Most of us have been trained to aspire to more.
More money. More clothes. Better toys. A larger house. A better physique. It’s never ending.
If we’re not careful, it turns into vacation homes, and things that you might use once a month during summer, like a boat.
But of course, it can also be things like holidays and travel, businesses, children, pets and other things that we can justify to ourselves as being “about experiences” or “good for us” in some way.
The issue with this is that more isn’t the dream story we’ve been sold.
What if, you went in the other direction, and took the time to work out how you could be happy, while having a lean lifestyle.
Agile, Lean and the MVP
Let’s quickly kick off with some different terms and basic definitions of their concepts.
I am not a software developer, but I’ve worked closely with dev teams over my career, and have found IT systems theory to be applicable to other areas of life.
If you know all about this stuff, please skip ahead to the next section.
Agile methodology is probably one of the better known frameworks. It has it’s criticisms but essentially is born out of knowing that projects change.
Usually when beginning a software development project, the development team try to define as much as possible into an iron clad scope. Then inevitably a month later the customer realised they wanted something different.
The “Agile Manifesto” outlines:
- individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
- working software over comprehensive documentation,
- customer collaboration over contract negotiation,
- responding to change over following a plan.
Widen your consideration of the term and think about people with great agility. Often we point to sports people like football players and motocross riders, but it applies in many other realms.
For example; I have great respect for expats who can take everything that belongs to them and relocate from one country to another for a 5 month contract and manage to live like a local in that time, then pick up their life and do it again. They’re very agile in my opinion.
In relation to someone who works out, a lean person is mostly muscle and has very little fat. They have no excess.
In the tech world, there are 7 principles to lean development:
- eliminate waste,
- build quality in,
- create knowledge,
- defer commitment,
- deliver fast,
- respect people,
- and optimise the whole.
I understand that not all of these will be immediately clear to you, so if you want clarification take a read of this more in-depth article.
Minimum Viable Product
When starting out in business, it’s easy to get distracted by the bells and whistles (ask me how I know)… In developing a product it’s the same. I know many developers who have spent years building a product that nobody wants.
The minimum viable product, or MVP is a product with enough features to make your first customers happy, but nothing more. It helps them to give you feedback, which you can then use for any further product development.
The core principles that I personally take away from these 3 frameworks or concepts are:
- value people and knowledge more than things,
- stay adaptable,
- minimise waste,
- focus on quality,
- avoid obligations,
- don’t plan too far into the future,
- keep it simple.
Living my life in unison with these principles is something I find challenging, but I do try and make it happen.
The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule)
This one has been done to death in tech and entrepreneur circles but there’s good reason for it — it’s real.
Originally, this principle came amount when it was discovered that 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to only 20% of the population.
Since then it’s been applied to many things in life;
- 20% of your gym routine is bringing 80% of the results
- you wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time
- if you work, 20% of the tasks you do at work create 80% of the value for your boss
- in business, often 20% of your customers bring 80% of the revenue
Obviously, it’s not always a perfect 80/20 split, sometimes it’s more like 70/30 or 90/10. The point is that you can rarely ignore that 80% of effort or “stuff” that brings little value to your life.
It can also work the other way around:
- 80% of what you spend your money on is only used 20% of the time
- 80% of your time spent watching TV brings 20% of your happiness
- friends you may spend most of your social time with don’t challenge you or help you to be your best self
- 80% of the time you’re not doing anything productive on your phone
What began in the art world (which, caveat; I know sweet FA about) has now been borrowed by other groups to to be applied to other areas, like travel and your life.
The general goal of minimalism is to only own the things you value, and nothing else.
It’s to optimise your life to only have the obligations and responsibilities you choose, and doing away with the ones that don’t serve you.
It’s about cleaning up your life, whether that involves your Windows desktop or your living room cupboards.
But importantly, it’s not only about material possessions.
It could be your job — maybe to earn an extra $10,000 a year you need to spend 1 week on the road each month. If that’s not an enjoyable experience for you, is it really worth it?
It could be the answer as to whether or not you get another cat, or have another kid. Or get/have either in the first place.
If you plan your life well, minimise your financial obligations, reduce the amount of stuff you buy and also invest your money well, you can gain real freedom through financial independence.
That is, money is no longer a concern.
Within the online communities though, there is disagreement between how to invest their money.
