by Leo Babauta
Often people think that having more will lead to greater comfort, pleasure, happiness and security. But in my experience, living a leaner life leads to greater freedom, lightness, happiness and peace.
Take the example of traveling. There’s the case of the “prepared traveler” — you can travel with everything you think you might need, from every possible outfit combination to equipment, food, tons of electronics, books, notebooks, travel pillows and blankets, multiple shoes, and more. This person has to lug around a rolling suitcase plus a backpack, making travel more burdensome, more stressful, more tiring. It takes awhile to travel anywhere, and then you’re tired when you get there.
Then there’s the case of the light traveler. She carries almost nothing, just the essentials, and doesn’t have to lug around anything heavy. As a result, she’s faster, lighter, more energized, with greater freedom. She doesn’t always have everything she might want, but she has what she needs, and learns to make do with less. It’s actually not hard once you learn a few skills, and you don’t feel stressed out.
This leanness values freedom, lightness, flexibility, energy and contentment over maximum comfort, just-in-casedness, having it all.
A few other lean examples:
Weight: If you eat less … sure, you don’t get the gastronomical pleasures of someone who eats a huge amount of delicious food every day. But you learn to be happy with “enough,” so that you eat good, healthy food, and find pleasure outside of eating instead. And then you’re leaner and lighter, which allows you not only to be healthier, but you can do more activities with more energy, you can zip up a mountain or run a marathon or climb a rock wall with much more ease. Living with a leaner body is easier on the joints, less stressful, and gives you greater freedom.
Possessions: Lots of people shoot for a bigger house, accumulating more stuff over the years, feeling like more gives them greater comfort and security and ability to pursue hobbies and the like. I’m not immune to this myself. Instead, you could try going with less stuff. Imagine a bare room with a mattress, a few books, a notebook, a laptop and a handful of clothes. A cushion for meditating, a bowl for eating. A pot for cooking beans and veggies. I’m not saying you should have a house like this, but could you be happy with so little? I believe a wonderful life could be led with such leanness. And in doing so, you’d be lighter, less stressed, with less financial burden. You’d be less bloated and content with less.
Finances: Speaking of less financial burden … we often believe that having a bigger income will lead to greater happiness. And at the lower levels, when you go from poverty to the middle class, this is true. You don’t have to worry so much about putting food on the table. But when you go beyond this level, and have more and more income … you often have to work more in order to get it. And then you fill your life with possessions, bigger bills, more expensive cars, a more expensive house, more expensive luxuries. This doesn’t lead to greater happiness. Even if your income doesn’t get too high, you might load yourself up with expenses, and get into debt. This is stressful and a huge burden. Instead, living lean means you downsize your life so that you have fewer bills, you buy fewer things, you don’t spend a ton, and instead find contentment with little. And this not only gives you greater freedom and flexibility, but less stress. You can work less, travel more, focus more on experiences that cost little than on experiences and possessions that cost a lot.
Business: If you own a business, you know that it’s easy to “invest” in the business by spending a lot so that your business will grow. There’s nothing wrong with this, exactly, except that these expenses can quickly add up, and then you’re burdened with lots of expenses and not enough income. Your debt grows, your stress grows as you worry about how you’re going to pay for everything, you work harder than ever to get more income, but as you do your business grows in complexity and the expenses add up. Instead, there’s the option of creating a lean business. This is one that doesn’t take a lot of employees, that you bootstrap yourself instead of getting investors or debt, that you grow slowly but sustainably, and that you can limit so that you don’t have to work crazy hours. This leanness leads to greater flexibility, less burden, less stress, greater contentment.
You can see a theme here, as we go through these examples, that will extend to any area of your life: leanness leads to greater freedom, flexibility, lightness, and contentment. That’s not a bad deal for sacrificing luxuries and excess.
Getting to lean is a matter of slimming down a little at a time, figuring out what you can live with and still have optimal happiness. At some point, you’ll experience the joy of letting go and getting light, which is a beautiful thing.