A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Three Steps to Wanting Less

Note: This is a guest post by Rachel Jonat from The Minimalist Mom.

I grew up wanting a lot more than I had.

We lived in a wealthy community and my mother was a single parent of six children. She decided to keep us in that city, despite the difficult social stigma of our situation, because the public schools were great and it was a nice neighborhood for us to grow up in. I believe it was the right decision but it was a hard one. We were the have-nots, the kids without money for the field trip or hot dog days, the kids without winter coats.

So I grew up wanting things I could not have. Mostly clothing. I wanted to dress like everyone else.

My want of more stuff came at a very young age and was tied to self-esteem. The school yard can be a cruel place and the kid with the most money and best clothing is rarely the picked on child.

When I decided to embrace minimalism I had to deal with how I tied things to social status. I also had to get over thinking that buying something, or owning something, would make my life different.

I make my life better, authentic, rich in strong relationships and fun. Not stuff.

It may seem like getting rid of your stuff is the hard part to embracing minimalism. For some people it will be. For others, living with less will only be accomplished once they want less.

How do you want less? Here are three steps.

Unsubscribe and avoid: ever notice how your kitchen looks that much older and dingier after flipping through a home decor magazine? To get over wanting new things don’t read magazines full of advertisements promising a happier life from stuff. Only step foot in a store if you have a list of what you need to buy. Do not shop when tired, hungry, stressed out or bored. Stop browsing online and in real life. Unsubscribe from retailers newsletters, catalogs, and emails.

Put up barriers: keep a list and wait 30 days before you buy something. Budget. Know what you can spend and stick to it. Try having a no-buy day each week where you leave your wallet at home. Only have enough cash on you for what you need. You’ll want that impulse purchase a lot less when you have to go home to get your credit card to pay for it.

Shift your focus: enjoy what’s free in your life. Fresh air, your family, phone calls on Skype, reading a book from the library. Remember that a satisfied and content life does not hinge on a sweater or an iPod. Build your days around relationships and activities that you can spend love and energy – not money – on. When you find your happiness in strong relationships, and rewarding activities, it’s easy to want less stuff.

Wanting less is a process and it won’t come overnight. Start taking small steps in your life to remove advertising from your day, spend less time in stores, and enjoy the many free things in your life. Slowly you will find that buying and spending no longer has the allure it once did. And you’re life will be all the richer for it.

Rachel and her husband are striving to live a minimalist lifestyle while raising their young son. To read more about their experiences, please visit her blog, theminimalistmom.com.

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photo by Wonderlane

Article originally published on 02/14/2011

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  1. “So I grew up wanting things I could not have. Mostly clothing. I wanted to dress like everyone else.” – Me too Rachel. Even now when I think about it I can feel the same sensation/emotion I used to get when as a child I wanted to ask for something but didn’t because I knew it was not possible. Interestingly I believe due to this I never really became a consumer – I never really learnt how to spend – well never learnt how to enjoy spending anyway. I do spend money of course, but when I do I don’t get a buzz as I have heard shopaholics do. Rather I used to have a feeling of guilt after (‘Buyers remorse’ is the posh term!). Then I learnt how to ‘conscious spend’ – now I know I only buy what I need, love and truly can afford. Therefore I no longer feel any guilt. My life is about experience not stuff. Super Guest Post Rachel!

    • ps – The Hubby surprised me with an iPad for Christmas (although we rarely exchange gifts!!?! – he got a tin of hot chocolate of Santa…) – It took me three days to open the box. I had to battle with the cost versus need, love and afford trilogy! This is probably why I avoid purchases – too emotionally exhausting
      🙂

    • See, I love hearing the other reaction to growing up with less: you got over being a consumer at a young age while I focused on someday having credit cards to buy all that stuff.
      We also never asked for big things because we knew my mom didn’t have the $ for it. We were very away of mortgage payments and electricity bills as kids. I hope we can find the right balance of economic awareness for Henry. Want him to know the cost of things but feel secure about his home.

      • It’s tough isn’t it when you have kids? For a while now I have been mulling over the difference between simplification versus deprivation. It’ll probably all come together and get blurted out in a post. I want my kids to know there is a different way yet not be left out at school – particularly as I know only too well what it feels like to be the kid in class without this, that and the other. It may be that it’s actually ‘choice’ that is the difference. When you choose to live simply and experience the benefits of such how can you feel deprived? It’s therefore making sure the Kids understand why we live this way and that they have amazing experiences along the way.

