The Heart Impact of Choosing Less

A guest post by Joshua Becker, author of the Becoming Minimalist blog, and on a journey towards rational minimalism with his family in Arizona. He is also the author of two books on simple living: Simplify and Simplicity Inside Out.

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” – Democritus

Four years ago, we decided to begin living with fewer possessions.

The decision was based entirely on outward emotions. I was tired of the never-ending cleaning and organizing that my possessions required. I was tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck. And I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t find enough time and energy to be with my family and the people that mattered most. Somehow, I had been unable to notice that my desire to own possessions was the cause of this discontent in my life. Luckily, my neighbor pointed it out with a simple statement, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.”

My life forever changed. Owning less has allowed me to spend less time and money chasing (and caring for) possessions. It has provided me far more opportunity to redirect my time, energy, and money towards the things that I most value. Ultimately, it brought great resolution to the emotions listed above.

But it has also provided me with even greater opportunity to change than I had ever imagined. The outward change of behavior has brought along with it the opportunity for inward change as well. It has allowed my very heart to change and adopt values that I have always admired in others.

For example, consider how the intentional decision to live with fewer possessions allows our hearts to embrace the following desirable qualities…

1) Contentment: being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are. So much of the discontent in our lives revolves around physical possessions and comparing our things to others. An intentional decision to live with less allows that discontent to slowly fade away.

2) Generosity: willingness and liberality in giving away one’s money, time, etc. When the selfish, hoarder-based mentality is removed from our thinking, we are free to use our resources for other purposes. We are allowed (and have more opportunity) to redirect our energy, time, and money elsewhere.

3) Gratitude: a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation. One of the most important steps that we can take towards experiencing gratitude is to think less about the things we don’t possess and more time focusing on the things we already do. Intentionally living with less (minimalism) provides that opportunity.

4) Self-Control: the ability to exercise restraint or control over one’s feelings, emotions, reactions, etc. Many people go through life having no clear sense of their true values. Instead, their desires are molded by the culture and the advertisements that bombard upon them each day. As a result, they find no consistency in life. No self-control. The decision to live your own life apart from an ever-shifting culture provides opportunity for self-control to emerge.

5) Honesty: honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair. Many – not all, but many – of the lies and mistruths that are told in our society are based in a desire to get ahead and possess more. Finding contentment with your lot in life eliminates the need to be dishonest for financial gain.

6) Appreciation: the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.As the desires of our life stop focusing on others and what they have that we don’t, we are more able to appreciate their accomplishment, their success, and the beauty that they bring to the world. We are able to fully appreciate others without being jealous of them (or worse, hoping for their downfall).

Now, please don’t misread me. I am not contending that minimalists are necessarily more content, generous, grateful, or honest than others. I know many incredibly generous people who would not describe themselves as minimalist. I’m sure there are some self-defined minimalists who would chart obnoxiously high on the selfishness meter. And I would never self-confess to have arrived fully in any of the categories listed above.

But I do believe with all my heart that the intentional rejection of possessions does allow greater opportunity for these positive heart habits to emerge. What you do with that opportunity is up to you.

Photo by 55Laney69, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – The Art of Giving Up, Money is NOT the Root of All Evil, 10 Ways to Have Enough Money and Stuff, 10 Ways to Simplify Your Life

The Art of Giving Up

Are you giving up anything for Lent this year ?

The thought may well not have crossed your mind – obviously you might not be a Christian, or even if you are, you might not observe Lent.

Lent, like Christmas, has a more complex origin and history than you might think.

The word Lent comes from the word lengthen, referring to the increasing length of daylight in the Spring. In theory it comprises the 40 days before Easter Sunday, though in practice it always lasts for a few more, as traditionally Sundays are not included as being part of the 40 – church calendars aside, it means the last day before the beginning of Lent is always taken to be Shrove Tuesday: Pancake Day.

Like Christmas, there’s no direct biblical basis for Lent, but most Christians would consider it to be a period of reflection, repentance and self-denial. Historically people undertook some form of fasting over Lent, often by not eating meat, but it’s now more usual to consider giving-up some small vice for Lent, such as chocolate, crisps or alcohol.

There is something attractive about the idea of giving something up that appeals to a wide spectrum of people.

For most of us there is some degree of disconnect between the way we would like to be, and the way we are. We know eating too much is bad for us, but we still do. We know staying up too late is bad for us, but we still do. We know we waste too much time watching TV/surfing the internet, but we still do.

Despite the best intentions we don’t always live-up to being the people we’d like to be.

Why ?

