Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Is This Dude a Monk or a Minimalist?

Once again, the folks over at Fair Companies bring us more provocative profiles of people at the vanguard of minimal, small space living. In terms of minimalism, Peter Lawrence takes the prize–not that he would store that prize anywhere in his spare digs.

The former Hewlett Packard manager, having lived a very simple life for many years, saved enough dough to retire at 40. He now inhabits a decent-sized California apartment with hardly any possessions: a sleeping bag; a camping chair; a small wardrobe; a folding chair and desk; a computer; a projector he projects on the ceiling; some toiletries and not much else.

Peter devotes his time to his inner life and has written a book entitled The Happy Minimalist. He lends pearls from his way of life in the video. He has a particular emphasis on the value of time over money of which he says:

You can lose all of your money and one day, and subsequently make it back. I know of no one who has been able to recover lost time.

Peter appears to be a happy character and his pared-down life seems to contribute to that. Obviously his way of life carries a lot of wisdom for anyone.

What we wonder is how his philosophy would co-exist with more conventional institutions like marriage, children, a full-time job? Is his ascetic style of living the exclusive domain of single dudes without 9-5 jobs–sorta like a secular monk? Or does our consumer culture mistakenly program us to believe this degree of simplicity is out of reach for the average person?

What do you think? Watch the video and let us know in our comment section.

The post originally appeared on this site on September 11, 2012

  • Sarah

    I’m going to go with Monk. His life seems.. secluded. Isolationist even. I understand the choice to not have a family or a partner and respect that. But how does he entertain at his home? He mentions the pan is useful if he has people over and needs to cook more than one dish at a time.. but where do those people sit? His home is the peak of minimal, but it seems devoid of beauty and comfort too. It’s not my idea of an edited life, for sure.

  • dejrr

    I’m with Sarah. If he’s happy, that’s wonderful. But yes, monk.

  • Karavaniere

    I’ll go with monk too! It’s great if you have a pan so you can cook for guests, but if you don’t have any chairs to sit at least one of them or ustensiles so they can eat with you, then what’s the point? Also, if I was to have so little possession, I would go all the way for a tiny house instead of an empty appartement… Just thoughts.

    • Bermagui

      Yeah I, too, would go with monk, and I tend to agree with the others above re the challenges when having guests over, and this is something that I struggle with in living a minimalist life too.

      It’s terrific that this guy is able to live so simply and without many material objects and having pared down his possessions to suit his OWN life and lifestyle, but as mentioned above, when friends come over, for example where will they sit? In a perfect world friends/people would be quite happy to sit on the floor and as long as they’re in the company of you (in this example, this guy) and sharing good times all would be dandy, but in reality it doesn’t always work this way. It may be good occasionally and even exciting for the first bit visiting a friend and sitting cross legged on the floor, but over time quite simply if people aren’t comfy they won’t want to continue coming over, and they’ll likely suggest that you (again, in this case, this guy) come over to there house or even meet somewhere for coffee or a meal. And if it’s doing the latter all of the time, well, that costs money and is kind of counter to what minimalism is all about. The same can be said about cooking utensils and cooking a meal for others – let’s face it… 4 people can’t all eat a knife and fork meal off the same plate! (Well, of course you can, but it won’t always be everyone’s cup of tea!)

      So essentially I see it as this… you can certainly can live really really minimalistically and only have the bare essentials for your own use, like the dude in this film, but by doing so it can result in quite an isolative existence. Or, you can have the ability to provide a bit more in the way of basic comfort for when friends/family come over, such as fold away chairs, even, that are stored away and only brought out when needed, and this may mean that these people will visit more often. Am I saying that you need a $4K sofa for them to sit on and the finest cutlery brought out at dinner time?? No way! Nor am I saying that everybody should pander to friends/families ‘needs’ by having basic things available to make them a bit comfier when they visit. But by having these things they are more likely to come back 🙂

      For me…. I’d love to own that little, I really would, because I feel it would be a more simple existence living with less stuff, but unfortunately that’s a little too minimalist for my lifestyle. I still want friends/family to visit and to be able to provide them with a chair, a hot drink, a meal even, and living like that I wouldn’t be able to…

      All just my 2 cents worth.

      Cheers,

      Bermagui

  • I think it is interesting that Peter loves the view that he has, but the only way for him to get it is to live in a space that was clearly designed for consumption.

    Monk or not, you have to give the guy props for being able to do chin-ups on a 1/2 inch thick doorjamb.

    • thanks for bringing that up david. he makes it look pretty easy. we know otherwise.
      it does help that he probably weighs about 110 lbs wet.

  • shakti muse

    Really wonderful!
    No mention of pricing?
    Would just love to have this type of home – warm and practically no bills?
    solar panels? Windmills?
    What is energy consumption? self provided?

