May 072015


When I was in 7th grade, a boy who liked me (whose name was the same as my husband’s, incidentally) left a note in my locker. It said, “You have the cleanest locker I’ve ever seen!”

Awww….middle school romance.

The reason my locker looked so clean is because I kept practically nothing in it. I didn’t have posters stuck all over the walls or the door. I only kept the most basic necessities, and my books were always neat and organized because this was the only way I knew how to function. When I got my first job, my desk was always neat as a pin, and the only one not cluttered with personal memorabilia. I had one framed photograph and a coffee mug. My co-workers, for some reason, loved to tease me about this. I think they thought I was “anal,” and a compulsive neat freak.

I actually am not a neat freak at all. I don’t run around after my kids, picking up their messes. My kitchen counters are always cluttered, as is my nightstand, and you should see the inside of our van on any given day. Holy crapfest.

So…I’m not a neat freak, but I believe that I’ve been a minimalist since I was a child. I find freedom in less. I’ve never wanted things because I much prefer to watch the money I would have to spend on the things earn interest in the bank. This is why I’ve always been frugal – because money in the bank equals freedom, security, and choices. Stuff equals work, hassle and burden. I have to clean it, move it around, fix and maintain it, pay taxes on it. It weighs me down and prevents me from spending time on what really matters to me.

Since having a family, I’ve been forced to deal with a lot more stuff. My husband’s stuff (lots of it), my kids’ stuff, everybody’s stuff. I am so sick of stuff. If I lived alone, I think I would own almost nothing.

One of my quirks, which everyone finds funny, is that I cope with stress by organizing things….and by “organizing,” I mean “getting rid of.” I’m on a forever quest to get rid of more stuff. Sometimes, when I’m having a really exhausting, stressful day, I look around at the clutter and have what I refer to as a “minimalist freak-out.” This is when the amount of stuff sitting around begins to exceed my threshold for tolerance, and I panic. My first thought is, “Okay, what can I get rid of?”

It took us 7 years to sell my husband’s massive hoard of stuff, and pay off all of our debts, and since then I’ve watched with amusement as he’s morphed into a minimalist himself. He’s not as minimalistic as I am, but he’s gotten to the point where he has little tolerance for clutter and mess, and even less tolerance for spending money. Sometimes he’ll just say to me, out of the blue, “Honey, we’ve gotta get rid of more stuff!” I just smile and nod because I love when he gets in these purging moods. For me, getting rid of stuff is one of the best feelings there is!

This year, we’ve doubled our efforts to be frugal. It began as a necessity because we were starting a new business, but it has continued because we have goals….and none of them involve owning more stuff. We want to help our children with their education (but we will not pay for all of it. They know that they’ll be expected to pay for half of their tuition because higher education is a privilege they must work for, just as we did). We want to remain debt-free (8 years this July, and counting), and someday we’d like to move to England. We need money to do this, so we’ll sock away every penny we can. Buying a bunch of crap we don’t really need will not help us reach this goal.

To this end, I have become almost fanatically frugal and minimalistic, and you might think it’s weird, but I think it’s fun. Every day, I try to find at least 3 things I can get rid of. Ideally, I’m looking for things I can sell or consign, but I will happily donate things too because my everyday goal in life is calm. Simplicity. Peace.

I have also become singularly focused on using what we have, to avoid buying things. Some examples:

-I scrubbed down and organized all the bathroom cabinets. I put everything in baskets, like with like – hair products, lotions, dental hygiene products – and everyone knows that I will not buy any products until all the stuff we have, including samples, is used up. So far this year, the only personal care products I’ve purchased have been vitamins, shampoo, and bar soap.

-I scrubbed down and organized all the food storage areas, like with like. I put all the opened dry goods together in a shallow cardboard box in the pantry, and I told the kids that I would not buy any snacks, cereal, etc. until everything was eaten. I stayed true to my word, and they finished it all.


-I sorted, organized, and inventoried all of my clothing storage boxes so I know exactly what I have. I will try to fill in the gaps at garage sales this summer, but I will not buy anything I don’t need. I did the same thing with my school supply bin, and the shoe/boot bins.

