The impact of MS on an individual’s financial future can be catastrophic. There’s a very strong association between MS and loss of employment – and life often includes additional expenses, particularly for those who may find it hardest to continue to work. Just imagine trying to modify your home (if you were fortunate enough to own one) on Centrelink payments!
Once upon a time I was working full time, training in a well-paid profession. I made the decision to purchase my first home (the one I still live in) just a few years after I started work, by saving much of what I earned and continuing to live on a budget not very different from the one I’d been forced to stick to as a student.
Six years into my thirty year mortgage I was diagnosed with MS. By that time I was a fully qualified specialist, but also a full time PhD candidate. So my income – made up of a scholarship and a very part time hospital appointment – was no greater than what I had lived on as a trainee. You can imagine the financial concerns that swirled around in my head when I was advised I was unlikely to be working as a physician within ten years!
Paying off my mortgage went from being a utopian ideal to something I did as fast as possible. Every purchase was weighed up and categorized as necessary (bills that have to be paid and things I truly needed), desirable (things that would increase my quality of life), unnecessary (things that I don’t need, whether or not I might like the idea) and undesirable (things that, on second thought, will add little to my life). It’s an interesting exercise! Somehow, without skimping on things that are really important to me, that mortgage was gone, years ahead of the original plan. It involved driving an old, inexpensive car. Never buying lunch – but also not missing out, as I have always preferred to take my own lunch to work. Having a relatively simple wardrobe, where a couple of pairs of shoes match everything I own. Enjoying quiet nights in when I catch up with friends - much the best sort of fun when you’re dealing with fatigue, anyway!
Minimalism is catching on as a way of life. I came to it “through the back door” when MS had me terrified my working life would end before I had achieved financial independence and I might end up losing my beloved little home. But what started as something I dabbled in as a perceived necessity has become a lifestyle I really enjoy. These days my basic living costs are not very high. And I’m genuinely happier when I am not surrounded by unnecessary “stuff”. Even after all these years of avoiding what I consider to be unnecessary consumption, I am still constantly trying to divest my home of possessions that don’t enhance my life – and I am happier every time I get rid of something!
One of my resolutions for 2015 was to sort through a shelf / drawer / cupboard / whatever each week and get rid of everything in it that I no longer need. The aim was to do this on rubbish night, so that anything not worth donating to someone else could go in the bin. The good stuff goes on the table inside my front door and is either given to a friend who has a practical use for it, or else dropped off to a local Op Shop. I haven’t quite kept up with the weekly schedule, but I’ve probably managed a bit of “stuff divesting” at least once in two weeks since I started the process. It’s fun! My home has never been nicer to live in. The things I value are easy to find and I have yet to regret getting rid of something I didn’t need. That 12 cup coffee maker had a place in my life when I was part of a study group cramming for the physician’s exams, with 6 people in dire need of large amounts of caffeine every time we met. It’s still as good as new, but I hadn’t used it in several years when I decided to let it go. I’m sure the student who took it was grateful, and my kitchen cupboard is much nicer without that big appliance blocking the door!
Family celebrations like Christmas can be great fun without conspicuous consumption, too. With very little discussion, my family was happy to cut out most of the gift giving and instead donate some money to a local charity (we chose the ASRC). So the last few Christmas celebrations I have come home with the satisfaction of knowing that where once I might have been wondering what I was going to do with all the unnecessary acquisitions, now I can feel confident the money has been much better spent. It makes for a much more relaxed and happy day! And it highlights an important concept for me that, far from making you stingy, living simply actually makes it easier to commit to contributing something to those less well off than yourself.
I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t already done so to look into the benefits of minimalism as a way of life. Some aspects have particular advantages for people living with a chronic illness like MS. There’s the financial side – life is unequivocally less expensive when you make a conscious effort to avoid unnecessary possessions and consumption. There are side benefits, too. Now that I’ve got rid of a lot of the “stuff” I don’t use, it’s very easy to access the things I do use. This is nice on a day to day basis, but it’s priceless when an episode of optic neuritis hits. There is nothing like having suddenly impaired vision for making you appreciate knowing where every item in your home can be found!
If you’d like to read more about minimalism as a lifestyle choice, The Minimalists would be a good place to start. Their blog posts cover everything from achieving financial freedom to the philosophy behind the movement. I find it interesting reading – but I can’t help thinking “MS taught me a version of that already” when I read many of their ideas!
The Unaffected One