involves high maintenance equipment or gear such as bicycles, rowing machines, tread mills, etc.
3) No TV (which means no remotes or annoying subscriptions to manage.)
4) Minimal kitchen gadgets
5) My kids often bring home “art”, most of which isn’t very good, so I just mail it off to sentimental relatives and they can keep it. If my kids create something that actually looks good, then I display it. This keeps kid clutter under control.
6) If my kids haven’t played with something in a while, I give it away on my Buy Nothing FB group. This also keeps clutter down.
7) I only have a few work clothes and workout clothes (just 3-4 distinct outfits).
8) I have only one car
I love a simple life!
“The biggest benefit of driving a cheap old car is better mental health. You can get a door ding at the supermarket and you wouldn’t care!”
SOMEONE has to buy the new cars, otherwise you won’t have used cars.
Wealthy people drive older cars, because when the cars die, the person has the cash to just buy another one, or take an Uber for repairs. Poor people need something dependable, because they don’t have savings, because of how the economy is. Irresponsibility could explain some of it, but not the scale of the issue in America, you can’t say that 80% of people are lazy, that just doesn’t fly.
While we were getting our Airbnb set up, we moved into it temporarily for the convenience of working on the property. We were probably living there for two months too long since the place was pretty much ready for guests and we just had to evict ourselves from the place. What happened was that we had gotten too comfortable there with its minimal furnishings and clean look. As soon as we got back to our real home, we were in a cleaning and decluttering frenzy to make our place as nice as the Airbnb.
I loved this post. I have been reading about this topic for a long time and listening to podcasts related to it and I feel that it helps and increases the quality of life in different aspects: It is about living simply and having only what is necessary to carry out your daily life also reduces stress and anxiety.
This is one of my goals for 2023: to buy, have and keep the things that I really need or appreciate. It’s even easier to keep the house clean with just the necessary, sometimes we buy things for ourselves or our family that we don’t really need or rarely use and it starts to accumulate. I try to do the same with my friends, just have few but quality and there will be less drama in my life lol.
“It is about living simply and having only what is necessary to carry out your daily life also reduces stress and anxiety.” Absolutely! And less drama is always good in life as well.
Hope you come visit next year! Everyone misses you :)
For the longest time, I was a minimalist. I only had a bed and two night stands in my room! Compared to my circle of friends, I had minimal trendy/luxury clothing, handbags and shoes for years. I also sold things of value when I no longer wanted them. When I go over to my girlfriends’ homes, I always wonder why they have so much clothing and what would they do with all the clothes , shoes that they never or barely wear.
However, I’ve since lived it up a bit and went the opposite direction, and even splurged on several nice items while on vacation overseas. I’ve realized that life is too short. Now I will buy things that I truly want and will enjoy and can afford. I’m not retired yet but taking a mini break for the past few months. My mindset will probably change when I retire and after i have enjoyed more of whatever it is, it’ll likely get boring. Overall, I love the minimalist lifestyle because I have less junk at home and less to clean! :) I will likely move to a smaller place when my son goes to college. Have another ten years or so to go!
True about spending money intentionally bc life is too short. No point working hard and making money if we don’t spend it.
Good to focus on spending on quality, not quantity. It’s the quantity that is overwhelming and acts like an anchor to happiness.
Great post Sam! Funny how all your posts – like the facebook and Instagram ads in my feed – seem to speak directly to me, when I most need it!
5yrs ago I made a massive life change: separated from a 15+ yr marriage, quit my exhilarating but draining full-time job, sold a big house, and downsized to only what I thought I couldn’t live without (which fit in 2 suitcases and a 8x8x16 storage container).
After 6 months of travel, I got rid of half of even that stuff. I started a business, rented an apartment (aka office for tax purposes) and started accumulating again.
Queue the pandemic and it wasn’t nearly so scary to shed newly acquired “stuff” a second time. As fun as splurging can be in the moment, really appreciating a few precious things feels better.
I recently bought a house and am back in the accumulation phase… but now know I can (and will) consciously trim down and the freedom and joy that simplicity will bring.
