Being Happy With Less: My Family’s Journey Towards Living Simply
I don’t have a big house. Or a big yard. Or a big bank account. But I have the people I love most by my side, joy in my soul, and the memories I choose to fill my moments with. I truly am rich in ways I never dreamed, but it has nothing to do with the possessions I own or the walls that surround me.
Living simply isn't something that comes naturally to me. At least, it wasn't at first. I grew up admiring other people's possessions and, as an adult, worked feverishly so I could afford everything that I dreamed of. Back then, that is what I imaged success and happiness to be: having everything. But as I got older, as I acquired more things, as I could afford to "live bigger" I didn't find myself happier. I just found myself with more things to dust...and feeling quite unfulfilled. I was just starting to wonder what I was doing wrong when a life event forced my hand into embracing simple living.…but it has been one of the best things I was ever forced into.
“I think I want to go back to school….full-time,” my husband said to me one Tuesday night over our family dinner. I paused chewing on my roasted broccoli and glanced up at him, a bit surprised but not really. He had been growing increasingly unhappy in his job for the past several years, often coming home with a miserable black cloud hanging over him. It killed me seeing my partner not enjoying life anymore….but going back to school full-time?! How could we possibly manage that? We are adults with car payments, preschool tuition, vet bills, (my) student loan payments, and all of the other bills that go along with adulthood. Not to mention a young daughter we had to provide for! Yes, we have an income from my teaching job and some extra from my blog, but was it enough to support our family on? My heart started to race, as I contemplated telling my husband that I thought he should stay in a job that drained the joy from his heart or agreeing to embark on a journey as a family that would require a massive makeover in how we live.
As I looked up at the man I love, him staring at me in anticipation of my response…I knew in my heart what my answer was.
“I think you should too. You need to finally go for a career that makes you happy. You can’t go through life hating what you do. Let’s figure out how to make this work,” I said.
So that is exactly what we did. Money was obviously the bottom line concern when it came to my husband leaving his job, so we looked at where on money was going. We were renting a house with more bedrooms than we needed, dining out often, and buying pretty much anything we wanted on a whim. Holidays were filled with wonderful thoughtful gifts, but rarely objects that were really needed and/or loved. We had so much space and so many things…..but at the end of the day, it was just stuff that did nothing but take up space.
My husband and I decided to move into a much smaller apartment to help save money on rent as we prepared for him to transition to being a full-time student. Before we moved, we had pared down on many of our extra possessions and thought we were in good shape for living in a smaller home. But when everything was moved into our new digs, it was clear that we needed to pare down more…..a lot more.
That’s when real change started to happen. I looked at all of my dust-collecting items and suddenly started to ask myself if I really needed those things. Did they bring me joy? Did I love them? Did those items make my life truly better? For a few items (my blender that I made my daily smoothie in, my family pictures, my antique mason jar collection) the answer was an absolute yes. But for most other things, the answer was no…not at all. Those items were just taking up space in my life and only occasionally (if at all) being used. We no longer had room in our home for non-essential items…so those items had to go.
As we started to give away, donate, and sell our truly non-loved/needed items, a sense of freedom started to come over our family. With less house and less stuff, we had less things to take care of in our free time. When we were at a store and one of us spied something we wanted, we started to force ourselves to walk away and think about if we truly needed it, loved it, or if it would bring us joy. 9 out of 10 times the answer was “no” and we saved the money we would have spent on unneeded items. Our house is small, so we started doing our living OUTSIDE its walls. We use our time together for going on family adventures and seeing the world…filling our days with experiences more valuable than possessions. Our small home has become our cozy sanctuary to retreat to at the end of a joyful day.
Soon, our simple lifestyle was not something we were enduring, but rather something we were embracing! My husband and I started to look at other ways to pare down on our possessions and enhance our life even more. For Christmas, our daughter’s “big” gift was tickets for our family to go see the Nutcracker together for the first time. When we require an item we don’t have for a home project or an appropriate outfit for special fancy night out, we ask our friends if we can borrow the item instead of us buying it ourselves (that has also helped to build a lovely sense of community). And for my birthday last month, I opted to forego gifts in exchange for a family camping trip far away from cell phone service.
I don’t have a big house. Or a big yard. Or a big bank account. But I have the people I love most by my side, joy in my soul, and the memories I choose to fill my moments with. I have everything I need and probably more. Our family’s journey towards simple living forced us to reevaluate what truly brought us happiness….and what simply gave us fleeting sparks of joy. Our home and the objects inside of it do not dictate how successful, happy or rich we are. We do….and the smiles and friends we leave in our wake.