I majored both in Banking and Finance from the University of Nebraska. (I don’t talk much about it as my career took a different route shortly after graduation.)
And yet, despite having a college degree in money, I lived most of my life with financial discontent, always surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, despite several pay increases early in my marriage.
When more money came in, more money went out. My credit card statement seemed to often be simply a mirror of my paycheck.
As the cycle continued year after year, I found less opportunity to blame my financial stress on an entry-level income. Sure, money is tight when you’re just starting out. But at some point, the reality of my financial pinch had to be blamed on me—not employers, not rising housing costs, not previous generations, not failed political leadership.
I was solely responsible for my financial well-being. And clearly, my existing habits were not working. If I was ever to get ahead, something would need to change.
There are, of course, only two possible remedies for an unsustainable financial situation: 1) Either you make more money or 2) You spend less.
Most of us automatically assume the former is the key to improvement. If we could make more money, we’d get ahead financially. And while there is some truth hidden in that statement, I stand as proof that’s not always the case. Maybe you do too.
I would like to submit that the latter option is most often the easier to implement and longer-lasting in positive effect.
Spend less is the most important piece of financial advice you’ll ever receive.
Every financial advisor I have ever met begins with that advice as the foundation for freedom. It was the same thing my parents told me, and almost every person I looked up to in the financial world.
The most essential foundation for financial freedom is to spend less than you earn.
If you cut back on your spending, you’ll be able to pay off your debt, build an emergency fund, start saving for retirement, or find more space for generosity.
Why then is this step so hard to implement?
In a country where 76% of us live paycheck-to-paycheck and the average American between the ages of 18 and 65 has $4,717 of credit card debt, the message of “spend less” is clearly having a difficult time gaining traction.
One reason I believe spending less is such a difficult step for many to take is because the solution sounds unattractive to so many. Buying less sounds a lot like taking a step backwards in life. In a world where success is often defined in material acquisition, spending less sounds boring, unfashionable, and destined for ridicule.
And that’s what I used to think too—until I actually tried it.
Nine years ago, I made the intentional decision to own less and buy less. It has turned out to be among the best decisions I have ever made in my life. As a result of paring down most of my possessions and determining to only buy things that are actually needed (rather than everything I ever wanted), I have found my life improving in very significant ways.
Now that I own less and spend less, I have more time, energy, and money available to me than ever before. Because I own fewer things that need to be cared for, I spend less time cleaning, organizing, and managing. I have more opportunity than ever before to pursue my greatest passions in life—however I decide to define them.
Rather than running up a credit card bill by chasing every new product or fashion line sold at the department store, I am able to invest in the things that make my life worthwhile and significant.
In this simple decision to buy and spend less, financial discontent in my life has been resolved.
Spending less provides the foundation for financial freedom. It can also provide a pathway for a career change or escape from the unrelenting desire to earn more. Financial relief can even improve our marriages and our sleep.
There’s a reason ten out of ten financial advisors recommend it.
Of course, simply spending less may not be the solution to every financial problem that we encounter. But it is the solution to most.
If you are experiencing financial related stress, spending less is probably the most practical solution to resolve it. And the road to relief may in fact be more appealing than you think.
In my mind growing up, the idea of fasting was always tied to food. My Catholic friends would fast during Lent—the 40 days leading up to Easter—by not eating meat on Fridays. While my family never observed Lent in the traditional sense, I was still encouraged to consider fasting from food as a spiritual discipline by abstaining from eating for 24 hours as a means to focus more attentively on God.
In many ways, my views on fasting have not changed. I still see spiritual value in removing food for a period of 24 hours. The practice does indeed heighten awareness of spiritual matters.
And nothing I write beyond this point is meant to take away from that practice or the spiritual benefits of it. I only mean to add to it.
You see, as I have matured in my life (and my spirituality), I have begun to recognize additional value in the discipline of fasting. Moving beyond abstaining from food, I have also learned to appreciate the benefits of fasting from almost anything in moderation.
Fasting, it seems to me, is ultimately about self-control. It is about the intentional removal of one, external controlling factor in our lives for a period of time. It is an exercise in self-control. And self-control holds benefit for all—regardless of our faith or nonfaith preferences.
In college, for the first time, I set out to give up one “controlling factor” in my life for a period of 40 days—a form of fasting that drew inspiration from my Catholic friends (although I’ll be quick to admit that most world religions embrace some form of fasting).
