x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

On the money: feel the liberation of getting your life in order

If you had to fit your entire life into a suitcase, what would you take and what would you leave behind?

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Imagine you had to leave your current life and all of the "stuff" in it. That all you were allowed is one suitcase full to the brim. You can choose what you want and what gets left behind.

You have no option of storing things or upgrading to a bigger trunk or extra bag. So what do you choose? How do you go about it?

After the initial shock of having to do this, you might start thinking about what sort of life you'd be leading for the next few years, where you'd be based, and about your plans for the future.

Perhaps, as you rummage through your possessions, you will realise that no, you don't really need all this stuff anyway. That instead of it being a hellish situation, this a great opportunity to sift and select what will work for you, for your new life.

I recently saw a friend who had packed up and left the UAE not too long ago - having spent a few decades here, put the kids through university and so on. When he and his wife were getting ready to leave, they realised that they had a lot of stuff.

Instead of taking it with them, they decided to whittle it down and take only what was important to them, and they gave the rest away - passing on memories and prized possessions to their children and other people in their life. He told me he didn't realise how much they had, and said there are only so many vases and trinkets you need in life.

They packed what was important into a few bags, and left.

Another couple decided, their children having flown the nest, that they too wanted to focus on what's important, and simplified their lives. They sold all their possessions and moved into a serviced apartment.

Sounds heartless and extreme doesn't it. But is it?

These people decided they wanted to own very little, have zero liabilities, and be more in control of how they live. They wanted to be able to get up and go, travel, explore, as well as share time with people they love wherever they may be.

Now tell me that doesn't sound idyllic.

You see, it all depends on how you put things. These two couples could be seen as practical people who have taken the fun out of life and living by becoming minimalists. But, in fact, they're liberating themselves from the restrictions that most of us impose on ourselves.

Buying things does not make us happier, and in fact binds us to the need to earn that bit more, taking away our options of spending time on what's really important to us, or with people who are important.

I'm the first to say I want to live a comfortable life. My home is my haven, and I do spend on things that I don't need, but that add a very much wanted emotional dimension to my life.

But I do this deliberately. I think things through - not only cost, but also what it adds to my life, or takes away from it.

And so here's what I think helps: work out different piles for the stuff in your life. Pretend you're going to move somewhere, and need to sift through your life and its possessions.

These are the piles I have:

. Boring but important: this is all about what's vital to your life and what you need - like covering your vital outgoings, having various policies up to date, saving money, having your emergency budget stashed away safely.

. Important and exciting: this is where I'd put investments. I'm excited by finding out about things that I could invest in, how they work, what they're based on, and how they could add to my life. I'd also have earning in this pile: what can I do to earn the money I need for my life.

. Emotionally fulfilling: this is stuff that isn't vital to your life, but is important to your well-being - it could be anything and depends on what you like to do or be: a diver, drive a beautiful car, be a self-proclaimed food critic who very much needs to try out eateries on a regular basis.

. Black hole: this is the unnecessary stuff that is often mindless spend.

When you've figured out what you spend on, and realise how you live your life, I'd suggest you focus on the last pile, and zap it into oblivion. Then start figuring out how you can shift your biggest spend to the first two piles.

And you'll find that your life's suitcase packs itself as you move into your next phase.

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at nima@cashy.me.