Why I Chose Minimalism for my Retirement Years

Photo of a WaterfallFor some people the notion of a retired person being an intentional minimalist may seem counter intuitive. You have spent your most productive years accumulating possessions — saving “stuff” — so that you would have the things to enjoy after you retire. After you retire, there will be less money coming in and it is presumably comforting to know that the stuff you purchased will be available and waiting. This was my attitude for years and honestly I managed to accumulate a lot of stuff.

Even though I was lucky enough to have a great job, that I am still grateful for, I still wondered what all my effort was bringing me. I craved experience and adventure, but with long commutes, limited time to travel and a rigid schedule, all I really accomplished was buying more stuff. I became very uncomfortable with the realization that most of my work was going toward accumulating more possessions and providing a place for them to live. I came to resent that my time and my effort wasn’t mine; most of it was going to my stuff.

Eventually, it dawned on me that modern consumerism was a fraud that keeps people just happy enough to keep buying more stuff; but my cultural conditioning made me reluctant to accept that. Even though I didn’t know exactly why, I too craved more toys to play with, the latest model of whatever and room to display my “trophies” for all to see. None of it kept me happy, but the temporary rush that came from new acquisitions at least satisfied me long enough to get up in the morning, get in the car and do it all over again. I was, as so many of us have been, well trained to be yet another cog in a machine that produces money on one end and sends it out the other, without giving much consideration to what happens with our lives in between.

Then an opportunity for early retirement began approaching and I started asking myself some tough questions. Do all the physical things I have accumulated over the years really make me happy or are they holding me back? What if I were to pare my possessions down to a minimum; could I take the early retirement? Would I still be me if I didn’t have all of this stuff?

In my soul I knew that my enjoyment in life came from relationships, travel, adventure and new experiences. But again, cultural conditioning and the anxiety of giving up my material goods made me fear stepping off of the consumerist treadmill. I wondered what would a life based on intention and experience, instead of mindless reaction and “retail therapy”, look like? How much less would I need if I simply became more awake in my decisions and lived for the things that I valued? I knew that those questions were unquantifiable, but they were also the most important, so I vowed to myself to find out and took retirement at the earliest opportunity.

Time is the great equalizer. In the final analysis, we are our time and what we did with it. Time is limited and I practiced centering my life around experiences, not around how much dross I could accumulate. By simply becoming more aware, minimalism kind of came naturally. I began to find comfort in paring all of my possessions down to the point where everything I owned had a use or added meaning to my life. Also, without knowing it I stumbled onto the fact that minimalism had other benefits that I had really not considered.

Minimalism has brought me freedom and peace of mind. I used to fret about what would happen, if, for whatever reason, I was to lose all of my possessions? I paid for locks, alarms and insurance to make sure that my stuff didn’t disappear, or if it did, I would get somehow compensated. Now, even though I am careful, I don’t worry about something happening to my things; I don’t have that much and everything I do have could be easily replaced. My life is less complicated and I am able to spend more time on the things that are important to me without distraction. I can focus on creative endeavors and self-improvement. It is easier to be available and present in my relationships.

Sadly, I have met people who have finally gotten the material things they craved throughout their lives, but now instead of enjoying it, they discover that their focus was off and they spend their days in fear, worried about losing what they have achieved. While I am not wealthy in material things I am comfortable and satisfied with what I have. I don’t have to worry about having money for things I want because my needs are few and without all my other possessions draining me, I don’t have to struggle. If I want something I ask myself a few questions and, if I choose, go ahead and get it. My life is simpler now but much more exciting because I am not frustrated by grasping for material things or worried about holding on to them.

Minimalism is just something that has worked for me. I am not suggesting anyone give up all their stuff because they are looking to fill a void in their life and hoping to fill it with minimalism. That makes no more sense than trying to purchase happiness by buying a lot of stuff. What I am suggesting, is that it might be valuable to take a deliberate look at the things in your life, decide which ones are truly necessary, choose the ones that truly bring you happiness, and uncomplicate your life by eliminating the stuff you don’t need or truly want. Minimalism hasn’t made me feel deprived of anything, in fact, just the opposite: I feel liberated and I am having more fun than I have ever had in my entire life!

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Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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