The Less You Need, the More You Have

The biggest mistake I’ve made in my adult life was convincing myself that I needed a lot of things.

Sure, some of you might laugh at the notion that I ever convinced myself that I needed a mountain of video games or a big collection of trading cards or a pile of DVDs.

Those things were just the tip of the iceberg.

I convinced myself I needed the latest and greatest cell phone.

I convinced myself I needed to eat out regularly.

I convinced myself I needed new shoes all the time.

I convinced myself I needed nice clothes.

I convinced myself I needed anything beyond a minimal roof over my head, minimal clothes on my back, water, and food.

Really, in the end, that’s all I need. Water, basic food, basic clothing, and a roof to keep the rain and cold away for myself and my family. Everything else beyond that is want.

When I finally realized that the things I actually needed were incredibly minimal, I began to see how amazingly abundant my life was.

I had friends. I had a wife that loved me. I had reasonably good health. I had wonderful children. I had a good sense of humor. I had a solid work ethic. I had the ability to entertain myself. On top of that, I had a staggering abundance of material things, from decent clothes on my back to a decent used car in the driveway.

With all of this wealth in my life, why do I need more? Why do I want more?

A few months ago, I wrote about the scarcity and abundance mentalities on The Simple Dollar. In that article, I defined what they were…

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flow out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

… but, for the most part, I stuck to the pattern of defining the mentalities through what other people have:

To me, the biggest difference between the scarcity mentality and the abundance mentality is that the scarcity mentality cares what other people have, while the abundance mentality doesn’t.

After some reflection, I think I would go even further than the above statement. Simply put, the abundance mentality finds value in what one already has, while ths scarcity mentality is always seeking more.

(That’s not to say the abundance mentality doesn’t seek out success – it certainly does. The success it seeks, though, is on its own terms. It’s about achievement for the sake of achievement, not achievement for the sake of reward.)

The more I look at my own life, the more I realize that I don’t need very much at all. Then, when I look at all of the things I do have, I’m stunned by all that I have in my life and I don’t really feel a need to have any more. In fact, if anything, I feel like having more would be almost overwhelming.

Some people see that statement as some sort of deprivation. There is always more out there. Why not acquire it?

My feeling is that instead of just acquiring more, lately, I’m driven to maximize all of the relationships, possessions, and other things my life already has going for it. People. Things. Places. Memories. Ideas. Experiences.

That’s a full life, and it’s one that over and over again ensures that I keep my wallet firmly in my pocket while also enjoying the multitude of great things I already have.

Step back and look at your life. Remove just what you need from that picture – water, basic food, a few changes of basic clothing, minimal shelter. Look at all that’s left – all of the possessions, relationships, experiences, thoughts, and other things. That’s an abundance, one that can provide you with more than you can ever explore and enjoy.

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  1. Money Beagle says:

    Well said. At the end of ones life, the regrets that people express often focus around wishing that they had better and more interactions with people close to them. Nobody ever says, as they’re looking back on their life for the final time, that they wish they had been able to buy more DVDs or a bigger TV. When you shed everything that’s unimportant, there are few things left that warrant focusing on and material things are simply not there when it’s all said and done.

  2. Todd says:

    Happiness consists of three things only: food, warmth, sleep. I can prove this is an irrefutable truth of the human condition simply by taking those three things away from someone long enough and then giving them back.

  3. David says:

    At what point does food goes from necessity to wants? Obviously a 20 buck steak is want and just plain bread is food. But what about say getting organic milk vs regular milk? Buying seafood, when there are cheaper poultry choices? Where is the line drawn?

  4. krantcents says:

    I agree! Although I have felt this way for a while, a near tragedy made it crystal clear. We lived in a fire area where we were told to be ready to evacuate. At that moment you realize what is really important! Life, pictures, some clothes and a few special things and it is amazing how little room it takes.

  5. Jonathan says:

    I’ve always disagreed somewhat with the scarcity/abundance mentality ideas. By the initial definition given above I have a scarcity mentality. I know there is only so much “stuff” out there, whether that be resources, money, prestige, etc. I fit Trent’s later definition of the abundance mentality, however, because I am happy with what I have. For this reason the scarcity of stuff doesn’t matter to me, since I am not seeking an accumulation of those things.

    I do like Trent’s new definition of the abundance mentality more than most I’ve seen. It seems that many people try to use the abundance mentality as an excuse for trying to gain more wealth, while claiming that it isn’t preventing others from also gaining wealth.

  6. Eric says:

    Yep. I can never find the original quote, but paraphrased is…

    “There are two ways to make someone wealthy; increase their income or decrease their wants”

    For me taking control and securing those things that really matter have gone a long way to curbing my old impulsive nature. The house, my family, my friends, and recently my health. I’m on track to pay off the house, I have a wonderful family, I have a few close friends, and I’ve lost 1/3 of my bodyweight and feel great.

    There are still lots of things that I want, but then I balance them against what I and my family need and pass on most of it. Extending what we have, adapting, and abandoning the popular trends has been amazing for us.

  7. AniVee says:

    #6 Eric is correct that health must also be in there somewhere on the NEEDS list – for those of us who are, alas, no longer young whipper-snappers like Trent, certain medicines for chronic conditions really are needs, not wants … but I agree with everything else said.

  8. Bruce says:

    Great article. One of the best i have come across on the finance topic. I prefer to live more simply with very little wants. I focus only on needs. Now when i was young, I was a bit backwards with my thinking. In my late 30’s and now in my early 40’s I have changed that. In the past technology was my want, and it is quite different today as I have been getting rid of it, including my cell phone.

  9. *pol says:

    I like this post.
    I never had a name for it… scarcity/abundance mentality. I always wondered in my line of work why some people were so COMPETITIVE to the point of wanting to eliminate the competition! I always saw it as: if I fit for my client then I am the right choice, if the other guy is a better fit, then that’s good too because there is lots to go around.
    I feel that way about most things, so I am certainly the abundance mentality type.
    I’m also sure that there is NO RUSH to make decisions… adundance in time mentality? It’s a great mindset for car or gadget shopping, but bad for some other life applications!
    Both mindsets have their place, but I’m quite happy watching, waiting and savouring what beautiful life is all around.

  10. Pattie, RN says:

    I find that if I look to the media to set the bar for contentment, it is easy to feel deprived. I am not a shoes/handbags/autos sort of girl, but I do LOVE the idea of granite and stainless steel. whirlpool tubs and rain-shower heads…and balconies, lots and lots of balconies!

    But…when I see the pictures that our church group took at our “twin-sister” parish in Haiti, the perspective changes 180 degrees. The wealthy folks in the village have a clean water pump RIGHT OUTSIDE THE KITCHEN DOOR, a sturey roof, and enough room in the house to leave sleeping cots down all day and not have to roll them up to walk around the house. (Large houses are about 600 sf for families of 6-7.)

    When I am living a very average middle class life in the USA, I am living better than 80% of humans on earth by every measurable standard. I work really hard to remember that, and look not to half-mil houses with envy but rather to Haitian shacks and Appalchian trailers (within 10 miles of my 1950’s tract home) with GRATITUDE.

  11. Paula says:

    Gratitude. What a beautiful word.

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