Updated on 10.29.10

Choosing What to Have… and What Not to Have

Trent Hamm

Last night, my oldest son and my daughter and I played an hour-long game of tag. By the end of it, we were all worn out. Both kids had collapsed on my lap and we were sitting there, giggling and cooling off from all of the running around. My daughter then gave me a big hug and just laid her head on my shoulder, as she was getting tired. Before long, I had to carry her up to bed, with my son following along retelling some of the great things we had done today.

It was a great evening, an evening that I was able to have because of the choices I’ve made in my life over the past few years. There was no career-related stress running through my life. There was no money-related stress running through it, either. Our children don’t hear their mother and I arguing about money or getting stressed out over it. They know that when they want to play with their mother or their father, we’re pretty much always able to play with them – there’s no “Daddy is too tired tonight” or “Mommy has to work late so we can afford the cell phone bill.”

A few years ago, I sat down and simply asked myself what I wanted from my life. I threw out the lip service I gave to a lot of things that I wanted to tell myself were important, but really weren’t. I also threw out the frivolous things, the stuff that really didn’t matter.

What was left for me was having a low-stress life, having lots of time to spend with my children and my wife, and having an opportunity to write every day.

Those three things became the centerpiece of my life. Because of that, I drove my rusty truck until it was literally falling apart. Because of that, I do things like make my own laundry detergent and clip coupons. I gave up expensive hobbies (like golf) and stopped worrying about acquiring expensive things (like that BMW I thought I always wanted) and I focused instead on paying off debt and creating a career foundation so that I could do what I wanted with my time.

For the last several years, little else has really mattered to me beyond those three things: a low-stress life, a good relationship with my children, and the opportunity to write every day.

Together, they’ve created a life I’m very happy with. I don’t have some of the other things I might have once really wanted, like a nicer house. I had to leave a job that in many ways I cared for very much – but there were elements of it that caused me deep personal stress and it kept me from my dreams of writing.

What things do you want more than anything else in your life? Be honest – don’t pay lip service to the things you think you ought to care about. Ask yourself what you really want out of life, particularly at the end of the day when you’re reflecting on the hours you’ve spent.

(Keep in mind, of course, that you also do have at least a few responsibilities that you’re not going to be able to avoid, but if you study them carefully, those responsibilities are probably less than you think.)

When those answers start to bubble to the surface, ask yourself why you are spending time and energy on anything else in your life. In the end, everything else is really just a distraction from the main things you want in life. Those other things distract your time, your money, your energy, your available stress, your focus.

Throw them out. Take charge of your wallet and your schedule. Pare back to the core things that really matter and build them as strongly as you can.

You’ll never look back. I certainly never have, even though I would have never imagined my life as it is now even five short years ago.

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  1. G Pendergast says:

    this is one of your best columns yet. Having lived with extremem furagality and with liceince I now realize that balance and direction is nexessary for happiness.

  2. Michelle68 says:

    Thanks, Trent.Great post.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Great post! I’m looking to make a career change now after 19 years. I’m doing it for precisely the reasons you mentioned. Thanks for some encouragement!

  4. kristine says:

    I agree with all of this.

    But the dream for families is far less possible unless one spouse desires to work full time, and therefore provides the health benefits. Otherwise, only one gets to choose their dream, or there has to be one high-earner to pay the very high costs of health care or self-purchased insurance. Sad to say, many life choices hinge on health benefits these days- it’s a huge parental responsibility.

  5. Jennifer says:

    This is a good article, and one that I dream about for our family. But what about short term sacrifices for long term benefits? My husband is in a Doctorate program in music, in order to be a professor at a good collage, as well as to become a better musician. He has a year and a half left. My son and I never see him, because schooling and schooling related things take up 80 hours a week (we actually sat down and calculated it out….!!)Anyway, I guess my question is, how do you reconcile the “rough” patches in order to live your dream?

    I love your articles, and it is a great reminder of how well we are actually doing, as well as giving me more ideas to cut down costs. Incidentally, yesterdays article was amazing! I do 9 out of 10 of them (I am not a gamer) and I love every single one!! I too am very shy, but when I come out of my shell and talk to other people, things just come up. I watch their dogs, they give me a ton of fresh produce from their garden. Things like that.

    Thank you for such great articles!

  6. con says:

    #4 I totally agree with you. People can talk all they want about living the dream as far as working, but unless you have a spouse with benefits, it doesn’t amount to much (as far as I can see). That’s where Trent is lucky, and lucky that his wife loves her job.

  7. Gretchen says:

    Sometimes Mommy needs to work to pay the light bill and sometimes Daddy is tired because he’s been picking green beans all day.

  8. Kevin says:

    “It was a great evening, an evening that I was able to have because of the choices I’ve made in my life over the past few years.”

    So… you couldn’t have played tag with your kids if you were still working a conventional, 9 to 5 job?

