Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.
One of the most interesting realizations I’ve ever made about my money-spending habits is that, when I was spending money hand over fist on things I really didn’t need, I was mostly seeking fulfillment.
I had this sense that there was something missing in my life in a really deep way, but I didn’t really know how to fill that hole. What I found is that when I spent money freely, I could often cover up that sense of emptiness for a short while, but it always came back. As my financial position got worse and worse, that sense of emptiness got bigger, not smaller.
Eventually, I started to ask myself the real question that mattered. What fulfills me? For me, it’s about my family. It’s about reading and learning new things. It’s about playing board and card games with others, particularly my friends. It’s about cooking a great meal. It’s about getting a great night of sleep.
These things fulfill me. They seem simple and, to many, boring. Day in and day out, though, these are the things that leave me feeling good about my life.
This brings me around to this wonderful book, Choosing Simplicity by Linda Breen Pierce. The crux of the book is that many of the complexities and challenges we have in our life are ones we put there by our own choice – and they make us miserable. In the chase to have everything, we often lose the capacity to enjoy it. You’re far better off having something (and the ability, time, and energy to value and enjoy it) than trying to have everything.
Simplicity simply means finding room in your life for the things you actually value instead of cubby-holing them into the bits of space you can free up after all of the other activities. For example, if you don’t really value having a big house, have a tiny one. That way, you spend a lot less time on home upkeep and you can spend a lot more time on activities you actually value.
My Story: True Confessions of a Yuppie Lawyer
Pierce tells her story here, which has a lot of similarities to my own. She spent a lot of her life essentially trying to have everything: the impressive career, the material trappings, the big residence, and so on. In the end, though, the chase of all of these things left her empty and wondering what she really wanted in her life. After reflection, she realized she didn’t really want very much of it.
Turning Points: What Motivates Us to Start the Journey?
At some point, there’s a realization that we’re leaving behind the things we actually value in order to take on what we think we should value. There are a lot of reasons for this, of course, but the turning point for many is that simple realization. Why are you living your life?
A Parent’s Choice: Saving Life with Our Children
Earlier today, I spent several hours at the park with my children. My oldest child and I taught my youngest child the joy of going down a slide on your stomach. My daughter and I went on a long hike searching for a bathroom and singing the same silly song over and over again. When we left, I asked them if they had fun and they all yelled, “YES!” It didn’t cost us a thing. It gave us all a ton of fresh air and exercise. The children fell asleep in the car on the way home. There is no activity I can think of that I would rather have filled my day with. Yes, we could have done lots of structured activities or we could have parked them in front of a movie while we did dishes and laundry, but does any of that really matter in comparison?
Urban or Rural Simplicity: Choosing a Nurturing Milieu
You don’t have to live in the country to enjoy simplicity, nor do you have to live in a city to enjoy it. The change comes from you, not from your surroundings. The choice should come down to the handful of things you really value, and that’s a personal thing. If you enjoy big gardens and walks in the woods, live in the country. If you love free cultural events and easy access to people with very similar interests, live in the city. You can live simply either way.
Work We Can Live With: A Balancing Act
If you live simply, you no longer have a pressing financial need to work in an all-demanding job. You can take a lower-paying position, one that fulfills you more and doesn’t completely drain you of all of your time and energy. It will leave you with the time and energy you need to do the things that really matter in your life.
On the Road to Simplicity: Travelers in Transition
For most of us, this type of change isn’t a light switch. We can’t wake up tomorrow and quit our jobs to start being a small scale farmer in Virginia because that’s what we’re passionate about. There’s a transition period, where you learn to live in a more simple fashion and reshape your financial and time management to match the new life you have.
Long Timers: People Who Have Always Lived Simply
For others, this entire thing comes naturally. Often, it’s because of the lessons they learned in childhood, either from those who truly practiced it or from their own experiences regarding the dangers of trying to have it all and not really having anything.
Starting Out Simply: Generation X Takes a U-Turn
In earlier generations, it was easy to leave school, walk into a high paying job, immediately buy a house, and have the trappings of that standard “American dream” life. Today, it’s not so easy. Housing prices are out of proportion with the income of new graduates, as are the student loans they’re saddled with. Newer graduates are pushed into a life of simplicity to some degree, though it’s often not by choice.
Having Enough: Living Simply with Financial Freedom
Pierce seems to largely set up complete financial freedom as a goal here. Financial freedom here refers to simply having enough money in savings (or in other sources) to provide adequate income to cover living expenses without working. This is one of my major long-term financial goals, for most of the reasons that Pierce describes. The big one? It makes your life a lot more simple.
Living Well on Very Little: Amazing Stories of Courageous People
You don’t even need that much regular income to live a great life. The key is being able to separate the things you actually value from the things you’re doing because others value it or because you’ve been conditioned to think you value it. Once you strip away those layers, you can get through life with surprisingly little.
Community: Are We Our Brother’s Keepers?
A community is a group of individuals that support each other in good times and in bad. When you’re a part of a community, there’s security and joy because you know you’re taking care of each other and, when you need it, you’re taken care of, too. Being a part of a community has great benefits, but it also involves some responsibility. Do we want to step up to the plate? (I do.)
Environmental Champions: A Passionate Love for the Earth
Another aspect of living simply is that it benefits the environment, not because some sort of “green” initiative, but simply because by living in a simpler fashion, we produce less waste and have less impact on the environment. For example, if one is passionate about gardening and one chooses to live a simpler life that enables more time for gardening, that person is producing more of their own food. It’s no longer made in an industrial fashion and shipped for long distances. That’s a positive impact without a “green” initiative.
Is Choosing Simplicity Worth Reading?
If you’ve ever struggled with finding meaning in your life or wondered why it is that you never seem to have time and energy and money for the things you care about, you’ll find a ton of value in Choosing Simplicity.
It makes an eloquent case for and provides a nice guide for transitioning to a less complicated lifestyle, one with fewer time and money and energy demands that leaves you with the resources needed to do what you find fulfilling. I thoroughly enjoyed it.