Optimizing for Less

Rekka Bellum and Devine Lu Linvega, Hundred Rabbits, spoke at XOXO in 2019 (video) about their lives working and living on a sailboat.

During the talk Lu Linvega spoke about their approach to dealing with broken systems on the boat—water pump, fridge, etc.—and how they often opt not to repair them:

Over time, we were like, we – we could pay, we could work more to get more money so we can repair, to address that issue, or not, and try to live without. And a lot of the situation that we encountered, it turns out it is a lot healthier for both of us to optimize, to need less, than trying to optimize to make more money. And this lifestyle forced us into that mindset.

It struck me that this notion—the “negawatts” approach to personal finance—is completely missing from mainstream financial planning advice.

When I consulted a financial advisor earlier in the year, his schtick was, understandably given his role, all about maximizing growth—optimizing to make more money. Every time I enter that world, I end up feeling dirty all over, as it inevitably means balancing two evils, risk (and the evils of anxiety) vs. reward (and the evils of supporting various degrees of capitalism).

Optimizing for less seems like a breath of fresh air by comparison. Indeed not only does it seem like a solid, ethical personal finance philosophy, it seems like a solid, ethical political framework too.


Erik's picture
Erik on October 29, 2020 - 19:42 Permalink

Couldn't agree more. I have a natural tendency to do that for all my adult life. And finding your balance is key. And it's always in motion though the context of life itself and your personal needs at that time. And it will always be a subject of discussion within yourself and with loved ones.

I had great talks with my kids about it. From the beginning I chose socially oriented work that payed less and I even worked less hours and kept spending low. So I could look my kids in the eye and be there for them when they needed it. At times they hated me for it because they too would like to have more luxury goods, holidays, bigger house, etc. But in the long run it payed out (pun intended). They are grateful I was there for them always. That's something money can never buy.

As a bonus they now have the broader perspective then I had at their age. They know the value of time and are consciously making their own choices.

Most people I talked to about this subject (and I'm kind of extreme in my choices so that brings up the topic quite often) are afraid of missing out. Losing their stability, status, independence and what it will mean for the future and their career. They are trapped in the growth cycle you mentioned and can't get out of it although they desperately want to.

It's quite the social experiment we live in as humans. And I'm also amazed how good we holding up in this unnatural state of being.

Hope you will find a way to make it work for you.