Wonderful to hear Erica! I’m glad you made courageous changes in your life for the better. It’s not easy to do at all.
Also, the greatest compliment I can receive as a writer is when a reader feels like I’ve made a connection with them.
Thanks for sharing. The world is so messy sometimes. And we all go through typical times that will test us. But we need to keep on fighting and keep on staying positive.
Great post Sam!
I like to believe that my wife and I (and our 5 kids) embraced a minimalist lifestyle almost 30 years ago…. Alas, that may or may not be true.
We cut the cable cord about 25 years ago and never looked back. We limited ourselves to free library books, and the occasional movie rental.
Eventuality technology caught us, and we now now stream movies on our Amazon Prime account… lol!
We haven’t bought a new car since 2013, but we now own 5 used cars, including the first family minivan we bought in November 2002. The others are vintage 2003, 2006, 2009. (We have 3 driver age “children”.
We’ve homeschooled every kid since 1998. One is finishing university (debt free), two others are employed in full time skilled jobs (both are Eagle Scouts). We’ve got 8 more years of homeschooling with the two youngest.
My wife and have been self employed in 3 businesses since 1993. We sold the first in 2006, we just sold the second, and the third is a physical property management company. I have about 4 years of work and an equity stake in the company that bought my tech company.
We’ve saved and invested diligently for a long time, and we’re seeing the fruits of those efforts now as we near real “retirement”.
Despite this arguably complicated life, we are my mindful to be as minimalistic as possible, which is to say we focus on our faith and our family, and discern the best path forward.
Most everything works out pretty well!
5! What a blessing. But I gotta say, it’s hard to be a minimalist with five kids, at least when they are young.
Any tips for keeping a happy household are welcome! Thanks
Like steak and fine wine! Yeah I feel like in the age of FIRE FOMO we focus so much on hitting our FIRE number that we fail to factor in the benefits of minimalizing our lifestyle. For those pursuing early retirement, starting to minimize your lifestyle now can drastically change the rate you reach your FI number. Even if you don’t choose to retire once you reach financial independence, minimizing your lifestyle can drive appreciable change elsewhere. I agree with much of what you wrote.
Ever since FI, I have been trying to simplify my life. From my investments to how I run my businesses to how we’re living our lives, I’m trying to find ways to make it simpler. There’s no need to make it complicated, anymore. When you’ve won the game, stop playing. With more free time, I’d rather be spending it with family or doing the things that I enjoy. There’s a lot to be said about living a minimalist life.
My wife says”You don’t own things, Things own you” However when you have kids they want everything. Thanks a lot Amazon. A package comes everyday.
I can totally relate to this post. My life is so much more complicated now than it was in my 20s. And I only see it getting more complex unless I make some active changes. Things can get out of control with raising young kids, so it definitely takes being mindful about every new thing that comes into the house and also not letting the number of sentimental things get out of hand. Using Marie Kondo’s “does it spark joy?” question is very helpful when trying to declutter. I need to put that to work over the next few months and simplify some rooms and closets. Thanks for the motivation!
Great article and NOT burdensome long either! Minimalism is so freeing and we live with one couch, a nice TV and minimal box spring/mattress set up. In all, we have added 4-5 tables/dressers and that is it! Extra bedroom in our rental apartment(we keep renewing lease) that serves as ersatz office/guest room. More concerned about keeping track of my 115 stock positions that are still down 22% in 2022 or the equivalent of about 10 years worth of living expenses. Keep telling yourselves you are poor when the complete opposite is true.
I’m glad you don’t feel this post isn’t too long. It’s 2,100 words long. And I’ve been meaning to write closer to 1,200-1,500 words instead. But I’ve done my best to break sections up to make reading more digestible.
The T-Shirts collection. I actually was thinking about this the other day. In my line of work we are often given branded clothes from vendors, and suppliers and even the company. While looking at my closet the other day, I saw numerous shirts from each source. When looking at them closer, I saw that I had a few shirts and even jackets from a previous employer, from nearly 10 years ago.