    And Trent, it should be “older” son – you have two.

  9. marta says:

    Yeah, I have to agree that some choices are easier to make when you have a spouse with a stable job with decent benefits.

    You have said before that she could quit her job if she wanted to, and I believe that, but seriously… I have seen that with some of my freelancing friends: the ones with a working spouse had it way easier than the single ones, and that was reflected on their work — they could afford to slack off more often and so on.

    Nitpick: “Our children don’t hear their mother and I arguing”

    Is that right? Shouldn’t it be “their mother and me”?

  10. Interested Reader says:

    I understand that you’ve made changes you want in your life and are living it the way you want. I think that’s great.

    But, one of the feelings I keep getting from your posts like this is that you feel it’s impossible for someone to have a busy, stressful job and still make time for their family.

    And that’s not true. I know several people who do end up having to go to out of town meetings or work over time but they also take time off during the day to go to school events, or coach a sport their kids are involved in, and they play with their kids.

    I don’t know if you mean to do this, but often when you are writing about people who live a life different than yours you paint them in a negative light.

  11. Kevin says:

    @Marta: of course it should be “me” – me is the object of the verb “hear” in the sentence, so an objective pronoun should be used.

  12. marta says:

    Kevin, I know that. ;) Just wondering if Trent did.

  13. BirdDog says:

    Great post Trent!

  14. Alexandra says:

    It was an evening that most families who can have children can have. My parents were stressed over money and worked hard but they always made time for us. And I only see now, as an adult, just how stressful it was for them, because kids are pretty oblivious and because they did a good job hiding the stress from us.

    The REAL reason you’re able to have an evening like that is because you are incredibly fertile, as a couple.

    I can’t have an evening like that no matter the decisions I make, and in fact, for us, becoming parents will quite possibly involve most of our savings so we’ll be right back to square 1, financially.

  15. Susan says:

    Thank you Trent for your words of encouragement. I am very appreciative of blogger, like yourself, who create essentially free, high quality material for the general public to enjoy. Your words of wisdom over the past year or so have assisted me in improving both my quality of life and cash flow. Please continue your work.

  16. deRuiter says:

    It’s a great post, and pictures a happy life made possible by good financial decisions and a working wife with excellent benefits. Bravo for the folks who have good grammar and caught “their mother and I arguing….” Trent, a book of English grammar rules might not be a bad investment. A lot of people use “I” incorrectly thinking it sound elegant. The President of the United States doesn’t have a clue about the “I/me” thing so you hear him substituting “myself” because he doesn’t know.

  17. Todd says:

    “A lot of people use ‘I’ incorrectly thinking it sound elegant” ?? Give Trent a break. Errors happen, as you elegantly demonstrated in your own sentence.

    I like the way Trent captures the sound of someone speaking naturally to us. That takes some skill to do well. I strive for correctness, but my style always sounds too preachy to my ear, and it’s hard for me to sound conversational in print.

    Great post, Trent. Keep up the good work.

  18. Michelle says:

    There is a difference between a typo and the incorrect use of a pronoun. Especially for someone who is “living his dream of being a writer.”

  19. Victoria says:

    What do I want more than anything from life? I feel a little out of place here because I don’t want any of the things most readers seem to desire – I don’t want a house, I don’t want children, I don’t want a nice marriage ceremony, I don’t want to retire. I want a fulfilling career, I want to have a great group of friends that I can spend a lot of time with, and I want a nice apartment filled with beautiful things – including art, nice furniture and luxurious clothes. I estimate I can live this lifestyle just as comfortably as someone who wishes to eschew all those things in favor of kids, grandkids and a nice house. Not everyone has the same dream, and I think a lot of people here forget that.

  20. Telephus44 says:

    Two days ago I went out my 4 year old son and played in a pile of leaves that my husband had made. As my son picked up a leaf by them stem, he said “I spinned the leaf” and then half a second later corrected himself “I spun the leaf.” I am so proud that I am raising my child to have correct grammar.

  21. Michelle says:

    @Victoria – I too don’t want the “American Dream.” I do have a house, but I’m rethinking it. I want to travel, and volunteer, and be a patron of the arts.

    I think what you want is perfectly fine. Trent’s post was about finding what it is that YOU value and using that as your guidepost. What you and I want is just as valid as what anyone else wants.

  22. Joe M says:

    Trent, thanks for the thought provoking article. It’s a beneficial exercise to work through what you value, and what you are and are not willing to sacrifice to get it. Kudos to you for figuring it out and going for it. Many people long for something different, but are unwilling to make sacrifices to make real change.

    @Grammar Police – lighten up!

  23. Briana @ GBR says:

    What an inspirational post (that I’m bookmarking for my stressful days). Like you said, why focus on anything else? I want to have a relaxing, modest life with my family and do what I love: PLAN! I love to plan and working towards that goal everyday. I hope to meet my goal like you did :)

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