What can you stop doing, stop needing, and stop buying? As I progress in my journey of lifelong frugality, I’ve come to realize that one of the things I value most about this lifestyle is the simplicity it delivers.
I’ve learned that in many instances, I’m able to simultaneously save money and simplify my life. This gives me more time, less stress, and a more genuine appreciation for the small wonders of my daily routine. Oh and hey! I save tons of money in the process.
Need to Simplify? Simply Buy More Stuff!
Our consumer culture also touts a way to achieve simplicity: buy more convenience products and/or services! Spending money will solve all your troubles! And to a certain extent, that’s actually true. I won’t deny that there are cases where this is born out. For example, car ownership. Owning cars makes my life easier, I can cart my groceries with ease, we can travel around the state, and since there’s no public transit in my small rural town, life without a car here would be rough–and would entail never leaving our property. Thus, this is an instance where spending money and owning more does in fact improve our lives.
But there are countless other examples where buying more only serves to further complicate life. Corporations and advertisements do not encourage doing without… ever. To do without is to deprive oneself and to submit oneself to unnecessary hardships. But I challenge you to question that common assumption.
Will your life really be easier if you take on a car loan? Or will you just have more debt to pay down and more liabilities. Will your life really be easier if you own 15 sets of sheets? Or will you just have to wash, fold, and find a place to store all of those linens. Will your life really be more interesting if it’s devoid of stable, simple routines to follow? Or will every day just feel like a chaotic, hectic sprint.
Simplicity is not bad. It’s also not boring. It’s also decidedly not deprivation. It’s actually a means of liberation. Of removing societal “shoulds” from our to-do lists and instead freeing us to pursue the things we want to–not the things we feel we have to.
Don’t Be Owned By Your Stuff
The more we own, the more we have to take care of. This holds true for our possessions as well as the size of our home. In the early days of our marriage, when Mr. FW and I lived in a small basement apartment, all I could think about was how great it would be when we could finally upgrade to a two-bedroom, larger apartment above ground (with actual natural light!).
I took for granted the joys of owning a tiny home. It took us only a few hours to clean the entire place–one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living room. We didn’t own much, because not much would fit. And yet, all of our needs were met. It wasn’t until later–after we’d moved to a much larger home–that I reflected on the relative ease of living in limited square footage. Although my life is radically different now–namely, that we have a child and a dog and I have no desire to live in a tiny apartment at present–there was a level of ease involved in the simplicity of small. I only wish I’d been able to appreciate it at the time.
And then there’s stuff. Our culture is designed around the idea that we should continually own more. There’s even an entire industry devoted to storing, organizing, and maintaining our material possessions. Owning stuff is exhausting, time-consuming, and expensive–and yet–it’s touted as an end in itself. But buying things doesn’t constitute a hobby and having a lot of material possessions doesn’t make you successful or happy. It just means you have a lot of stuff!
Ponder this: In our culture, people buy material goods they don’t need in order to fill houses that are too big and then feel pressure to move to ever-larger houses in order to continue the cycle. This carousel of consumerism, as I’m wont to label it, goads us into creating new “needs,” which is the essence of lifestyle inflation. Today’s “nice to haves” become tomorrow’s “needs.” And then we must buy more and more to fill the endless ratcheting up in our standard of living to which we’ve subjected ourselves. Question the notion that owning more equals a better life.
Accept The Stage Of Life You’re In
This is something I’ve come to fervently embrace as a parent. Militating against your current stage of life is exhausting and expensive. Trying to live up to an ideal–or embody something that’s not possible for you right now–is defeating and draining. Since Mr. FW and I are still relatively new parents–Babywoods is only 14 months old–fully embracing this change in our circumstances has made our lives vastly easier.
For example: rather than chase after Babywoods all day long in an effort to keep her from breaking things or endangering herself in our home, we simply baby-proofed the main rooms of our house where we spend our daylight hours. Babywoods can access her toys and books by herself, cruise around the furniture, and play independently with us nearby. I removed all of our tippy little decorative tables, packed away breakables she could reach, secured existing furniture to the wall, stuck outlet covers in every outlet, and gated off the kitchen, woodstove, bathroom, and front hall. The result is that, while these main rooms are sparse on the furniture and a bit heavy on the toys, our lives are less stressful.
Our home doesn’t look anything like it did pre-child and we’re fine with that. By embracing that this is our current stage of life, we’ve simplified our days and given ourselves back hours of time. Since Babywoods is wholly safe (and happy) in her play environment, we can keep an eye on her while we do the laundry, clean the kitchen, cook, and write. I got this idea from the book Caring For Infants With Respect, which advocates for providing children with a safe space to explore on their own. Babywoods has the benefit of learning from independent play and Mr. FW and I have the immense benefit of being able to work in the same room while she trundles around. When she needs a parent for a hug or to read a book? We’re right here. We’ve modified and simplified our lives in acknowledgment of this phase.
