Wednesday, August 31, 2016
The Power of Less
In this day and age of more is better and more is more, I think there is a world of power in the principle of less.
Let's think about it. First there's the basic principle of budgeting. You should always spend less than you earn. That literally means, as my husband is so fond of saying, "If you make $200 you don't spend $202." He's quite right. In the tightest of budgets the ideal is to spend no more than $200 if that is all you have. If you're very wise and highly motivated you figure out a way to save a portion of that $200 and live on less.
The ideal is not to accumulate more debt but to decrease debt so that you can live better with less. Yes, it might well mean less car than you think you'd like to have, and less home than your contemporaries might have, but in exchange for having to earn less, you have more of a rather precious commodity: time.
One of the wisest decisions we made many years ago was to buy less house than we needed at the time we made the purchase. We had three children living at home. Despite some rather vehement family objections (not within our household but outside), we chose not to buy a four or five bedroom home. Instead we opted for a three bedroom home, which was one bedroom smaller than we'd been living in. Why? Because we recognized that our family was changing. One son had already left home, our oldest daughter was nearly the age to leave home as well. We saw the long view ahead of us and now, when many of our empty nest acquaintances are downsizing, we find that our home is just perfect for the two of us. Yes, it does seem to bulge at the seams a little when we have a house full of guests, but it seems to fit us all despite the smaller size. We've had children move in and children move out, the most recent being Sam and Bess extended stay with us. It meant adjusting ourselves to not having a dedicated craft room, or being able to access our deep pantry, or having a music room ready at any moment for John's desire to play, but we managed just fine. We recognized that it was a short season.
Many years ago I had two shirts and two pairs of pants and that was my wardrobe. I thought the ideal was a closet filled with clothing pieces, so that my choices were greater. In the past couple of years, due to circumstances of health and finances, I've had to make do with less clothing, but oddly, again, I found I had more choices in how I might use those few pieces. It convinced me that a few good basics and some fun inexpensive accessories have far more mileage than a room sized walk-in closet could ever give me. I am always amazed at how infrequently I wear the exact same outfit. There's always a new combination to try that makes me feel I have a far more extensive wardrobe than I do.
Recently I came across a new concept of a limited pantry with which one might plan what was referred to as a 'capsule menu plan'. Meals were repeated at a regular interval. Minimal groceries were purchased for what was a minimal menu. While this ideal does not necessarily appeal to me, since I do so enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, I do have to fall back on a piece of wisdom a friend and fellow blogger shared when she revamped her pantry. She discovered that she had many expired items but when she examined the wasted ones she noted that they were always 'special' items and never good basic pantry items which were routinely used and replaced. She noted that she needed less ingredients to make most of her menu plans when she relied upon those basics. When I read this statement on her blog the ring of truth in her words was so clear that I had to acknowledge that it was true wisdom. I've since enjoyed reading many recipes, but those which call for ingredients that are not normally in my home are generally passed over.
A few years ago, I prepared a dish here at home for myself and Sam. It was a simple rendition of an Almond Chicken dish I'd had in a Chinese restaurant. The ingredients were basic: carrots, onions, celery, chicken, almonds, garlic, soy, rice. We amused ourselves during that meal discussing what other dishes we might make from some or all of the same ingredients: Chicken Rice soup, chicken pot pie, a roasted chicken dinner, a Fried Rice dish, Chicken egg rolls, a dish I had several years ago that called for chicken and celery in a sherry based sauce with a dash of soy sauce, a chicken casserole dish we often enjoyed. All of these dishes required only one other ingredient, if that, to make it a wholly different meal.
Several years ago I ran out of multiple cleaners at once. Our budget did not allow me to replace them all in one shopping trip. I was shocked when I priced the total number of items I thought needed. I came home and availed myself of a Heloise book with many suggestions for homemade cleansers using basic ingredients normally in my pantry. My house was as clean if not cleaner. I spent far less, needed fewer items and experienced a second side benefit in finding I had less allergies when at home once I decreased my usage of all those specially scented cleaners.
What has this power of less done for us? We live in a home that is mortgage free. We have no outstanding debt beyond our monthly expenses. John has the freedom to work overtime, or not, as he chooses. I have learned how deeply creative one might become when there is not always finances to purchase something new. We feel comfortable facing retirement though we've no big retirement funds to see us through the years ahead. We have time to enjoy our family and one another now and don't find it necessary to look longingly for that some day somewhere ahead of us.
And that is the true power of less.