Several years ago, we decided to embrace minimalist living.
At first, the reasons were simple: we were spending too much time caring for possessions and we were wasting too much money on stuff we didn’t need. These possessions were not bringing joy or lasting happiness. Even worse, they were keeping us from the very things that did.
But what we didn’t realize at the time was that this decision would drastically alter our marriage.
Possessions had become the Great Distraction in our lives. And the simplest way to recenter ourselves on the things that mattered most was to remove the excess from our home and lives.
We embarked upon a journey to sell, donate, recycle, and remove as many of our nonessential possessions as possible. It was one of the most life-giving decisions we have ever made—the benefits have been practical and soul-enriching. And we would recommend it to anyone.
Owning fewer possessions means less cleaning, less organizing, less repairing, and less financial burden. It brings freedom, clarity, and opportunity. Intentionally owning less frees time, energy, and space—resources that could be spent pursuing our greatest passions.
Our lives and marriages require space to be lived and experienced to the fullest. But in a world of ever-increasing speed, time for reflection and investment in the things that matter becomes more and more difficult to discover.
Our world is built on consumerist pursuits—and rejecting those tendencies requires great intentionality from each of us.
Hans Hofmann, the legendary painter once said it like this, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Often times, our marriages follow the same unfortunate trajectory. At first, when we have nothing but each other, we focus intently on the important essential building blocks of a happy marriage. But as our relationship continues forward, less important things begin to accumulate and distract us from the very keys to a successful marriage.
As a result, we start to worry more about the appraisal value of our home than the value of our relationship. We check the health of our retirement account far more often than the health of our marriage. We spend more time taking care of the car in our garage than the other person in our bedroom. And the maintenance of our physical possessions dominates our evenings and weekends, when the maintenance of our relationship should be taking precedent.
Nonessential possessions begin to accumulate and demand our money, energy, and precious time. As a result, we have little left over for the very elements that make our marriages work.
Those who experience a fulfilled marriage from beginning to end intentionally limit selfish distractions and accumulation. They realize a nice home, fast car, or bloated retirement account may appear nice to have, but in the end, do not make a successful marriage. And if not kept in proper perspective, they actually begin to distract us from it.
To limit the burden of excess possessions in your family, consider these seven intentional, countercultural decisions:
1. Choose a home based on need, not opportunity. Sit down and determine what specific requirements your home will need to meet: size, location, length of stay, sometimes occupation. When you begin house-hunting, focus on them solely. Do not choose a home based on a pre-approved loan amount or even income. Choose based on personal need instead.
2. Never carry a car payment. Almost every person I know who is falling behind in their finances carries a car loan and payment. Don’t do it—ever. Buy the most reliable car you can afford with your cash savings and immediately begin setting aside money for your next one. And even if you can afford a luxury car, remember you can do more good by simply buying a reliable one.
3. Purchase technology based on the problem it solves. Technology advances at a dizzying pace. Keeping up can become an all-consuming, savings-draining pursuit. To counter its allure, remember the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier by solving problems. Before purchasing any new technology billed as the latest and greatest, ask yourself this question: “What existing problem does it solve?” If a new technology is not solving an existing problem, it is only adding to them.
4. Live on one income—even if you earn two. One of the most valuable pieces of financial advice we ever received came early in our marriage when both my wife and I were working. Our pastor encouraged us to live entirely on my income and save every penny my wife earned. We did just that. Her earnings became our first down payment on a home. But more importantly, it prevented lifestyle creep from setting in. And when our first child was born, becoming a one-income family was an easy transition.
5. Put the spender in charge of family finances. While this may or may not suit your family’s unique dynamics, it has been entirely helpful for ours. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Banking and Finance. My first job out of college was Accounting. I understand budgets, spreadsheets, assets, and liabilities. But my wife is a bigger spender than me. And one of the most helpful actions we took as a family was to put her entirely in charge of the family finances. Because our bank account levels were always small, she became far more careful with her purchases—and worked really hard to keep me in line too.
6. Use entertainment for rest, not escape. Entertainment moves our emotion, occupies our heart, and exercises our mind—or at least, it should. Choose to invest your entertainment dollars in places that will improve your life. There is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainment. It serves an important purpose. Rest is an essential characteristic of our lives. However, entertainment can quickly become a personal and financial burden if we use it as a means to routinely escape our own reality rather than deal with it in a healthy way.
7. Give away (at least) 10%. There are numerous religious traditions that teach the importance of giving away 10%. Personally, it is a financial philosophy we have put into practice during times of both little and plenty. The gifts benefit the receiver. But more than that, the gifts benefit the giver. It brings fulfillment and joy and meaning to our lives. But maybe the greatest benefit of generosity is the realization that we already have enough.
We should be careful to not add extra burden to our marriages by chasing and accumulating material possessions. Our money is only as valuable as what we choose to spend it on. And so are our lives.