-I have placed personal moratoriums on purchases in the following categories: craft supplies, digital books/music (I get songs for free from Freegal – if it’s not there, I don’t need it – and borrow e-books from the library) regular books/CDs (this is easy for me), and make-up (this is even easier).  I’ve never been one to buy perfume (makes me sick), jewelry (I wear my sapphire set, given to me by my husband, my wedding ring, and my watch. I don’t need anything else), magazines (can’t justify the price), or knick-knacky-type things (like I need something else to dust?)

-As a family, we never rent movies (because Netflix streaming/library), and we only go to the movies twice a year, tops. We eat out only when it can’t be avoided. We have no cable/satellite/video games, and only the most basic cell phone plans available. None of us have smartphones. We always look for free or very inexpensive things to do. We don’t do this to deprive ourselves, but to have more money to put toward the things that add real value to our lives. We’re all working toward the same goals.

Every time you spend money, you are making a life choice. When you hand over those dollars in exchange for a thing, you are deciding one of two things:

1) I need this. It’s necessary for my daily life, OR
2) I want this. It’s important enough to me that I’m willing to trade some of my time for it.

Because see, that’s what money really is – time. It’s the time you (or someone else) spent to earn it, in stored form. So when you buy something, you’re trading time for it. But wait! It doesn’t stop there. You’re also going to trade future time to clean it, move it around, store it, and eventually dispose of it. And please, take it from someone who knows – it takes far more time to get rid of stuff than it does to buy it.

I know that not everyone believes the Bible to be the word of God (I do), but even if you don’t it’s difficult to argue that the Bible isn’t full of wisdom for daily living. One of my favorite verses regarding material possessions comes from Luke 12:15 (ESV):

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

When I think about my life, I hope that it consists not of an abundance of possessions, but an abundance of love. Really, I think this is all anybody wants, but unfortunately some look for love in the wrong places (such as in material things, which will never love you back). How you spend your time says a great deal about what you love most, because time is the most valuable gift we have to give. Those of you who have read my husband’s guest posts might remember that I told him this very early on in our relationship, when he was “warning” me about everything he owned and all of his commitments. I was interested in him – I knew he was the one for me from the moment I met him and all I wanted from him was his time and attention. So I said, simply, “What you love most will win in the end.” I was right…and fortunately what he loved most was me.

In order to show people that you care about them, you must offer them your time, and they must offer you theirs in return. This is what I want. I just want to be with the people I love, and I can’t have that if we squander our time to pay for a bunch of stuff we don’t need. Would that send our children the message that they’re important? I don’t think so. I think it sends the message that the stuff is important, and they take second place to it, and I can’t think like that. I refuse to live that way.

When you look around your home (or your desk) right now, what does it say about you? Does it represent who you really are? Are you living the life you want to live? How is your stuff helping or hindering you in reaching your goals? These are worthwhile questions to ask because stuff equals money, money equals time, and time is your life. It’s all you have that really matters, and the one thing you can never get back when it’s gone.

It’s your money or your life. How you spend one determines how you’ll spend the other.


  34 Responses to “Your Money or Your Life?”

  1. Heather – this post is so timely for me!! I just had a ‘minimalist freak-out’ about an hour ago! We are in the middle of renovations in our main living space (renovations that my husband and I are doing in our very limited ‘free time’ … so it seems never-ending) … and my house is a complete disaster zone with ‘clutter’ lying around/being moved everywhere! It DOES feel so good to get rid of things … or use things up before buying more. I am often completely ruthless when it comes to clutter that has been around for a while (… my office desk is a constant work-in-progress … it’s like a living thing … growing and morphing constantly with stuff dumped on it ….)!!! I love the quote from Luke 12:15. It’s so true!

