Will it make you happy? My thoughts…

But will it make you happy -the now famous article published last week in the New York Times focused on the nation’s dramatic evolution towards simple (and frugal) living. The article was a nod towards our current living situation, and a reminder that we’re not the only ones who have gone through a complete financial about-face over the last three years. It was a great article. You should read it. Twice.

Having lived for just over two months in a communal house, I have the pleasure of sharing my living space with four other people, four young chickens, a dog and Baja the Supercat. The only private space Dave and I have is our bedroom, totaling just under 200 square feet. All of our possessions fit in this room—in comparison to our lives three months ago in a house overflowing with things, life has taken a striking turn for us. I doubt I could have anticipated any of this 3 years ago when we first started forecasting this trip. And I don’t imagine I would have been willing to anticipate this lifestyle. But today, I wouldn’t change it.

The house and associated privacy that once seemed so important to me now occupies very little space in my heart and mind. The worry I had about sharing a home has graduated into an appreciation for common spaces. A late night at work? Someone is around to feed the cat. Out of baking powder? Someone’s around to lend you a few teaspoons. Mechanical problems with the bike? There’s a housemate who happens to know a thing or two about that… There is food growing in the garden outside, the refrigerator is plentiful with fresh eggs from the backyard. We all chip in, and we all benefit. I suppose what I’m saying is that 5 minds are better than 2 when it comes to a living space. This is a living situation I could have adapted to a long time ago, had I only been more open to the opportunities out there that once seemed so unknown and strange.

Much like the Portland couple featured in the NYT article, Dave and I once lived a life overpopulated by spending. We were earning comfortable salaries, but spending too much to recognize that. So much so, that our debt seemed to control our lives. With that came stress and anxiety and a desperate need to make more money. We often felt obligated to spend money to participate in activities with friends and family—maintaining appearances that benefitted no one. In a way, we were reckless- living in a house we couldn’t afford, dining at restaurants that brought us momentary yet waning pleasure, and talking often about how great it would be if we were those ‘people who never had to worry about money’. I know we weren’t alone.

I make less today than I did when I lived that reckless lifestyle. But I don’t worry about money so much anymore. My pending joblessness still hits me at times, and I still have the occasional bout of terror when I wonder if I haven’t budgeted the trip well enough. But these are rare moments, and they fade quickly. The difference now is the detailed level of control we have over our finances. We know where every dollar goes. And we’re so good at it by now that it doesn’t take up much of our time. Our financial responsibilities are an engrained part of us now. And the secret was not in the amount of money we were making. It was so much simpler than that, I wonder how this frugality movement has taken so long to be recognized.

I see friends of ours struggling to understand how we got here—not a week goes by when someone doesn’t ask how we managed save what we have, or how we found our way out of debt. We have people telling us that they never believed we would pull off this huge plan to travel the world. I don’t blame them considering who I used to be. And I’m also realizing that the sacrifices we’ve made over the years are not often noticed by others—we see our friends out at parties, at restaurants, in bars.. from the outside, I suppose the changes we’ve made are not obvious to others. From the outside, we appear to live the same lives we used to live.

I see the ‘necessities’ that our friends purchase and I remember who I used to be. The ‘necessities’ being things that Dave and I have managed to live without. I know our friends don’t need those things either, but I remember what it was like when I used to rationalize all the things I ‘needed’. In those moments, I am reminded.

I don’t miss any of the things I cut out of my life- in fact they rarely occur to me anymore. But I have to quiet the voice in me that wants to point out to my friends the useless spending… Despite my willingness and excitement to help I know that ultimately this level of frugality is something one must discover alone. I hope articles like this NYT one will stimulate more thought in people. I hope that as a generation, we are able to overcome the obstacles we learned about and recognize how rich one can live on so little. I’d like to think that we are examples of this.

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