Let's face it. Our society is addicted to spending. Last fiscal quarter in the US alone, consumers spent 11178.90 BILLION USD. I had to use math to even figure out what that number is.
It's over 11 TRILLION dollars. Take a moment and do the math on that. You'll fall out of your chair.
In case you still need a visual, here's what ONE TRILLION dollars looks like. Where's Waldo? In 2013, North Americans spent almost 60 BILLION dollars over the Black Friday/Thanksgiving Weekend alone, an event that causes such a bloodthirsty spending frenzy that people die. They've ceased to be. They're bereft of life. They've assumed room temperature.
Just let that crazy shit sit with you for a moment.
Is there really anything anyone needs that badly? I'm not sure, but I'm thinking no. And the thing is, this spending is so normalized that it's actually quite hard to kick the money-wasting addiction in the pants. Look around you and you will find people with 30,000$ cars bought on credit, massive houses, closets packed with unworn clothing, pounds of makeup, 400$ handbags, the world's most uncomfortable leather furniture and a damn Keurig. It's so easy to see the spending frenzy as normal because so many people living the typical North American lifestyle have it, or want it.
It's not often we stop to consider who really needs all this stuff, and whether or not our lifestyles are wasteful, financially dangerous, and impairing our happiness and creativity. Take a moment to think about all the luxuries you might have. Adam and I are working on moving to a frugal, wasting-less and financially independent lifestyle, and we still have:
a nice TV, several video game consoles, two MacBooks, a good DSLR, a KitchenAid mixer, some new furniture, nice shoes and clothes, and more books than we know what to do with. Seriously. We don't go hungry. We have a big backyard, and a lovely cat.
The list goes on. Even a lifestyle many people would consider to be pretty sparse at first impression (small apartment, no cars, very minimal spending and no eating out/bar hopping) is overflowing with an abundance of luxurious things.
But let's go back for a moment. I said something about this consumer lifestyle being dangerous for your happiness AND creativity, right? How is that?
I won't spend too long here, because what I want to really talk about is creativity. There is something most of us experience, and it's called "hedonic adaptation". What this means is that the more you spend to acquire stupid shit, the more you get used to a lavish lifestyle and need to up your spending to feel happy and pampered. That's how people with $300,000 yearly incomes are struggling to make ends meet, despite making enough money to make four families comfortable and happy. The more you make, the more you spend, and on the spending goes until you're stressed, miserable, and drowning in heaps of wasteful purchases that aren't adding a single bit to your happiness. So what's the next logical step? Why, buying a bigger house for the things, of course.
It's all about adjusting your perspective.
So we come to the really interesting stuff.
You're telling me this is impacting my creative ability?
Yes. Absolutely yes.
Getting deeply entrenched in this lifestyle means not only are you spending above your means (buying cars 100% on financing and houses with only 5% down) and totally bombing your financial freedom, but you're probably thoroughly distracted by Shiny Stuff (400 TV channels, newest iPhone, expensive nights out, etc).
Here's how transitioning to a more mindful lifestyle can impact your creativity and your ability to live as a creative freelancer BIG TIME.
Enjoy the simple things.
Bringing down that level of Hedonic Adaptation is one of the best things you can do for your happiness and creative ability. Baking a loaf of bread becomes not a chore, but absolutely joyful. Sitting down to write a letter, or hand lettering a card is a delight. Simply reading or enjoying a cup of tea outside is calming and wonderful. Focusing on these simpler things allows you to avoid getting used to being overstimulated by all the wonderful (but seriously distracting and stressful) gadgets that we have. Remember a time when you didn't need to respond to people the moment they wanted your attention? When you weren't on email duty 24/7? (Maybe not, but you can imagine how nice that might be). Try unplugging for a while, downgrading your TV subscriptions, ditch the expensive cellphone plan. Not only will you be saving money, but you'll find when the lights go out, there are an unlimited amount of free and entertaining things to do around your house.
