Those of us in countries with more developed economies (the U.S. in particular) have just about “consumed” ourselves silly! Our homes are overflowing with junk we don’t need and many people are up to their eyeballs in debt. We’re craving simpler lives but sometimes the mere prospect of changing our lives in even the smallest ways seems like a huge overwhelming project.
After all most of us are busy trying to make a living and at the same time carve out time for our family and friends. Many people don’t have the capacity for a major de-cluttering project. Finding time to sit down and reflect on ways we can simplify or save money is challenging enough because our days our scheduled to the hilt.
Everyone has to start somewhere and I can assure you that no one turns their life around in one weekend. It’s all a process and an experiment of hit and miss. Cheer up though! There are some simple things you can do right away that can make you feel empowered and give you a sense of accomplishment. Then you can build on these accomplishments and before you know it your life is less complicated, you are saving money, and you’ve streamlined your possessions.
Let’s re-cap what simple living, minimalism, and frugality mean and discuss some quick ways we can put these practices into place today.
The simple living movement (when I say movement, it’s a philosophical movement not an organized movement) has its roots in frugality, environmentalism, social justice, and spirituality. Simple living is a lifestyle choice that allows a richer inner life through a simpler outer life. Like wealth, simple living can have many definitions as well. There are no rules when it comes to living simply. One person’s idea of simple living might be to pare down to as few possessions as possible while another person’s definition might be selling one of their three homes.
Five things you can do right now to live more simply:
- Ask yourself what is most important to you in this life? What do you value and what is your passion? Cut out anything in your life that you can and start focusing more on what you value. Maybe you enjoy painting but don’t have time to pursue this interest because you are a member of too many committees and too many volunteer groups. Decide what you need to give up so you can give more of your time to what’s important to you.
- Mind your own business. People love to gossip not only about the people they know but the people they don’t know! You have enough to take care of for yourself without barging into someone else’s affairs. Author Katie Byron says it well: “I can find three kinds of business in the universe: yours, Gods, and mine. When I think, I want you to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself, I am in your business. When I am worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God’s business. If I am mentally in your business or God’s business, the effect is separation.”
- Be yourself. Trying to be something that we are not is exhausting and doesn’t feel right. Don’t try to pretend with others that you are something you are not. Be proud of who you are and celebrate your own uniqueness. Trying to be something other than who we are so we can fit in disturbs our peace of mind and there’s nothing simple about that!
- •As soon as you get the mail, immediately discard all junk mail into the recycling bin. You’re not going to need whatever it is they are advertising and getting rid of this type of mail is one less thing you have to waste valuable time going over. You also lessen the clutter in your house. Go a step further and Google “getting off junk mail lists” and make a plan to end junk mail once and for all.
- Spend some time in nature each day. Nature connects us back with the divine and calms us down. What could be more simple and joyful? You don’t have to live in the mountains or on the beach to enjoy nature. A simple walk around your neighborhood can provide fresh air and a chance to take in the sky and the sun and all the plants around you.
Frugality is not just about spending as little money as possible or being cheap. Frugality is about being as resourceful and creative as possible with our money and what we already own. Frugality is not about stiffing the waiter, or trying to rip someone off so you get a better price.
Five things you can do right now to live more frugally:
- Cancel any services you aren’t using or that don’t enhance your life. Either eliminate them or shop around for better deals. Some examples are cable tv, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, portions of your car insurance that may not be necessary especially if your car is older, and checking accounts that charge too high a fee.
- If you eat out a lot, cut back one day a week and prepare your food at home. Not only will you save money but you will eat more healthfully .You don’t have to be a gourmet cook. Baked potatoes, simple salads, and quesadillas are some of the simple things you can make at home.
- Be mindful of the food you already have in the house. Use it up and don’t let any of it go to waste. It’s amazing how much food Americans waste. Each time we throw out something we didn’t get around to using before its expiration date or something we let ruin, it’s tantamount to throwing money down the drain.
- Pay your bills on time. Late fees to the credit card company, power company, etc. can easily be avoided with a little planning. Make sure you pay these bills on time or try to negotiate an alternative payment due date if need be but put an end to those late fees. You work hard for your money and should be able to keep as much of it as possible.
- Quit using shopping as a way to entertain yourself. If going to the mall is your idea of entertainment but you want to cut back on what you spend then by all means find something else to do and quick. Go to the library or check around to see who’s offering a free concert or lecture. Go do some volunteer work for those less fortunate. Take a hike or go to the museum on their free day.
Minimalism is about scaling down your possessions to only those items that give you pleasure and enhance your life. It’s about getting rid of the excess and making room for a life of what you enjoy and love. The whole idea is not to have a whole lot of “stuff” weighing you down.
Five things you can do right now to live more minimally:
- If you have too much stuff in your house and need to downsize but don’t have time right now consider putting a moratorium on buying anything at all unless it’s a consumable. At least you won’t be bringing in anything new and adding to your already existing problem. When you do schedule time for throwing out what you no longer need you can take comfort in the fact that you don’t have a bunch of new stuff to go through as well.
- Practice living without it: If you can’t bear to throw things away right now, fill a shopping bag with things you aren’t using and in a few months, open it back up and re-evaluate your need for what’s in the bag. Better yet, be brave and throw it out if you can’t remember what’s in the bag or you haven’t missed anything.
- Keep your surfaces as clear as possible. Do you really need multiple knickknacks on the tables and counters around you? Do you need magazines and paper work cluttering up your living room? Even if you can’t part with it right now, hide it out of sight and notice how much more serene your living environment becomes.
- Expired food, pharmaceuticals, household and beauty products are no brainers. You certainly don’t need to be keeping any of this stuff around. Get a trash bag and go through your home and throw all this stuff away. There’s nothing to think about since it’s old and expired, so just toss into your bag and dispose of properly. You’ll see a big difference in how much clutter you got rid of without any of the emotional issues that come with throwing sentimental items out.
- We all have books on our bookshelves that we will never read again or don’t even want anymore. They just sit there because bookshelves are such convenient places to store them and we forget about them. Go through your books and find the ones you can either pass along to a friend or donate to the library. You might even make a little extra money by selling them online.
(If you’d like to read more about changing the way you think about wealth please consider reading my book REDEFINING THE MEANING OF WEALTH: DISCOVERING PROSPERITY AND FORTUNE IN THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE.)