Broker Check
Less is More

Less is More

| August 13, 2021

There are no trailer hitches on hearses and no pockets on burial shrouds (my dad loves that last one). You can’t take anything with you when you leave this earth and despite that, it is common for financially successful Americans to die at the absolute apex of their net worth with a great deal of earthly possessions amassed.

I grew up watching my parents and their friends pursue the great American Dream, believing that their hard work and sacrifices would eventually be rewarded and that a big part of that reward would be material. Madison Avenue advertising agencies sprung up in the 1920s and worked overtime to convince Americans that living the American Dream meant riding the consumption escalator up to bigger houses, faster cars, expensive jewelry and fancy clothing. Work hard, make more money and get more stuff! The “fast fashion” industry sprung up in the 1990s to allow consumers to buy inexpensive clothing that may only be worn a time or two and then discarded.

This inclination to gather more and more is by no means irrational. In fact, a recent study from the University of Virginia found that people default to looking for additive transformations while problem solving, overlooking subtractive solutions. Participants were instructed to stabilize a Lego structure, which was made unstable by a singular piece attached to one of the four corners of the structure. While the simplest, lowest cost, and most efficient solution would have been to remove the piece causing the instability, most participants added an additional three pieces to the remaining corners.

Our instinct for “more” extends into almost every facet of our lives, from purchasing newer, more expensive possessions, to adding meetings and committees at work, to thinking “if I only made more money, I’d be able to afford what I want and getting that will make me happy.” We overlook the subtractive solutions that make our lives easier, simpler, more comfortable, and our consumption more intentional.

The mindless acquisition process is, simply put, exhausting. And it is cluttering our homes and filling our landfills with mountains of stuff. How much is enough? How much money is enough? For 1800s oil baron John D. Rockefeller, the answer was “just a little bit more.” At the peak of his wealth, Rockefeller had a net worth of about 1 percent of the entire U.S. economy. He owned 90 percent of the entire petroleum industry of his time. Compared to today’s billionaires, Rockefeller made Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk look like paupers. And yet, he still wanted “just a little bit more.”

Before you can know how much is enough, you’ve got to define “enough.” “Enough” isn’t just an amount. It is also an attitude and something that takes time and a focus to settle on. Money is a wonderful tool but a terrible master. What is it that you want out of money? Many people imagine that money will give them freedom, but money is only one part of the equation. Freedom requires three things: good health, free time, and some money. And money without either of the other two is not particularly useful. Money can, however, help to free up your time and help to improve your health as well.

“Minimalism” is often presented as an alternative to acquisition and is sometimes likened to austerity or self-denial. Minimalism, however, is not having less than what you need, but owning exactly what you need. Minimalism is marked by clarity, purpose and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means deliberately promoting the things we value most and removing everything that distracts us or leads us away from what we value.

I have written in the past about aligning your personal values with your investments and I also work to align my consumption with my values. Our oldest daughter is passionately opposed to sweatshops and therefore avoids fast fashion and buys many of her clothes from thrift stores. Our son has a deep love of the outdoors and focuses his purchases on very high-quality gear that will facilitate adventures in the backcountry—skiing, biking and whitewater rafting and kayaking.

At Stewardship, we have refined a four-step process that helps our clients create better alignment between their values and their money, and often better alignment between partners:

1. Clarify your values and identify the areas of overlap and differences between partners. At the conclusion of our 90-minute facilitated session, you will have identified your top 5 personal and joint values.

2. Clearly identify where you are financially (income, cashflow, investments, risk, insurance, savings, debt) and identify areas to be optimized and simplified.

3. Clarify your life goals as they relate to your finances and identify the optimal path from your current state to having your money best serve you and your loved ones.

4. Help you navigate the transitions you will face in life, both planned and unplanned.

Stewardship can help you subtract—minimize your taxes, simplify your finances, gain focus on your vision, and clear your mind of money worry. Schedule a virtual meeting at or call us at 303.500.1931. We are able to provide all your planning and investment needs remotely, although our office is also open for in-person meetings.