An Interesting Voluntary Simplicity Exercise That Can Really Improve Your Financial Situation

A while back, I read Duane Elgin’s book Voluntary Simplicity; lately, I’ve been reading a lot of things in that direction, like Walden and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (if you’re concerned about the pace of modern life and consumerism and your place in it, all three are very much worth reading). These books, but particularly Voluntary Simplicity, made me think about my life in several interesting ways that I hadn’t really considered before, and yesterday I found myself doing something that was, at the start, just off the cuff, but eventually turned into something very profound.

I went into a room in my house and went through every single item in it. It happened to be my office, which has a lot of random things in it: multiple computers and electronic equipment, books and magazines, a desk and a chair, and so on. One could do this with any room in a house, in theory. When I focused on an item, I asked myself honestly whether this item served a truly valuable role in my life. The key here is deep honesty – there were many items that, on a lot of levels, I was attached to, but when it came right down to it, it wasn’t that valuable in my life (many of the individual books, for example).

The amazing part? I was not attached to most of the stuff in the room. The computer made it, as did the desk and chair, but almost everything else (sans about three books and two CDs) could be tossed and it wouldn’t affect my quality of life.

So why keep this stuff, particularly if it has value for others? If I have 100 books that could be sold for $3 each that don’t have value to me, shouldn’t I sell them, invest the money, then eventually buy something that will have value to me?

Here’s an example: one of my great aunts is an artist and one of her originals in a gallery really speaks to me on a lot of levels. Not only because it is her work, but because she has tremendous talent as an artist. Isn’t it more worthwhile to just own that painting and put it on the wall, something that resonates with personal value to me, than to own those books? If I sold all the books, I could afford her highly discounted rate on the painting (I think) – she’s a reasonably well-known artist and thus her paintings can be pricey.

This simplicity would clear out a lot of clutter. I’d be left with a computer, a desk, and a couple books and CDs. I could take that money and make a sincere choice about buying that painting and know I had the money on hand to afford it, or I could invest it for the future.

What happens if I use this approach in every room? I’m thinking of doing that in a couple rooms this weekend with my wife, particularly our family room where there are a lot of DVDs just sitting on shelves. Could we eliminate some clutter, save some money, and maybe select a few very nice items that actually have meaning and value to us? I think that’s very likely.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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