Because we’re human. We’re emotional, not just rational, and struggle with highs and lows of mood and resolve; we’re impulsive – frequently more concerned about enjoying the present moment than about the long-term consequences; and we have limited willpower – psychologists talk about ego-depletion, the idea that our self-control is a finite resource, and once we’ve used it up we inevitably cave-in !

It does us good to strip some of the ‘junk’ from our lives from time to time – a sort of personal defragging. It also doesn’t hurt to exercise our willpower muscles occasionally. Matt Curtis of TED advocates trying something new for 30 days – short enough to be achievable, but long enough to make a difference to our long term habits.

Whether you’re thinking about giving something up for Lent, committing to some other short-term change in your life, in the hope of empowering something more permanent, or (perhaps) just pondering why not everyone is as perfect as you – you might want to ask yourself a few questions before you start:

Why am I giving this particular thing up ? What permanent change do I want to create ? How am I going to motivate myself when I start to run out of willpower ? Should I share what I’m doing with others or keep it private ? How am I going to celebrate when I’m successful ?

This Lent a number of friends of mine are taking part in something called the 6 Item Challenge (Blog Facebook) – only wearing six items of clothing for the whole of Lent (underwear thankfully excluded) !

The Challenge is in support of the organisation Labour Behind the Label, who campaign to draw attention to, and improve the often poor working conditions of those in the developing world who produce the majority of the clothing you’ve got in your wardrobes at home and you’re probably wearing right now.

As well as highlighting the ethical aspects of the global garment trade, they hope to raise money through sponsorship and donations, to support Labour Behind the Label’s work. If you’re looking for a worthy cause to support, minded to have a go yourself, or just pass on messages of support and encouragement, I’m sure they’ll be very pleased to hear from you (especially when they start to smell) !

As well as encouraging fairer, more ethical trade, the challenge also asks us to us to examine our attitudes to material possessions, and our ideas of personal image and sufficiency.

Whether you call it giving something-up for Lent, or spring cleaning – dejunking our lives from time to time might not be too bad an idea, and perhaps our clothes and wardrobes might not be too bad a place to start.

Photo by from The 6 Item Challenge

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Money is NOT the Root of all Evil

A guest post by Eric, a blogger from the site Coffee and Warm Showers. Eric made a decision to ‘escape the rat race’ and lead a conscious life – quitting his job, moving to the Idaho countryside and having downsized and de-stressed, is now living a life he describes as ‘anything but ordinary”.

We’ve all been lied to.

Our entire lives we’ve heard “money is the root of all evil.”  And it’s not true.

We’ve cautiously went along in life, striving to make more of it without losing our sanity.  Without getting greedy and falling into the “evil” arena where only corrupt CEO’s, attorneys, and politicians play.

Unfortunately, I think we’ve all been focusing on the wrong root cause of this evil.  We’ve all been blaming money itself like it has a mind of its own.  When someone stabs a former co-worker in the back for the promotion they’ve both been battling it out for its likely because of the money.  9 times out of 10 there was no personal vendetta in this situation.  Just looking out for #1.

“If I got that job I’d be able to finally afford that car I’ve been eyeing for years now.”

“I’d finally be able to buy my wife that house she’s been dreaming about.”

“I’d finally be able to pay off my credit card debt!”

The problem with this is that the money itself isn’t evil or even the root of all evil.  I would be willing to say that money is the root of all indifference.

A quick personal story.

In the last nine months, I’ve been promoted twice.  I’ve doubled my salary in one year.  I’m making more than others at my age and my career growth at this company doesn’t look like its ending any time soon.  I’m on the fast track to success and leading my department in the next year or two.

2 weeks ago – I quit my job.  That’s right.  Literally just told my boss I quit without having anything else lined up, no other income.  And not only was I quitting, but I was moving to a small town in Idaho, population ~6,000 people, and not a job opportunity in sight.

Dumb move?  Possibly.  Depends on who you ask I guess.  But I’ve been preparing for the last year for this.  Although I’ve recently doubled my salary, I didn’t allow myself to spend a lot of extra money because I knew what I would be doing.

You’ll find that when you make money and then lose it somehow, you start to appreciate the small things more.  You save money and live frugally.  When you buy something, you really weigh out the pros and cons – do I really need this?

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that the less possessions you have, the more free you are.  I whole-heartedly believe that’s true.  If you have less things, you have less clutter – less to maintain, and if you have less to maintain you have more time to spend on the things that matter and the things that truly make you happy.

It’s not that money is the root of all evil.  I believe people are the ones that are evil in those circumstances.  Money always just ends up being a factor in the equation.

