These days, I call myself a minimalist. I have to admit, however, that minimalism doesn’t come naturally to this girl, I was not taught how to live simply (rather, the family I was born into is totally a “more is better” kind of family) and I’m not done walking the path of simplification.
I don’t think anyone will ever arrive, in fact… just like you can never be done with chores or finished stocking your pantry. Just as soon as you mark one thing off your list, another will inevitably pop up, so that simplifying can be similar to a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole. The good news is that it does get better and the moles pop up slower as you advance farther along.
The trick to winning at simplification is to find the sources of your desire for accumulation and disconnect them altogether. For me, that has meant I need to avoid shopping for periods of time, find healthy outlets for creativity and boredom, and stay away from certain kinds of media. But the primary thing that fueled my desire to minimize was writing a monthly budget and attempting to stick to it exactly.
Eric and I first created a budget for each month early last year. Prior to that, we were just flying by the seat of our proverbial pants. After attending a financial seminar at our church, though, I was encouraged to delve deeper into our financial stats and get very proactive with our money goals. I was shocked to find that most months we were spending more than we had deposited! We’d have a really good month and get comfortable, and then spend the next few months squandering the excess on… what? We’re not actually sure.
Living inside the confines of a budget forced me to evaluate each purchase and be honest about whether I needed or only wanted what I was buying. Unfortunately, I learned that I tend to listen to the “want” voice more often than I like to admit. And what happiness does the accumulation bring? Not nearly enough of the lasting variety, that’s for sure.
This first quarter of 2017, our budget is feeling a lot more meager than it used to feel. Eric has been trying to spend more time home with the kids ever since his dad died, and we’ve begun to feel the weight of his cumulative fatigue and overwork lift off our family. To gain the time together, though, we say “no” to a lot of things that other people take for granted.
Our family doesn’t go out to eat. We don’t go out to movies, and we can’t buy every fundraiser doohickey that crosses our path. We rarely travel and the boys only got a couple of things for Christmas. They each got one gift from us on their birthdays. I often walk in stores looking for something in particular, find it, see the price tag, turn around and walk back out. Every single purchase is agonized over for a relatively long time before it is completed.
The dark side of this lifestyle is that sometimes a decision to say no to a purchase can feel like deprivation and lead to resentment. I feel this often and must fight for contentment. Some days I win the struggle and other days I lose sorely.
Choosing to live minimally because it’s the right thing to do for your mental health and living minimally because your budget requires it of you are two very different things, and our family teeters on the fine line between them (Patrick Rhone sums up the nature of this dichotomy so perfectly in this post about the nature of minimal privilege). It sucks, and sometimes I feel like we are at the bottom of the financial food chain among our peers.
I’m learning that contentment is a conscious choice, a practice similar to yoga or meditation. It feels uncomfortable to force my unwilling mind into a posture of surrender to what is rather than striving for what is not. However, as I take my thoughts captive and submit them to the process of finding happiness right where we are (fed… warm… healthy… safe…), I find there is an enormous increase in the amount of freedom I have to pursue a different sort of gain.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)