Another aspect of embracing parenthood is that we don’t try to live the lives we had pre-child. We’ve adapted to Babywoods’ schedule, which is liberating for us all. Rather than trying to keep Babywoods up at night to go to a restaurant, for example, we put her to bed when she’s tired (which is usually circa 6:30pm) and enjoy our quiet adult-only evenings at home.
We are perfectly content with this schedule because it makes our lives easier; plus, we know it’s not forever. It’s also less expensive to not militate against a phase of life. By simplifying things and reducing our stress levels, we simultaneously decrease our need for consumer opiates. In other words, you don’t need to buy things to make yourself feel better when you’ve constructed your life such that you already feel good.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of trying to rush through life in a quest for the next step. When I was single, I just wanted to be married. When I wasn’t pregnant, I just wanted to have kids. When I lived in the city, I just wanted to move to the country. And so, this acceptance isn’t just for parents of small children–it’s for whatever phase of life you find yourself in right now. Finding peace in the present moment is an ongoing effort for me and it’s one of the things I struggle with most (closely followed by my obsession with cleanliness and being a neat-freak… to be tackled in another post, another time).
When I’m able to accept and acknowledge my life exactly as it is, I’m happiest. This doesn’t mean that I’m not alert for opportunities for self-improvement, or planning for the next stage of life, it merely means that I’m actually living my life, rather than wishing time away. Every time I start to wish Babywoods was older, so that we could ____ (fill in the blank), I stop myself and savor the age she’s at.
As a recovering Type A perfectionist, this does not come to me easily. Mr. FW has accused me of wanting to plan out the rest of my entire life via spreadsheets. And in my darkest times, that’s how I feel. I want constant productivity and constant planning. But when I take actual deep breaths, do some yoga, and reflect on the gratitude I have for my life, I realize that I want to live the stage of life I’m in. Because soon enough, it will be over and I don’t want to regret how I spent my time.
Carefully Decide How To Spend Your Time And Energy
I don’t know about you, but I only have so much mental capacity every day and there are only so many decisions I can make. More importantly, I prefer to funnel my chief creativity into meaningful work (principally my writing) and not into rote tasks (such as what I’m going to wear for the day).
In response to this shared desire, Mr. FW and I created efficiencies and streamlined our routines so that all of our basic, daily tasks are on autopilot: cooking, cleaning, laundry, diaper changes, etc. I don’t want to waste precious mental energy (not to mention time!) searching for my car keys. I’m happy to place them on the key rack every time I enter the house. I don’t want to flail around searching for socks in the morning–I’m happy to fold all the laundry and put it away each week. I enjoy spontaneity, but not in where my car keys are.
The rationale for our approach is several-fold: it’s easier, it saves us money, and it eliminates many a would-be domestic argument. Also, for what it’s worth, we’ve found that both babies and dogs thrive on a predictable, stable routine. It seems to make for a happier, less stressed family all around.
Here are a few examples:
- We typically do the same chores on the same days each week. Laundry is always on Mondays, the grocery store and a library play group on Wednesdays, we host friends for a play date every Friday, and so on. Thanks to this routine, we can plan ahead for what clothes we’ll wear, what groceries we’ll need, and more. This regulation takes the effort out of our planning.
- We go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This ensures we get plenty of sleep and allows Babywoods to go to bed when she’s tired and to wake up naturally (which coincidentally, is pretty much the same time every day). There’s no hectic racing around in the evenings or the mornings because we follow the same schedule whether it’s a Saturday or a Tuesday.
- We have a clear division of labor. Mr. FW always cooks, I always clean, and so on right down to who takes Babywoods up for naps.
- We follow essentially the same routine every day. For example in the mornings, Mr. FW gets Babywoods out of her crib, then he makes breakfast, takes out Frugal Hound, and builds a fire in the wood stove while I take a shower and Babywoods plays. We don’t have to discuss who will do what or who should get the baby or who ought to cook–it’s pre-determined and agreed upon.
- We pick-up the house every day. We don’t own a ton, so this isn’t too challenging, but we re-set the house each evening so that we wake up to an organized environment every morning. We never fumble around looking for snowsuits or sippy cups because they’re all put back in the same place each day.
Please do not think for a moment that we are perfect–quite the contrary, in fact. The only reason we’ve come around to this schedule and chore division is that we had several rocky years early on in our marriage of constantly arguing over who would do what. We’re talking daily fights over sweeping and trash take-out. Recognizing that we both thrive on pre-ordained expectations, we finally came around to this type of regimentation.
