Living in America with all of its bells and whistles can be a challenge for those of us that feel that everyone and their mama is living the good life, is founding multi-millionaire dollar startups, or has married well. But the truth is much of that narrative is pure fantasy and created to suck you into the debtor’s matrix.
If you are not getting your cues from mainstream or social media, which are both dead set on making you feel inadequate so you can buy things (goods or services) to make you feel whole, you would see that us ordinary people on the sidelines are thinking differently about this purported “American dream” and the hefty price tag and loads of debt that accompany it. We are beginning to see that there is more to life than buying stuff. And more importantly, we are making the link between crazy levels of consumption and big, empty emotional barrenness.
Some of us arrive at this conclusion via mid-life crisis, through national movements like minimalism or the Tiny House movement, or an accumulation of life experiences.
My quest for learning to live with less came after seeing the emotional and spiritual freedom that eliminating $65,000 worth of student loan debt brought to my life. I had more funds free so I could plan for retirement and make the dream of taking a year of “no work all play” more than just tea talk with brilliant, yet burnt out brown girls with a deep sense that something was missing.
Moving to a life of less is equal parts courage, consistency, and community. I know that there are a lot of us looking for the “how” and below, I provide a few practical tips to help you move from living on more to less.
1. Examine how much your current identity is wrapped around things.
One of the ways that people really see the difference between who they are now and who they want to be is through tracking their thoughts and behaviors. If introspection is difficult for you, consider focusing on how you use your time and how you spend your money.
For example, if you have eight conversations today with girlfriends and four of them are about what you bought or what you are going to buy, then you can say that 50% of your conversations and much of your identity is wrapped around shopping, buying, and owning things that lose value. Tracking these behaviors gives you a starting point and an idea of how to adjust accordingly.
2. Create a projected “living on less” budget.
Identify how much of your discretionary income goes to the consumption of wants. Let’s just say that you notice that you spend $500 a month on clothes, shoes, make-up, and accessories and that is 20% of your take-home pay. Now, think about why you want to live on less. Is it so you could travel more? Build a business or emergency fund? Or maybe you want to quit your job.Once you figure out where you want that money to go, ensure that this category is a line-item on your projected budget.
3. De-clutter one room in your house.
Learning to live on less is also a matter of taking stock of what you already have in your home. One of the major reasons that we buy things is because we can’t locate what we already have. If you decide to de-clutter one room a week in your home, you may be shocked by what you observe about your purchases. You may vow not to buy that extra watch or purse because you see that the ones you have are underutilized. You may even have a tinge of regret and financial shame as you think about how much more purposefully you could have used your money. De-cluttering gives you a chance to come face-to-face with all of your financial decisions of the past, while giving you the grace to start anew and do better in the future.
4. Limit your social media intake. The great thing about social media is that it has been a tool to support, promote, and galvanize many of our current social movements. The not-so-great thing about social media is that many of us don’t turn to social media to increase our political consciousness.
We flock to social media to see and be seen. To consume. To stay on trend. To keep abreast of pop culture and its products. When transitioning to a live with less philosophy, you can feel confused and vulnerable when on social media, especially since your decision will not be supported in that space. To keep you focused and from slipping into the consumer world, be sure to limit your exposure to social media that promotes sales and the fabulous life.
5. Intellectually immerse yourself in the world of less. I know that I get a great sense of satisfaction when I come across a series of TED talks on topics of minimalism, financial freedom, and spirituality. When I am completely disciplined, I make sure I watch at least three videos a week. If watching videos isn’t your preferred mode of learning, you can borrow books from the library, reach out to a minimalist friend, find a community on Meetup.com, or consume (pun-intended) all of the free information about the financial and spiritual benefits on living on less from mainstream outlines like Yahoo Finance or indie-media blogs.
Just the other day, I was listening to a podcast where the speaker proclaimed that life is anything you want it to be. Even though that statement can seem very “pie-in-the-sky,” there is some honest truth to it, especially as it relates to what we spend our money on and how we decide to spend our time on this earth.