  2. Love this, practical advice with an important message. When I was on maternity leave with my first son, I gave up magazine subscriptions because of a tighter budget. It was the best thing I ever did, and I never went back.

  3. Thanks for inviting me over, Faith!
    This is actually a theme for me right now: getting over wanting things.
    I love hearing from folks that don’t have a problem with this. They never got caught up with keeping up with the Joneses or fantasizing about new things. They may have clutter but they didn’t go into debt for it!

  4. I too grew up without much. But I didn’t live in a wealthy area either, so there were plenty of kids around me who didn’t have much either. Still, I wast acutely aware that some of the girls in high school had nicer, trendier clothes than me, and as a result, I kind of became a clothes horse when I got out of college. I didn’t rake up thousands of dollars in cc debt, but I did do some damage.

    I married a financially savvy man and we are doing very well with savings, etc. But I still sometimes get caught up in thinking a cute outfit will make me feel better about myself. I’ve definitely been trying to minimalize, but vanity plays a role for me too. I don’t want to own just two pair of pants and 5 tops, one coat, one pair of shoes, etc.

    However, I make sure now to buy quality, classic items and to wear the hell out of them. I don’t spend alot of money on clothes, but I still am unable to stop buying some things all together. I’m working on it though.

    • All about ‘wearing the hell’ out of clothes too. I’m so much more aware of what quality clothing looks like now. It’s not necessarily a name brand but better stitching and fabrics. And it’s hard to find! Most of our clothing is made to just last a short while so we can buy more and more stuff.

  5. Rachel, I didn’t grow up with much, and actually became quite a little shoplifter because of it. Never got caught, thank God. Ending up going to work at the age of 12 so that I could buy my own clothes.
    Fast forward til now- we have 4 kids, the youngest 2 are still at home. The youngest is almost 18 and she has gotten a little spoiled. I was working a full time corporate job for a few years and everyone got used to the 2 nice incomes. Haven’t worked in over 6 months and she can’t seem to get it thru her head why we don’t have money to pay her cell phone bill like all her other friend’s parents do? And why her friends get all kinds of money from the govt for college and we don’t get any because me make too much? She thinks we are being unrealistic and too tough on her, but I can only hope that she will thank us for it one day, lol!
    As for us, I don’t want what comes with working that crazy corporate job, maybe a paycheck, but not all the other headaches, so I am learning to be content with less. And unsubscribing and avoiding works well for me!
    Bernice
    A lucky winner and more!

  6. Great Post Rachel and thanks Jo for reminding me to check it out.

    I have a similar story to many of you but I had to learn the very hard way and it’s taken me a lot longer than you guys to learn the lessons. So I think you can be very proud of yourselves.

    I did take on board what my mother told me, unfortunately it either wasn’t good advice or she didn’t realise the message she gave me. I got the message “marry someone who can give you everything you want”. And yes self esteem had a huge part of it. Initially I felt great about myself living the high life and having most anything I wanted.

    But eventually I think we all have to face ourselves minus our stuff. It’s just a matter of when we choose to do it or whether life decides to do it for us.

    • I married someone that can give me everything I want emotionally. He’s not much of a homemaker (actually, he is terrible in that department), and his profession and income have changed since we got married, but I know that he deals well with challenges and change. And he’s a pretty happy person which I really admire.
      Enjoying your blog, Deb. Even though the posts are infrequent. I take that as a sign that you are making great life changes – congratulations!

  7. Great post Rachel. On the flipside I grew up with too much and never had to think about where any of it came from. It was a shock when I got out on my own to realize money didn’t grow on trees. Unfortunately I thought it grew inside credit cards.

    A big sigh. Anyways, credit cards are ripped up, balances are slowly coming down, and now I don’t shop for a single thing that I don’t need. I learned the lesson late but better late than never! Abstinence works for me when it comes to shopping… Don’t give me any temptation!

    Cheers and Happy Valentines Day,
    Tanja

    • I’m getting pretty good with avoiding shops and I live right downtown so walk by them everyday. That and focusing on the good stuff – family and hobbies and quiet time for me – has also helped.
      I find it really interesting how it doesn’t matter if you grew up with or without $, you can be sucked in by consumerism.
      We’re still working on our debt too, Tanja. I’m kicking it up a notch next month and curbing my casual spending.