We’ve also developed a habit of expressing gratitude to each other for performing these tasks. I thank Mr. FW every morning for the chores he’s done, and he always thanks me for his clean clothes. We try to acknowledge one another’s contributions to running our little family, which means a lot to me.
This routine-oriented, time-saving approach also saves us money, primarily because it’s an extension of the planning ahead mentality I discussed last week. For example, since I go to the grocery store on the same day every week, we’re never going to run out of food and suddenly need to order take-out. Since we all eat the same thing for breakfast every day, Mr. FW doesn’t have to think about the cost per serving of what he’s making–he already knows it’s optimized for frugality. Once you hit that nexus of simple and frugal, your life is easier and you’re spending less money.
Just Don’t Do It (aka Ingrain Simplicity Into Your Life)
There’s also a class of stuff that I’ve simply stopped doing for reasons of both cost and simplicity. Wearing makeup is a prime example. A few years ago, after we’d embraced extreme frugality, I was in a panic in my bathroom. I was running out of make-up! How was I going to re-stock without spending money??? I’d always bought cheap drugstore brands, but it was still money I didn’t want to spend. I spent a few weeks researching coupons, trying to figure out how to cobble together a cheap makeup bag.
And then, suddenly, I realized the answer was far more straightforward that I’d let myself believe. I could stop wearing makeup on a daily basis. This would simplify my life in so many ways. Chiefly, I wouldn’t have to spend money on makeup, but I’d also save time in my morning routine of putting makeup on, and my evening routine of taking makeup off. I also wouldn’t have to carry makeup around with me to touch up my face during the day. Most importantly of all, I could embrace how I look naturally and finally accept that there’s nothing wrong with my appearance and no need to spend money on covering myself up. It’s a small example, but it shifted my mindset. Suddenly I realized that all the effort I was putting into saving money in various different areas could be better utilized by simply not doing these things.
Another example: I used to meticulously sort our laundry, turn everything inside out, and carefully treat every single possible stain or odor with that spray-on Shout laundry stuff. This meant that doing the laundry took me forever since I also hang most of our clothes up to air dry. One day, seeing me toil, Mr. FW asked me what would happen if I just sort of, you know, threw everything into the washer together?
I was initially horrified and shot daggers at him–after all, I’d spent years doing laundry in this micromanaging, time-consuming manner. Had I really been wrong all these years? Yes, yes I had. Finally (as in two weeks ago) I stopped the madness. I stopped sorting, I stopped turning everything inside out, and I only treat real-and-true major stains. And you know what? Our clothes are 100% fine. I honestly can’t tell a bit of difference. Plus, no more spending on tons of stain spray!
Next to how we spend our money, how we spend our time is the clearest indication of our priorities and is ultimately what our life will comprise. So I’ve stopped micromanaging my laundry, which means we might all have a few more stains on our clothes, but I have more time to read books to my daughter, write words for people to read, and cuddle with my husband (in our possibly stained sweatpants, because we are just so cool like that).
Ingraining frugal simplicity into our lives takes many forms, but I can’t think of a single example that doesn’t decrease our stress, our outlay of time, and our expenses. Another behavior–or habit–that we adjusted to align with frugality and simplicity are our haircuts. Mr. FW used to have longer hair and I used to have shorter hair. However, his longer hair was more complicated to cut as was my shorter hair.
And so, he switched to a buzz cut, which I think looks better anyway and which is tremendously simple for me to cut. I switched to longer hair, which is tremendously easier for him to cut. We still look great (in my opinion), but we spend nothing on our haircuts (aside from the initial $15 for our Wahl Trimmer and Scissor set six years ago) and a fraction of the time it would take to go to a salon.
If you’re struggling to frugalize or simplify something in your life, consider if you can alter or change that behavior in order to reap long-term time and money savings. Another example? Taking dress shirts to the dry cleaners every week. Terribly expensive and time consuming. The frugal solution? Buy wrinkle-free dress shirts (we founds great ones at Costco), wash them yourself, and hang them to dry.
When In Doubt, Simple It Out
What in your life is adding unneeded clutter, noise, time, and expense? When are you using your energy in ways that aren’t fulfilling to you? What can you simply stop doing and stop needing? This is an ongoing quest for me as I try to create frugal efficiencies in everything I do. Broader society and corporations will tell you that the only way to make your life easier is to buy more stuff and pay for more services. But I think we all know that’s not usually the case.
Frugality mutes the noise of unnecessary desire and consumption and instead focuses us on our priorities.
There exist choices that make life both easier and cheaper. Look for these compounding wins in your everyday routines. Identify where you can streamline and eliminate. Don’t see it as doing without or depriving yourself, rather, view it as liberating and freeing yourself from needless tasks, unnecessary expenses, and unneeded stress.
What have you stopped doing or stopped needing? How has this changed your life?