The best part about this? So many of these simple joys are creative joys. Painting, drawing, singing, playing music, writing, cooking, knitting and embroidery. Many of these require a small investment, with a greatly satisfying result at the end. Unplugging gives you more time to focus on the things we want to have time for, but can seemingly never make time for (see, I'm too busy for that fallacy).
Do what you love
As creative people, there are few things we could imagine that are greater than the prospect of being able to make a living making art. The problem is, this income at the start is often infrequent and insufficient. What to do besides suffer through an office job that makes you want to jump in front of a garbage truck? One of the most brilliant benefits of transitioning to a more frugal lifestyle is that your expenses are drastically lower. You don't need to be making $100,000 a year to make it. Hell, you don't even need to be making $40,000 (should I do a series on how Adam and I are rather happy living off of $29,000 a year, and that's including paying off more than $10,000 of student debt? Raise your hand).
Cutting back your expenses and ditching the unnecessary luxuries you don't need gives you the financial freedom to pursue what you really love, and avoid the 'live to work' paradigm that sucks the souls of so many 30 and 40-somethings. Of course, you would ideally want to be making enough that you're packing away savings and can retire nice and young, but sheer happiness and fulfillment is within your grasp. Suddenly, what you might potentially make pursuing a creative career is more than enough (not to mention that you have all the time in the world to make art, when not shackled to a cubicle).
Living this type of lifestyle allows you the time to find out what makes you truly happy. It's simple, there's not much more to it than that. When you pare down the things that are unnecessary and restrictive, you find out what really matters— and you might be surprised how easy you are to please. Some of my favourite things include: cups of tea, shaping bread loaves, smelling rain through the window, and watching the leaves swirl around. Doesn't get more beginner level than that. There's a good chance coming into this kind of process you're feeling stressed, overwhelmed, unhappy, and worst of all, uncertain how to fix it. What better solution than to take the Happiness Jar Challenge? I dare you.
All the Time in the World
The more you have, the more it controls you. The more time it takes up in your life, and the less time you have for truly relaxing and enjoying some creative endeavours. Ever tried cleaning a massive five bedroom house? Car maintenance and washing? Dusting a million tiny possessions? Shopping for all of these things? No wonder folks are exhausted by the time they finally slump in front of the TV at night, leading them to feeling shoddy and unmotivated the next day. By simply ditching many of these things, you get to spend so much more of your time doing things that are so satisfying to the creative spirit.
This isn't to say that simplifying your life doesn't take time. It takes time to bike to the grocery store— but you get a health-boosting workout in the process, and don't have to spend frustrating precious time stuck in a snake of cars. Making your own bread takes time (although admittedly, way less than you think) but it's fun, calming, and connects you with something that people have been doing for thousands of years— and that's pretty damn awesome.
Experiences over things
When was the last time you felt inspired to make art over a Coach handbag or a new car? There's a good chance that unless you're making some unique post-modern art the answer is never. The experiences you get from taking up a more minimal lifestyle are exactly the experiences that produce art. Sitting around a campfire telling stories. Watching the stars. Going for a beautiful fall walk. Having a potluck meal with your friends. Backpacking. Exploring the woods— these are the things of art and beauty.
And mostly, they're free. Especially nature. There are so many things in our lives we could do for free that if we ditched the stuff that is expensive and wasteful, we would still never run out of things to do and we would have an almost infinite realm of inspiration around us. Not to mention these experiences are the ones that really stay with you. Objects can have value, and memories, yes, but more often than not they recall events and people, rather than a fondness for the object itself (have I ever mentioned the 50$ throw pillow from Chapters that said "Collect Experiences Not Things"? That's potent irony right there). The things you take with you into old age will be memories of your anniversary camping trip, your hostel adventure, that time your buddy took a sweet polar bear swim. Hold on to these, let go of the rest. Make art.
What to do if you're stuck on the hamster wheel
1. Reduce your number of possessions.
If you wouldn't buy them now, consider parting with them. Don't refer to this as "throwing things out" because that would be horrifically wasteful. Instead, drop them off at your local Goodwill and let them become a part of someone else's life. If you're having trouble parting with your possessions, put the things you are uncertain about in a box. If you actually need them go back and get them out of the box. If in six months you've never needed anything in the box, close it and donate it. Don't even open it.
