Hail To The Nihilist

Category: Voluntary Simplicity

Celebrate what you don’t have

Read this beautifully articulated comment, by Penny Pincher, on Econest in response to a post about simple living:

“I love the thought of celebrating what I don’t have. Too often people dwell on the things they don’t have and depression follows. Well, I don’t have a MacMansion, I don’t have a mortgage or any debt, I don’t have fine jewellery, new clothes, make up nor perfumes. I don’t have overseas holidays, restaurant dinners, cafe lattes, nights at the movies or at the concert hall. I don’t have a fancy mobile, cable TV or a big wide screen plasma. I don’t have shampoo, commercial cleaning products or exotic toiletries. I do have a garden to grow food in, the internet for a wealth of ideas on things to make for myself, a job I enjoy and a family to love and be loved by.”




My Dad

An annual household income of $250k isn’t much . Well, if you are MP Joel Fitzgibbon you may believe that. Apparently some households that earn this much are “struggling”. As Mike Doroshenko rightly tweeted, it’s time to appoint the administrator…

My father, a retired welder turned volunteer maintenance worker, gets by on less than $20k a year. He couldn’t want for a thing in the world. Sure, it’s just him and he doesn’t live in any way extravagantly, but that’s the point. Ought we live like kings?

My father is a great example, I think. His transport, a 1997 Mitsubishi Express van: freehold. His house, a caravan and annex in a quiet and picturesque regional caravan park: owned, but he still pays a $75/week site fee. Food: simple, nutritious and home-cooked. Utilities: used sparingly and of little cost*. Fuel: enough to get him from A to B. Dad lives well within his means and as such he has built himself a nice little savings account.

I think we can all learn something from people like my dad. His priorities in life are freedom and happiness. He is free and happy because he doesn’t have to slave away for 40 hours a week to service things that he thinks will make him happy and certainly won’t provide him freedom. He finds his happiness in things that don’t cost much: reading, striking up conversations with strangers, building things and writing in his journal. Not to mention dreaming about visiting the English countryside again–which is a little more indulgent but heck, he has been disciplined and can afford it. He isn’t caught up on the material trappings of life yet doesn’t go without.

I’ve read widely about voluntary simplicity and minimalism and I think it’s going to be more than a trend in times to come–we’re going to have to make sacrifices and in doing so we’ll realise there is green grass elsewhere. We will change: for the good of the planet and for the good of our happiness.

* Dad showed me the extent of the gear that draws power at his place. It was all plugged into a single 4-socket power board. I wouldn’t even know where to start in my house. There must be dozens of appliances plugged in, drawing unknown amounts of energy constantly.

Wanted: More Vision

Some people don’t seem to get it. Houssam Abiad, a councillor for the Adelaide City Council posed a question on Facebook today:

How do we get another 10,000 people to come live in Adelaide in the next 5 years?

Great question. I responded with something about ensuring new developments have decent foundations on which to build community, citing the struggles that we have had in our stark, beige-townhouse-lined street. If people are going to move from wherever else, especially families or people that value a lifestyle, this is important. Many of the other respondents chirped a familiar song–especially familiar to poor Cr Abiad. Caaarpaaarkiiing.

Adelaide already has one of the highest proportions of free-to-cheap carparking in Australia. This is a problem: it acts as an incentive for people to drive. (Check this great article out on the economics of carparking.) We need to move passed this for Adelaide to be a more liveable, sustainable place. Other movement strategies need to take centre place. Cycling, walking, public transport. Cars have had it easy for too long. Their time is over. (The question wasn’t even about visitors. It was about residency.)

I’d really like to find some stats of how far city visitors travel by car. I wonder what proportion live within, say, 5-10km of the city. I wonder what proportion of that number travel alone. I wonder what proportion of that, travel without cargo. I wonder.

I consider myself an idealist. A visionary, if you will. That’s why I am so anti-carparking. It’s not a solution. It just adds to many, many problems. We ought to be thinking about super-dooper public transport systems and that kind of thing. It’s inevitable. It will happen. Public transport will dominate for at least a certain category of movement.Walking and cycling will dominate for others.


Another story where the keyboard warriors lack in vision: an article about a Danish study which concludes reducing the hours we work in a week is beneficial to our wellbeing. Firstly, it seems kind of obvious. Secondly, and this is my gripe, comments like this:

There are already many 25 hr/wk jobs out there. They are called part time jobs. However, the roof over your head, the food you put on your table, the college your children attend, the insurance that you keep for emergencies, and everything else you consume every day, the providers of these goods all expect compensation for their hours of skilled labor, and in the end, the currency paid for their time are your man hours.

