A Twitter thread last week had me wondering the most impactful thing I learned over the past decade. It is probably this observation from Austin Kleon:

Low overhead + “do what you love” = a good life.
“I deserve nice things” + “do what you love” = a time bomb.

I’ve completely overhauled my life in the past couple of years, trying to minimise unnecessary or extravagant expenditures and commitments. I had allowed lifestyle inflation to trap me in a situation where I had to earn a certain amount. I had fallen for the advertiser’s vision of freedom and empowerment through consumption, rather than a financial, emotional and mental freedom to work on things that have impact and bring me joy.

I don’t know how I got there, as I used to break consumption down into its time value. Calculating how many hours in my minimum wage job equated to getting a couple of pizzas delivered, for instance.

I seem to have stopped this at some point, but it’s a remarkably effective way of identifying what’s worth the trouble. I came across a very stark illustration today in The Art of Frugal Hedonism:

how fast does your car really go, on average? We’re not alluding merely to time stuck in traffic here. To truly calculate the ‘effective speed’ of our vehicles we need to include all the hours we put in at the office to cover fuel, registration and other running costs… with that speedometer sitting right on zero all the while. One Australian study calculates that for every hour spent driving a Toyota Landcruiser, the average owner spends another 1.5 hours working to pay for it. The study also points out that if the owner had to pay for their car’s ‘externalities’–those costs borne by society–of CO2 emissions, traffic congestion and the cost of road accidents, they’d need to work another 0.6 hours for every hour behind the wheel. That puts the effective speed of a Landcruiser at 9 kilometres (5.7 miles) per hour. Not so convenient after all, eh? A bicycle, by the way, with its far lower purchase, running, and externality costs, clocks in at a relatively speedy 18 kilometres (11 miles) per hour.

You could probably run similar analyses on almost any gadget or service that supposedly saves you time or adds convenience.

I, most of us probably, take our work lives as given. We must work full time. That gives us X dollars. Then we use those dollars as best we can to maximise the non-work hours.

But what if you reversed this? Every minute you save by owning a car (could be anything) is one you pay for with one or more minutes at work. Could you do without the car and simultaneously reduce the work? How convenient is the gadget in terms of the hours required to pay for it, purchase it, maintain it and eventually replace it?

What if you rethought both the numerator and the denominator?

As usual my emphasis