How I Learned To Live With Less

I've spent a pretty good amount of my adulthood chasing things I thought would make me happy.  Raised by parents who also had a lot of stuff, it was my norm.  I learned that possessions would increase my self-worth and lead to a happier life.  I was always comparing myself to other people who had more or better things.  And I was miserable.  The more stuff I had, the more stuff I wanted and I dreamt of finally achieving that dream salary so I could buy all that I felt I needed and wanted.  When I achieved these, I reasoned, THEN I would be happy.

I remember eventually putting actual dollar figures on my happiness.  I lived for years wishing for a certain salary.  I knew if I hit that amount I would finally feel like I'd made it.  Like I'd finally achieved success and happiness.  Well, I did hit that dollar amount.  I was stressed, worked a ridiculous amount of hours, and wore busyness like a badge of honor.  But when I achieved it, I was happy.  It wasn't long, however, before I wanted to achieve more.  I focused not on the enjoyment of what I had achieved but on the fact that I wanted the next step.  A quick sidenote - I'm not suggesting that having a drive to achieve more isn't healthy.  Delaying happiness until it is achieved or attaching happiness to a goal, however, is unhealthy.  And formerly I was the queen of both of these.

We live in a world of surfeit stuff.  We have access to shopping 24 hours a day online.  We are inundated with "perfect" lives on Instagram, facebook, in magazines and on reality (or completely manufactured reality) tv. Our phones listen to our conversations and the next thing you know ads specific to what we like show up on our phone and computer.  Advertising surrounds everything we do so much that we are oblivious to to the fact that we are absorbing so much of it.

Stuff, and our fondness for it, affects every aspect of our lives.  We own larger homes (which we will work to fill up), spend a good amount on organization systems to contain much of our stuff, have garages that are filled to the brim and likely don't fit a vehicle, and store our extra stuff in a rental storage unit which, by the way, are multiplying at an all time high.  Our lives are filled with a lot of stuff.

We are constantly buying things that will make us happy, but we aren't happy!

It's like a feedback loop.  The more stuff you have, the more stuff you want.  Have you ever decided to update one thing in a room in your home?  Maybe it's the wall color.  Once the walls are painted and look so good, those curtains that are at least 7 years old just won't cut it anymore.  So now you need new curtains.  Once the curtains are up, your eyes go to the next outdated item in the room that needs updating.

Simplifying my possessions was one of the best things I've ever done.  Letting go of the constant pursuit of material things has been, in one word - freeing.  I'm not talking about giving everything away, moving into a tiny home and owning 3 pair of pants and 4 shirts.  Unless that's what you want to do, of course.  Instead, I'm talking about surrounding yourself with things you love.  Not things you think you should own, things you think might make you happy, or things that will impress someone visiting your home.  Nope.  I'm talking about simplifying your possessions down to only the things that you need and/or truly enjoy.  No matter the number.

I think words are important so I'm not defining my lifestyle as minimalism.  Minimalism suggests living with the minimal amount of items.  Some even go so far as to put a number on it.  That is not for me.  I learned early on that although I have an appreciation for minimalism it's just not a lifestyle I should strive for.  Instead, I found paring down my possessions to things I love or use really worked for me.  I also found that if I reassess every so often I can gradually part with even more things.

I've made another discovery on my journey.  That discovery is that the only thing better then owning less is wanting less.  And that, my friends, has taken more time to achieve.  Wanting less starts with owning less.  Once you've begun the process of letting things go, the next two natural steps are 1. working on breaking your buying habits (identifying when you are shopping to avoid dealing with feelings or to self-soothe) and 2. practicing self-discipline to change your daily patterns.  For me, the self-discipline of making myself wait at least 24 hours before buying something is what was a game changer.  It gave me time to think it through and the majority of the time I didn't end up buying what I'd initially really wanted.

After making good headway on breaking buying habits and practicing self-discipline, introducing daily gratitude helps round it all out.  I learned to take a few minutes in the morning to focus on being grateful for every single thing I had every single day.  During the day, when my mind would unconsciously switch to wishing I had something, I would bring it back to gratitude for what I already owned.

 One additional benefit I didn't anticipate in my journey to wanting less is that when you truly are content with what you have and know it is enough, you will also free yourself from the constant comparison to others.  This means letting go of those feelings of inadequacy.  Something that becomes a huge burden lifted from your life.  It allows you live in abundance - enjoying what you have, finding true happiness with your life, and knowing that what you have is enough.

Learning to want less will make living with less a success.

Learning to want less and, therefore, live with less is rewarding in so many ways.  Not only do you stop wasting money on things you don't love or need, and unburden yourself with the feelings of inadequacy, but it allows for many choices in your life.  For me, achieving that last piece of the puzzle, learning to want less, is what allowed us to make the career decision we'd only dreamt of.

We had been dreaming of working for ourselves but when looking at our finances we realized we had 3 choices: make more, save more, or want less.  Honestly, I hadn't realized that learning to want less is what our missing piece was.  Changing the way we made decisions with our finances, rather than focusing on trying to earn more, has not only allowed us to make that leap into self-employment, but has also allowed us to save more money in the bank then we had when we made just over double what we're making today.

This is in no way a how-to guide or an instruction manual.  If you were looking for that, I sincerely apologize.  Instead, what I hope to do is inspire you to do what feels right for you.  Take other people's stories and "rules" and use them merely as a guide and ideas for your own journey.  If you are inspired by someone who has found happiness in only owning 100 items, use that as a challenge for yourself to question the items you surround yourself with and see what your number is.  In an age where social media and advertising imply that everyone else leads perfect lives, it's time for us to detach from what others do and instead, do what's best for us.

When you find the balance of having enough it will free you.  It will free you to stop chasing happiness and appreciate where you are.  Right now.  You may not have the largest bank account.  You may not make the most money.  You may not have the nicest things.  But if you have found your "enough" it will make you rich in ways you'd never dreamed.  From the people by your side, to the memories that you make, to the joy in your heart.


Kathy said...

I've been decluttering for the last 4 years and I'm one of those people with a garage full of stuff and the car on the driveway. My excuse is the garage door is not working and it's $1,000 for a new motor and since my car is over 20 years old it's not a priority to be in the garage and we have bikes and a ping pong table to name a few. Every now and then I do a clean up however it needs a good week of solid getting in there. I've got camping equipment, kitchen stuff which I use however they are stored in containers in the garage as I don't have enough storage in the kitchen. It takes time to declutter and it's harder now than ever to sell stuff as stores like Kmart sell a new cushion for $8 why would someone want to buy your $40 used cushion for $5 - I end up giving all of these to charity as they are perfectly good. It's a process and for me making some fresh turkish bread or the hot cross buns makes me happy. The things I do buy these days are books and I have just ordered a new sourdough bread making book however that's it...I'm not much of a spender these days as there is no room in the budget for it even if I wanted to. Have a good week. Kathy

daisy g said...

So many wonderful points in this post. I enjoy your thoughtful posts, knowing that you are helping others by sharing your experience.
We live simply and are more content than ever before. The daily thoughts of gratitude have graced us with even more blessings. Gratitude really is key.

Continued blessings...