Minimalist Living: Because Anything Else Is A Waste Of Time And Money

Early in life, teachers teach us about the three types of nouns – people, places, and things. Later in life, we gain two forms of currency, time and money, to spend on these three types of nouns. The natural question to ask is…

“Which gives the best return on investment – people, places, or things?”

People Are The Best

People (n): Human beings in general or considered collectively.

empty stadium

You won’t fully comprehend how much something means to you until you lose it.

Here’s a fun morbid exercise: imagine yourself on your deathbed. It’s the last day of your life. As you take your final breaths, what do you care about right now? Is your movie collection on your mind? How about your bank account?

Neither. They don’t matter anymore. And they’re not by your bedside. Please tell me your movie collection is not beside you in this scenario.

On your mind will be the people you love and of course, what may come after death. You’ll think about the lives you impacted and those lives which impacted you. Using your imagination for this hypothetical scenario makes it clear. People matter most.

How we spend on people: We spend time with people. We spend money to travel to see them. We sacrifice working hours (i.e. money) to spend more time with them.

Places Are Second Best

Place (n) – A particular position or point in space.


This is a tower in Freiburg, Germany that overlooks the entire city. At the top you can see two human-like silhouettes – my cousin and me! Freiburg is now one of my favorite cities. Oh, and later, my cousin would return to the top of this tower to propose to his (now) wife!

Places are a close second because they are often defined by the culture of the people who live there as well as the people themselves. I love to experience the variety of Earth’s people, and that requires traveling to different places. When you visit another place, you discover that we’re all so different in style and culture, and yet, we’re all the same in terms of human needs.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

~ Mark Twain

As we travel, we expand. Our understanding of humanity increases dramatically. Thankfully, travel is as interesting and fun as it is beneficial.

How we spend on places: Planes, cars, buses lodging, tourist activities, and food are all monetary expenses associated with seeing places. Taking time off of work is a time/money triple whammy (unless it’s paid time off). Not only are you spending time and money at your destination, but you’re not earning more money working! Travel is often expensive for this reason and the cost of transit/lodging, but in my opinion, it’s worth every million! Ok, not that expensive.

Things Are Worst

Thing (n) – A material object without life or consciousness; an inanimate object.

Garage inside

Sure it looks bad now, but it’s fascinating that every single one of these items was collected with the intent to make the buyer happier. Obviously, that didn’t work out, and it never had a chance. Things can’t make us happy, and in numbers, they can easily make us miserable.

The world is business-centric and competitive on a global scale now. We’re constantly inundated with advertisements that convey “this product will make you happy.” The new car, the new TV, and the new game system all promise to make our life more complete. Unfortunately, it’s all lies. As more people believe the message, it spreads from person to person like a disease.

Minimalist movements are sprouting up as a result of the theory that fewer possessions will increase happiness because the lifestyle allows us to focus on more important nouns. This has been my experience, but it has more backing than just that. Studies continue to show that money (the most commonly desired “thing” that allows you to buy other things) has a negligible impact on happiness and that hard-earned cash is better spent on experiences than stuff.

  • Every adventurous movie you buy = a missed opportunity to go on an adventure yourself.
  • Every TV you buy = a plane ticket to some place you’ve never been before.
  • Every expensive car you buy = a reliable car plus several experiences you’ll remember forever.

Possessions aren’t inherently bad. I don’t eat with my hands because forks are “evil physical objects.” Possessions just aren’t as amazing as we’ve been led to believe by those who sell them and they’re worse in large numbers. When I think of the people and places I could have seen with the money I’ve wasted on non-essential things, I regret ever buying those things. Deeply. But when I first bought them, it felt right and it was exciting.

Possessions seem great at first, but the reality of owning something rarely lives up to the hype.

How we spend on things: First and foremost, we pay to own them. Then we (sometimes) spend time using them. If we want more of them, we have to spend more time at work to make more money. Compared to people and places, things are unique in two ways that might make you want to live as a minimalist…

  1. Things are the only of the three nouns that allow and encourage more time spent working. People and places require time spent with them, often at the expense of work, but you can own a massive number of things while spending all of your time at work.
  2. Things are unique in that it is possible to spend time and money to acquire them, without using them much or at all. This is a direct waste of time and money. For most of us, money is earned by spending time at work, so when you waste money, you are also wasting time you spent to get it. With people and places, however, you “use what you spend.”

