Minimalism and Hobbies

This One’s For the Games.

Today, I want to talk about gaming and minimalism. To do this, I’m going to focus on the time, money, and energy that we can put into gaming. I wish to pursue ways to purposefully play games without taking a toll on our wallets, limited physical space, and avoiding overindulgence. I hope to provide some useful anecdotes towards living a minimalist lifestyle and continue enjoying the hobby.

My friends and family know that I have two or three hobbies. Running. Soccer. You’re here, so you might ascertain the third is gaming. I’ve enjoyed games since I was a young kid. Here’s some of my favorite memories: beating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game with my parents in Virginia Beach. The first time I played Sonic the Hedgehog on our family’s Sega Genesis. Exploring The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64. Simply put: gaming has been a past-time that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the years and has remained a constant in my life. A more recent development is my interest in minimalism.

Where to start?

While writing on this site, gaming and minimalism are two topics I’ve avoided mingling so far. I wanted to gather my thoughts before covering the subject. Here’s the three ideas I’d like to explore:

  1. Gaming can be very consumptive, specifically on your time and money, which it can easily soak up.
  2. Gaming can capitalize on physical space in your home. With minimalism in mind, I keep the games I love the most. Part with the rest.
  3. My time also comes with the mental energy spent. How do you game with balance and well-being in mind?
IMG_3200_zps4d191488.jpg
Years ago, my wife’s friend surprise-baked me a Sonic birthday cake. It was a great birthday. (PC: Mrs. TWG)

What’s Great About Gaming?

Gaming by far has been a social hobby for me. Whether I’m actively playing a game with a group of friends, or talking about a game with friends, they provide quality bonding experiences. Gaming can be a great way to build relationships with other people. Between sitting on a couch and playing a game with others, sharing tips or strategies to beat a game, or sharing our thoughts, reflections, and experiences with a game, these are all valuable experiences. I truly enjoy these aspects of the hobby.

Games are an artistic medium. I love the history of games, how technology and software have evolved over time, and how a series of games usually improves over time. I’ve never explored how they are coded and designed. Rather, gaming offers worlds that I can explore, stories and characters I can immerse myself, and challenges and puzzles I can solve. I can also enjoy their beauty and intricacies often at my own pace. They provide social commentary in engaging and thought provoking ways other mediums cannot.

I also enjoy gaming because it allows me to get inside my head a bit. I’m an introvert. I tend to do a lot of thinking when I play games. My work also revolves around people, to the point where I need a moment for myself at the end of the workday. An hour or so allows me to decompress and shed the day’s baggage if I need to. I don’t view games as an alternative to getting outside or exercising. Additionally, I end my screen time (usually) by 9:30PM.

What’s Not-So-Great About Gaming?

It can become quite consumptive. You can quickly form habits that simply drain your money and time, and sap your productivity. There are moments in my life where I’ve let a game or two consume me, for a day, week, or even month’s worth of my time. That’s not a place I like to be anymore. I realize now that the behavior can become addicting if you allow it. There’s one particular culprit that comes to mind…

game-logo-wow.png
World of Warcraft. A love/hate relationship. (PC: Blizzard Entertainment)

World of Warcraft

I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft (WoW), a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), created by Blizzard Entertainment. I grew up with Warcraft’s real-time strategy games, Warcraft, Warcraft II, and Warcraft III. I enjoyed the challenge they provided, and could play a round or two and be finished within 45 minutes to an hour. They were great games that offered a unique setting and a lot of strategy and skill.

At first, WoW was novel — Exploring the World (of Warcraft) was something awesome. However, WoW is designed specifically to capitalize on the investment of time you put into the game. There are some skill-based aspects, but MMO’s in general and WoW in particular are gaming treadmills. Your focus is to upgrade your in-game character with new levels and equipment, gearing them out, sometimes for several hours a day. Perform a task in the game. Improve your character ever so slightly. Receive a little shot of dopamine. Rinse and repeat. It can amount to a second job, one that costs you, $14.99 a month. I would love to see Blizzard’s analytics for average time in-game spent per user. They’ve made billions of dollars, but did you know as of 2012 (more recent data needed), over 5.9 million years of human time have been spent in the game? That is truly mind boggling.

For some people, they are able to limit themselves to how much they play WoW. They can play an hour or two and have no attachment. For me, I don’t think that’s the case. I’d often get sucked in and lose all sense of time. I wish I had the capacity to better moderate myself, but WoW is a game I simply can’t indulge any longer.

