“We get too soon old and too late smart.” ~Pennsylvania Dutch proverb
I read many online blogs and a large portion of them are about minimalism and simple living. That’s wonderful because I believe there is richness to simple living that goes far beyond having less stuff. I also think that since I’ve been embracing it more and more, my life has become happier, less stressful and far more meaningful. But something I’ve noticed is that the vast majority of blogs about minimalism are written primarily by those in their twenties to thirties. And while I’m psyched to know that young adults are embracing the lifestyle, I also believe that maturity offers a perspective that should not be overlooked. In fact, it is often those who have lived through multiple choices and experiences that have the most to offer others. That’s why I thought a few perspectives from midlife should be included in any discussion about minimalism or simple living.
So what are a few perspectives that you gain in midlife?
- Being content, happy and at peace with aging (no matter what your age) is a critical minimalist practice. While it is great being young, the truth is every single one of us will spend much more of our lives not being young, if we are able to experience the gift of a long and healthy life. If too much of your happiness and self-image is attached to your youth (physically and mentally) you are setting yourself up for a significant disappointment in the long run. Learning to appreciate yourself, your life and your experiences at any age is a huge key to simple living and minimalism.
- The inner journey is the most thrilling and satisfying travel you’ll ever take. I love traveling and do it any time I get the chance. But I’ve learned that the inner journey to your own soul where you discover who your really are and learn your life purpose is the ultimate “trip.” By midlife we usually discover the truth to that wise adage: Wherever you go, there you are. And there is a very good chance that if we weren’t happy and fulfilled when we left that place—we’ll be exactly the same when we return.
- Everything in the material world is impermanent. While you might understand this intellectually when you are young, it frequently requires decades of getting things and then losing them, achieving things and then failing, creating things only to watch them wash away—all before you understand that everything is temporary. While not everyone “gets” this concept at any age, if and when you do grasp it, you start realizing what is really important and stop chasing after things that won’t last anyway.
- Everything is a leasehold, so sometimes it’s better to rent than own. Eventually every thing you own will be passed on to someone else. That’s right, you can’t take anything with you when you pass on. That’s why it’s wise to avoid getting attached to a bunch of stuff that you don’t really need over the long haul. In fact, everything you own, owns you to the extent that you have to pay for it, take care of it and then figure out what to do with it. Choose carefully what you do decide to own.
- Relationships are something worth keeping no matter what. I’ve written about the high value of relationships quite often on the blog so I won’t repeat all the numerous benefits. Just consider, living only for yourself might sound good when you’re young, but to those who’ve lived a long and happy life, it is our close relationships that are the most precious possessions possible. In fact, you’ll likely discover your true friends only after you think you’ve lost everything else.
- The health of your body will eventually affect every simple living goal you ever have. And by health I’m including not only you, but the health of those in your immediate family as well. If you, your spouse, your children or your dependent parents, are suffering from an illness or in pain, a list of 100 things to keep or throw away won’t matter too much. Pain in the body or mind changes all the rules, even in minimalism. This includes having, or not having the means to buy health insurance. If you’re lucky, this issue won’t touch you until you hit middle age, but when it arrives, it can and does rock your perspective on every choice and decision you make.
- Living frugally and retiring early looks different from midlife. It’s easy to see the excitement and delight of many young minimalists at the idea of retiring early and using all their resources to create a life filled with travel and self-expression. But things look very different when you become a family and reach middle age or older. Even when you think “you’ll never retire” you may be deluding yourself because nearly 50% of those who are retired today did it because they had no choice. Those retirees either lost their jobs and were unable to find new ones—or health-wise they were forced to quit. That approach to living as frugally and simply as possible, has much less to do with freedom and self-expression—and a lot to do with necessity. While both can be rewarding, the approach is vastly different. Never assume that how and when you “retire” won’t affect your plans.
- The best minimalists walk the talk. Lately minimalism has become very popular. That attracts a number of entrepreneurs who see it as a great way to be self-employed and create a business. And while many of them (especially if they are young) have nothing to lose by going “minimal” as a strategy for success, if that doesn’t work they will likely be on to the next new thing before long. Hopefully, by the time you reach middle age a person starts recognizing that unless a person can demonstrate what they are teaching and promoting in their personal life, they probably don’t “own” what it is they are selling. For that reason, it’s usually good advice not to go to a financial advisor who can’t pay their bills. Likewise, don’t go to a doctor that isn’t healthy, or take relationship advice from someone who has been married six times. It’s always best to follow minimalists that are walking their talk.
- Minimalism that doesn’t include the environment and other people is likely just a vain attempt at a new fad. Quantum theory proves that a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the planet can affect storm clouds over my city—so how can anything you or I do not affect everything else? Our decisions matter, and how we treat our planet is similar to how we treat everyone and everything else. Simple living does not occur in a vacuum and should touch everything that occurs in your life.
- When you’re young, you don’t know what you don’t know. Okay, I was young once too and thought I knew just about everything that was important. The problem was I never even guessed at what I didn’t know. Once you make it past 50 you start realizing that there is a HUGE benefit to having lived long enough to make and learn from 100s of mistakes, experiences and choices. While not everyone who ages continues to learn and grow—if you do, you have an advantage that is priceless.
- The “best” minimalist practice is to be debt and mortgage free. While most simple living and minimalist websites recommend money management and being as debt free as possible at any age—the freedom and peace of mind that comes in middle age when you are debt and mortgage free is phenomenal. You might be content to live out of a backpack when you’re 25—but just about the only people who do that at 60 are considered homeless. While you might not be able to own your own home mortgage free and clear, if you don’t you will always have payments along with all the other costs (taxes, insurance, etc.). Going first debt free, then mortgage free in our early 50s, and then making sure all our other investments are also free and clear, has been the single most liberating step Thom and I have done to simplify our life. Don’t listen to anyone who says you need a mortgage for a tax write-off—that’s just another financial myth.
- Time is a commodity that gets more valuable as you age. Even if you believe that your time has value when you’re young, that will only increase as you age. In midlife you grow less tolerant of people who waste your time, work that is meaningless, and experiences that suck the life out of you.
- The very best minimalist practices are those that transform your awareness, rather than those that affect your stuff. One of the biggest problems I see in the world today is a focus on the external and material. That focus is found in an over-consumptive world that is both destroying our environment and leaving people with empty and unfulfilled lives. While approaching minimalism with lists of dos and don’ts might be one way to start recognizing the need for a more meaningful life, I don’t believe that approach is sustainable because it too focuses on the external. Until a person’s perspective changes on the inside, they will likely grow bored or leave the practice as soon as it becomes economically feasible. That’s why information about the “why” of minimalism is at least as important as the how.
There are likely plenty more advantages to seeing simple living from a more mature age. What do you think? From my perspective, my life today is so much better, happier, overflowing with more potential and freedom, and more fulfilling than it was ever in my 20s or 30s—and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Just like Frank Lloyd Wright said, “The longer I live the more beautiful my life becomes.”
I also believe at this stage in my life that many of us with a more mature and older perspective should be a little more vocal with things we have learned along the way and the advantages aging offers. After having lived through some of the most materialistic and self-absorbed eras on the planet, we owe it to those who follow after us to light the way to a better future. Hopefully, where we went wrong and what we learned from those experiences will stop those who follow from making the same mistakes. And to all those who come next—it’s SMART to remember that it is only going to get better as you age!
Posted in a Blog Hop Here:Small Footprint Fridays