Now, I would never wear the logo of a direct competitor, so why do I keep these? Perhaps, I thought one day I might go back to them, and I didn’t want to lose the clothes. In reality, they are just taking up space, and a constant reminder of a different life.
So, I’ll say I’m inspired by your post. I’ll group up the 20-30 items tonight and donate them.
I want to eventually get to a point where I am living minimally, but it’s hard. Old habits die hard I guess.
But what I try to do is to always throw / donate an item if I purchase something. For example, if I buy a t-shirt, I will bring it home and look for a t-shirt that I seldom wear or is worn out and either donate it or use it as a rag before tossing it out.
Baby steps I guess.
I agree completely. A year ago, I also ‘retired’ from being a financial advisor. It was stressful and kind of boring to sit in an office all day. I had sold my house, downsized to an apartment and managed my investments. I’ve been able to travel the world, spend time with friends and family and destress.
It’s been good to let opportunities pop up. I’ve started a travel blog for older women, become a tour leader, very part-time for a women’s travel company, give free financial coaching to women and will start being a substitute teacher occasionally in January. It’s great to have freedom and flexibility with very minimal ‘stuff’ filling my life. Oh, and my car is 8 years old and running great!
I’ve really enjoyed your articles and recently bought your book. Thanks!
Chrissy, would love to hear of your travels and free financial coaching.
I agree with you on the old car stuff. I have a car that is twenty years old and I will drive it until the wheels fall off. I also hate buying new cell phones because I worry about cracking the screen etc. The longer you own items the less you worry about something bad happening to them. I buy cheap Chromebooks to use for web surfing etc, that way if something happens and they break it costs next to nothing to replace them.
I will probably be a renter all of my life. Let someone else deal with the maintenance and expense of your living space. Every homeowner I know wastes thousands of dollars on maintenance costs for various things. Whether it be a new AC unit, furnace, or a broken dishwasher. No Thank you to any of that.
Nah! Can’t really compare maintenance costs with lighting money on fire with rent. Home ownership is the quickest way to wealth. If for no other reason, forced savings. Plus, there is pride in ownership which can’t be understated.
If you live in a low cost area with low rent payments stock market investments have far outpaced gains from the housing market historically. Of course if you are like my parents and don’t have the discipline to save money in a brokerage account every month then definitely a mortgage is forced savings. I am also not able to perform most of the costly maintenance required with a home myself.
I am in a situation to retire early because I don’t own a home and have reasonable rent payments. If home ownership is working for you that is fantastic and I am glad you are doing well. My brother has also done well by buying real estate. There are many ways to make money in this country and it is awesome no matter what path you choose.
I really appreciate this post. My siblings and I are helping an elderly family member declutter in various ways (physical stuff, financial stuff, digital stuff). We’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s so much still to do. In our geographic area, we found excellent organizations to donate items to (furniture, curtains, books, kitchen items, tools, and more). We’d love to see him downsize to a smaller residence, but I don’t think that will happen. When I first started helping him, I used to binge-watch Tiny House Nation to recuperate from dealing with the too-big house with too much stuff in it situation! I have great appreciation for the work of The Minimalists (I happened to discover them on Netflix in 2019 while on vacation), Marie Kondo (I have gotten great ideas from her work and use the ideas that are suitable for our situation), and others. I’m learning about the keep it simple approach to investing, but it wouldn’t make sense for me or my family members to suddenly shift to this approach (possibly to gradually shift – working on figuring that out). When he was younger, ETFs didn’t exist…He invested in a variety of interesting ways, mostly through the stock market but also real estate (physical and 1031 exchange). He is quite good at all things financial, but the complexity became more burdensome as he got older. The upside of helping him simplify is that I am learning a lot about all sorts of things I knew little about, and the downside is that it’s a big job, an ongoing process. I also appreciate the people we have met along the way who have helped, such as a rep at the company where he gets his homeowner’s insurance who recognized he was over-insured and helped him save a nice bit of money without becoming under-insured.