  • shakti muse

    i do like the results Peter lawrence is getting BUT I have seen them all before and put together in many different ways.
    it is not his idea. he is doing it all and in his way, he adds his touches.
    The bottle walls i saw on a house in the country in France and many houses are done with tyres and other earthed up buildings – just look about West cork!
    The decorative curvatures I have seen on many projects – one in wood from an amazingly talented carpenter living in in the woods
    I see a distinct gaudiesque design going on around his buildings and especially emphasised by the Dragon head on roof motif – see Park Guell.
    All lovely, all preferable to anything else on the planet and ALL a better way of living on the planet as well as being a very earthcentric way of living.
    Cheap, free, various but all light on robbing the earth and depletions, not to mention the lack of pollution by using labour and thought together – they are not mutually exclusive..

  • Peace

    Why does this man live in such a large place if he is so minimalist? He has an interesting idea. I’m not a big fan of waste, and this is a waste of space. (I do wonder how he makes money. How does he get away with wearing so few clothes without getting into trouble?)

    • sixlittlerabbits

      Partly because of his pared-down lifestyle, he was able to retire at 40. So he doesn’t use his car to drive to work (he fills the gas tank about twice a month) and he doesn’t have to “dress for success.”

      Space can give a feeling of ease and comfort. Perhaps Peter needs the space because he would feel confined in a smaller area. That’s his choice and who are we to dictate how much space someone needs? Space is not “wasted” if it is not crammed with things or people. As Chris points out above, the space looks larger because it is barely furnished.

      Peter does indicate in his book that he has folding chairs for his friends to sit on.

  • Mil

    Let’s use a little imagination folks, we don’t have to go as far as Peter necessarily. How about a futon on the floor instead of a sleeping bag? A woman who lived down the hall from me once furnished her with place with aluminum camping furniture, including chairs and tables- and inexpensively too. When Diogenes the Greek Cyinic philosopher was criticized for his extreme simplicity he responded that it was like training a choir. Set the note too high so they can find the right pitch!

  • Shirley0401

    I think this is inspiring. Re: costs, he’s retired (from HP). Not sure if his money is in traditional stocks, or a savings account, or what. But I’m guessing he lives on less than $20k/year.
    Someone raised the point of how he gets away with so little clothing. He doesn’t have a job to dress for. How can he keep transportation costs so low? No job to get to/from.
    Which brings me to the point that always stops me, when I consider trying to downshift — it seems so hard to do gradually, while also getting your financial stuff in order. As much as I’d like to buy no new clothes, most employers have expectations regarding appearance. As much as I would love to give up my car, I need it to get to my job. But because I have to pay for the car, I can’t seem to save much to give me a cushion for downshifting. I know I’m not the first person to raise this point, but it feels painfully true in my case. It seems like I make just enough to pay for the things I need to buy in order to get to the job that pays my wages so I can continue to pay for the things required for me to go to work.
    And, I’ll admit, I do occasionally splurge, although it’s always on experiences, rather than things. But I’ll go to a sit-down restaurant with my girlfriend, or happy hour with a friend. I don’t think I’d require these things if I didn’t feel as if I “deserved” to treat myself for getting through the day/week, sometimes.
    It’s cliched, but true, that it feels like a hamster wheel. I’m stuck on it, but it’s moving too fast to allow me to get off, and the only option is continuing to run.
    Plus, I’ve got college debt, as well as a credit card I’m in restructured payment on.
    I wish there was some kind of halfway house for prospective minimalists. I’ve explored a few co-housing/commune options, but they seem like too big a leap. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of trying to start something in my community — help each other keep costs down, do things that are inexpensive or free (with light footprints).
    Anybody got ideas?

    • Fred

      You got it right from the start, it’s an inspiration not a game plan because we don’t know the financial details for one thing. Have to consider he did not achieve this overnight, retiring at 40 it may have taken him 15 years at least. The first step would have to be get out of debt. How? Spend less, get a better job, work a part-time job, get a roommate. If there were any easy or magic solutions we’d all be doing it tomorrow. As far as I’m concerned the whole agenda of “the system” is to keep us working…. forever. Took me 20 years (30-50) to get free and all I can say is it takes some willpower. Plus luck; no serious illnesses, no long term unemployment and no financial setbacks to speak of (owned no stocks in 2008). You have to want it.

      • Mil

        1. Your Money Or Your Life Vicki Robin
        2. Early Retirement Extreme Jakob Fisker
        3. Work Less & Play More Steve Catlin
        Your local library, http://www.bookfinder.com, or Amazon. I recommend #2 as the most detailed.

    • Lola Aderonke Elujoba

      Similar situation to you. I need my car for work so my solution, I moved into my car (inspired by Chris Sawey; look up hotel Prius on Google or YouTube), rented a storage unit. That allowed me to go on holiday for my sister’s wedding and pay off my credit card. By the end of next week I will get rid of most of the items in storage and leave the rest(box of food, anything important but can’t keep in my car) with my boyfriend or a friend. Next pay off bank overdraft. Soon my only expenses will be car related, food, petrol. I’m getting off the hamster wheel however unusual the method

  • Chris

    I think that the thing that looks odd is that he’s in a 600-800 sq ft apartment with so little stuff. If he was in a 300 sq ft studio I don’t think that his lifestyle choices would look so out of place.

