This is a guest post from Cait Flanders.
“In the context of sufficiency, appreciation becomes a powerful, intentional practice of creating new value through our deliberate attention to the value of what we already have.” –Lynne Twist
I’ve spent the last four years writing about money and the role it has played in my life. I’ve written about how I got into debt, the day I realized I was maxed out, and how I dug myself out of the mess. It took two years of living on a tight budget, but I made my final debt repayment in May 2013 and I haven’t owed anyone a penny since.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I had my spending under control. For the first year that followed, I spent money buying and doing all the things I couldn’t buy or do while paying down debt. I’d put myself on such a tight budget for those two years that I was convinced I’d been “living without” something during that time—so I spent a year searching for it.
I wasn’t living an extravagant lifestyle, per se. I was simply consuming more than I needed. There were stacks of books on my shelves I’d never read, outfits in my closet I’d only worn once, bottles of unused nail polish, and what looked to be a 5-year supply of pens and paper.
Shortly after my first anniversary of being debt-free, I looked at the small balance in my savings account and wondered what I’d been doing wrong. I was budgeting and blogging about money, why didn’t I have more to show for it? When I looked around my apartment, I realized it was a result of lifestyle inflation… and I wasn’t happy with the state of mine.
The stacks of books on my shelves were a constant reminder I had no time to read. The long forgotten clothes in my closet made me feel guilty for not getting a good enough cost-per-wear out of them. I even hated most of the nail polish colors, but felt like they were what grown-up Cait should wear.
I’d wasted hundreds, even thousands of dollars on stuff… and I didn’t even like most of it.
In a wave of inspiration, I started opening every closet, cupboard, and drawer in my apartment on a mission to get rid of anything I didn’t use or truly cherish. I filled bag after bag, and box after box, until almost every inch of my dining room floor was covered. After dragging it all downstairs, I filled my car with stuff, and still had to make two additional trips to the donation centre.
In the end, I removed 60% of the belongings from my home. And then, I put myself on a yearlong shopping ban so I wouldn’t bring in anything new.
I am only eight months into the shopping ban, but I can already tell you I will never go back to the type of consumer I was before—and that’s before considering all the extra money I’ve been able to save, which is just an added bonus.
I will never go back to being the type of consumer I was before, because living with fewer possessions has finally allowed me to see how full and rich my life already was—and still is today.
I wake up each morning and fill my French press with delicious coffee in the quiet moments before a new day begins. I have a job that lets me work from home at a desk with the most incredible view of the mountains. I get paid to write, which I still pinch myself over. I live minutes from the ocean with the smell of salt in the air. And I have the most loving and supportive family and friends a person could ask for, and most everyone is in good health.
How could I have ever thought I was “living without” anything?
I am still new to this minimalist scene and my shopping ban, so I am continually discovering new and wonderful things about how it’s changing my life. However, as someone who’s been writing about money for four years, there’s one thing I can tell you with certainty.
When you focus on what’s lacking in your life, you’ll do or buy anything to fill that void.
This might include:
- Buying yourself something after you’ve had a bad day.
- Upgrading to the newest piece of technology just because it’s popular.
- Buying a new car or home because you think it proves you’ve reached a certain level of success.
- Filling your home with beautiful things to impress your guests even though you can’t afford any of it.
But when you choose to appreciate what is good in your life, you will use money in ways that help sustain it.
- Feeling better about paying your rent/mortgage, knowing it’s putting a roof over your head.
- Being more grateful for the heat/hot water/electricity you used, when the bill comes.
- Doing whatever it takes to make sure you can afford your hobbies and passions.
- Saving for your hopes and dreams, both big and small.
Everything in the first list are assets that will immediately depreciate—and not just in dollar value, but also in the value you’ve placed on them. The newest piece of technology gets old the minute something newer comes out. As soon as that happens, you’re back to feeling like you’re “living without” something, versus appreciating it for what it is—a tool that helps you communicate with family and friends.
Everything on the second list, however, will appreciate in value—maybe not in dollar value, but in your continued appreciation for it. When you appreciate that you live in a comfortable home with hot showers, you start to soak up every minute under the water. And when you find the true joy that comes from pursuing hobbies and passions, you’ll wish you’d never wasted a dollar on the “stuff” you thought could bring you that same feeling.
