Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 23: Paring

First off, thanks to everyone who's stopped by. You've no idea how much it means to me, but = a lot.

A lesson learned through unemployment is to cut down to the essential. I learned this through the Great Unemployment of 2001-02 and have refined it to a science by now. I don't know if this had a name then, but today I think it falls into the category of what's called minimalism.

I'm defining minimalism in this sense as pertains to personal economic behavior.

Little did I realize as life unfolded that a career spent mostly in journalism pretty much requires a minimalist economic lifestyle. The few people who get rich in journalism are generally those who don't actually practice reporting any more!

These few well-paid types consist generally of:
* Columnists, who will steal a few facts and then pontificate. They're connected, for sure, but the actual digging for information and pounding the beat reporting is long past in the vast majority of cases. These people are clever writers, good writers, but they're paid for their way with words and influential or controversial abilities more than for their reporting chops.
* Editors. Editors often are failed reporters who hung around long enough to outlive their competition and move to a higher tax bracket. That may sound like a rip, but as a former editor, I think I can speak to it. You can make decent money as an editor, but only at the top levels are you truly going to cash in. Line-level reporters and staff almost universally feel like whatever money that editor makes, it's too much.
* TV types. But TV isn't usually real journalism. And grunt-level, behind-the-camera jobs are often as poor-paying as print jobs.

Journalists learn to live on a tight budget. It's minimalist. Through trial-and-error, practice and time, I learned how to stretch that money.

I'm fascinated by the minimalist community. I have a lot of thoughts on this but I don't want these posts to be too long. We'll come back to this. Suffice to say, I recommend looking into it. Some of the minimalist thought leaders include Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity (; Leo Babauta of Zen Habits/; and Everett Bogue, who meteorically shot into widespread consciousness with his embrace of the concept (and now, apparently, a sort of rejection of it). There are others I check out as well.

Fundamentalists of this school do things like try and reduce all possessions to 100 things or less. The thinking is, get rid of the things that anchor you. Quoting Tyler Durden: "The things you own end up owning you." Bogue calls it "untethering."

As I said, I could go on and on with this and I will. But not now. Just know that even if you have a job loss, you can live with less money. America is a consumer society. We're indoctrinated to have more, get more, buy more. Cars, electronics, buy, buy, buy.

It's a trap.

The short take is, you don't have to live a totally monastic lifestyle, but chop costs where you can. Do you need those trinkets? Do you need those products? How much freedom would you have if you had more money and no debt? Pay off your credit cards and cut them up. Save as much money as you can. Make a life where you could conceivably pull up stakes and go wherever you want to go. It is possible. But only if you break the bonds of economic slavery that Western society expects you to toil under.

Cutting back the things you don't truly need applies to non-monetary items, too. You may need to trim your Facebook friends list, your bookshelves, that musty box of crap in your closet that you haven't opened in three years. Why are you keeping this crap? Let it go.

OK, off the soapbox and back to the job hunt. I have to do a cold call that I'm kind of dreading but I gotta just jump. Details TK.

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