A Convenient, Lightweight Truth – Not Buying Possessions Will Make You Happier

Possessions provide the least amount of happiness in return for time and money. They are often wasteful to purchase, like when I recently bought a cell phone stand to be useful and have never used it. Minimalist living is the best way because it’s about only having things you need. That means more time, money, and energy to spend on people and places (which leads to better experiences, and a happier life).

If you have extra money to spend, experiences or food are good choices.

Things have a “pay once and use for years” value appeal over an experience’s one-time nature. I get that. But it’s a value trap, as we say in the investing world, because time of usage is not an accurate measure of value. If I licked a rock for 40 years, you wouldn’t call it valuable, would you? Experiences add more value and happiness to your life and they are weightless! Not only that, but it doesn’t cost money to spend time with people.

Why yes, being able to lick a rock for 40 years makes it more appealing.

~ Person who doesn’t get it

Look at your lifestyle to determine your current priorities. People who value things generally spend more and work more to support the habit. People who value places often travel at every chance they get (me!) and make sacrifices in other areas to make it happen. People who value other people often work less and live simpler lives in order to spend more time with family and friends.

You’ll be happiest to value people most. We’re social beings and we need to feel like we belong and are understood by at least a select few. With billions of different people, we can all find other people who “get” us. Focus on meeting and spending time with great people, and you won’t regret it.

You’ll be happy to value places most. There are people in these places, and we can meet a lot of interesting people when we travel! A love of travel can mean that you love people and want to see and experience different cultures and traditions (and foods…mmmm).

You’ll regret valuing things most. Sooner or later in life, you will be disappointed if you pursue things over people and places. No combination of possessions can match the experience of connecting with another human being or discovering another culture. Possessions are tools, not pursuits.

Possessions are tools, not pursuits.

Click to tweet this quote

From all of this, there is a clear takeaway. Experiences with other people are the nutmeg, cinnamon, and paprika of life! If you briefly consider the best times of your life, I doubt you were alone in them, and I doubt you were doing nothing. Chances are, it was an experience with another person.

I do my best to live according to this now. I’ve already shed most of my possessions and…

  1. I went to Kauai, Hawaii with two of my best friends last August.
  2. I’m going to San Francisco tomorrow (!) with the intent of meeting people there.
  3. I’m planning a trip to Rome, Italy in May with one of the friends from the Kauai trip (yo Ben D if you’re reading this!).

Oh, and I sold my projector to pay for the San Francisco trip. I’ll let you know if it was worth it, but you know the answer. 😉

Isn’t it interesting that

In a beautiful world filled with dazzling technology and gasp-worthy natural beauty, which orbits around a huge star (that by volume could fit one million Earths inside of it), which is only the small central dot of a enormous galaxy, which is actually only a miniscule portion of an astronomically large and mysterious universe, the best part of this colossal universe is found in something so small in scope… human life.

Take Action: The next time you want to buy something, ask yourself if you really need it. Then quantify the time cost by thinking about the time it takes you to earn that much money. Next, compare the cost of the item to an experience you could have instead. Lastly, consider the cost of having to carry it around, store it, and manage it for its lifetime. If it passes all of these tests satisfactorily, it’s probably a bagel.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.


I have to agree with all of this. When I got rid of 20 years worth of accumulated junk I’d been lugging around and moved into a beautiful open little red barnhouse here in rural Vermont, I was taking a stab at a minimalist lifestyle without even knowing there was such a thing.

I tossed most everything save for some books, my computer, and my guitar equipment. I even chucked my TV.

Wow. What a difference. Removing the clutter from my life removed the clutter from my mind.

When I finally got internet service 4 months later, I discovered this movement called “minimalism.” Apparently, I was a minimalist. Go figure.

Minimalism has, at its core, the idea of simple mindful living. In this overly complicated and overly busy day and age, the trend towards minimalism is only going to grow.


Stephen Guise

Wow, you were even without internet. I haven’t tried that level of minimalism yet. 🙂

I can relate to what you said about removing clutter removing the clutter of your mind. I’ve found this to be one of the most powerful, but often overlooked benefits of having less. Each item we own takes up a tiny space in our mind. So when I can visually see everything I own in the world, my mind is at ease because I know I can handle it (and move anywhere, anytime, easily!).

Thanks for sharing your experience Trevor. It’s great you found minimalism before this movement started. I think I was experimenting with it before it took off, but once I started reading about people only owning a backpack full of stuff, I was inspired to do a lot more.

Cheers. 🙂

Joyce Cerroni

Thanks for this post. I don’t find it controversial at all, although I am sure many of the younger set do, unfortunately. For myself, however, I find that as I get older, the less I want to have – each time I have moved I have downsized. The more you have the more you have to manage, dust, clean, move, pay for . . . less is definitely better.

