How Simple Living Can Make You Feel Rich Overnight
There is nothing like living from 1 suitcase for a year in 2nd and 3rd world countries to make a person realize how little we really need in life. On our recent year-long journey, my daughters and I did just that. OK, maybe one suitcase and one carry-on each to be specific. Amazingly, we found that we had over-packed for the first leg of our trip and actually lightened our load for the second half, taking a few pounds less each in our designated suitcases.
Unlike many location independents who sell everything before taking off, we kept our home in the states. My husband was not traveling with us so he held down the fort. We also used the empty bedrooms left behind as rental opportunities and brought in enough rental income to offset the rental expenses abroad. What this meant was that at the end of our journey we returned to our original home and our original STUFF. Yes, STUFF in capital letters because that’s exactly what it felt like – a ridiculous amount of unused and un-needed objects.
I never considered myself a “shopper” and definitely not a “hoarder”. I have always been diligent about going through our things every season, disposing of ruined objects and taking bags of things to Goodwill. I’ll wear my shoes until there are holes in the soles before I drag myself out to by new ones. I love clean surfaces and you would have no trouble walking through our home due to clutter. I think I would fall on the low end of acquirers when compared to the average American. And yet the STUFF seemed to pile up faster than I could deal with it.
So when we returned to the states I made a personal commitment to simplify our lives by paring down to only the necessities and not purchasing anything superfluous. And here’s where I made 2 interesting discoveries.
- In some ways I am a hoarder
- There is a fine line between frugality and hoarding
You see, I started with our bathroom cabinets. Here is where, in our house, you will find toiletries and medicines. What I found was many duplicates of things. Instead of a bottle of lotion, I had 3 or 4 bottles of lotion at various stages of emptiness. Instead of a box of Tylenol, there were several half empty ones.
What was going on? I mean, I pride myself in using things up before buying new and not accumulating. Here’s my best guess. I think that often things were getting lost in our cabinets because they weren’t organized sufficiently, leading me to believe, for instance, that we didn’t have something (like lotion). I would then purchase a new lotion. Alternatively, I am guilty of going shopping before taking a careful inventory and then buying things that I think we don’t have only to find out later we did have. The half empty bottle of lotion would then sit unnoticed forever in the back of a cabinet, only to be joined in the future by a second half empty bottle. If I did at some point see the old bottle, I’m sure I saved it out of the voice of frugality in my head that says, “waste not, want not”.
Scarily, the same thing was going on with our medicines. Having raised 3 children in the last years it was amazing how many outdated medicines we had accumulated.
It was time for Sherman’s army. I swept through the cabinets armed with garbage bags and immediately disposed of everything out of date. I then began sorting things by type and found we are actually quite rich in toiletries. I could have thrown out all but one of everything but I am still a firm believer in “waste not, want not” so I chose another path instead.
I chose to organize with military precision everything that was still useful and make a commitment to finish these things off one at a time and purchase nothing new until the old is used up. At this point I think I have a years worth of body lotions and lip balms and probably enough perfumes for my remaining lifetime.
“So”, you may say, “you still have a lot of STUFF, Carmen. What’s the difference?”
Here’s the difference.
After throwing out everything that was outdated, ruined, and/or just plain gross there is significantly less STUFF. But more importantly of the stuff that is left, it is highly organized, easy to access and to see. Because of my new organization it is much easier for me to know whether I, in fact, do need to buy something new or not. In the last couple of months I have purchased 0 toiletries with the exception of toothpaste and shampoo when needed. Oh, and toilet paper, of course.
I am happy to say, I just finished off my first half empty bottle of lotion yesterday, have sent it to recycling and have moved on to number 2. One less bottle in the cabinet!
So, where does the “feel rich overnight” part come in?
In the past, because I did not have a good grasp of what we actually owned it was very easy to think we “needed” something. It followed, then, that it was very easy to purchase because of that sense of need.
Going through our things, taking control and getting a good sense of what we have, I realized that we actually have very few needs. In fact, in many cases we have more than what we need. We’re actually rich.
From that sense of “richness” I have a diminished urge to purchase when I go to the store and we’re saving money because I’m not making unnecessary buys. I also feel freer to use things (like perfume) that I used to save as “special” because I now realize I have plenty and don’t need to save into eternity. This makes me feel “rich” as well.
I’ve now completed going through the house bathrooms and medicine cabinets. I intend to continue with my quest until I’ve hit every nook and cranny of our house and garage. By the end we should be feeling like millionaires!
If you’d like to sense “richness” in your own life, here are some step I would recommend.
- Make a strategy for going through your things. Tackle one area at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Arm yourself with garbage bags. You can mark the bags using Sharpies so that some are “trash” and others are “donate”.
- Give yourself a 3 second rule. You may hold each object for 3 seconds before you make a decision. Keep, Junk, or Donate. Don’t let yourself get stuck.
- Completely clean out whatever area you’re working on (cabinet, drawer, closet) until it is empty. Then clean the area thoroughly by washing/sweeping/mopping or giving it a new coat of paint. This will ready it for your newfound organization.
- Sort your remaining items by type and return them to the space only in a new orderly fashion. Use labels if helpful to designate space for things. Keep everything as up-front as possible so things can’t hide from your sight.
- Force yourself to do a quick inventory of what you have before every shopping trip so that you don’t duplicate in the future.
- Use your things in an orderly fashion, sticking to each one until it is completely used up and then disposing of/recycling the container before you move on to the next.
My goal is to pare down to only 1 of every necessary item we own and to be sure everything we own is necessary. Want to make a goal of your own?