My thinking went like this, “If there is any external reality in my life that I could not give up for 40 days, it has become a controlling influence on me. By definition, I have lost an element of self-control.”
Over the years, as a result of this exercise, I have fasted from television for 40 days, eating out for 40 days, my cell phone for 40 days, and candy for 40 days. Each time, I chose one thing that would be difficult to part with for a period of days, and then challenged myself to go without it as an exercise in self-control.
Each time, it seemed, I learned more about myself and gained additional insight into finding balance in my life.
There is value in this practice—however you choose to embrace it.
Currently, my fasting practice looks a bit different than the extended period of abstaining 30 or 40 days from a specific item. Over the past year, I have returned to the 24-hour model of intermittent fasting, choosing to abstain from coffee on Saturdays. It’s not a long, drawn-out practice that requires pre-planning of any sort. It’s just a simple reminder to me—every weekend—that I am in control of my habits, not coffee.
Recently, I texted a friend to see if I could call her about a writing project on a Sunday evening. She said I’d have to wait until Monday, “Sunday evenings are family time. I don’t do any work on purpose.” Just another form of fasting, I thought to myself.
There is value in this discipline. Here’s a quick guide to get started:
1. Choose one external influence in your life to fast from. The best practice for testing (and strengthening) self-control is to choose an item you imagine would be difficult to part with. Finish this sentence, “I could never go 40 days without ____________.” Whatever pops into your head might be a good place to start. Maybe it’s chocolate or Facebook or alcohol or Netflix. You get to decide.
2. Choose a period of time (or regular interval) for your exercise. You may choose 7 days, 40 days, or 365. Or maybe you want to fast every Saturday, every weekend, or every first week of the month. Again, the choice is yours. But do choose a period or interval of time that will challenge you and require a measure of self-control on your end.
3. Make arrangements if necessary. If you are choosing to abstain from sugar for 30 days, it might not be wise to keep lots of sugary snacks in your pantry. If you decide to give up television for a period of time, it may be beneficial to remove the temptation entirely (assuming other members in your family do not object). When I gave up eating out for 40 days, I needed to think through and prepare adequately for brown bag lunches each day instead.
4. Embrace the discipline and expect the beginning to be the hardest. There is nothing wrong with this being difficult—especially at first. Expect it and embrace it. In fact, if the fasting is not difficult for you, you may want to consider choosing something more difficult to give up.
5. Find meaning in defeat. If you give in at some point during the experiment and succumb to the temptation, don’t lose heart. Make failure your servant by examining its root. And then get back up to try again.
6. Re-enter slowly. When you complete your exercise, reintroduce the item into your life deliberately. Remember, you have not committed to giving up something for the rest of your life—only for a predetermined period of time. But that doesn’t mean you automatically return the element to the same level of influence it had before. Almost certainly you will have learned something during the process that will enable you to reintroduce the item in a healthier manner.
Many of the external items that subconsciously control our lives are not needs, they are wants (coffee, dessert, television, Facebook, etc.). But we have become so accustomed to having them in our lives on a daily basis, we quickly confuse our wants and our needs.
Fasting from anything (and/or everything) for a set period of time helps put these items back in proper perspective and gives us the strength to walk away when necessary.
There is value in the practice of fasting. I have found this to be true. So will you.
There are many wonderful people pursuing and promoting simplicity. Fortunately, some of them are gifted in communication and choose to encourage and inspire us with their words. I enjoy reading their unique perspective. I’m sure you will too.
So fix yourself a nice warm cup of coffee or tea on this beautiful weekend. Find a quiet moment. And enjoy some encouraging words about finding more simplicity in your life today.
The Case For Minimalism | Forbes by Joshua Becker. Owning less offered escape from the clutter in my home. But more than that, it offered escape from the clutter in my life. It reintroduced intentionality and alignment. And it offered the very ideals my heart most desperately desired.
Simplify Magazine: The Declutter Issue. Last summer, I launched an online magazine called Simplify Magazine. Each issue recruits experts to contribute long-form articles addressing one specific topic. On March 01, we released an issue of the magazine focused entirely on decluttering your home and life. If you enjoy these weekend reads inspiring simplicity, I’d also recommend this particular issue. Find out more here.
There are a lot of important questions we ask in life: Who? What? When? Where? How?
But the most important of these is the one we ask the least often: Why?
Granted, why? is the hardest question to answer. But just because it can be difficult to answer doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be asked.
Why? is the question with the most potential and the greatest opportunity to spark new life going forward.