  2. I appreciate when a post makes me go “ouch!” towards myself, my habits, and my beliefs when they are out of balance of where they should be, yours made me do exactly that! Thank you. I have gotten rid of a trunk full of Stuff, mostly kids stuff (oh how it takes over a house quickly) but it still doesn’t seem like much as changed. So now I have to figure out what other Stuff has to go. I’m not a tidy organized person, so my house can get to be a wreck quick, not dirty but just stuff. It is so hard to be ruthless about things and getting rid of them. Your post helped me remember that these things cost my husbands time at work. So I am left chewing on the thought, “Is the stuff really worth our money, time and effort?”

  3. Wow! I loved reading this! So much information and ideas. I think I may have to print this and re-read this to give me strength to live a life or close to it. I am so tired of working so hard and seeing it go to debt for “stuff” your children are lucky that they have you and glen to teach them all this. It will make life a little easier for their future. 🙂
    Thank you for shsring all this. !

  4. You seem to always write exactly what I need to hear! I am on a journey of simplifying our entire lives! About a month ago I cleaned out and organized our bathroom cabinets and cleaning supplies. I vowed to not buy anything until it was all used up. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with all of us!

  5. Thanks for sharing this today! I love your attitude and perspective and wish I had the natural tendency to pare down as I LOVE having things decluttered but don’t seem to be able to do it very well. I really need to work on this in our home as we have a rather small space and four small children who are only going to get bigger (and thus have bigger things).

  6. I definitely share your views on this Heather, but my husband does not! He has really improved over the last few years with regard to buying new stuff, but I can’t get him to budge on a lot of the old stuff! When I met him in our 20s he owned a belt that fit around my thigh and he was a 36in waist at the time! He is borderline hoarder for sure, he won’t even throw out old socks or clothes with holes, insisting he’ll wear them for working in the yard or washing the car. In the past I’ve even recycled or donated his things without telling him. He never notices! How did you convince your husband to share your view?

    • Honestly, Amy, I don’t think you can convince them. It was only after he saw how much better his life was without all the stuff that he changed his tune. I do think that me writing this blog has helped him too, because he reads everything I write and sometimes I can see the wheels in his head turning.

      • I’m definitely thankful that he has stopped overbuying, so I’m hoping that I can get him on the unloading train too!

  7. We are getting ready to do our summer de- clutter here. I am so ready to do it now, but I want to wait until schools out so we can deal with all of the papers, books, supplies also. I am starting to get that panicky feeling though, every time I go in my kids rooms and see the clutter. I really can’t stand it and I feel so much better when I can get rid of it! I am definitely a minimalist and like you, I would own very few things if it weren’t for my husband and kids. Thanks for this Heather, this is one I will come back to again and again.

  8. Heather,

    I completely relate to what you said! I am very much a minimalist. I don’t like taking care of things we don’t really need. I hate to find things lying around everywhere. Oddly enough I always have wondered why I don’t have a lot of clothing I wear, I think it’s because when I find some basic pieces I like, I wear them over and over again until they are worn out. Then I replace those few pieces, I used to think I needed more but I think I am someone who also finds more peace and enjoyment with less. There is really so much more important in life than stuff, Thanks for you post Heather! Such good reminders for me.

  9. Beautifully written and so poignant. Thank you for reminding me!

  10. So true! I’m trying to get rid of all the baby clutter and paraphernalia clogging up my house, and it just seems to take sooo much effort, but I know I’ll feel better when everything has a place and my house feels tidy and organised again! I’m trying to restrict the amount of crap coming in too…one day, there’ll be less to get rid of and less coming in….can’t wait!

  11. What perfect timing for this post! This summer my family is facing a major move and my mind has been trying to grapple with getting rid of stuff in preparation for it. Since moving here, I have gotten rid of almost nothing, but have accumulated 2 more kids (4 total) and a ton more stuff. Last fall, I was sorting through some boxes that we had moved here 5 years ago now and I tossed everything in them! I don’t want to do that again this time. I’ve been purging, but I still have such a long way to go. Do you have any tips on getting rid of things that have some sentimental value, but you know that they need to go?