Where money stands in this equation though is on the other side.  Having money (and this is more likely as your wealth increases) causes you to be indifferent.  The smaller things are no longer thought about.  Minor purchases (and sometimes large purchases) are not given a second thought because, well hey – you can afford it.

As you accumulate more and more you must maintain it all.  Now you’ve set expectations with those around you that you will maintain this lifestyle and you start to battle it out for money for only one reason.  You become oblivious to the things the money is buying or taking away.

Challenge:

In no way do I encourage anyone to up and quit their job, especially in this economy.  I thought long and hard about this and ultimately found my window of opportunity and took it.

However, I do challenge you to look at what you are using your money for.  How are you making your decisions?

Do you catch yourself saying things like, “I wish we could go, but I just don’t have the money right now.”  Why don’t you have the money?  Maybe you would have it if you laid off of the Sbux for a couple of weeks?

Even worse, do you catch yourself buying things just because you can?

Trial period: Start this week.  Cut your income in half.  Take whatever you get on your next paycheck and put half in savings and use the other half to pay bills and buy things you need or add value to your life.

After a couple of weeks, re-evaluate.  Was it possible?  If so, how did it feel?  How does it feel to know you can live similarly (maybe even better!) on half the income.  Oh and don’t forget that you also have a bigger savings account now!

Find ways here and there every day to cut costs.  It’s one of the most empowering feelings when you realize that you don’t need as much money as you thought.  Once you do this for a while, truly living becomes easier.

You become a happier person.  Don’t let money or the fight for it drive your decisions.  Make decisions based off of what makes you happy and adds value to your life.  When you do that every decision you make becomes important and worth caring about.

Photo by Images_of_Money via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – 10 Ways You Can Have Enough Money and Stuff,  10 Ways to Simplify Your Life

Can Christmas Still Really Change the World ?

Can Christmas still really change the world ?

This post is for those who are a little less than certain about Christmas, whether Christians concerned about the extent of the consumerism and materialism that modern Christmas celebrations in the West seem to have embraced, or humanists who might share the same concerns, but who also perhaps believe there’s something positive in the message of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’.

In these difficult times there seems to be an increasing disillusionment with Christmas, in its current form as a two month long expensive consumer event, which so often seems devoid of any real meaning, and frequently fails to meet our unrealistic expectations.

A lot of people are interested in devising a new version of Christmas.

This is nothing new, of course, many of our traditional Christmas celebrations have no religious connection at all, with the whole history of Christmas being in fact rather complicated. The first record of Christmas being celebrated appears to have been in Rome around 350AD. There are many suggestions why December 25th was chosen, but it seems likely it had no real religious basis. What is certain is that since it’s origin Christmas and how it should be celebrated has changed considerably and been the subject of much debate and disagreement. Celebrating Christmas was banned in England under Oliver Cromwell, and it later came close to dying out during the 1700s. Its revival occurred during the Victorian period, influenced in particular by Charles Dickens – who popularised carol singing, gift giving, family gatherings, feasting and did much to make ‘Merry Christmas’ the traditional festive greeting.

Today’s Christmas looks a little different.

Christmas is now the largest shopping and spending event of the year across much of the world. In the UK 40% of the population are expected to go overdrawn over the Christmas period, with a typical UK family spending between £500 and £700. Many of us overeat and drink too much over Christmas and Boxing Day, consuming on average an estimated 11,000 callories ! The advertising of the mighty spend began at the start of November . . . complete with easy credit, emotional blackmail and over-sweet sentimentality – ponder the Christmas messages contained in the Littlewoods Christmas ad!

Whether you share any part of the Christian faith or not, it’s difficult to connect the Christmas messages of peace, love, family togetherness and compassion, with the consumerism, materialism and general excess that are so often a part of our modern celebrations.

In the words of the Christian organisation Advent Conspiracy; Christmas should be a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love, but has become a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists, and when it’s all over, too many of us are left with unwanted presents, debt, an expanded wasteline and an empty feeling of missed purpose.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can opt-out with a downsized Christmas, an ethical Christmas, a simplicity Christmas or a home-made Christmas when it comes to gifts.

More importantly we can also chose to give our time, our friendship, and our compassion.

Whatever Christmas means to you, have a Merry one.

 

Photo by mhohimer, via Flickr

10 Ways You Can Have Enough Money & Stuff

Courtney Carver is author of the blog Be More with Less, and describes herself with “I have been too busy, too tired, too full, too stressed and too overworked for too long and I am changing my ways.” Courtney also runs the One Million for Good site, selling limited edition fine art prints in support of good causes.