2. Ditch the car.
If you have a car, or you're planning on getting one, do yourself a favour and buy a bicycle instead. It's better for the environment, your bank account, and your body. Don't be one of those people that drives around a parking lot for two minutes and also buys a gym membership. Try to think of the cost of a car this way: you might be able to afford the monthly payment, but if you're buying it on loan, you can't afford the car. Think of how much money you would have if you took that 500$ a month your car is costing you and invested it over ten years. Hint: it's a shit-ton of money and a helluva good start on retirement savings. Cycling = more adventures.
3. Live slow.
Work to find joy in the small things. Unplug every now and then and do more by hand. Write out your own cards and letters. Go cellphone-less on weekends. Ditch the personal Facebook account or only check email once a day. Walk more. Drive less. Make bread with your hands. Colour. Garden. We wrote a whole post about this one here.
4. Budget your spending money.
This habit is a hard one to kick. It's so ingrained that people around you may be very judgemental or concerned when you start to become more minimalist and frugal. They may wonder how on earth you get around without a car. How you could possibly get groceries— and are you sure you're eating enough? You're not suffering, right?
Frugality doesn't mean living rough. It doesn't mean you're giving up all the things you love in the name of saving a dollar. It means you don't spend a dollar more than you need to on the things you have to have, you that you can spend your money on the things you really want, and which bring you happiness. Budgeting your spending money gives you a few guilt free purchases each month without feeling like you've thrown everything away— and when it's gone, it's gone. Not another takeaway coffee. No burgers. No sale-clothing-that's-just-such-a-great-steal.
5. When you need to, buy used.
There are so many things discarded all the time. Give some of them homes when you really need things. Just think of how many bread makers and abandoned KitchenAid mixers there are out there that people received as Christmas gifts and never took out of the box. How many 40" TVs weren't quite big enough. How many pairs of jeans were boring or too small. You save money. You save more products from having to come into this world. Try to think of it this way: each thing you bring into your house must someday leave. It must someday be thrown away. Consider not just the cost of purchasing it, but the cost of throwing something away, too. The cost of leaving something in a landfill.
A good way to gauge how much you really need something is to sit on it for a while. If you could really go for a new sweater, stew for a week. Put it on hold, or in your cart, and if after that much time you've not forgotten about it, consider purchasing.
6. Libraries are your friend.
Everything you could need to know is here. Cookbooks. Gardening books. How to fix your toilet books. How to build a shed books. How to build a capsule wardrobe books. How to do calculus. How to knit. And they're free. FREE. Never take this one for granted my friends. As the proud owner of many, many books, I'm not going to speak against having any books in your home which you own; but the fact that you can take out like 30 books and put them on a shelf and build your own temporary, endlessly refreshing library is seriously badass.
You want to be seriously badass.
Not only this, but libraries have more than books. Oh, yes, you say. They have scratched DVDs and questionable books on tape.
But libraries also have iPads. Phone chargers. And in some cases, tools, seeds, kitchen supplies, lawnmowers and chainsaws. I'm not kidding.
7. Make time to make art.
As creative folks, this one is clearly the most important. Sometimes it can feel like there is no time at all, and by the time we get all the ho-hum stuff of life out of the way we're tired, frustrated and unmotivated. Although following the previous few suggestions will get you well on the way to spending less time aimlessly muddling through life and more time making art, scheduling it into your daily life like it is as unavoidable as eating will make a beautiful habit that will stay with you throughout your life. "Not having time" is really all about not prioritizing. We have plenty of time. There are many hours in the day. By scheduling time to make art of any kind, we take time away from those things where it is wasted— Facebook, channel surfing, what have you.
Even if it is just a few minutes a day, worked in before your breakfast or on your break from work. Sketch your breakfast. Write about a forest walk. Make some music, or spend some time knitting to get away from the computer.