Aunt Carol & Uncle Jack

Excellent article and photos! We agree that we ought to get rid of lots of our “things,” but we have to do it a little at a time to be sure to catch any hidden “gems.” Many of the items are from our parents and others, and have sentimental value. Fortunately our family has spent our money wisely over the years, and we don’t have very many things we bought that we do/did not use. We are indeed happier spending time with family and friends than with acquiring “things.” Reading your blog is indirectly a way of spending time with you – “listening” to you, responding back to you, following some of your connections with people and places. Have a great trip! Looking forward to hearing about it!


My great weakness is books.

I do prioritise people. Though this means I am poorer than my contemporaries – which has its difficulties. I have few regrets.


I really enjoyed this post. In college I took the 100 Things Challenge in my Sociology class ( It was definitely a challenge and I definitely learned how much I can do without. Unfortunately since then I’ve managed to accumulate more stuff, but then I moved half way around the world and had to ditch most of it again! Admittedly stuff is starting to gather again… maybe it’s time for a bit of a clean out!

Stephen Guise

I can relate. I was moving every three months, and that encouraged me to get rid of excess stuff. I love not having to manage many things now; It frees the mind!

Stephen Guise

Thank you. I decided about a year or so ago that I didn’t want to have many sentimental items. I would rather think of the person directly than attach my memories of them to a possession, because what if you lost the object? Would that affect your memory of the person? I wouldn’t think so. I realize it’s nice to attach meaning to some things, but in my case, they’d have to be very small, low maintenance things (or something practical). 🙂

The trip is going so well! I’ve had a blast so far. I’m resting today because my calves are really sore from exploring!

Stephen Guise

Evan, have you considered getting a Kindle? I switched everything over to Kindle and it’s been great! I know many people like the feel and tradition of a regular book (myself included), so it comes down to what you desire the most. I love being able to take all of my books with me on trips in a tiny 6 oz device!

I’m the same way with people. No regrets! That’s great to hear – you’re doing a lot of things the right way. Cheers!


Hi Stephen, yes I’ve thought about a kindle. Most of the books are older and not very mainstream so not available in the format.

I have a feeling that there is a difference to reading on a kindle to reading a paper book, but I can’t put my finger on it. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it still.

Stephen Guise

As interesting as the 100 things challenge is, I think it looks at minimalism a bit inside-out. I think the ideal number of possessions will vary greatly with each person and their lifestyle. For some, maybe 50 things in a backpack. For others, perhaps 500 things in a house. So the danger in this is if you’re more of a 500 thing person and you whittle down to 100 things, then you’re going to “backlash” and buy more stuff, perhaps going overboard. Then you might say “minimalism isn’t for me!”

You’re the second person to say that moving triggered getting rid of your possessions. And I noticed that moving every three months last year triggered a more serious minimalist push for me. It seems that moving is a common catalyst for purging items. That brings up an important question – what else can/should be a catalyst for shedding possessions? For me, I’m trying to incorporate it as a lifestyle, where I’m always looking to simplify life.


Stephen Guise

I see. Older, non-mainstream books probably won’t ever be digitized, so that could prohibit a complete transfer to digital for you.

There is a difference, but it’s a mix of good and bad. The e-ink of the Kindle does look very good and doesn’t strain the eyes at all like an LCD screen. As a bonus, you can change the font size to whatever is most comfortable. Oh, and on the touchscreen Kindles, you can long press on a word for a quick definition since it has a dictionary built-in.


Minimalism. First time I read your article, I realized I have been bending towards minimalism for so long. And yes, I got rid of so many things when I moved from London to Italy 7 months ago, but only later on I realized that it wasn’t just my possessions that I was getting rid of. People remember moments with other people, places where they were fully present, let themselves go, truly enjoyed the moment of now. Would you ever remember what phone you used to call that person in 2001 that you adored? I guess you would only remember how it felt. How he smelt. How excited you were.. There is definitely an obsession going on with owning possessions and it even decides how much someone values in society. Time is money. And the higher up you reach in your career, the less time you will have left for yourself, for the ones that you love and to spend the shocking money you make- so you end up buying expensive products and start saving for some unclear future that always includes a house, couple of cars, baby toys and a proper life-insurance. I still don’t have an iPhone but my friends 2-year old daughter knows the newest iPhone inside-out and perfectly handles an iPad. (I have been given a Kindle as a present recently and am still hesitating to start using it, perhaps I switch it on toonight?)
I started to get rid of my possessions around 3 weeks ago- okay I did start with only about 10% however I found a 50 euro note, a couple of great belts and…a bunch of hidden sentiments that sneak out once you take those bday cards from your sister trying to bin them before you start thinking….and there they come, talking to you, shouting ‘No no, don’t bin me, is this how you honor your sister’s present?’ I think I have always preferred getting rid of old things rather than getting new ones. I never understood how others can leave an empty shampoo or toothpaste in the bathroom for months or how someone can collect coins till they become ‘unspendable’ as anyone you would bring them to (except if it was a machine) would cut you open with their look, tone or both. I think you don’t need that much money to be happy- in fact too much money as well as too much of anything changes people, their values and corrupts them. As whoever lives out of balance with life, themselves, will find himself being thrown back again, perhaps in a way that he/she does not remember having created consciously.

