Everything I’m Not
Labels are tools that help us make sense of the world, and the links we create between and among us. These defined categories are one of the ways we cultivate belonging, but they’re also one of the ways we promote othering. When we mentally classify individuals or groups as ‘us,’ we automatically create the opposing classification – ‘not one of us.’ We use labels to connect with like-minded people, to justify or explain our own actions, or to provide support or criticism for someone else’s behavior.
Ironically, there is often a segment of followers of a labelled movement or philosophy who take the concept further than their leaders. If you fail to obey a rule or structure to the letter, you risk the strict adherents popping out from nowhere to enlighten you. I’ve probably done this many times myself – it’s a natural reaction in a species built on community. We somehow feel moved to defend the practices of an individual we’ve never met, clarifying their gospel for the masses. We do this even though the leader of the movement likely wouldn’t feel the need to defend themselves or their philosophy personally. We do this even though we might be missing the main purpose behind the movement while we debate the minutiae. Only now am I realizing how bizarre that sounds!
I’ve never followed any particular philosophy or method completely, so I often find myself saying things like “I’m not a minimalist, but I think it’s important to reconsider the value we place on our possessions.” These caveats help to preemptively steer the conversation away from any unnecessary, off-topic tangents, albeit limiting the usefulness of labels. I’m fine with adding a little human complexity to my interactions, so let’s talk about everything I’m not.
If you happen to identify with any of the following labels, I’m not criticizing you in any way by any stretch of the imagination. I just want you to know that it’s okay to admire someone and not strictly apply every component of their philosophy to your own life. You are not any less of a person if you’re more turtle intense than gazelle intense, or if you want to retire early but not that early, or if you’re only sort of a minimalist. If you’ve found a plan that works for you in its entirety, awesome! If you’ve modified that plan to fit your objectives and desires, fantastic!
I’m Not A..
Dave Ramsey coined the phrase gazelle intensity after reading Proverbs 6:4–5, “Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.” Basically, the way to get out of debt is to realize that a CHEETAH IS CHASING YOU and then run like crazy in the other direction.
I get that the cheetah is chasing me, but I can’t run at a sprint for years before I finally stop to catch my breath. Dave Ramsey’s plan works for many people, and the average person is debt free (excluding mortgage debt) in 18-24 months while maintaining a high level of intensity. My debt will take significantly longer than 24 months to finish, and the risk of abandoning a debt payoff plan is higher on an extended timeline. Long term deprivation can lead to attrition, so I’m careful to keep my motivation high.
Instead of starting with the gazelle mindset, I’m gradually building my intensity over time. I’m not giving up absolutely everything, but I’ve increased my payments to the point that my debt payoff timeline will be reduced from 11 years down to 4-5. Decreasing my spending more wouldn’t reduce my timeline significantly, but it would increase the likelihood of debt payoff fatigue that could lead to abandoning the plan altogether.
I listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast for 3 hours every weekday on my commute, and have been making bigger and bigger payments on my debt.. but I’m not a gazelle.
[Dave has so many haters it’s almost comical. Too religious, not religious enough; too harsh, not harsh enough. It’s tough to argue with those debt free screams though – he’s helped millions of people get out of terrible financial situations and start building wealth.]
Mr. Money Mustache is all about Financial Freedom Through Badassity, showing us that it is in fact possible to not be stuck in a 9-5 job for our entire adult lives. He’s one of the original voices in the early retirement world, and I’ve been a major fan of his ever since I stumbled on his blog. MMM was my introduction to the idea that working until age 65 was a choice, not an inevitability, and that one concept has completely changed my life.
I can’t say I’ve been entirely faithful to the ways of the mustache though. I don’t ride my bicycle nearly enough, for one thing. I also often buy items new rather than combing through the thrift store. I still go out to eat occasionally, I still buy expensive electronics like video games and smart phones, and I still purchase tickets for events and concerts. I have a massive amount of student loan debt, but I’m not treating it like the hair on fire emergency that it is.
Instead, I cut back on the things that weren’t as important to me and started to gradually increase my payments over the past year – from $1,300/month minimum payments in 2016 to an average this year of $2,800/month.
Despite my extravagant (by mustachian standards) spending, I’m still planning to retire in my early 40s. Could I cut back everything to the bare minimum and retire in my late 30s? Absolutely. The fact that I plan to only reduce the length of my career by 20 years and not 25 might be a point of contention for some, but it’s a compromise that works well for me personally. I’m not forcing anyone else to work 5 extra years to afford the things I choose to purchase, so no worries there.
I’ve read Mr Money Mustache’s blog from start to finish, and changed my lifestyle enough to shave (pun intended) 20 years off of my working life.. but I’m not a mustachian. I’m a spendypants consumer who could use a punch in the face.
[Ironically, I’ve also been criticized for calling out the comparison game in the early retirement community and encouraging contentment instead of competing for the highest savings rate (maybe I missed something, but isn’t contentment the underlying thread of mustachianism?). I’m not too worried about routinely failing to live up to the mustachian ideal though. It seems like a relatively unachievable target given that MMM himself gets hate from his own readers about not being mustachian enough.. on a forum that started because of his blog. He doesn’t let the detractors impact him though, which is pretty mustachian in itself. The whole thing is almost too meta for me.]
The Minimalists left their corporate careers at age 30 to live meaningful lives with less stuff and more of the important things: time, passion, experiences, growth, contribution, and contentment.
I’ve downsized many of my possessions over the years, even cutting out entire categories like hair tools and nail polish. As The Minimalists often say, minimalism is about only owning items that add value to your life. I think I’ve reached that point, or if not I’m close to it.
I still have an abundance of possessions though, and I still attach emotional value to them. Does a real minimalist keep decorative boxes and multiple copies of the same book? Do I fit in even though I own way more than 100 things? Probably not, according to many self-proclaimed minimalists out there.
I’ve read the blog and the books, listened to the podcast, watched the documentary, attended the live shows, and put many of their methods into practice.. but I’m not a minimalist. I’m a slightly more conscious consumer with slightly less stuff.
[Minimalism has been criticized as a movement for privileged white men with no children, despite the presence of minimalists of all backgrounds, genders, and procreation stances. There are endless forum threads dedicated to agonizing over lists of possessions, and shaming anyone who owns one superfluous item. Once again, finding contentment is a surprisingly controversial topic!]
If I’m not a gazelle, a mustachian, or a minimalist.. What am I?
I guess I’m just a regular person, trying to live my best life on my own terms. Aren’t we all?
Each of these movements is simply a path to one very important destination: freedom. On each path we’re informed by some overzealous followers that we should step exactly where they tell us. Even though so much time has passed that it’s impossible to see where the first person to walk this path stepped. Even though the path is so worn that there are clearly multiple tracks to follow. Even though there’s enough space along the path to forge our own way.
I can’t help but think that by socially enforcing these rigid boundaries, we’re alienating those we could be helping. Does everyone have to fit our perfectly constructed boxes or forever live in a Pinocchio-like state where they’re not real until they conform? Isn’t conformity the construct that most of these movements were opposing in the first place?