Living with Less

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Consumerism.

It’s everywhere.

Advertising, media, even our neighbors are all yelling the message:

“YOU NEED MORE STUFF! YOU NEED NICER STUFF! YOUR STUFF ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH!”

And we wonder why we don’t feel good enough. We wonder why we aren’t happy.

Consumerism tells us “buy this” and we’ll be happy and then it tells us “buy that” and we’ll be happy. And then it tells us our “this and that” have gone out of style and we need to “buy those” instead, or else, we won’t be happy.

We become hamsters on a wheel generating electricity for everyone but ourselves. Our inside lives are dull, lifeless, tired, spent. Our homes are no brighter and neither are our hearts and minds.

I’m a pretty simple person. I don’t need a lot to be happy. I don’t need the newest things or the nicest things. I buy my makeup from the Dollar Tree. I go “shopping” for clothes at my grandmother’s house. (Luckily, I have a grandmother with some fashion sense and a good eye for clearance rack gems!) I write every blog post on my old refurbished (black!) MacBook that’s missing the battery so it always has to be plugged-in. And my dream is to someday live in a tiny house.

Yes, I like simplicity. I like the feeling of not being weighed down by my stuff. I like knowing I could fit all of my possessions into my 2008 Pontiac G5. I like not having debt.

But I wasn’t always like this. Growing up, I used to keep everything. If I cried during a memorable event, I’d want to save the tissue I used to wipe my tears. I mean, I was weird and maybe a borderline child hoarder. My dresser drawers and closet and toy room were jam-packed.

Fortunately, when I got older something changed in me. Stuff seemed to matter less and less. I actually started to resent consumerism. I started to resent being told I needed more stuff to be pretty and happy. I realized that some of the prettiest and best dressed people were ugly and disgruntled on the inside and some of the plainest and poorest people were beautiful and passionately happy – inside and out.

So I made a decision. I decided that the car I drive, the clothes I wear, the cell phone I carry and where the comma fell in my salary would not define me. The only thing that would define me was who my Creator said I was because that would always be worth more than any value placed on me by the world.

But just because I made that decision, doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Convincing yourself you are enough is a journey. Spending your time instead of spending your money takes practice. Believing you are a masterpiece naked feels like your first solo skydive.

Living simply is reorienting, not just your life, but your way of thinking. When we choose to live simply, we have to take a step back. We have to reassess our priorities and we have to reassess our disposition towards ourselves – and that is hard work.

Do you believe you are enough? Do you believe spending time with your kids will always trump spending money on them? Do you believe you can be just as happy living in a 1300 square foot house as you would in a 3000 square foot house? Do you believe wearing last year’s (or last decade’s) fashion says zero about who you are?

I’m learning to believe.

I recently read the book The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide by Francine Jay. I highly recommend this book if you really want to declutter your home. It is literally a room-by-room guide to cleaning out your house and letting go of the hard-to-let-go-of stuff we hold on to. I was able to donate three tall trash bags full of stuff just from my closet and dresser alone by following the advice in this book – and I already live a pretty simple life!

In this book, Jay defines happiness as “wanting what you have.” I take this to mean happiness is being satisfied. It’s living with a posture of gratitude instead of desire. It’s being comfortable within instead of being comfortable with more.

I rarely get stuck in that place of ‘I wish I had.’ I am much more comfortable in ‘I’m so lucky I have.’” -Kate Hudson, Pretty Happy

I know living simply is not everyone’s cup of tea; and I don’t mean to make you feel guilty for owning things or being successful. I’m simply bringing awareness to how we relate to our things. If you’ve worked hard and want to buy nice things or new things – go for it!

But know that while the beautiful boat speaks to your accomplishments, it doesn’t tell me much about who you are. And, quite frankly, I’d rather hear about your experiences on the boat than about the boat itself. Because experiences bring more meaning and joy to our lives than the things that provide the experiences.

If you want to live simply, I recommend starting with your heart and working your way out to your home. There are hundreds of actions we can take to simplify, declutter, and avoid the consumerism trap, but I’d like to share with you a few tips to help you get started:

Be True to You

Simply put: know who you are and love who you are. Always start here. If you are not ready to physically let go of your stuff, then start by understanding your value apart from your stuff. There is nothing in this world worth more than your self-worth. Believe it!

Use It or Lose It

How many of your possessions do you actively use? The keyword here is actively. Some may define actively as daily, weekly or monthly, but for those who struggle to let go, let’s say 3-6 months. Not including holiday décor or seasonal clothes, how much of your stuff have you used at least once in the last 3-6 months? If you haven’t used it, seriously consider losing it.

Mise en Place

Mise en place, a french term, simply means “put in place.” Everything you own should have its own home within your home. Everything should have a purposeful place. When you are cleaning or picking-up, do you ever find random things and you can’t figure out where to put them? I’ll tell you where to put them: out the door!

One is Better Than Two

Two is better than one should apply to people not possessions. When it comes to possessions, if you already have one and it works just fine, ask yourself “Do I really need to buy another?” or “Do I really need to keep this second one?” If there comes a time when you do find yourself in need of two, consider borrowing from a friend or neighbor to meet your immediate needs. Also, many household items and electronics can serve multiple purposes. Think about what you can let go of because something else you own serves the same purpose.

It is Better to Give Than to Hoard

Don’t just throw stuff away. Give it away. Challenge yourself to donate as much of the stuff you are letting go of as you can. You can donate more than just clothes and household goods. Donate books to a library. Donate office or craft supplies to a local church or school. Donate costumes or furniture to a community theater. Donate your once-used-five-years-ago camping gear to your nephew’s boy scout troop. The possibilities are endless! The joy you receive from donating will probably be greater than the joy you received from owning those items; and the joy of the receiver even greater than that!

Recycle, Reuse, Rejoice!

The possibilities are endless here, too. Recycling is not just for cans and bottles and cereal boxes. You can recycle just about as much stuff as you can donate, and you can reuse things instead of buying something new. Turn that scarf into a headband or that old tire into a swing. Then rejoice with the fish and the forests, the lilies and the larks, and know the trees are standing with arms open wide.

Selling Pays Off

Literally. Sell your stuff and pay your debts. Have a garage sale or list items online and use the money to pay off any debts you may have. You will enjoy being debt free more than you are currently enjoying the possessions that put you in debt in the first place.

Remember, even the smallest steps toward releasing your grip on stuff – whether physically, mentally or emotionally – can and will make you happier and healthier. It is a process to simplify. It’s a personal process, but it can also be a creative and, perhaps, life-giving process. You may find that when you live with a little less, you live a little more!

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