A few years ago, back when I was still a university student, I bought a brand new road bike which I owned and loved for a couple of months before it was quietly stolen in the early hours of a grey rainy morning. There were no any security cameras, so the local police couldn’t do anything about it. I never got it back.
I was devastated. It was worth the equivalent of a few hundred dollars, which was a lot of money to me back then when I only working part-time around my studies for £8 an hour and was spending less than £20 a week on food. For months after that every time I thought about the money I wasted on a stolen bike I would kick myself for not being more careful.
I was so upset and angry that I made a vow to myself that one day I would earn enough money so that losing a few hundred dollars would never affect me so badly again.
Little did I know that over the next few years the incident would become fuel for my future growth and a valuable life lesson.
Over the following months I worked hard to finish my degree and was awarded prestigious internships in the public sector. I was offered good job opportunities at the end, but I turned them down because it wasn’t enough for me. I switched to the private sector because it paid more money. I’m not saying that the bike incident was the only reason (after all, I had been bought up by Asian immigrant parents who equated money with self-worth which took me years to get over) but I was definitely motivated by earning more money for the better part of my career.
Eventually I grew exhausted with corporate life, so I quit the conventional career path and started my own business so I could work less but still, of course, earn more money. To cut a long story short, now my investments are paying off and my business is growing every year. I’ve earned and saved enough resources in the last two or three years that I’ve noticed myself feeling more free about spending and giving money away.
So thanks to the bike thief, I made and fulfilled that promise to myself to earn enough money so that a few hundred dollars isn’t such a big deal any more. At least, it’s not worth getting so upset over because I can earn it back. But looking back now I can see that the original promise was a shallow reaction to losing money. The real question is, how can feel less stressed about money, and more happy about my life? Is it as simple as earning more?
No, the answer is more complex. Certainly earning more money helps (and I do appreciate there are people who don’t have a lot and would be horrified at the thought of working hard for something expensive and having it stolen—see above, I’ve been there) but as I get older and I naturally cycle through more things over time, I’ve also noticed myself getting less and less attached to things in general.
Whereas when I was a child the few toys and clothes I had were precious to me, nearly three decades later I’ve gone through hundreds of possessions which have come into my life, been used, and then donated or disposed of. It’s not that I’m much more wasteful than the average person (in fact as a practising minimalist I have less than most people) but it’s just a natural result of living a normal life—clothes wear down, favourite mugs break, books get read, gadgets die… eventually things get replaced. Repeat the process a few dozen times for everything I’ve ever owned and naturally one becomes less attached to each thing. Heck, I’ve even gone through another 1-2 bikes since that one was stolen (before you judge, I cycle everywhere, I don’t own a car). It hasn’t escaped my notice how extremely rich and privileged I already am to be able to live like this.
However, the most important factor is gaining an awareness of time passing, and having more important things in my life to occupy me as I grow older. My business, my health, my relationships with my partner, family and friends… they all take time and mental energy to maintain and grow but they are the things that matter to me the most. They make my life worthwhile and I would pay any amount of money to have them. It just doesn’t make sense to waste energy worrying about buying/keeping material stuff or fretting about small things that don’t matter in the long run.
All of this, I realise, is what a minimalist lifestyle is supposed to be about—not having less stuff for the sake of it, but having less because it means worrying less and enjoying more.
Minimalism gives us the freedom to separate the trivial from the vital, to let go of stuff so that we can get over one stupid stolen bike and go on to lead a a rich and meaningful life anyway.
‘On Perspective’ was originally published via Minimalist Meditations.