Family Mission Statement – Part 4: Basic
Every Wednesday is garbage pick up in our neighborhood. Everyone loyally wheels out their cans of trash and recyclables to the curb and a paid service comes to take it out of sight and out of mind. The can, often filled to the brim with multiple overflow bags sitting next to it, is a very real measure of waste going out. While the large boxes from new appliances, kids toys, and other household items are measures of the stuff coming in. A constant exchange of goods and trash that, if we want to or not, feels helpless to escape.
When we sat down with pen and paper to write, “We live with our basic needs being met and not abundance” as part of of our Family Mission Statement, we didn’t necessarily have trash pick up in mind. But our own, once invisible, habits to accumulate an abundance of stuff, along with our society at large, have become overtly clear even in the most common routines of life. See the heaps of trash scattered along any major roadway. Boxes filling barges with unwanted, used clothes being shipped off to developing countries. And most obvious for me, look no further than the garage! We live in inescapable abundance.
Or, so we thought – adopting one philosophy has helped us combat this deeply embedded tendency.
Back to Basic
Let me start by saying that when it comes to our own attempt to live with only our basic needs being met we can take very little credit. Through blogs, documentaries, and podcasts of the tiny house movement, minimalism, and even people living out of vans, we saw the possibility of a joyful existence, free from possessions that seemed too far fetched to be achievable. What do you mean I can collapse this entire closet down to one shoe box? I don’t need an entire room filled wall to wall with toys to keep my child entertained? I can get by with only enough food in the pantry and fridge for the next few days?
When we looked around our own home these concepts seemed daunting. There was the catch all room, the overflowing closets, and the general disorganization scattered about our home. However, with our newfound value to live simply, sustainably, and with only our basic needs being met we stepped up to the plate. You can listen to this podcast for a more complete how to, but here’s a snapshot of what it practically looked like. Most every evening for months we took a small chunk of our possessions (think one box) and spent just 20 minutes going through it. If something added value or purpose to our life, we kept it. If it did not have value, added stress, or hadn’t been used in a year or more, we got rid of it. The 20 minute time limit allowed us to not get burnt out and in a matter of months our house went through a total transformation!
Our house is around 1,200 sf with no basement. We had always felt cramped in it. After this several month purge-a-thon we estimate we gave the boot to close to 50% of our belongings. The result – the catch all room is now an uncluttered play room, people come over and comment on how spacious the house now feels, our home brings us very little stress or anxiety, and we now view 1,200 sf as plenty of long term space as our family expands. Maybe the best benefit is that we simply love our home! Everything in it has value and brings us joy. After this transformation was complete we came back from vacation and we both walked through our door, dropped our bags, and had the exact same experience; peace and contentment.
I could talk here about needs vs. wants, but I think the truth is that many of us can assess between the two. Basic needs are food, water, shelter, community, and things of that sort. What becomes more vital in our modern world, is adopting a lifestyle that reflects this. If making the shift from a lifestyle of abundance to a lifestyle of your basic needs being met is of interest to you, here are some simplification tips and considerations that have helped our family down this road.
The year we got married we bought a brand new, blue streak metallic hatchback. A thing of beauty! What wasn’t so beautiful were the 3 separate doors dings she received the first weeks of owning her. Each was a dagger and the “breaking in” of new things just hasn’t been worth it to me since. With buying used, not only are the imperfections already built in, but we’ve found we actually end up with higher quality stuff. For instance, we waited about 6 months or so to see the exact storage bed we wanted pop up. We ended up with a cherry, hardwood storage bed for less than the price of the cheaply made, particle board storage beds we had been looking at. Plus, buying used means easy in, easy out. If your purchase doesn’t end up being what you want or tastes change after a while, we’ve always been able to resell what we bought for the same price or more than what we initially spent. No regrets. Not stress. Basic.
I grew up knowing the “Our Father” prayer like the back of my hand. In it we ask to, “give us this day our daily bread.” With supermarkets stocked with shelves of canned, boxed, and bagged food higher than we can reach, we have a hard time even imagining a world of daily dependence – even though this has been the case for just about all of human history and is still the case for much of the world. Abundance is found in food. What we don’t see is that the processed foods that cause abundance in our lives come with a long list of preservatives, chemicals, colorings, and additives that allow us to set up our own zombie apocalypse bunkers in our pantries. Buy stuff that will expire in a week and then make sure to use it! Think daily and not weeks or months out. As a side note, for our family this meant a complete purge of all things processed from our home. Believe me, if it’s there, you will eat it!
What you expose yourself to influences your spending habits. If you haven’t seen the Minimalist documentary, it’s well worth the watch. One of the main characters talks about how his previous corporate job was to figure out how to market smart phones to 5 year olds. That’s kindergartners! Companies pour billions into making you believe you need their product. Funny how we are taught to be skeptical of so much but fully trust the advertisements that constantly flow into our lives.
Limiting exposure to these tactics has been key for our family to keep it basic. There were several daily deal sites I used to check religiously which amounted to many rather unnecessary purchases over the years. Having people tell me what I needed to buy while nervously watching the countdown clock was just not a good life decision. I stopped and so did the spending. Ever walk into a store with 2 things on the list and leave with a shopping cart full? Be aware that stores do everything in their power to make this true. Joelle and I both had similar experiences recently taking separate trips to the same box store and were suddenly contemplating whether or not we needed something that was in no way even on our radar before!
What happens when you purge half of your stuff and a few months later you need something you got rid of? This is where communal abundance kicks in and the possibilities are endless! Think, if you had a particular item lying around collecting dust in your home, there’s a good chance one of your neighbors is in the same boat and would be more than excited to find a good use for theirs. We can majorly offset this abundance overload in our culture by developing this community focus. Does everyone on the block really need their own lawnmower? Can we first look to borrow the high cost kitchen appliance before going out to buy our own? Are public transportation and ridesharing actually very feasible options to not owning 1… or 3 cars? The larger the average home size gets the easier it is to retreat within them. Abundance can be reduced if we fight this urge, lend freely, and ask shamelessly. Look to form relationships with those around you, be selfless in your giving or lending, and see where it takes you.
The biggest impact for us has been determining what adds value to our life. You might be able to guess where I am going by now with this, but we determine value by using our family mission statement as a filter. This filter helps give parameters to the possessions that come in and out of our life. We valued open space in our house so we said goodbye to our big, comfy arm chair that cramped our path between the living and dining room. When teflon was officially categorized a carcinogen we sold our really nice, non-stick set of pots and pans and bought used stainless steel ones. The bare spots on our walls will eventually get filled in because we didn’t love the decorations we had and are waiting for just the right thing to fit the space. In every single 20 minute purge-O-rama there were usually multiple times we had to stop and ask if an item was moving us toward our family mission and adding value to our life.
If you are feeling stuck in a sea of abundance the best thing you can do is start today! Feeling inspired to start your own simplifying? Realize these things: It will take time. It will seem never ending. Start small. If you pull out a box and are overwhelmed, put it back for another time and grab a different box. You may need to revisit the same area 2 or 3 times. All these were true for us, but there was an end and it was so worth it! It’s about balance, sustainability, and living with your basic needs being met.