In the third (and final) installment of our How to Simplify series, we’re going to investigate some of those BIG simplifying efforts that can ultimately result in BIG life changes, like retiring early or working part-time, traveling, living abroad – and beyond. The bottom line here is that when you’ve truly simplified (some folks call this downscaling or downshifting), you will find that you have a heckuva lot more time – and freedom. You may be able to do everything on your bucket list NOW (or very soon).
Here are some big picture life adjustments that can lead you to simplicity:
# 1. Get Your Financial House in Order
What do I mean by this? I mean taking control of how you earn and spend money. And what does this have to do with simplifying? Almost everything, as it turns out. (Unless you are a Trust Fund Baby – and most of us aren’t.)
When most of us think of The Rat Race – the antithesis of a simple life – it’s the frenetic grind of a work-spend-work treadmill that comes to mind: slaving away 40 plus hours a week and living paycheck to paycheck, never saving, never getting ahead.
It. Does. Not. Have. To. Be. This. Way.
There are countless excellent resources to help you get your financial life in order. When you’ve done that, opportunities will surface that you didn’t know were there. You’ll be able to save toward that down payment for the house you’re hoping to own – or the kids you hope to have. Or just pay off those college loans. You may discover that you can work from home a couple of days a week. Eventually you may even be able to work part-time. Ultimately, you could retire early.
My favorite book to start with – and, truly, END with – on any financial simplification path is Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (Penguin, first published in 1992). It’s a comprehensive blueprint to help you really figure out what your relationship with money is, and it can guide you to financial independence. You will have to make changes, but they may be a lot less painful that you could imagine. And the pros will far outweigh the cons. Give it a try!
# 2. Quit Trying to Keep Up with the Joneses
This is really a corollary of # 1 but, in our consumer society, it may be the most important financial advice you ever receive. This wisdom applies to damned near everything: cars (repeat after me: “Cars are transport pods, not status symbols”), houses (bigger is not better), furniture, granite counters and stainless steel appliances in your kitchen (DO NOT WATCH HGTV!!), clothing (jeans and t-shirts work in most situations!). The list goes on and on.
The great thing about living in Portland is that Keeping Up With the Joneses is anathema to Portland’s unofficial motto of “Keep Portland Weird.” Therefore, you have the community’s blessing to be different, to say “hell, NO!” to the latest consumer trends. TO BE YOURSELF.
This will save you tons of money. :)
# 3. Reduce, Reuse
I have a small plaque of a Depression-era sentiment: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.” Those times were, clearly, a period of involuntary simplicity – but the idea is actually one of respect for the earth’s resources. It’s now called Green Living. And it is The Way to Live in Portland.
Here are examples of each R:
Reduce. In a nutshell, this can be expressed as, “Quit buying stuff.” Shopping – although promoted, especially among women, as America’s national pastime – is not good for you, your pocketbook, or the earth. We don’t need closets the size of small houses. More stuff just means more dusting, cleaning, storing, insuring, worrying.
Reuse. Here’s one simple example of reusing: My older sister has two sons. When I gave birth to two sons a few years after she did, I became the lucky recipient of all of the clothing (and many toys and books too) that her boys had used. (Some people call this a “clothes pipeline.”)
There are now many organized efforts to reuse stuff – and create community in the process! Pay it forward with Portland neighbors and the Buy Nothing Project are two examples of local groups that will happily help you in your efforts to downshift.
So think twice about buying more things. Or “updating” or “upselling”- like buying a bigger house, a newer car, a remodeled kitchen, the latest gizmo or gadget. And when you do buy, buy used.
Again, living in Portland really helps with these efforts!
# 4. Buy Local Whenever Possible
When you DO shop, do it at a local “mom and pop” shop. Indeed, that’s how the motto “Keep Portland Weird” first came about, as an encouragement to patronize local businesses. When eating out, this is a no-brainer: your meal will be healthier, likely locally-sourced and your purchase will stimulate the local economy.
When shopping for food, consider local farmers markets – there are about 50 in the Portland area.
And, because you have reduced your other purchases significantly, you will be able to afford to buy at local stores when you do need “stuff.” :)
# 5. Don’t Deprive Yourself!
You can still enjoy those things that truly make you happy. But you need to thoughtfully decide if the time it took you to earn the money you’re spending is worth the joy you get out of that experience or product. This is a uniquely personal decision. Your decision to spend $100 on a ticket to see a sports event may be a non-starter for me just as my purchase of a piece of local art might be for you. But you do need to ask yourself the question: Is the cost of this item/experience worth the time I had to work to pay for it? (This is a primary tenet of the book Your Money or Your Life – buy the book or, better yet, get it at your library).
And besides, the best things in life really are free (or nearly free): Hanging out with friends and family, laughing, petting your cat or dog, walking around the neighborhood on a crisp spring day, singing in the shower…
The above Big Steps will get you started toward a simple life. You can find a host of other tips – and inspiration – online by googling “simplifying tips” or “frugal living tips.” Get started – and enjoy your simplifying journey!