By Tara McKenna
I often hear two contrasting narratives about getting (or being) rich. On one side, there are people who aspire to amass riches, and all the abundant material fixings that come with it, like a big house, fancy cars, a designer wardrobe, luxe travel, and so forth. Along those lines, some people define success as having loads of money and material possessions.
The other narrative that I come across frequently (particularly within sustainable living and minimalism communities) is more aligned with frugality and having fewer material possessions. The common sentiment is that this lifestyle is more aligned with environmentalism and being a good person. Success in this context has less to do with your bank account (or perceived financial abundance) and more to do with your community contribution.
For whatever reason, I tend to see one conversation or the other. You either want it all, or you want none of it. It seems to be a culturally entrenched dichotomy.
What’s missing from the discussion, in my opinion, is the option and goal to become a wealthy minimalist. The way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with being wealthy. Money is a tool; it’s simply a means of exchange. Having more money, in the form of wealth, is a great way to take ownership of your financial future.
When I say wealthy, I mean having a high net worth. For simplicity, let’s define wealthy as having a net worth of at least one million dollars (i.e., a millionaire).
People can look ordinary and be millionaires, and similarly, people can have zero net worth and look very rich because they spend their incomes lavishly on expensive material possessions.
For the sake of discussion, this is not about appearances. Live how you like! You do you. Live like a monk, or live luxe. Regardless of how you want to live, I believe we owe it to ourselves, our families, and our communities to be wealthy, while at the same time, embracing and enjoying the benefits of minimalism.
Why Should We Choose to Be Wealthy?
Having a high net worth allows you to have a solid and secure financial future. Additionally, having access to more money enables you to help family and friends when they need it, to support causes that are most important to you, and to give generously to your community.
When we’re broke and living under the guise of frugality, our financial future becomes uncertain, which can cause stress and anxiety. While money isn’t everything, it can help us out with a lot of things in life that cost money.
When we stop to think about it, everything costs money. So, if you value time with family and friends, consider how it costs money to do most things that we enjoy doing other people.
Want to go for a hike? You’ll need gas to fill your car, or electricity to charge your vehicle, or money to pay for transit to get to the trailhead. Want to have a family BBQ? You’ll need money to buy the BBQ, propane, and food. While you can extensively engage in the sharing economy (which is a great thing to do!), plenty of other stuff still costs money.
A recent experience demonstrates my point nicely. My mom called me in a panic that her toilet was overflowing. Her neighbour kindly turned her water off, but she needed a plumber. Being busy with my 9-month-old baby, I made a call and got a plumber arranged to look after the issue and covered the bill. Money isn’t everything, but it sure helps to make life better and provides the opportunity for us to help others.
With all the good things you can do with money, it makes sense to get wealthy. Make a list of all the amazing things you could do if you had more money.
Where Does Minimalism Fit into this Story?
As for the minimalist part of the equation, I suggest that we’re more conscious of our consumption choices. This isn’t about not shopping or buying nothing (although go for it if that’s your cup of tea! I talk about a “buy nothing month” in my book, Don’t Be Trashy).
I still buy things, and I even aspire to own a larger home (to host more family and friends) with beautiful and high-quality furniture, topped off with a nice electric vehicle (I’m still filling up on gas for now). But I also don’t feel the need to own all of the things. I’m simply tired of the mainstream ideal that we should get rich and spend it on a bunch of stuff through mindless consumption.
Instead of the automatic lifestyle upgrades that come with having more money, we get to define what the good life is for ourselves. We don’t have to buy all the bells and whistles.
Sure, go buy some things you love, but don’t do so with the assumption that the lifestyle we see in magazines, on TV, or on social media is what you need when you reach financial abundance (like a new outfit for every single day of the year! This is totally unnecessary to look and feel great in your clothes but is promoted regularly by influencers).
Question the status quo and consider how you could live your most authentic and wealthy life. Maybe living in a tiny home is right for you. Perhaps you’d rather live a nomadic lifestyle with 100 items or less. Alternatively, maybe living on a ranch with a large home that you can fill with your family and friends on a regular basis is your dream.
What does your best life look like if you had financial abundance? Don’t assume it’s a big house full of the latest gadgets.
