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.[print-me/]