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In fashion there is a concept known as High Low Aesthetic where a person will wear a high end piece of clothing and juxtapose that high end item with a cheap item. An example would be a 2000 dollar black leather jacket from Raf Simmons over a Hanes white t-shirt from a 10 pack that cost fifteen dollars. The emergence of High Low in fashion signifies that the things we “value high” serve a function that is the same as the “low end,” and that despite the difference in value both items are worth the same in the end. A jacket is a jacket and a shirt is a shirt. A mattress is a mattress when it’s on a four thousand dollar platform or on the floor.

In a world of dwindling middle class wages and increasing income disparities can we cause a paradigm shift towards a life that is more rewarding and free of being chained by debt?

I’ve discussed the concept of materialism at some length. Let’s take it a step further and provide a model or framework of how to achieve our desired lives.

There is a saying in New York City that when you move there you will have to sacrifice at least one of three things.

  1. Where you live
  2. What you eat
  3. How much fun you have

You could live somewhere great like the East Village or Williamsburg and have a lot of fun, but maybe not eat out that much. Or you could live way out in Brooklyn off the Q train, have a lot of fun, and eat amazing food all the time. New York requires a sacrifice from it’s residents because of the cost of living, but what if you don’t live in New York City?

What if you live in Omaha Nebraska, you make 30% more than the median wage, you have a car, and a mortgage, but your 401k is barely growing and retirement is 40 years away? Apply a bit of New York City logic to your life.

  1. How many rooms is your house and how many more rooms can be converted to bedrooms and what is the going rate for a room in Omaha Nebraska? — Can you rent out every room and live in a used Van?
  2. Can you drive a beat up used car for the next ten years?
  3. Can you cut back on food expenses to bare minimums? Think about food stamps and surviving on them
  4. Can you shop for all your clothes at Goodwill or just not buy anything new for the next year?

Ok, go through that thought exercise. You have traded your “middle class life” for something closer to a low income seemingly homeless person life.

  1. You are living in a van parked in a Wal-Mart, but your house is now generating positive cash flow.
  2. There is no car payment
  3. You don’t eat out much and your cost of food has gone down to less than $200/month

Ok great, let’s say you did all that and you picked out good tenants for your house and the van is reliable. You might have an increased cash flow of 12–20k/year after taxes depending on how extreme you get on the low side. This is the Low of the High Low Life. Maybe you don’t live in a van, but you have two roommates who take care of your mortgage payments.

Now let’s look at the high side.

What are the luxuries you wanted before you adopted some low points in your life, but you couldn’t afford to do because of money? Let’s list out some generic things that I think most people would want to do if they had the time and money.

  1. Travel to Europe or Latin America for a month
  2. Go to graduate school and get an MBA
  3. Pay off all your debt
  4. Invest more money into the stock market
  5. Investing into tools to become a furniture maker
  6. Going to every baseball stadium in the country
  7. Getting season tickets to the Ravens (Baltimore what up).
  8. Become a rock climber in your spare time
  9. Go full Thoreau and build a cabin next to a lake and live in it for a year
  10. Only eat at restaurants and start a food blog by siphoning Starbucks WiFi at night and become a minor league Anthony Bourdain

I don’t know what your High looks like in the High Low Lifestyle. Maybe it’s buying all of the items out of the Supreme catalog and looking fresh all the time. The point is that by sacrificing or adopting compromises we can afford to live what we consider the High, but the Low teaches us a bit more than we think.

I’ve met some great friends through group living situations on Craigslist. You meet cool people in hostels. There are some excellent tools out there like Mr Money Mustache to help put you on a path towards financial freedom.

A great example is a Major League Pitcher Daniel Norris living out of a van during spring training. The guy made millions of dollars in his signing bonus and decides to live out of a van. Video by Vice here.

Imagine writing your novel off of a coffee table you picked up off the street on a $1500 MacBook Pro with a Parisian view in clothes you bought at a Goodwill in the suburbs of Chicago.

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Imagine doing Kick Flips on a big stair set in Prague

Waking up in a van off the California coast at dawn to catch a set

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Selling your first set of plates and bowls on Etsy that you made from the sculpting wheel and kiln and you bought off craigslist with all your extra cash.

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Getting all the tattoos you dreamed about

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Photos from JJJJOUND and curated by Justin R Saunders

I don’t know what it is that you want, but I think it’s possible. Just gotta sacrifice a bit.

High and Low

If you found this thought provoking let me know, give some ❤ or follow → Anthony Maiorana

Written by

Writer of The Polymerist newsletter. Talk to me about chemistry, polymers, plastics, sustainability, climate change, and the future of how we live.

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