When you spend money on things you appreciate, it will always pay dividends in the form of gratitude.
As a former debt blogger, I wish I’d learned that lesson sooner. However, as part of my journey to become minimalist, I’ve come to realize how valuable my experiences really were. I wouldn’t appreciate my life today, in the same light, if I hadn’t made mistakes and learned from them.
If writing about it helps inspire even one person to shift their focus and find new ways to appreciate what they already have, then the experiences will continue to pay dividends—and for that, I am grateful.
Cait is a full-time writer and editor in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She writes about simplifying finances and living a more intentional life on her blog, Cait Flanders.com. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Nessa Lomiva says
This is an idea that fills me with dread, but I am acutely aware that this is something I need to do in my life – ban buying things I don’t need. This post is exactly what I needed.
Laila M says
Not a half hour ago I was struggling with finding something inspirational to turn to for confirmation that having a budget and getting out of debt on that budget is not instant. It takes time, discipline, patience, choice. I found this blog post in my FB feed at the time in which I needed it. I just want to say thank you – that I am going to continue to be kind to myself. I have a budget and a plan. Now I need to continue to stick with it – even through the months that I “struggle”. I use the term loose because I have all my basic needs met – I just simply cannot do whatever it is I want to do. This is where the word choice comes to play. I also have to remind myself that if I falter I have not failed. I am sticking with my plan – I just got off the rails a bit. When I put myself back on track I continue on the path to a debt free life – or debt less free life.
Your words inspire and confirm in me that I can do this.
Alexander Meneikis says
I am just now reading the Lynne Twist book for the second time. I passed that quote yesterday at lunch.
I went through a similar experience like you, only it took me 7 years to pay off debt.
My shopping bans were rather involuntary; in 2013 it was deciding between a new pair of socks or food for the day… Paid off my last installment in July 2015.
I never collected too many things; in fact, in 2002-2004 I made some money as a decluttering coach, and I was a good example in that respect.
My debt came about through a general carelessness and lack of appreciation for pretty much everything, plus a need for money as a protective shield.
I felt a need for “rewarding” myself for doing a job I hated every day. Maybe change the job then? Oh… Since I have, I am spending a great deal less.
Terry P says
Very inspiring story – good for you! I am a member of the “over 50” club, so am pretty careful with my spending – but the trend I am seeing now are so many young families that buy, buy, buy…then the next step is that they need a bigger house, because they complain they have no room. (shakes head) They should all be reading your blog!
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Thanks for your marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and may come back later in life. I want to encourage continue your great writing, have a nice evening!
I can relate to a lot of this but especially the books. I’ve never gone into debt to buy stuff but it is amazing how much stuff just accumulates over the years. I have so many books that I thought would be interesting sitting on a shelf (as well as my e-reader folder) because I thought I would read them some day. Thinking of wondering down to the local library and getting a card. Books won’t cost my anything and if I discover I don’t really want to read it I can take it back.
The minimalist thing is interesting. Kind of reminds me of back in school learning how Native Canadians once lived. They lived within their means and family was highly valued. They were able to survive without any type of currency like we have today.
Cait, thanks so much for this thoughtful piece. I just discovered your blog and have been binge reading all your posts! Like you, I’ve never been that into clothes shopping, so I don’t appear to be a big spender, but I definitely have money leaks in my life that I’m not happy about — including books and take-out coffee! You’ve inspired me to try a shopping ban of my own to help build awareness about my own habits and triggers. I’ve been exploring minimalism for the last few months (gotten rid of tons of stuff!) and it’s so helpful to discover voices like yours (and Joshua’s) to provide personal perspectives on this journey. I really admire you for having the courage to share your story. You are helping many people, including me!
Cait Flanders says
Sounds like we have a few similarities, at least with our spending habits, Devan! And you’re starting a shopping ban for the exact right reasons: to identify your habits and triggers. I think doing one for even 30-60 days will be extremely eye-opening. The first 30 days alone were huge for me (at least re: my book-buying habit). Best of luck and please email me anytime to chat about your ban. :)