    He’s a minimalist. He has everything that he needs for his life plus things that he loves. He thinks about the things that he does buy from those dual lenses of need and love.

    I don’t know that I’d go as far as him in pairing things down. I’m used to eating at a table and while I could throw a blanket / towel on the floor at eat al fresco with friends that way, I’d rather not.

    I’ve maybe 20% more clothes than he has and don’t need anymore to cover my work / personal life. But I am a guy and it is easier for us to get away with a more limited wardrobe. Having said that, the women following project 33 seem to mange equally well.

    I consider myself to be a minimalist but compared to Peter, I’m an over consumer. There’s no one size fits all.

  • Ani

    I think he’s truly a happy minimalist. He has all that he needs and not a bit more. It may not be all I feel I need but it’s not my space. I respect him for his choice to march to his own drummer.

  • Angela Ballard

    Monk…….but he has a way to go on that score….why, if he has so little, is he taking up so much space? I have lived like this in the past (and yes very happily) and while I had a community dining room for meals and a shared bathroom and verandah my personal space was 3m x 3m…a sleeping mat, a coffee table as a desk for study, a lamp and a fan, a few clothes on a pole and shelf across one corner. the fact that this was also in a beautiful setting in an intentional community made it a wonderful way to live.

    • sixlittlerabbits

      Natives of New York City spend hours cramming themselves and their stuff into small living spaces because of the high cost of apartments and houses there. It’s so bad that people even rent sleeping space (a couch) in someone else’s apartment.

      When they move to the outer boroughs or the suburbs, New Yorkers often view it as the triumph of substance (a larger more livable space) over style (a Manhattan address).

      Why should Peter downsize to a tiny cubicle-like living space because you were able to do so? You did so “very happily” because you had a community dining room, shared bathroom, and verandah. His apartment’s space compensates for these items which he does not have.

  • Susan Moore

    Why does he have such a big place?

  • WithheldName

    I used to live like that when I was a bachelor. A number of bachelors live like that. Show me a female who lives like that. Or show me a married man who lives like that.

    The guy is pretty wise and has the right idea, but I just have a few questions for him:

    1. Why don’t you invest in a tiny cabin??? What are you doing renting an apartment??? You could live ANYWHERE. Buy yourself a tiny log cabin in the middle of the woods. It’s an INVESTMENT. After a while, you own it…and don’t have to make payments on it any more…and you can sell it. And you could get a whole lot closer to nature. You could grow vegetables in your front yard and have chickens in your back yard.

    2. Sleeping on a carpet??? It’s bad for your skeleton, your back, your neck. We’ll all tried it. I woke up sore most days. Even a futon mattress can leave a lot to be desired. Get a used box spring and used mattress in good condition for the sake of your back and neck.

    3. What are you doing with your time all day??? Are you doing pushups, playing music badly, meditating, and masturbating to Indian porn on your laptop? Do some good for the planet. Adopt a pet. Adopt a child. Write more books. Start a nonprofit organization. Volunteer for a homeless shelter or food bank. Teach some classes. Interact with the world. The secret to life is HELPING OTHERS…not squandering our time contemplating our navels. GIVING of your time, talents, wisdom, and energies is the secret to happiness. Change some lives. And you’ll end up changing your own in the process.

    4. Where is your family??? You allude that they’re back in Asia, living in poverty? Bring them to America. Or move closer to them. You could enrich their lives so much. And vice-versa. Are you really having that much fun watching Star Trek movies twice week with your ex-co-worker programmers from HP? FAMILY is one of the keys to happiness.

    • sixlittlerabbits

      Peter says in his book “The Happy Minimalist” that we can choose to rent or have a mortgage, and he chose the later. He bought a house smaller than he could afford, and he also bought a rental property. He paid his house mortgage and his tenant’s rent covered the mortgage for the rental property. After a while, he owned both properties free and clear.

  • JPH

    I would say this is completely obtainable as a lifestyle. It may be further than some of us are willing to go, but the message and benefits of minimalism are what we can all learn from here. Part of the reality is that most people in a consumer driven and materialist culture find it much easier to dismiss simple living as “extreme” rather than face their unwillingness to do without excess. Happiness comes from within and experiences will always outshine material possessions. The minimalist lifestyle such as Peter’s or even a lifestyle anywhere close to it, is a sure path to happiness and good health. Even though he is not “living off the grid and off the land” this version of “modern living” is still environmentally responsible (far beyond most typical consumer driven lifestyles in materialistic countries). Minimalism aligns with the philosophy of Eastern wisdom. Taoism and Buddhism both point to living in harmony with nature and avoiding excess in all things. I read Peter’s book and highly recommend it.