Minimalism inspires us to look deeper into who we are and what we want to get out of this life. Think about the end of your life, are you going to look back on everything and think, "I’m so glad I always had the latest and greatest TV"? Or are you going to reflect on how you basked in quality time with your family and friends, and leaving behind a legacy for future generations to enjoy?
While being a minimalist isn’t for everyone, the lifestyle implores us to remove the unnecessary from our lives to focus on what’s most important to us. It doesn’t mean you have to declutter your entire house, but removing the extraneous from our lives will give us the time, energy and money to dedicate to what we value more.
Reflect on your life. What do you value most in your life? Is there anything distracting you from enjoying the things in life you value? Consider how you can pare down (on unnecessary stuff and shopping, draining activities, overwhelm, toxic relationships, etc.) to elevate what you value more.
If you want to learn more about minimalism, read my book Don't Be Trashy, and check out:
- Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist
- Christine Platt, The Afrominimalist
- The Minimalists
- Courtney Carver, Be More With Less
Why Should We Get Wealthy and Be Minimalist?
In simple terms, getting wealthy is about financial empowerment. Becoming minimalist is about the freedom to live life on your own terms by eliminating the unnecessary and elevating what you value most. These two combined, wealth and minimalism, become a powerful duo enabling you to live authentically and while also contributing meaningfully to society.
How Do We Get Wealthy?
It may seem privileged to suggest that more people should become wealthy; I recognize that there are plenty of barriers to building wealth for many people (Rachel Rodgers - see below - handles that discussion really well in her book!). And I’m not here with a blueprint of next steps to get you to your first million in assets.
Instead, I can recommend a few of my favourite books on the topic:
We Should All Be Millionaires: A Woman’s Guide to Earning More, Building Wealth, and Gaining Economic Power by Rachel Rodgers
You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero
Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money - That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert Kiyosaki
The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness by Morgan Housel
Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth by T. Harv Eker
In my opinion, getting wealthy isn’t about working yourself into the ground and being a slave to the almighty dollar. It’s more about getting smart with money and making your money work for you.
If you’re just getting started on your journey to getting better with money (and it is a journey!) check out these books (I recommend that you pick one of the two, as they are similar in nature, so decide which one resonates with you the most):
Get Good with Money: Ten Simple Steps to Becoming Financially Whole by Tiffany Aliche
I Will Teach You to Be Rich: No Guilt. No Excuses. No B.S. Just a 6-Week Program That Works by Ramit Sethi
Imagine how amazing our planet could be if we had more wealthy minimalists?
Inspiration from a Wealthy Entrepreneur, Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia
It's September 2022 and I'm updating this blog post to reflect some awesome news. Yvon Chouinard, founder of the clothing brand Patagonia, has announced that all company profits will go to combating climate change and protecting the natural environment. What an investment!
Here's the letter that Yvon Chouinard shared on Patagonia's website:
"Earth is now our only shareholder. If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is what we can do.
By Yvon Chouinard
I never wanted to be a businessman. I started as a craftsman, making climbing gear for my friends and myself, then got into apparel. As we began to witness the extent of global warming and ecological destruction, and our own contribution to it, Patagonia committed to using our company to change the way business was done. If we could do the right thing while making enough to pay the bills, we could influence customers and other businesses, and maybe change the system along the way.
We started with our products, using materials that caused less harm to the environment. We gave away 1% of sales each year. We became a certified B Corp and a California benefit corporation, writing our values into our corporate charter so they would be preserved. More recently, in 2018, we changed the company’s purpose to: We’re in business to save our home planet.
While we’re doing our best to address the environmental crisis, it’s not enough. We needed to find a way to put more money into fighting the crisis while keeping the company’s values intact.
“Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our own.”
One option was to sell Patagonia and donate all the money. But we couldn’t be sure a new owner would maintain our values or keep our team of people around the world employed. Another path was to take the company public. What a disaster that would have been. Even public companies with good intentions are under too much pressure to create short-term gain at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility.
Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our own.
Instead of “going public,” you could say we’re “going purpose.” Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.
Here’s how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.
It’s been nearly 50 years since we began our experiment in responsible business, and we are just getting started. If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a thriving business—50 years from now, it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is another way we’ve found to do our part.
Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits. But it’s also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it."
Are you inspired yet? I am!