How to Live More Simply, and Why It Is So Important

 cades cove sunrise
photo by Lee Coursey

These days there are a lot of arguments being waged on the benefits of paying down debt, buying used cars, paying off mortgages early, and building savings.  All of these are noble financial goals, and generally receive positive reinforcement from financial planners in the media.  However, there is an element that disagrees with this logic, and they are quick to point out where the mathematics don’t support these life-simplifying steps.  This post is aimed primarily at that audience, and for the rest of you, perhaps it will provide some comfort when dealing with these types.

Excess Material Possessions + Excess Financial Worries = Stress

Since I know how much you “financial nerds” love formulas, I’ve provided one for you to chew on.  I once wrote a post about homeowners paying off their mortgage early, and it was generally well-received.  However, I received a number of emails from “financial experts” out there who disagreed with the idea.  They were all-too-eager to tell me about the various ways that same money could be earning more in the markets.  Maybe so.  But their fancy formulas didn’t account for the one variable most important to me at this stage in my life–simplicity.

How to Live More Simply

That stress I referred to in the equation above is the result of constant worry over reconciling balances, watching payment schedules, and fretting over the never-ending accumulation of interest, which has a way of cheapening future earnings at a rate faster than inflation.   Add to this financial stress the worry of excess things and their storage, protection and maintenance, and you can easily see how too much stuff and too many accounts can lead to an ulcer.  So how does one prevent such complication in their lives?

  • Learn to be contentContentment is a powerful ally of the frugal-minded individual.  When we are truly content we have very little that we desire, in terms of material possessions.  This contentment keeps us away from stores, catalogs and advertisements.
  • Stop trying to impress other people.   Millions of dollars are wasted each year by those trying to play up to the ideals of others. Those who incorrectly believe that material possessions are a symbol of true wealth are on a never-ending quest for something bigger and better, and more expensive.  They constantly upgrade their cars, homes, jewelry and clothing in an effort to impress strangers at a red light, many whom they will never meet again, and are likely trying equally hard to impress them.
  • Rid yourself of things acquired merely for status.  So you’ve made a decision to live more simply, but what about that Jaguar in the driveway and the “his and hers” Rolex in your sock drawer that are contradicting your new way of life?  Get rid of them.  I don’t care how you do it.  Sell them, give them away as gifts, or donate them to a charity.  Just get rid of them.  You will be amazed how freeing the experience can be.  While I’ve never had a Jag or Rolex to give away, I’ve eliminated some “extras” from my own life and feel much better for it.
  • Consolidate your lifestyle.   Do you have six Roth IRA accounts with five different brokerages?  Are your insurance policies scattered around three or four different carriers?  While there is some benefit in diversification, by going overboard you are adding stress to your life just from the effort required to manage all the various accounts and policies.  Consolidate a couple of those accounts, and move your insurance policies to the same provider (assuming you have researched the provider and are confident in their stability).  As an added benefit you may find discounts waiting for having multiple policies with the same carrier.
  • Recognize the difference in stockpiling and hoarding.   It is prudent to stockpile necessities, particularly when you find a good deal, or receive a discount when buying bulk quantities.  However, too much of a good thing becomes problematic when you have to spend time, money and energy just to store the items.  After I returned home from school to live with my grandfather we stored a bunch of our stuff for $50-$60 per month in a storage unit.  After several months went by it occurred to us that we had not used anything from the storage facility.  We saved $600 a year by simply getting rid of the stuff.  One less bill and a lot less worry!

Excess Material Possessions – Ego = Simplicity

Much has been written about wars with our own egos–I know I’ve lost my share of battles.  But when I stop and think about the real reason why I want something I often find that I am simply feeding my own ego.  I want others to know that I am successful.  I don’t want others to think I am struggling.  I fall into the “I work hard, so I deserve it” line of thinking that is a recipe for financial disaster.  However, once you are aware of this condition you can begin to take steps to resist the urge to give into your egotistical desires.  Try to find the same joy that you once found in things in other areas of your life.  Learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and is freely available to anyone willing to look.  Go for a walk in the woods, or a barefoot walk in your own backyard.  Read a great book.  Spend time playing with your children.  Volunteer your time to a cause you believe in.  Seek out some of life’s many other simple pleasures. All of these things will fill your life in ways things used to, and they can all be done for next to nothing.

A challenge:  Find one thing you’ve been holding on to because it is a status symbol, or a luxury item that you don’t really need.  Give it away to a loved one, or a complete stranger, and enjoy the freedom of a simpler life.


  1. Great article! It took us years (though my husband may still be lagging a little) to grow content with our financial situation. Life is so much easier when you choose to live simply. I’m pleased to say I don’t own anything for status reasons, but I do have a few items of luxury. I think you have to have a couple of things that could be considered luxurious, don’t you think? I wouldn’t give up my camera or video camera. I paid a little more for them and we already had lesser versions of each at the time. Those are two things I’ve found you can’t “make do” with something else.

  2. Yes! This is the missing element from so many talks about financial sensibility. Contentment is a huge struggle for many of us, and I say thanks for telling us how important it is. In our family we’ve discovered that the more stuff we let go of, the easier life gets, and more fun, more fulfilling, too.

  3. Wow Frugal Dad- you hit the nail on the head! This month I’ve decided to rid myself of 27 things. 27 things moved or moved out of one’s life creates abundance, prosperity and contentment according to feng shui. Since August 01, I’ve moved 30 things out of my closet (sold them!)and passed along things like magazines and even postcards to others who will enjoy them. Simplicity RULES!