What has transformed me away from WoW? Discovering mindfulness, and developing strategies around digital minimalism. How much technology I consume (in the mental sense), is of my own choosing. Living into this, I tend to spend between an hour or two an evening playing video games every few days. I admit there are moments where this is challenging.

The Monetary Cost of Gaming

We’ve established that games can eat into your time. What else does gaming do? Gaming can be costly and can also lead to large amounts of physical stuff. Fact: I still have virtually all of the games I had as a kid. Many of them were given to me by my parents, friends, and family over the years. There’s memories and nostalgia attached to them. I love them. And of course, I have many games I purchased myself. In periods of my life I’ve been both a collector and a gamer. I frequently purchased the newest games when they came out, often paying the full retail price. Can you relate to any, some, or most of these?

There’s the consoles, controllers, and software, which can all pile up to significant amounts of money. It adds up quickly if you’re not budgeting what you spend. New consoles usually range in the ballpark of $300 to $500. Want another controller? That will be $60, please. New game? $60. Tack on a $60 yearly subscription cost for online gaming services. Given these costs, I’m usually never an early adopter of the newest technology. Instead, I wait for a price drop or a fantastic sale.

In terms of physical space, video games take up household real estate. Some gamers have large personal collections in a room solely dedicated to gaming. There’s nothing wrong with collecting. I think it’s important to do what you value and what brings you enjoyment. It amounts to a personal decision. I myself used to have a pretty large collection, around 500 or so games. It took up a majority of a second bedroom. I decided I had too many games that I’d never play again. At this particular junction in my life, I want to be able to enjoy my games, and hold onto most important ones.

Today, I have a small personal and curated collection of the games I love. Everything is organized in a tidy manner, kept in place and orderly. I display the game consoles on a cool custom shelf my dad made me. My games are stored on a shelf I built. As a family, we’re likely to move to somewhere more permanent in the next three to four years. Having less to move will definitely be a benefit.

I’ve also explored my thoughts on this a bit on my Decade of New Aspirations Post.

Find Balance and Truly Enjoy Gaming:

10891965_10100914902844567_3917204157599452979_n
At an Arcade in France. My wife was awesome and found an Arcade for us to explore. (Photo Credit: Mrs. TWG)

Time: I limit the amount of time spent on screens. By 9:30 on weeknights, if it has a screen, I’m done with it. Honoring this rule of thumb really helps me avoid the overindulgence I’ve had with games, where I lose all sense of time and what’s going on around me. Additionally, I feel more mindful and present when I limit my technology use, and it allows me to appreciate the time that I do spend with gaming. I’m much more intentional about what I choose to play, and don’t get hung up on what I might be fearful of missing out. If this appeals to you, check out Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

Budget: To avoid sounding redundant here, I’ve talked about this topic extensively on the site. Pursuing Financial Independence as a Gamer is the backbone for my budget. Games are not an investment strategy. Money spent on games is money not going towards our financial future. A lesson learned is that pursuing financial independence has also made me content with what I have and more choosy about what decide to buy.

I purposefully budget gaming expenses, to keep costs reasonable. Over the past several years, I have kept track of every expense for my hobby. I don’t take any liberties. If I purchased or sold something, it’s logged. I’ve continually reduced what I’ve spent on my hobby drastically over these years, with the ultimate goal to pay nothing out of my own pocket. Here’s what I have logged as averages each month, for the six years I’ve kept track:

2014, I spent $124 a month.

2015, I spent $80 a month.

2016, I spent $40 a month.

2017, I earned $21 a month. (Beginning of FI Journey)

2018, I spent $60 a month.

2019, I earned $2 a month. (I made a decent sum selling, but I used the proceeds to buy our couch.)

Over these six years, I’ve spent an average of $562 a year, or $47 a month on gaming. This is such a tiny tiny portion of our limited household income. I’m aiming for even less spent. But, this span of time has been a great learning experience. It has provided two incredible take-aways: 1. being content with what I have, and 2. curbing unnecessary, impulse purchasing habits. It has allowed me to play down my backlog. I take joy knowing the past few years have really tapered my spending down to something very manageable.

Stuff: Collecting isn’t the goal. I am content with the games I have. My collection has grown, shrank, and ballooned throughout my life. It’s pretty cumbersome to move. With minimalism in mind, I’ve pared down plenty of games I have no further interest in. Now, I am much more selective of whether or not I decide to keep a game. Will my friends enjoy playing it? One day, will my child enjoy playing this game? Is it from a series I love? Will I enjoy playing it again? Usually a game has to satisfy most or all of these criteria whether or not a game stays.