Yup, that’s a problem. But shouldn’t we perhaps question that norm? More hours at work equals unhappier life. Less hours at work equals a happier life. Shouldn’t we be working towards that ideal? It’s a self-perpetuating dilemma–with a handful of indoctrination mixed in. We live expensive lives because that’s all we know. So we have to work crazy hours to pay for it. Does it have to be like that? Of course not. I live on 1/3 of what I use to and I am happier for it. I intend to bring that down further. One day I may become a tax resister–earn under the threshold so I don’t have to pay any tax at all. (I don’t know how that would sit on my conscience, but that’s not the point.) There are indicators all over the shop that we ought to reconsider our affluence. Studies like this are important. They reveal the negative health effects associated with unsustainable consumption, thus working practices.

Giving It All Up

Status Quo New Years Eve: Count down to get off your face to try and wipe out the thoughts of the wasted year that was.

Status Quo New Years Day: Count down how many days you have left before you go back to that job you hate to buy more crap you don’t need to distract you from the fact you are not living your purpose.

Solution? Fuck it all off and only do what you really want to do every day for the rest of your life.

Never has Durianrider made a more agreeable statement. What’s the first thing a big lottery winner does? Quits their job–save a few that really love what they do for work. Why do they do this? Because they now have the financial security to do what they want with their time. Most of us don’t work because we want to, we work because we feel we have to. Sure enough, most of the responses to Durianrider’s Facebook post are typical of the common thinking. For example:

[O]nly the priviledged ones can do that.


Wish I could! Got a mortgage to pay though!

Whenever I discuss voluntary simplicity with people, these are the sort of reactions I get. And they are usually cloaked in a “Come back to the real world, Paul” sort of tone. In which case, capitalism has well and truly won and we’re all destined to be wage-slaves. We don’t need that much to live yet we think we do and we make that an excuse not to strive harder for what we really want.

When people consider the idea they look at it from their current perspective. “If I earned 1/4 of what I earned now, doing something that I love, how am I meant to service my $700k mortgage and by all them widgets?” True, you probably couldn’t make that work, and that’s why it isn’t just about doing what you want and having more free time, it’s about fundamentally transforming your life. Being thoughtful about every facet of your life. Not doing what you’re use to or what is expected, rather doing what seems to be right. We have the capacity as more and more of us move to living more environmentally-friendly lives. We make decisions every day in order to do “what’s best”, often at great sacrifice.

We all need shelter. The notion of owning one’s shelter is preferable to renting. To own shelter we naturally think that we would need to take out a big mortgage, thus, work a well-paying job in order to service it. I think this is a big problem: relying on debt to achieve one’s destiny. I look to people like Richard Telford for inspiration. He spent $50k of savings, used a wide-range of government grants available at the time, and took out a small mortgage in order to build the eco-friendly home of his dreams. Yes, he did take out debt, but only a small amount. Paid off over 30 years with 7.5% interest, see repayments at about $100/week. Halve that term and double the repayment–and pay a lot less interest. It’s money that he still needs to earn each week but when the average mortgage repayment in Australia is $450/week and rent is $285/week, it equates to a lot less work and more freedom. I’m also inspired by the tiny house movement. People are building their own small dwellings, usually on wheels to overcome council regulations, without going into debt. Most of the tiny house people I have read about don’t own land–they rent a small space in the back corner of friends’ backyards. However, cheap land is available. I’ve seen blocks for under $10k in Tasmania. Maybe it’s not for you, but it’s an option. A 4-bedroom McMansion in the outer suburbs or a shiny 2-bedroom apartment in the city aren’t your only options. Many of us seem to think they are.

I think the great thing about all this is that it isn’t about privilege or being better off. It’s about being open to doing more with less. Hey, I have had a year of it. I went from earning $60k a year to starting my own business and getting by on a fraction of this. I’m use to it now, still maintain a good level of lifestyle–a little more affluent than I’d like, but I am cutting things out–and have much more capacity and appreciation for saving. If I went and earned $60k again tomorrow, I’d be able to save over 50% of it. That’s $30k. Once my debts are paid down, even more. I could buy a block of land with that and build a tiny house. It puts things in perspective, that’s for sure. It may not be the option that I want to entertain, but it’s an option. It isn’t as expensive and gloomy as we’re lead to expect.