When I first began minimizing and removing possessions from my home, I found myself asking lots of questions: Where should I start? How will I ever get through my entire home? Where should I drop off these items? How will I ever get this old piano out of the basement?
Lots of questions.
However, as the process continued, I began asking myself fewer what?, where?, and how? questions. No longer wondering what process might work best for my family, I began asking myself more difficult questions, including:
Why did I buy all this stuff in the first place?
In the end, it was this question that brought the greatest potential and opportunity into my new life. It was this question of why? that forced me to uncover and evaluate the unseen, unhealthy motivations that were contributing to my over-accumulation in the first place. Once I knew them, I was better equipped to overcome them.
That’s what makes this question so important. Why? forces us to stand face-to-face with questions of motivation and impulse. It requires us to confront the reason behind the actions.
As a result, it offers opportunity wherever it is asked:
What is the first thing you do in the morning? Why?
What are the unhealthy habits in your life? Why are they there?
What worries do you carry? Why is that so?
What fears do you have? Why do you have them?
What struggle points do you have in your marriage? Why?
Do you enjoy your work? Why?
Are you getting ahead financially? Why not?
Are you content with your life? Why or why not?
Are you happy? Why or why not?
With each question, we journey deeper and deeper into our heart.
The what? and where? and when? questions may reveal facts. But the why? question uncovers motives.
And that is how self-reflection begins to emerge.
And it is self-reflection that paves the way for the greatest self-improvement.
People have set out to more remote places of the world, built homes of their own, and lived off the land. They’ve followed the sun—up at dawn, sleep at dark.
Our ancestors lived simply, by default.
Nowadays, however, it’s more difficult to live this way in a time of great technological advancement. People are looking for a more simplified life, but without wholly removing themselves from the world around them—their friends, family, workplaces, and devices.
Amidst material abundance and availability, our lives can sometimes look quite foreign from the homesteaders of the past.
Today, intentional living is even more necessary. And in a world of increasing complexity, it is becoming more and more desired.
Here are Five Truths You Can Use to Save Money and Live Simply:
1. You can’t take it with you.
You’ve probably heard the truism “you can’t take it with you.” Or, perhaps you’ve heard it as “you only live once” or “you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.” These phrases suggest that you should spend your money with an eye on the inevitably of death—because you could be gone tomorrow.
Let’s consider how we can use these statements to live simply.
If we cannot take something with us, should we lust after it? Should we go into debt to buy it? Should we spend countless hours maintaining it?
To live simply, we should adopt a rental philosophy for the goods we purchase. From this standpoint, we are temporary holders to the many material possessions we store. And not a thing we own will be ours after we pass. So, what’s important given this truth?
2. The most frugal or greenest product is the one you didn’t buy.
Over the last decade, people have been quick to embrace “green” products such as LED lightbulbs and hybrid vehicles. Some of these advancements really do cut down on energy bills and emissions.
But many businesses have responded by using “greenwashed” marketing to confuse and appeal to more consumers. A shocking number of products are now “environmentally friendly” without any certifying body to confirm or standardize what that even means.
“Going green” has been coopted by corporations.
The kindest decision for your wallet or the environment usually isn’t marketed in magazines or on product packaging. Whether you’re looking to save money, live simply, or be greener, there’s a simple rule you should follow: the cheapest or most environmentally friendly product is the one you didn’t buy.
3. No individual product can make you a minimalist.
These headlines should frighten you: “Get This Unique Minimalist Watch While You Still Can” or “The Best Gifts For the Minimalist In You.” I’ve even seen “minimalist mattresses,” “minimalist clothing,” and “minimalist luggage” for sale. Some articles promising the latest and greatest ideas in minimalist living are laced with affiliate links and goods that could occupy more space in your life and further empty your bank account.
What the writers are actually saying is, “Here’s another item that looks cool and you can spend money on. And because you are interested in minimalism, I will use that to market specifically to you.”
Similarly, stores that sell containers and organizational tools cannot make you a minimalist. They can help you spend money, hide clutter, and manipulate the appearance of your home. But the products contained therein require consistent maintenance, care, and careful organizational efforts.
The problem remains when we buy more to become simpler. Organization can help, but minimalism always comes from less stuff, not more. It is better to de-own, than merely reorganize.
4. The best gifts don’t take up room in your home.
As a father, I recognize my children sometimes want gifts. And when holidays and birthdays come around, I cherish opportunities to make them smile.
I also recognize my inner values.