Some suggest that an extremely simple, 2 fund portfolio is best (both from a returns point of view, and from a simplicity point of view), while others prefer to buy individual dividend stocks. Then you have more active options (but can still be very automated), such as investing in websites or real estate.
Then there’s also two schools of thought:
- screw down your expenses to next to nothing
- earn the maximum you can to live like a king after retiring
You might be reading this article thinking that I’d lean towards point 1, but it has a lot of issues.
I’ve met people who live well in their current situation, but aren’t well off enough to visit family in another country.
I’m all for geo-arbitrage, and I’m using it by living in Andorra, but forcing yourself to live on minimum wage seems like an uncomfortable retirement to me, especially if you assume that inflation will only make it more difficult as the years pass by.
Why retire if you’ll be broke?
Tying it Together: My Minimum Viable Lifestyle
I have a concept I like to call the “minimum viable lifestyle”.
This whole idea kind of came to me one day when I realised the happiest time in my life was when I spent my time well, while spending next to no money. I didn’t own a car, I had one mountain bike, my days were spent riding that bike a lot, doing yoga, swimming in lakes, having beers with friends and occasionally working. I was barely earning, but man I felt rich.
I feel there’s massive value in subtracting anything superfluous, giving you more time, money or other resources for the things that really matter (and yes, they can still be things like a boat if that’s your true passion).
When I’m looking at a life decision (big or small), I’m seeking the simplest, best value, or least time consuming option that will bring me the greatest amount of happiness. Usually it’s some combination of the 3.
I actually find myself asking “what is the most elegant solution here?”.
Pretentious, I know.
Seriously though, the goal is to give myself the maximum amount of enjoyment, happiness, time and all of that good stuff.
Consider this list below as examples. They are unique to me, and some may be irrelevant to you. These will certainly change, especially over a lifetime, but it serves as a reminder to me that I rarely need more.
Here I’m referring to government paperwork. Tax filing, drivers license renewals, health care forms, all that fun stuff.
I try and keep our personal admin simple, but move abroad and get involved with a few different business projects and you’ll quickly learn how fast “simple” becomes “way too fucking complex”.
Putting down roots in Andorra has been good for us as local bureaucracy is fairly low, but we’re only now getting close to seeing the benefits of that.
There’s not a lot of paperwork to do each year anymore, and we’re almost “out” of Australia’s system, aside from renewing passports every decade.
When my wife and I discuss other advantageous countries to live in one day (more a thought exercise, we’re not actually moving!), I have one immediate thought: think carefully before jumping into bed with another government. I can definitely see the appeal for perpetual travellers who simply spend time in countries as tourists instead without ever putting down administrative roots.
The same is true when setting up an entity for an online business. Cheap to operate and low tax can often come at the expense of high administrative costs and hassles. Be weary!
My solution: live in a country with low administration overheads, and hire someone to deal with the paperwork; put it in front of my face and tell me to sign it.
Banking & Investments
This ties into the admin section really, but again – what is the most elegant solution here?
I need a local bank account, I need a multi-currency account, I need a brokerage account and I find Wise to be very helpful to join them all together.
I save a lot of time using cards for local spending, and like to have 3 cards for travel (as sometimes one will have trouble working in a country, plus there’s the risk of having one stolen — so it’s good to have backups). Already, this is complex, but it’s the simplest I can get away with.
My investing philosophy is a moving target, but I am working towards simplicity. Where previously I had a rule of “no more than 10” separate retail investments, I’ve since reached a point where I don’t want any cashflow at all, let alone to think about picking stocks or reinvesting.
My solution: Keep bank accounts and cards as few as possible, and pivot retail investments into a 1 fund portfolio that accumulates dividends instead of distributing them.
There’s a solid argument here for never owning a car. With where I live, it’s a huge convenience to have one though.
Combine this with cars being one of my greatest passions and I’m happy to justify owning one to myself.
The problem is, there are around 20 more that I want. 🙂 Slowly I am learning that more cars will not bring more happiness.
More cars means more maintenance, more registration costs, more insurance costs, more space needed to store them and as it’s been explained to me; it’s very difficult to drive more than one at a time anyway.
My solution: a performance wagon (estate car). It’s more than fast enough, has room for a mountain bike or my family’s things on holidays but is small enough to park in tiny Andorra, and it looks great.