      • Hi Faith, Rachel & Tanja!
        First off great post, I am catching up on some of my favorite blogs between busy weeks of writing and really enjoyed this one. Tanja’s reply caught my eye because of the abstinence comment…we truly have been amazed that as we simply stopped watching TV as much (eventually completely) that our exposure to ads having ceased just stopped this thing we came to call “the consumer mentality spirit” we didn’t feel the pull of stuff anymore. Professionally as a designer I had to shop for clients and I found myself with the urge to “conquer” and leave a store, I power shopped, made swift well educated decisions for a project and then got out! Now when I go in to a store that sells more than groceries (here in the islands we have some pretty good food deals pop up at Long’s Drugs, Walmart & Kmart) I look around with a numb *yech* feeling when I see people trading their lives for gadgets and junk that I know will provide a quicky high from the purchase experience and then fall apart in short order. I guess we’ve been at this long enough to move from the need for abstinence to the ability to control our response. Getting to a point of feeling bad for other’s need for things has helped our own perspective too. That being said, if I ever feel that draw for a thing again, my chief weapon will still be abstinence!

  8. I use your tactic of “Avoid”. I left the US so I could get away from all of the abundance and get back to basics…a suitcase and a sense of adventure. In 4 1/2 years it’s demolished my need for things; a need that took 36 years to build up. It is possible!!

  9. Oh, wow, what a powerful post.
    I grew up with the constant refrain of “we can’t afford it” and Mum asking the cashier to do a subtotal after every item in the grocery trolley.
    I didn’t want to live like that so I studied hard and worked hard and I ended up with a beautiful house, a nice car and … I was completely miserable.
    After a while I couldn’t keep going. I quit my job and moved to Vietnam where I was immune to advertising. And for three and a half years I didn’t “need” anything. I couldn’t fit into the local clothes anyway, so I just got the basics run up by a local tailor. And the basic were office pants, silk shirts and a made-to-measure shoes. I rented a furnished house. I drove a rented motorbike. I was the happiest I’ve ever been and the richest I’ve ever been. Stuff really isn’t important when you get a break from the very very persuasive world of advertising.

    • We held our breaths when my mom used her credit card. It was rejected a lot.
      I’m intrigued by stories of living somewhere foreign and the impact it has on your advertising consumption. Maybe that is a good way to cure myself of the want completely =)

    • Wow – I also spent a year in Vietnam – that certainly cured me of consumption!! So maybe that should be tip #4 – Go live in Vietnam for a year and you’ll be a minimalist!!

  10. Faith Janes says:

    Thanks so much for doing this post, Rachel. These are great practical ways to avoiding sabotaging our efforts to be satisfied with less.

    I grew up never worrying about money. As the child of a doctor, we didn’t really have money concerns. However, we were all put on budgets and had to take care of our own spending, saving, and clothing money. Even through college I managed my money well.

    Everything totally changed when I got married. Getting out on our own, feeling obligated to buy presents for everyone on both sides of the family, settings up a house, school loans, having our son 18 months after we were married….I can look back on all those things that put us badly in debt right at the start of our marriage. Once those kinds of spending habits were in place, they were really hard to break. And as we all know, even after the habits are broken it takes a long time to dig out the hole we put ourselves in.

    One of my main reasons for choosing minimalism is to save my kids from feeling like they HAVE to spend like the typical American family and save them from the money problems we made.

    Thanks again, Rachel and thanks everyone for all the great comments!

  11. I grew up without much stuff. I wouldn’t even ask for stuff because I knew the answer. But, it was very difficult to be the one in school without many clothes, shoes, or other “stuff”. The result of this has been mixed for me. There have been times in my life when I have wanted and bought lots of stuff because I could, such as after a divorce and the birth of my first child. But there has always been that stronger side of me that always wants less. In my life now, we don’t have nearly as much stuff that most people do, but I am always finding ways to declutter. I find that my 2 year old behaves better with less stuff around. I have never subscribed to magazines or newspapers, that is clutter to me. My weak point is books, I am not much of a library person because I think about all the gross stuff on the books. But I have started buying ebooks, which helps. Excuse me now, I have to go declutter something.

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