So, the games I do have, take up far less space. Eventually, I do want to display what I have, in a cool, unique and pleasing way. I’ve thought about moving to digital games, but I’m just not there yet. The games I have carry a lot of meaning. They’re cool. They look great on a shelf. They make me happy. I enjoy them. That’s plenty enough justification to them to stick around.

My downsized, curated collection. About 90% of the games I own are displayed here.

Closing:

I hope this article brought forth some fresh ideas. I enjoyed exploring the gaming hobby, an activity that often expects us to part with our precious time, money, and energy. Incorporating a minimalist approach, I hope I can continue to enjoy more of the positive parts of gaming and say goodbye to the negative aspects of our hobbies. Does this translate to the leisure activity you enjoy? If so, are there things you’d change? Ways to cut costs? Get rid of that unused stuff that’s sitting in your closet? I’d love to know! One way or another, I hope you’re having a good week and thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Andrew

30 Day Minimalism Challenge

Hello!

Note: This series comes from a previous blog I wrote in the beginning of 2017. I’ve recently been revisiting the topic minimalism and how it intersects with the Financial Independence / Retire Early movement, and gaming. I think it’s still pertinent today. I’ve edited portions of this article to provide some reflection and analysis. Enjoy!

It’s amazing to me in the United States, we continue to see unparalleled wealth and income inequality. This also has given rise to a culture of consumption and excess, the haves and the have nots. Minimalism has gained popularity because we live in a country where excess is an all too common narrative.

I challenged myself to redefine how I see the world I live in. I learned more about the core principles of minimalism, after being introduced to some resources through my wife and her sister. After I watched the film “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” listened to The Minimalists Podcast, and read through their website, I felt inspired. This led me to books like Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye Things, and Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. My goal was to adopt and incorporate ideas of minimalism (from what I’ve learned and continue to learn) into my daily life. Over the past few years, we’ve moved, downsized our belongings, and leaned into plenty of new challenges life has thrown at us along the way.

Hopefully the experiences shared are relatable. This experience provided a lot of learning moments. By sharing my process with you, perhaps you will be inspired to do the same. I focused on the following goals, both in my personal and professional life:

  1. Achieve happiness by taking steps toward a more meaningful, ideal life.
  2. Weigh everything by answering the question: “Does ______ add value to my life?”
  3. Apply mindfulness techniques to be more productive and present in my day-to-day life.
  4. Tone down my own compulsory consumerism.

These four goals might seem quite vague and simplistic. That’s actually a good thing. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Allow me to explain…

What does minimalism mean to me?

Doing more with less, to be happier.

For me, minimalism is achieving happiness by cutting down on the clutter in my life, so that I can focus on what matters most: my passions and my relationships. During this 30-day experiment, I trimmed down what I own, what I consumed, and what I spent my time on, all within reason. This wasn’t an extreme lifestyle change. In those 30 days, I took a minimalist approach while I explored a range of topics. I hope the reflections and lessons are useful to you.

Cutting out the clutter that clouds my mind.

What do I mean by clutter? One meaning is physical items. My wife and I were on a New Year’s kick to downsize a lot of our household belongings that were collecting dust. Over the past three years, we’ve used different strategies to reduce the physical objects taking up space our lives (and our apartment). I also mean cutting out digital clutter. Specifically I want to cut down on three things: the amount of social media I consume, the time I spend despairing over news headlines, and the overall quantity of screen time to which I commit my mind and soul. A lot of this digital clutter creates noise in my brain and saps my energy. To address this, I used various mindfulness practices including meditation exercises, routine building, and self-discipline exercises. Cue Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism again.

Railing against the message we all too often receive — that we need more.

Minimalists often talk about eliminating compulsory consumption. What does that mean? For me, it really just means avoiding societal pitfalls like impulse buying of the things that I might want but clearly don’t need. From clothing, to snacks that look enticing, or the tchotchke that I think will look good in our home, this is the type of consumption I’m referencing. This consumption takes a physical and mental toll on us. I’m tired of feeling like our disposable income is driven toward purchasing things that we think will make us happy. By spending money on things, we are actively taking a hit on our retirement goals. We constantly receive messages that we should want or need more. Are the things we feel urged to buy really giving us the happiness we’re looking for? The constant bombardment of advertising drives the consumerist, capitalist society we live in. I wanted to push back against this and the broader societal pitfalls we tend to fall into. When purchasing choices did come up, I evaluated whether or not an item will bring value to my life instead of just quickly opening my wallet.

