When agilists talk about simplicity, we don’t mean living with a hundred things or forsaking the modern world to go live on a communal farm somewhere.
The agile lifestyle acknowledges that many people are in the business of convincing you things you can live without are things you can’t live without.
Living agile is all about your responsiveness to change.
To that end, you can use simplicity as one of many tools to increase your adaptability.
Why You Should Live With Less Mass
The leaner you are, the easier it is to change.
The more massive an object, the more energy is required to change its direction.
– 37signals, Getting Real.
As you live your life, you gain mass. Some of this mass is beneficial to you.
But adding mass always creates more drag and friction on your life.
When the time comes to change course, this mass resists your desire to pivot.
The goal is to get rid of these encumbrances (physical, emotional, psychological, legal) before the moment of disruption comes.
Here is a not-complete list of things you can live without (and that I live without today):
1. Cable television. Between Netflix, Hulu, over-the-air channels, and my local library for newer DVDs, I have access to more content than I could ever watch (or want to watch) in my lifetime. Yes, I will go to my grave with movies and shows in my Netflix queue. So why would I add another 200 channels of media I won’t get around to watching?
2. New clothes every week. Quick, picture Steve Jobs. I’m guessing you imagined him in his iconic black mock turtleneck and blue jeans. In his incredible biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, it’s revealed that Jobs had a designer create a “uniform” for him that people would forever associate with his brand. Steve Jobs was an extraordinary thinker. Take a page from his playbook. Shop for classic looks that you know look good on you and stop adding junk to your closet that will look dated in 6 months.
3. Unlimited voice, data, and text for my cell phone. This is one super-easy way the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world extract extra dollars from you every month. Nearly half of data subscribers on unlimited plans could lower their bill by shifting to a lower data plan. It shouldn’t surprise you that the cell phone companies don’t broadcast this fact. Check your actual minutes, data, and text usage over the last 4 months. You could probably downgrade your plan and still use the same amount of data, voice, and text you use today.
4. A new car every two or three years. I have a buddy who only leases cars. He says he likes getting a new car every few years, so why should he ever buy? There’s a lot to say about this attitude. One being that you can get a new car every few years without leasing. But the takeaway here is that he learned this behavior from his parents, who leased cars all their lives. You can live without many of the lessons your parents taught you, many of which were wrongheaded in the first place or just don’t apply to the modern world.
5. Two or more cars. I own one car that is fully paid off. My partner and I supplement any additional transportation needs with walking and public transportation. If we weren’t so lazy we might also bike. Whatever it is you think you need that second car for, you could probably create a workaround. The cost of a car goes far beyond its sticker price.
6. A landline telephone. I use a combination of mobile phone and Skype to meet all my telephony needs. Don’t get scammed by the telco’s offering “bundles” that supposedly save you money on TV, internet, and home phone. Paying $30 a month for a service you don’t use anyway doesn’t count as saving money.
7. A thirty-year mortgage. I don’t have any desire to enter homeownership prison. Adam Baker of Man vs. Debt has an excellent post about how renting is the new American Dream. I would consider buying a home within a certain narrow set of conditions, but none of them involve indentured servitude to a lender for thirty years. The key is to think through your individual situation and not blindly buy into the Herd mentality.
Here’s the rub.
I don’t feel that my life is lacking for not having any of these things.
In fact, owning any of these things would reduce my agility and hurt my ability to iterate my lifestyle quickly.
That might not be the case for you. There might be things you can’t live without on this list (though it would surprise me).
And that’s okay.
For example, my life would be significantly worse off without a wireless internet connection, my computers (I have 3), my 50″ plasma TV, and my Netflix subscription.
For many of you, these are extravagant luxuries and definitely things you can live without.
More power to you.
The point is to examine all the ways that you trade your time for things. You can’t get those hours of your life back. So those products and services better be worth it.
If they aren’t, then it’s time to cut them loose.
Image by Berthold Werner.