I want to be kind, receptive, and understanding to my family, and I want to give the gift of my attention to them. When my family started letting go of extraneous possessions ten years ago, I was better able to be there for them. I was a better listener, and could spend more time focused on what they really need as they grow.
And this extends beyond children. My friends know the best gift they could ever give me is their friendship. That never costs a dime or gets old.
5. Material possessions never provide lasting happiness.
Endless research has found that material goods and purchases rarely provide lasting happiness. Buy the Corvette today, and you’ll get used to it. The shine and sheen will wear off. Then, the insurance payments, gas, maintenance/repair prices, and other burdens come into focus.
Wellness comes from purchases that lead to stories, experiences, and help for others.
My family is taking a one-week vacation this Spring. While we’ve tried to save money, it’ll still cost money to do so. Similarly, I’ve poured sweat and time into creating The Hope Effect, which is a non-profit organization changing how the world cares for orphans.
Every dollar spent in these areas are deeply meaningful for me. I carry these moments and experiences, not things.
Ten years ago, our lives changed dramatically. The realization that our possessions were actually distracting us from a life of joy and purpose and fulfillment became the motivation to pursue minimalism in our home.
As our family of four began removing nonessential possessions, we soon discovered more time and energy and focus for the things that matter most. And we discovered that our things had become a far greater burden than we’d ever realized.
We also began to discover that many of our thoughts concerning physical possessions were incorrect. These faulty mindsets were contributing to our over-accumulation and cluttered lifestyles. Slowly, but surely, our approach to possessions began to change as we experienced more and more the benefits of owning less.
If your family struggles with owning too much, consider these seven life-changing perspectives to help overcome your family’s obsession with stuff:
1. Owning fewer toys is actually better for your kids.
Parents want what’s best for their children. But often times, our desire to help them learn and develop results in the over-accumulation of toys. Did you know the research says the exact opposite? According to almost every scientific study on the issue, fewer toys will actually benefit your kids more. Here’s a recent one: owning fewer toys will result in deeper, more creative play for your kids—along with a whole bunch of other healthier lifestyle habits.
2. Buying more hobby supplies will not help you enjoy it more.
The story plays out almost the same way every time. We discover a new hobby (camping, music, sewing, art, etc.) and quickly begin gathering the necessary tools to partake in it. As we grow in our passion for the hobby, we accumulate more and more “supplies” thinking these items will help us enjoy the pursuit more. However, as my friend Kristoffer Carter once wrote, “Sometimes, our pursuit of tools gets in the way of our enjoyment of the hobby.” We’d often be better off improving our skills, rather than simply buying more equipment.
3. Hoarding kitchen utensils is not making you a better cook.
I used to think the only thing missing in my kitchen was the latest and greatest kitchen gadget. That somehow, one more piece of plastic would make my food taste better and my cooking a more enjoyable experience (because who doesn’t like getting frustrated trying to find that one utensil hidden somewhere in the drawer…).
Everything changed when I read this article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times titled A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks. An expert and veteran of commercial kitchens and classically-trained chefs, Mark changed my perspective entirely by listing out a limited number of utensils needed to prepare any recipe. I immediately minimized my kitchen. And fell in love with cooking.
4. Owning a bigger house is not improving your family life.
It’s an odd connection when you think about it, but we hear it all the time. The more square footage in our home… the happier our family will be. As if, somehow, more space to spread out will somehow bring our families closer together. My family has found the exact opposite to be true. Among countless other benefits, we have found that living in a smaller home has actually brought our family closer together. It has encouraged more conversation and deeper relationships. After all, when you can’t run from your problems, you are forced to confront them.
5. Keeping extra clothes in your closet is making your morning harder.
In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains how the absence of choice is not an ideal environment for the human spirit. However, he also explains how too many choices is equally undesirable—leaving us feeling less and less satisfied. It’s a life-changing perspective in many ways—you can watch him explain it here. Similarly, the abundance of options does not make life easier, it makes life more difficult and more complicated. We purchase more and trendier fashion thinking its presence in our closet will make mornings easier. But just the opposite occurs. The overabundance of choice only makes it more difficult.
6. Having more television sets is not making your family happier.
According to statistics, the average American home now has more televisions than people. This phenomenon is most certainly a result of our common thinking that more is always better. But in regard to televisions, there is an added assumption that giving every family member a chance to watch whatever they want will keep everyone happy. Again, we found the exact opposite to be true.
