The Many Reasons to Make Do with Less
Why would someone choose to have less than they could? Lots of reasons. There are as many ways to live large as there are people who refuse to think small. Over the time I've been writing for Wise Bread, I've expanded my list of reasons by quite a bit.
One thing that I liked about Wise Bread right from the start is that it's about living large, and very much not about depriving yourself. The connection isn't always obvious, though, so I thought I'd run down my list. Making do with less helps you live large by letting you:
1) Focus on what's important (by putting less resources into stuff that matters less). This is at the core of how I've chosen to live my life. I have less of what I don't much care about so that I can have more of what I really want. Because my needs are really quite modest, I'm able to do exactly what I want with my life (be a full-time writer) without having to deprive myself. Like most people, there are a lot of things I want--but there isn't much that I want more than living the life I've chosen.
2) Focus on what's important (because the other stuff is a distraction). This resonates for me, too. Everything I buy is not only another thing I have to pay for--it's also another thing I have to find a place for, put away and get out again, use enough to justify the purchase, insure, keep clean and in good repair, worry about getting lost or stolen or broken, and then eventually dispose of.
3) Learn the truth about yourself. Some time back I talked about finding joy in temporary frugality. I compared it to a backpacking trip. Partially it's a means to an end: The less you carry, the further you can go and the longer you can stay. But it's also educational. Some of the things you thought you needed turn out not to be as important as you'd imagined. Giving things up temporarily is occasionally a step toward realizing that you're happier without them.
4) Live more gently on the planet. You've no doubt seen a dozen carbon-footprint calculators. Some people try to use less and waste less simply because they don't want to take more than their share. This resonates with me as well.
5) Obey the commandments of your faith. Many religions make rituals out of having less in the form of fasting and charity. There are a lot of reasons for this. It can change your perspective on what's important, strengthen bonds within the community, and serve as a form of solidarity with others who have less.
I'd like to finish with one reason that's not on the list: To have more later. It's not on the list because, although it does sort of work, this particular motivation often seems to lead to crazy-stupid behavior. It's true that, if you spend your twenties, thirties and forties scrimping and saving, you can probably spend your fifties, sixties, and seventies doing whatever you want--but that makes no sense. Much better, I think, to spend your youth doing whatever you want, constrained only to the extent that you're not committing your future along with your present--i.e. don't run up debts that you'll be paying for years.
It makes good sense to spend less than you earn and save money--it adds to your freedom in the same way that going into debt reduces your freedom. It also makes sense to have a gradually rising standard of living--it's the natural order of things if for no other reason than that as you accumulate durable items they go on improving your life and as your skills grow your value as a worker increases. But to go beyond that--to live in voluntary penury now with the idea that you'll be able to live high on the hog when you're old--is weird, and in my experience doesn't lead to a good end.
There are lots of other reasons to choose to spend less, own less, and use less as ways to live large, even without this one.
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