When December began, so did the purging. All the toys, games, papers, and junk that traditionally lay on my children’s floors had to be addressed. There was no way Santa was bringing more stuff when they couldn’t even keep up with what they had.
So, we began cleaning out everything. Every drawer, box, bin, and shelf. Each day we tackled one area, and by the end (of what seemed like an eternity), at least one kid had a really clean room.
I think this is a struggle that a lot of us can relate to.
We’re taught from an early age that, in order to be ‘happy’, we need more stuff. We give our kids ‘things’ as a reward for doing chores, making good grades and just because we want to. As a result, we continue to acquire belongings — many of little value — in search of some arbitrary level of contentment that we’ll never reach.
It’s a vicious cycle that can only be broken by awareness and a drastic change in behavior.
The thing is, unless you’ve tapped into the minimalist movement, you may not even realize that you have more than you really need. On top of that, having a bunch of stuff means more maintenance, more dusting, more time spent moving things around, and on and on.
As my kids learned after our purging exercise, having fewer things is freeing — not restrictive. But in practice, it’s a challenge to get rid of the stuff that you have. It’s somehow a lot easier to justify acquiring more stuff, even when we have a boatload of practically unused things taking up space around the house.
So what’s a person to do?
For starters, think about the time and effort that comes with having things that you don’t necessarily need.
Let’s take something small: a nice set of china, for example.
Sure, it’s beautiful but having a china set means having to consider where to store it — in boxes where it can’t be seen or a big china cabinet. When it comes to cleaning, you can’t just throw them in the dishwasher with the rest of the dishes. You have to hand wash, dry, and then gently put them away in the aforementioned box or cabinet.
On top of that, if you have kids how often are you really going to use fine china — maybe once or twice a year for special occasions? When it’s not being used, it’s clutter.
I think you get the point.
But what about something big like a vacation home? On the surface, it’s a nice way to get away and spend time with the family without having to plan where to go each time. And you can justify the expense because it’s an asset that’s building value. But an extra home can cause you to exhaust time, effort, and resources.
Think about it this way: owning a vacation home means another set of bills and taxes to pay. And what do you do with it when it’s not in use? If you’re planning to rent it out, you’ll need to buy furniture and pay to have it cleaned regularly. Not to mention the inherent headaches that come with rental property ownership like a pipe burst or refrigerator malfunction. You’re the one on the hook for repairs.
All considered, saying no to a vacation home and traveling where you want with no location restrictions might be a better use of your funds and more aligned with your long-term goals.
And even if fine china is not your thing and a vacation home is not in the cards, there’s a key takeaway that I’d like you to leave with.
That’s simply: Less is More.
Since we’re still at the beginning of a new year, this is the perfect time to embrace the ‘Less is More’ philosophy and consider additional areas of your life where you can downsize your things. Even your financial life can be downsized. Having two checking accounts instead of four, combining old 401(k) plans and IRAs, focusing on a budget. All of these moves can help you get rid of some financial clutter.
Remember, you can live a great life without a bunch of stuff. Your possessions should never be your source of fulfillment, instead, they should only serve to support it. As you’re taking inventory of your possessions, be mindful of those things that clutter your life and don’t support that fulfillment.
They are unnecessary and little-by-little will chip away at your opportunity to achieve financial freedom — and ultimately, your happiness.
So, start now!
Every step that you take towards understanding why you spend money and how you can spend more effectively is a step in the right direction. Start by making a conscious effort to get rid of your seldom used items and work toward being more mindful when acquiring new things.
I know you can do it, and if you need a little help getting started (as well as some encouragement along the way) I’d love to chat on how the team here at Pathfinder Planning can help.
Pamela J. Horack, CFP® of Pathfinder Planning LLC provides personal financial planning advice and asset management for a simple fee to young adults and working families in North and South Carolina through group classes, one-on-one planning, and ongoing advice.
Your Financial Mom blog posts are not meant to be legal, accounting or other professional service advice. Posts represent the opinion of the author only. Pathfinder Planning LLC is not responsible for the accuracy or validity of content contained in third-party comments.