Years ago, our family of four decided to get rid of every television except for one. For us, it was just an experiment at first. But quickly into the experiment we discovered that having only one television in our home brought us much closer together. The amount of television we watched began to decline dramatically. But even more important, when we did choose to watch something, we did it together as a family.
7. The greatest gifts you can give your kids are not bought with money.
Very few of my fondest childhood memories involve physical possessions. Instead, I look back and recall moments we spent together, the example my parents set, and the lifelong values they worked hard to instill into me. None of those truly life-giving gifts were purchased at the local department store.
As we seek to overcome the empty promises and the temptation to own more, let’s remember all the benefits of owning less.
Let’s allow our perspectives to change about what is true, what is noble, and what is good. In the end, everyone benefits.
Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. It requires a conscious decision because it is a countercultural lifestyle that stands against the culture of overconsumption that surrounds us.
The world we live in is not friendly to the pursuit of minimalism. Its tendencies and relentless advertising campaigns call us to acquire more, better, faster, and newer. The journey of finding simplicity requires consistent inspiration.
For that reason, I hope you will make an effort this weekend to find a quiet moment with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy some of these hand-picked articles to encourage more simplicity in your life.
Technology changes fast. And new advancements are announced with great fanfare. The promise of changing how we interact with the world is just as standard on new technological devices as a power-on button. This promise sounds good to us. And so we buy and buy these devices in incredible numbers. Meanwhile, our old devices sit around because we’re not sure what to do with them. Is ever-growing device clutter inevitable?
Experts in the tech world make a distinction between technical obsolescence and functional obsolescence.
Technical obsolescence occurs as soon as your device is surpassed in its features by another device of its type—for example, the maker of your smartphone comes out with a newer model ten months after you bought yours.
Functional obsolescence, on the other hand, occurs only when your device no longer works like it’s supposed to. That happens, for example, when the software it runs ceases to work properly and is no longer supported by the manufacturer.
A lot of us are tempted to buy something new soon after reaching the point of technical obsolescence. If we find out that the cool new gadget we bought last month has been replaced on the market by an even cooler one, then we want that one!
I would argue that we should wait until we get closer to functional obsolescence with our devices. So what if we don’t have the newest thing? Who’s really going to care?
Now, I am not against the development or use of technology. In fact, I’m pleased to say that minimalism is more possible today than ever because of technology. In my phone, I carry movies, books, music, maps, a calendar, plane tickets, and an address book (just to name a few)—all things I don’t have to maintain in bulkier formats. Technology is one reason minimalism continues to grow; it has never been easier to own less.
But I fear that these days many assume new technology automatically makes things better and only adds convenience. This is not true.
In fact, when we don’t consume technology in a mindful way, it often adds clutter to our lives. It quickly drains our energy, our time, our room, and our bank accounts. Who among us hasn’t wasted an entire afternoon trying to get a computer to accomplish one seemingly simple thing?
When deciding whether to buy or to hang on to devices and gadgets—both in the present and the future—the filter we need to employ is the simple question “What problem does it solve?”
Technology should make our lives easier by solving problems both at home and at work quickly and more efficiently. But if our technology is not solving a specific problem for us, it is only adding to them.
Eliminating the clutter caused by holding on to old devices (and cords and batteries) that we are no longer using is often just a matter of taking the time to dispose of them properly. Most areas have electronics donation and recycling centers.
But what about our future purchases?
Buying a new phone just because the upgrade has become available is foolish if it doesn’t improve your life. The same could be said of cameras, home entertainment equipment, and computers. You don’t need a bigger-screen television if you can see fine with the one you currently have. Rarely do people regret waiting as long as possible to upgrade their technology. You don’t need to line up to purchase a new product just because the corporation that manufactures it says you need it.
Never underestimate the importance of removing stuff you don’t need.
Encouragement provides us with motivation to persevere. It invites us to dream dreams of significance for our lives. And it begs us to work diligently with optimism and promise.
Overcoming the pull of consumerism is a difficult challenge regardless of our stage in life. Simplicity requires encouragement. To that end, I hope you will find motivation in these articles below.
Each post was intentionally chosen to inspire simplicity in your life. For maximum effect, find a quiet moment this weekend and enjoy them with a fresh cup of coffee or tea.
The Death of Clothing | Bloomberg by Lindsey Rupp, Chloe Whiteaker, Matt Townsend and Kim Bhasin. Apparel is being displaced by travel, eating out, and activities—what’s routinely lumped together as experiences.