Why is it the things we want to be empty are always full? Case in point: laundry baskets and trash cans. Meanwhile, the things we want to be full are habitually empty. Case in point: refrigerators, pantries, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and to round off the list, gasoline tanks and checking accounts. My patience also runs dry on the regular, so I have to add that to the list. No wonder a scarcity mentality sets in, all these things that keep running out cost money to refill (except my patience, that refill requires a massage, 8 hours of sleep, a hot shower, at least 10 minutes uninterrupted by children, for crying in the bucket….:) There is a tendency to gravitate towards hoarding to ward off these threats of scarcity, and I just happen to be one hoarding victim coming clean. Here is how it all began.
My husband and I had an on-going battle that began around the time our first child arrived. The name of this battle will hence-forward be known as “stuff-wars”. And did we fight. My husband has always craved minimalism. He knows he needs physical organization to have mental clarity and be productive. I didn’t think I needed that, I argued I was plenty happy and productive amidst the chaos of legos, random puzzle pieces, broken crayons, and scribbled drawings. No occasion was off-limits, we fought on birthdays, Christmas, actually especially at those times because there was a new influx of stuff and no willingness from me (not our kids, mind you) to part with any existing stuff. Here is where it gets real, folks. I had a hoarding problem, which is super easy to admit as long as I use past tense and don’t have to consider that I still might have a long way to go (which I do). At any rate, I had a really hard time letting anything go because I, or someone else, had spent money on these things, random as they might be. After careful reflection, I now understand something very critical. The “stuff” suffocating our lives was all there was to show that my husband and I had put in years of hard work. Can you relate to that? Are the heaps of clothes, piles of toys, fancy cars in the driveway, and banky house all you really have to show for years of effort? That’s all I had to convince myself it was worth getting up and putting in another long day. If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably hesitant to relinquish the tangible proofs of your hard work. Well, it was this central reason that generated my problem with over-keeping and under-ousting our stuff. I tried for years to pacify my husband by getting rid of a few miscellaneous things here and there, but it was a nominal effort and my husband always saw through it. I didn’t know it yet, but financial independence would provide the way of escape.
Several years ago, we became turned on to the idea of financial independence. The core belief of financial independence, in my estimation, is that future freedom is worth present hustle, optimizing, saving/investing, and yes, sacrifice. How does this relate to “stuff-wars”? To understand, we have to zero in on one element of financial independence: saving and investing money. As I’ll try to make clear, this is what led to my transformation from hoarding to a degree of minimalism. Over the past several years, we have drastically changed our savings rate, from 0% to anywhere from 50-65%. My husband and I both agree we could crush it even more if not for having four kids. We desire to keep a healthier balance for their sake, we don’t want them becoming embittered with finances/money/saving because we were too aggressive in cutting expenses and killed any amount of joy that could be derived from spending money. But at a 50-65% savings rate, the landscape of our finances has dramatically changed. There is now something visible, though not taking up space in our home (Eureka!), to prove the efficacy of our work. I can’t make this point strongly enough: having money saved and seeing it grow made me realize I didn’t need all the stuff anymore as the proof of hard work. I have since made great strides towards letting go of things. Yes, some of it does center around knowing we can financially afford to replace anything that turns out to be a true need (hasn’t happened yet, at all). And some of it has come from learning to be content with what we have and realizing it’s already more than enough, which it is. But mostly it’s that there had to be, for me, something to validate my work as profitable. It just turns out it didn’t have to be physical stuff. In truth, I feel more validated knowing we are making progress towards a meaningful goal, a goal of having saved and invested diligently so that we have freedom over our time. I never felt more than temporarily happy in over-consumption land, as it required signing up to live paycheck to paycheck plus the mountains of sparkly clutter were sure to create yet another “stuff-wars” battle and it was just a matter of time before the next explosion. In the wake of waking up to the value of living with less, a new virtuous cycle was unlocked: by creating more physical space and organization, I significantly increased my mental clarity and enhanced my productivity. It’s not that I couldn’t function in the mess, it’s that I was accepting a very fragmented and degraded level of productivity. We are not living a complete or perfect minimalist life, but we are vastly improved from how things were in the past.
Financial Independence has such far-reaching and unexpected benefits. The journey is winding and unpredictable, but what does seem predictable at this point is that my pursuit of financial independence will enable me to barrel through remaining inefficiencies, propel growth, and weave lovely designs of victory throughout my life. I am grateful, in particular, for being freed from the need to vice grip possessions. Finally I can say goodbye (and good riddance) to hoarding. And goodbye to the fear of scarcity. And a warm hello to freedom.