As a society, we are eating too much, drinking too much, working too much and spending too much. We take more drugs for anxiety and depression than ever before. Our debt is climbing and our savings are dwindling.

We are tired, stressed, overworked, scattered and afraid. We are afraid that we won’t have more than them. We are afraid of what others will think if we don’t.

We never have enough and are afraid that we never will.

In a recent poll (and by “poll” I mean in response to a question I posed on twitter) when asked, “What would you do differently if you thought you had enough?” the response was overwhelming.

  • Give more
  • Worry less
  • Quit my job
  • Teach others to do the same
  • Volunteer More
  • Quit striving for success
  • Travel
  • Change my career path
  • Come up with ways to help the world
  • Quit my job
  • Dance
  • Spend time creating beautiful things: a happy marriage, a healthy body, a creative blog
  • Connect more with friends & make new friends
  • Move somewhere new and exciting.

Wow! If you had enough, you would do some really great, life changing things for yourself, your family and the world.

It’s time to start asking the the tough questions, because it’s very likely that you are not living the life you desire. You are depriving yourself of real happiness because you think you need more. More money, and more stuff.

If you know what you would do if you thought you had enough, then the next logical question is “how will I have enough”? I’m glad you asked.

10 Ways to Have Enough

  1. Redefine enoughYour current definition of enough may be more than you think. Do the simple counting exercise below and see what is really enough for you and your family.
  2. Learn to say noYou may have to turn friends down for a dinner out, tell your kids that they can’t have designer handbags in high school, or make other unpopular decisions.
  3. Put people before stuffBefore you stop for lunch, drop by the mall or “pick up a few things” at the grocery store remember what your family really wants. They want YOU. If you spent less, could you work less and spend more time with the people that love you?
  4. Put moments before stuffRunning outside with my husband last night to watch the storm clouds come in was absolutely free, and more rewarding than anything I could have purchased.
  5. Stop trying to measure upSomeone will always make more than you, have more than you and do more than you. So what? You are beautiful and wonderful. Be you and stop comparing.
  6. Don’t stock upIf you buy wrapping paper on December 26th and stock up on sale items year round, you are spending more than you would if you just bought what you needed. Don’t be fooled by the cashier that tells you, “you just saved $22.00″ when you just spent $300.
  7. Stop using a credit cardDebt will follow you forever unless you stop using credit cards. The end.
  8. Write it downYou might be too busy and stressed to think about what you really want out of life. Write it down and read it every day. “Live by the beach”, “Start a new business”, “Put kids through college with no debt”, “Move to a new country”. This is your why. Knowing why will give you momentum. Knowing why will give you perseverance. Knowing why will give you the guts and grit to take action and live the life you desire.
  9. Realize you ARE enoughIf you could be happy with you, you could stop overeating, overspending, and over indulging. Once you know you are enough, you can realize that you have enough.
  10. Identify your source of happinessA new shirt will not make you happy for long. In fact, I can’t think of any material thing that makes me happy everyday. Instead it’s the things that you can’t own. Children’s dimples, a dog rolling over for a belly rub, jumping in the ocean, climbing mountains, stretching, kisses, gratitude. Those are the things that happiness is made of.

Do you have enough ? Too much ?

  • Count the number of clothes you have and divide that by 7. That is how many pieces of clothing you have to wear each day to use everything you have over the course of a week.
  • Count how many utensils you own (forks, knives, spoons, whisks, peelers, all of them) and divide that by 7.
  • Count how many apps, songs, games and videos you have on your computer and divide that by 7.
  • Count how many TV channels, radio stations, CDs, DVDs, and games and divide that by 7.

It is very likely that you could live and thrive with less than 50% of what you own right now. And if you need less than half of the stuff, you probably need less than half of the space, and less than half of the money it takes to maintain the stuff and the space. (insert light bulb moment here!)

 More questions to ask to live a better life…

  • If you had no debt, no monthly payments, what could you live on?
  • If you didn’t have to save for a nicer car, bigger house, or extravagant vacation, what could you save for?
  • What could you sell to pay off your debt?
  • If you didn’t have dine out several times a week, how much could you give?
  • If one is enough, what could you donate?

It’s possible that you have been chasing more for so long that you forgot why you started the race in the first place. That is exactly what happened to me. If you can’t answer “why”, you are on the wrong track. If your answer to “why” is “I don’t know” you are lost. You have to stop and start over.

I just started to re-read, Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. If you wonder how you could live on much less (even with a family and responsibilities) and really start enjoying life, you might want to take a look at it.

I was recently reminded by one of my favorite blogs that “very little is needed to make life happy.”

Do you think that’s true?

Photo by Lost in the RP via Flickr

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