How Can a Minimalist Buy an Island?

Considering the island story has eclipsed my next most popular story on this blog by almost 4x, maybe a follow-up is in order.

At this point I should admit that I have no idea what the public likes. I wrote that last post thinking that my regular readers would really get a kick out of it, but that the public in general wouldn’t really care. I was wrong, of course, and the story stayed at #1 on Hacker News longer than I’ve ever seen a story stay there. Gawker also wrote a really cool piece about it., and other press inquiries have been coming in.

The strange thing is, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. While me living in an RV triggered all sorts of pent up anger and resentment, buying an island was okay with everyone. There was one interesting question that was brought up a bunch of times, though: what the hell is a minimalist doing buying an island?

I think that this is a great question and that the answer touches on some important principles on living and minimalism.

All languages are imperfect, and certain words are inevitably overloaded. A generous person may be a fairly awful person who gives his money freely to certain charities, or he may be penniless but generous with his time. Someone who is smart may have a vast store of knowledge, or he may be clever at building things. Words, including “minimalist”, can mean all sorts of things.

I love material things. I love my laptop, my backpack, my phone, my pants, my watch, my RV, my motorcycle, and many other things. I love people more, of course, but that doesn’t preclude me from loving stuff.

Until six years ago or so, I didn’t really think about the negative consequences of having stuff. Then I sold my house and was forced to deal with it all at once. Stuff had to be sold, transported, given away, and stored. That whole process gave me an opportunity to think about these issues, and also about the ongoing responsibilities of owning all that stuff: the maintenance, upgrading, cleaning, and organization.

That experience turned me off of stuff a bit. Rather than see material goods as unbridled benefit, I saw them as a compromise.

So when I moved, I had a lot less stuff. And then when I decided to travel, it was an easy decision to sell everything and live out of my backpack. I still had really great things, and still really loved them, but I just didn’t have all that many.

Some people may be minimalists because they hate stuff, which is totally fine. I’m a minimalist because I want to minimize my obligations. I learned that buying things had costs beyond the dollars spent initially, and I became more careful incurring those costs.

The island, like everything else, has ongoing costs. Taxes are less than a hundred bucks a year each. We’ll have to buy a boat and other things to outfit the island. More importantly, it takes effort to organize trips and do the work on the island that needs to be done.

The reason I’m willing and able to take on those responsibilities is because minimalism has given me space in my life for projects like this. I keep my costs to a minimum and my responsibilities (outside of SETT) to a minimum, so that I can spend money and time on things that matter to me, like the island.

Subscribing to a philosophy is a nice way to get a packaged set of beliefs to use as a guide, but when those beliefs start interfering with your own individualized preferences and goals, it’s time to modify them. So while minimalism may mean having the least number of items possible to some people, to me it means only having things and activities that are overwhelmingly worth the costs they incur. For me, the island is easily in that category.


If you’re interested in more of the particulars of the island, check out the Hacker News thread where I answered a bunch of questions.

Photo is a view from the island.






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