Before watching the Netflix documentary Minimalism I listened to an episode of Optimal Living Daily, in which Dan, the speaker, reads from Kristin Wong’s blog post “Minimalism vs. Earning More Money“. In her post Wong talks about how, while she agreed with The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) on the fact that people consume too much stuff and it all just gets thrown away and doesn’t make us happy, she disagreed with the idea that making more money is on the same level as having a lot of material possessions, aka that it is bad. Too often we hear stories about people who leave their six-figure jobs (or sometimes get fired from them) to pursue a life with less stuff, and while I respect that, I understand that is just not the reality for many people. While people would love to live with less, it’s not always the case, especially if you’re already living on a minimum wage salary. Wong talks in her post about how, for most of her career, she constantly was working for free, not asking for a raise and thinking money was just evil and that somehow making more money from her freelance writing career would mean she was a bad person. However, she finally realized she couldn’t keep paying her rent, utilities and other bills if she continued settling for low wages.
After listening to this episode about Wong’s post, I was able to cut through some of the sentimentality of the Minimalism documentary, and while I, too, appreciated them pointing out that advertising has a really messed-up way of making us feel like we should have that and this and that, I think they were targeting a very particular audience when it came to talking about money. Sure, I was highly disturbed when I saw a bunch of people crowd a store on Black Friday and literally get into the most violent tug-of-war games to compete for that 60% off kitchen appliance. However, I wasn’t totally sold on the idea of just leaving your 6-figure job because you weren’t happy there. Yeah, sure, my minimum-wage food service job was hard to stick out, and many times I almost gave up on it. But I had to pay off whatever financial debt I had because if I didn’t I knew I would forever be owing someone money, and I would never get to save any of it if I quit my job. Also, quitting my minimum wage job in food service wouldn’t have helped me land a better job anyway; in fact, staying at the job showed I could persevere and take responsibility for my finances. I also made the job work for me even when I wasn’t in an environment where I could sit comfortably at a desk all day. For instance, except for those times I got meal vouchers for doing something exceptionally good at work (e.g. up-selling a product, calmly dealing with a frustrated customer) I brought my own meals about 90% of the time and saved a ton of money. I learned not just how to make good drinks, but also how to prioritize my financial goals. I wanted to get out of debt, so I got a job and stuck with it, even when I threw tantrums about it.
According to Wong
Wong, “Minimalism Vs. Earning More Money”
Like it or not, money represents flexibility, freedom, choices, value and, ultimately, power. When you have money, you don’t have to make desperate decisions that spiral you into a lifetime of debt. When you have money, you don’t have to depend on someone else to support you. When you have money, you have more flexibility to leave your sh*t job. These cliches about money being the root of all evil tell people that money doesn’t matter, but it does.
While I did on some level feel for Nicodemus talking about how unhappy he was at his job, I also understood that there are ways to make your situation work without leaving your job. In The Financial Diet Dream Medium video I posted earlier, Chelsea Fagan and Lauren ver Hage discuss how you can pursue the life you want without quitting your job, and I completely agree. As I mentioned before, I started this blog because I love writing, but I just can’t afford to quit my job nor live in a life of solitude and just write all day. My job lets me do what I want, and honestly I am striving to make more money because I do not have benefits yet and yet do not make enough to quit my job. Also I love the people I work with, so why would I want to leave? Sure, I don’t spend hours a day blogging or practicing my instrument, but I love having a job outside of writing or music so that I can build my own fortune and have the freedom to perform my music wherever I want without worrying who is going to fund my dreams. I realized after a certain point that I was making myself unhappy by complaining about my situation. I was blaming my job for my unhappiness when I should have appreciated it more. However, I know that Kristin Wong also talks about how you really shouldn’t settle for less money, especially if you live in an expensive area or are just really struggling to get by. Even though I am saving my money I think it is important to also monetize your skills, and like Kristin I was scared of writing or playing my music for money because I somehow thought monetizing my skills was selfish. However, my musical mentor told me I need to focus on not just merely saving, but also finding ways to make money from my craft.
Someone posted in the comments on Wong’s post that selling this live-with-less message to people who already don’t make six-figure incomes (according to Wong, most people make only about $33,000 a year) is problematic. According to the poster,
I’m also noticing another bad trend with those teaching about living with less- the philosophy that Americans should be content with minimum wage jobs and even less than since there are other people in the world who don’t have access to clean water, working toilets, and only make a fraction of what our poorest workers make. In other words, other people have it far worse, so we actually need to be “grateful” instead of complaining about opportunity inequality and the resulting income inequality.“Soullfire”, comment posted January 26, 2017
Even though I grew up relatively privileged, not everyone gets to enjoy living on less. In one scene we see Millburn standing on a street and unpacking his neat little suitcase with only about thirty items in there, and telling the camera-person he lives on just this much and travels everywhere with just this suitcase. However, he is living homeless out of choice; most Americans don’t get to suddenly choose to be homeless. I was watching a New York Times report on how Disneyland employees make minimum wage, and it shows a lot of the employees have to either sleep in their cars or live with a ton of roommates because rent is astronomical and in a place like California you’d have to make at least $20 per hour, which is way above what most people make working at Disneyland. Yeah, sure, these people live on less, but not because they choose to, but because they literally have no choice and are literally just trying to survive. For them, living on less money is anything but fun. Again, I’m not hating on The Minimalists and their philosophy, especially since their blog is actually pretty cool and has some cool blogging tips. I also, again, thought the documentary said a lot of great things about our consumer culture. But income inequality is still a pretty big issue and it’s actually getting much worse, with the costs of housing and healthcare skyrocketing. Our economy is in a pretty big pickle, and it’s only making the income gap worse, so telling people already suffering from little money to “live on less” won’t really make a meaningful contribution to discussions on classism and income inequality.
For the Optimal Living episode, here is the video below.