  12. I just recently found your blog and love it. I needed this today…

  13. I have tears a little while reading this. You have no idea how timely this is for me. I’ve been wanting very, very badly to quit my job and stay home with my toddler. He is our miracle baby, one that we were never supposed to have, and I feel like I’m missing so much at my job. But we’ve made poor decisions before with money (we’re on the Dave Ramsey plan currently), and we’re trying to turn from choosing things over life. This post was incredibly inspirational and encouraging to my heart.

    Thank you, yet again.

  14. I love reading your posts. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only person living countercultural and can’t stand accumulating more unnecessary stuff. This way of life is so freeing!

  15. Wow! Thanks for this! I, too, have minimalist freak-outs. It seems like an especially stressful day happens and all I can see is mess everywhere I look. We moved last year and have gotten rid of so much stuff…at least a third of what we owned(which is crazy since we moved into a bigger house. Haha. Our old house was super tiny and all three kids were in one little room). It is SO freeing…but I definitely can tell that we can get rid of more. I also often think of how much something is and how long my husband has to work to pay for it. It usually doesn’t seem worth it in the end. Thanks for the reminders!

  16. I am always amazed at how much stuff we have. However I also think it is important to work out how the stuff seems to multiply even though we regularly purge. The answer is the amount of stuff that comes in from family and friends, as gifts or hand me downs. Certainly the latter is appreciated but I have determined to make sure that I take from the hand me downs only what is needed and then hand it along. With gifts for kids it is hard to moderate generous grandparents. Thankfully after 15 years of begging for fewer presents for our children, it is starting to sink in!

  17. You really gave me something important to think about. Thank you.

  18. I loved reading this post! It’s too bad that I can’t print this out…I have two binders full of older posts that I’ve printed in the past. I read these binders when I struggle with lack of discipline, laziness, consumerism…etc. Your blog has truly been a godsend to me because I struggle in many areas and re-reading from my “Heather Binders” keeps me grounded. Darn those plagiarists! (lol)

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I still want to be you when I grow up! ps…thank you to your kiddos for the beautiful thank you notes! You and hubby are Blessed to have very special children <3 Love ya!

  19. I love this post, and it has really inspired me to purge some more stuff and avoid buying a pretty expensive thing that I was considering! Can I translate it and use it in my Persian blog as a guest post (of course linking to to here and mentioning the source)

  20. Oh Heather, you have no idea how much I needed this reminder today. I live in a part of the USA that exemplifies covetousness at his worst. It feeds it, it breeds it and there are some days I find myself feeling pulled into it. It is a challenge to remain focused on the idea that money truly is time. I constantly remind myself that stuff is our life energy. Thank you for this post – I needed it! So, today I am purging and it has made me feel so amazingly FREE. I told my husband that all I want for Mother’s Day this year is a 7-11 Big Gulp, diet pepsi and a letter. I just appreciate your blog so much because I feel less isolated in my beliefs. 🙂 Thank you.

  21. wow great post! I know this is an area I really need to work on! Very inspiring and thought provoking now to the action part!!!

  22. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement in this post. Our house (and “my” parts of it) are definitely more cluttered than we like. I’ve been trying (with varying degrees of success) to simplify, but feel like I’m just not getting there (or just moving way slower than I want to). With two kids (4yrs and 2.5 yrs), finding Itime send to be a difficult chore, as usually spending time with them and basic house chores take up most of my day time.
    It’s like the principles are there in my head, but my daily life does not seem to match the ideal in my head.

  23. After recently finding minimalism, I’d have to say money is starting to mean less to me everyday. Even recently leaving work for the last time, I suggested all farewell contributions be used for a charity donation that was close to my heart rather than, being used for a meaningless item.

    When you can free yourself from the power of money, it’s a little easier to leave lighter footprints.

  24. Wonderful reminder for me–when I’m struck with the “why can’t I have what they have?” or “Why can’t I buy what they buy?”-blues. There IS much more peace to be found in simplicity.

  25. Any time that I need inspiration, I read one of your post on frugality or decluttering, etc… I love this blog!

  26. […] Your Money or Your Life: How you spend one determines how you’ll spend the other – a post about making careful, […]

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