I want to be like this Indigo Bunting. Free. Free to sing his lovely songs from a mountaintop. He doesn’t care about the newest gadget. So why should I?

What I don’t mean by minimalism…

…Becoming a monk and living life as a hermit, devoid of worldly possession.

The concept of minimalism might elicit a gut reaction when you first hear it. You might have negative attitudes about the lifestyle, or perhaps you have read and disagreed with a few blogs or articles already. You might think, “Are you really going to live with only a few outfits, pieces of silverware, a plate and cup, maybe a book or two to your name?” I emphatically say, no. I think there’s a key word I want to stress, which is moderation. Humans go from one extreme to the next. One artistic period is followed by a counter movement. We’ve gone from McMansions to Tiny Houses. Minimalism is no different. I believe that there really is a happy medium between having enough than falling into a pit of excess.

Over the years, I’ve balanced competing perspectives by carefully assessing which possessions add value to our life and then carefully cut out the unneeded. This included keeping useful items serving a practical purpose, but getting rid of what we didn’t use. This also included analyzing the many beautiful gifts we’ve received that have been shared with love to each other, or are from our parents, family members, and friends. These items have been both decorative and functional in nature, and carried some sentimental value, too. For other items that didn’t serve as a tool or bring us value, we’ve found ways to donate, sell, or pass them on to someone we know.

…Ignoring my passion for social justice.

Social Justice is a philosophy that continues to guide my life. We live in a society that grants privilege to certain social categories of people. Attitudes are shaped that favors one group over another, and institutions and structures are built around these attitudes, granting power and privilege to specific groups and marginalizing others. I’ve felt a strong pull towards social justice since I was a young child, and it is something that I hold closely to this day. I try to challenge myself on how much I consume the headlines (sometimes the headlines consume me, which is what I try to avoid). I have focused on being intentional about when and where I engage on social media, so I can be more active and practical in my own community and the relationships I do have control over and can invest energy in.

By cutting down, I don’t want anyone to make the assumption I’m tuning out. I still make an effort to know what’s happening in our country and the world around. I continue to be more intentional when I am civically engaged. What I haven’t done, is allow myself to swirl in the headlines (sometimes for hours, at the cost of my mental energy and productivity) and continue to feel powerless at what I can’t change.

I want to name that this article does visit the topic of social class. It will visit other areas of identity. I want to name that I consider myself middle class, and I am fully aware of the privileges associated with that group membership. I don’t want this blog to feel like a collection of first-world problem entries. So if it ever feels like I’m being classist, please call me on it. Please share your thoughts when our identities and experiences differ. I’m going to be mindful of myself and others when I’m writing. The goal is still to declutter my life as a whole, so that I’ll be able to spend more time on my passions.

…allowing “busyness” culture to prevent me from excelling in all responsibilities of my work.

Humans by nature, are inefficient. In this age of information, this inefficiency is exacerbated by the distractions around us. At the time when I wrote this article, I was a Hall Director for a residence hall at a public university. There were lots of competing priorities for my time and energy. A lot of my time was spent among various meetings, speaking with students, or doing administrative work at the computer or desk. I can humbly say that I performed most of my responsibilities well to very well, but I was a master of none of them.

However, broadly speaking our work culture centers around the concept of “busyness”. If you were to ask someone how they are doing, I’ve commonly heard the response, “You know, I’ve been really busy.” Everyone’s busy, but it seems people are frequently distracted, distant, and not fully present. I believe there are tons of stimuli which influence our emotions and feelings, creating noise in our minds as we go about the day. This has personally happened to me (frequently), leading to inefficiency on things I truly care about as I approach my work. Enough!

However, I’ve also felt this when I don’t disengage effectively when I get home at the end of the day, only to wake up exhausted for the following day. This impacted my mood for the day. It can completely spoil the goal of engaging in each task with energy, presence, and passion. So, I’ll be sharing some of my experiences that have helped me stay balanced and productive.

Edging closer to a Henry David Thoreau mindset. (Photo Credit: Mrs. TWG.)

What comes next?

These next few articles will include reflections around the money we have, and how we spend that money. It includes things, possessions, and the sensation of having enough. It will include how I’ve learned to be more mindful, intentional, and deliberate with my mental energy to feel more energized. I’ll also share my reflections about disengaging from technology for thirty days, which yes, includes video games. With it comes all of my observations and feelings, and the lessons and reflections that came after.

Respectfully Yours,

TWG

If you’re interested in some more in depth reading and ideas about minimalism and FIRE, please check out Tightwad Gamer’s Favorite Resources. There’s a wealth of information and great reads in there!