Stephen Guise

You just moved to Italy? I’m visiting Rome next month!

I agree with what you’ve said, Katarina. Money and possessions aren’t usually as amazing as they’re portrayed.


Oh yes, I love Italy! Even though a part of me will always be in London. I live near the mountains, around an hour drive from Rome. I was looking for a quieter, better lifestyle, to settle down. So I gave up my career, money, friends, excitements, a lot of my possessions and the queen :))) to move to this lovely country. Rome is beautiful. Will you bring any luggage or just a minimalist backpack?

Stephen Guise

I’ll bring a backpack. It can hold a decent amount of stuff, but I want to pack light. 🙂

C Colananni

Thank you, I really enjoyed this read. At first I thought “Right on! Things don’t make us happy.” I’ve heard this my entire life so it was a knee jerk reaction. But the truth, for me anyway, is that some things really do make me happy. First to come to mind is my cars. I really like them. I work on them, they look great, and they are fun to drive. They do facilitate interaction with people sometimes, but even without that they make me happy. I’ve got one that I need to sell, simply because it doesn’t get used much. It’s like parting with a friend. I have many human friends that I do indeed enjoy and treasure, but there are times that I can lose myself in a car project or enjoy a great drive and my problems just slip away. I have houses that I enjoy working on and landscaping, also. I really get gratification from many aspects of what they provide. I guess people should be number one, but for me certain “stuff” is tied for second place with travel. When I travel to other countries it’s kind of a hassle (esp with security!) the people aren’t always “amazing” (London reminded me of NY sometimes), and in the end I find that I am observing people doing what I do here at home, just in different types of buildings. I run into people who “travel” frequently and it seems their goal is to get home and bore everyone to death with their stories of how amazing it was and drag through a bunch of pictures on their phone. “Oh you should go. Look at this tower. We flew there and went up it. It was really really something. You could see all these buildings where the people work that live there…”

Stephen Guise

Hahaha, your description of travelers was hilarious and uncomfortably true. I like to travel because it challenges me in several ways, and I love to explore and experience new cultures. When I went to Rome, the ancient buildings were really cool at first, but it was the experiences with people I met there that mean the most.

As for your cars, I can understand that. But in a way it sounds like your cars give you an experience – riding in them, working on them… But it’s not so important to define everything semantically – if you enjoy them and they make you happy… that’s awesome!


C Colananni

Thanks for the kind reply! I didn’t mean to sound harsh, just having a little fun with my personal feelings. I wish everyone a happy life (except for mean people of course!). Cheers to you also!

Stephen Guise

Haha, no problem at all. I found it funny. Thank you!

*raises glass*


Stephen ,

What you have shared here is GREAT! Priceless. I really gained a lot from what you’ve written. I have taken an interest in minimalism and have been going through my own process of it since Nov 2012. I would really like to work less and live more. I have a family and I also want to provide the things that they need. I’ve stopped spending money on “things” for myself and I’ll only buy for my sons what they “need” with few exceptions on holidays and birthdays. I agree, I would love to travel. I also love to spend time with people that I care about and with people that interest me. The travel part is a tough one right now because with a family of 5, it will be costly to visit the places that I dream of experiencing. However, when my sons are independent and on their own, I plan to travel with my wife as often as possible. I would love to take more family trips with all of us but it can be very expensive to do so. Worth every penny, no doubt, but with day to day needs, it’s difficult to put it together.

I also try not to push minimalism on my family. However, I’ve noticed that it’s rubbing off naturally and I’m glad for that. I want my sons to know that experiences trump all possessions and will always do so.

Thank you for sharing this. I literally agree with everything you’ve written here.


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