  4. @Maha: Absolutely you should have a couple nice things. After all, you know my feelings on stopping to smell the roses. Life is to be enjoyed. Just be sure you have those things for the right reasons. Sounds like you certainly do.

    @Tammy: Wow…27 things (well, 30 in your case)! My wife does this “27-Fling Boogie” or something like that she read from Fly Lady, maybe? Must be something about the number 27.

  5. Great post! Living more simply and being content with your life makes it easier to afford those nice things that makes life more enjoyable. Your true friends don’t really care if you drive a Jag or a Chevy. They like you for you.

    I sometimes have the urge to get rid of a bunch of stuff. Usually after visiting my brother or sister. They both have stuff that is seldom or never used literally piled up. After the last visit, had a hard time finding too many things to get rid of. I guess I’m making progress on the simplicity front.

  6. @Maha and @FrugalDad:

    Yes, I absolutely agree. Frugality is not austerity. I paid a little more for things I get heavy use out of, like my computer and my camera. They provide the scent of roses almost every day.

    Much of people’s discontent is rooted in their inability to stop and smell the roses. What good is a luxury item if you don’t have time to enjoy it? It’s just draining your pocketbook or taking up space in your home. How much premium cable programming is actually watched?

  7. FD I coudn’t agree more! I have just started my journey to simplicity, and have already noticed that life seems less overwheling with less clutter. Just wait until I really get going!

    And I agree with the other posters. I would much rather have a few things that I truly love, and that can include high quality luxury items, then a whole bunch of “stuff”.

  8. I recall the old saying – hope I get this right…we spend money we don’t have to buy stuff we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like!

    I have a friend who lives in a very nice house – which literally has an eight car garage. Filed with new cars, trucks, classics and motorcycles. In his barn more ATV’s, dirt bikes, riding lawn mowers, a tractor or two…he laughs and says it is a “fulltime” job just keeping all the batteries charged!

    I just wouldn’t want to spend all my time in the maintenance of stuff. I guess if he has an eight car garage he could afford to pay someone to do it!!

  9. My biggest challenge is keeping things simple for my kids. Every time a birthday or holiday rolls around, they get tons of stuff. I don’t want them to think that happiness comes through things. Sometimes I will hide some of the gifts to give away or to bring out later. Kids in the US are getting overwhelmed with things and we need to make this stop. And don’t even get me started on the whole birthday party “gift bag” situation . . .

  10. Simplicity. Consolidation. Freedom from stress. Freedom from debt. Contentment!

    You hit’m all! That’s my life in a nutshell 🙂
    It’s a good feeling to get to this point. Sometimes there may be ‘better investments financially’ for your money – but you have to do what feels right to you, what gives you peace and security, and what will allow you to sleep at night worry free!

    I am still working on the de-clutter tho… but I don’t think I have still anything that would be considered a status symbol or a luxury… and each Christmas I pass along to my 3 kids some kind of family heirloom (not necessarily valueable, just sentimental) that I think they will enjoy, as well as cherish. I want to do it while I am still able to tell them, and the grandkids, the stories that go with it – to share the family lore.


  11. So true that you must maintain all that stuff you buy. I love to buy clothes, but then must spend time sorting, cleaning, ironing, etc. I have really been focusing on enjoying what I have. We live in a culture where “contentment” is hardly promoted!!

  12. great article. i couldn’t agree more. we’re slowly but surely coming to the realization that we don’t need STUFF to be happy or successful. we’ve been going through the apartment and selling anything we haven’t used or will never use again. it’s been very refreshing!

  13. I couldn’t agree more! You really nailed it here. Contentment is the most underrated feeling in the world.

    I’d also agree with the idea that there’s a difference between nice stuff that has a purpose and nice stuff bought to impress others or show status. The former can make life more enjoyable, and the latter will eat you alive.

    I’m sure it’s no surprise considering the topic, but this is one of my favorite things you’ve written.

  14. Paying off our house is one of the best things we did. We did have to cut back for a few years, but well worth it in this economy. I recently was layed off, and so glad we don’t have to worry about that mortgage.

  15. I could not agree more about ridding yourself of the status symbols. I took all my jewelry to a pawn shop (including the big honking diamond ring I bought to replace the tiny engagement ring my mother in law let me wear, when my hubby and I became engaged). I only kept the sentimental things, like that original engagment ring, the heart pendant my husband gave me the day our son was born, etc.

    While we could have used the money more wisely, we instead bought a nice dinner out, and I bought my husband a bass guitar at the same pawn shop. I have never missed a thing, and the weight lifted by getting rid of that stuff was amazing.

  16. Olivia I love that you bought your husband a bass. How wonderful to get rid of stuff you didn’t need and purchase a musical instrument – a much better use of time and money than a diamond ring. And a lovely dinner out is good for the soul when practiced sparingly. Kudos to you for creating warm and lasting memories!

  17. LOVE it….less stuff = less stress. I am paring down and learning to just get rid of it and it is such a good feeling!

  18. I WANT MORE!!! Not stuff…but ideas…I have this unquenchable desire to live even MORE simply…and I sense there is more I can do (undo) to do this…We have one car, live in a 250 sq foot studio, raising a 7 mo old son, $250/mo food budget, no land line only cell phones, no cable, went from 90K in debt 9 years ago to a current 30K now…SO CLOSE (so much closer!) we live off of <2k $/month in the San Francisco Bay Area…SO close to getting rid of our storage unit ($63 saving/month). OK…great article…and I need more ideas on how to save/cut back. What ELSE? Thanks for being of like-mind…so refreshing to know a)I'm not alone in this. b)I never was.