I value easy access to trails where I can walk, run or just chill out on my own or with friends and family. The feature image of this post is taken by me, an exceptionally long distance from my home — about 5 minutes drive then 30 minutes of steep walking.
In fact, valuing the environment is a great in the context of the minimum viable lifestyle — it’s free to spend time in, good for you, open all hours of the day — highly convenient!
I like being close to the things that I need day to day. 15 minutes is my limit for getting to the shops, my son’s school or the gym. Being able to walk to all 3 is awesome.
My solution: move to a country and village where this is literally on our doorstep.
1 child is enough.
While I easily have enough love for many more kids (my neices and nephew get it instead), I’d have to sacrifice my time with all of them as it would need to be divvied up.
Convenience for international travel and financial costs come into this but aren’t the major decider for my wife and I. Time is the core one.
My solution: don’t have more kids.
Do you need one?
I love having a home and don’t know how people travel indefinitely without one, but it’s a good question to ask.
I work from home, and have found that around 110m² is a good fit for our 3 person family. If you’d have asked me how much space I needed while living in Australia, it probably would have been triple that.
More space takes longer to heat or cool, costs more to do so, and puts strain on the environment. It’s more to maintain, more to clean and you need more furnishings to fill up the space. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
More importantly, it needs to get some sun, needs to be well insulated, and needs a terrace or garden that is large enough to actually live on (for my son to ride his bike, or to swing on a hammock).
Though I don’t have this in my current situation, I do really want a small workshop to work on cars and bikes. If it’s not too much to ask, I want somewhere quiet too.
My solution: for now our apartment ticks most of these boxes. In a few years we will probably trade up (mainly for the workshop), but we don’t need anything better right now.
Messaging & Social Media
My modern day pet hate is that we have no unified communication medium. As if we’re actually meant to keep our social lives organised through Instagram chat!
In the past months I’ve had multiple friends trying to lure me onto Telegram and Signal, the current flavours of the month.
Nope, I want to be a digital caveman.
I don’t reply on Instagram, might check into Facebook once a week, and mostly rely on WhatsApp for social and some (which I hate) business life. Slack is on my laptop, but not on any phones. Ideally, everyone would filter through my email inbox.
Some people hate me for this… But people I work with get my best efforts when I’m not distracted every 2 minutes. My friends get my best attention when our dinners aren’t interrupted by unimportant notifications.
…find a way of living that has come from due thought rather than a passive immersion in the tangles of everyday distractions.Derren Brown, Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine
My solution: limit communication mediums, limit their notifications and use them on my terms.
I’ve managed to avoid installing most pervasive apps, instead forcing myself to use my laptop browser to check social networks (which is usually less engaging).
I force as much communication as possible to email, video calls or face to face. Need me urgently? Remember calling people?
I love mountain biking, hiking and enjoy training at the gym.
I have fun on the snow but haven’t taken the time to improve in the past few years. I’m tempted to get a trials motorbike and build a drift car, but — you can see this is spiralling out of control.
I used to have 4 mountain bikes. Now I have 3. I only really ride one regularly (my do-it-all trail bike), and it’s awesome to not have to maintain 4 bikes!
I want to maximise my time during summer for riding bikes. I feel, the best way to do this is to focus on gym and business during winter, then reduce my gym days and workload over summer.
My solution: spend more time doing fewer, simpler sports. Trail running shoes are so much easier to travel with than a set of skis, but I still haven’t figured out how to get a bike into my carry on!
The first time I flew out of Australia I had 20kg worth of crap in my backpack and nothing warm enough for a Swedish winter.
Now when I travel solo, everything I need is in my carry on backpack, which doubles as a pretty good hiking backpack too.
Yeah, I drank the “one-bag” kool-aid but man, it’s great. No waiting for luggage, no bloody wheely bags.
My solution: packing everything I need, and nothing more.
Easier Said Than Done
If it sounds as though I have this all worked out, I’ve misled you. Anyone who knows me knows I still battle with the middle class mindset. Buying a home in Andorra is, logically, not a great move in this very moment, but I can find myself wanting to do it for security.
When it comes to business, I clearly have trouble applying this model too. Simple ideas end up overly complex within about 6 hours of inception.
From what I’m picking it up, keeping things simple and avoiding getting sucked into more is a skill in itself, and it’s one that I’m trying to be conscious of.
If you’re treading this same path with me, I’d love to hear what is and isn’t working for you, and what you’re doing to grow! Leave a comment below!