From the outside-in, frugality and minimalism often look like acts of self-deprivation. After all, eating out is easier and tastes better than a home-cooked meal and getting a new gadget or outfit puts a smile on your face. Why would we deprive ourselves of these little luxuries?
We Used to Deprive Ourselves (A Lot)
Years ago, Jaime and I ate out…a lot. We’d get dinner from restaurants 2-3 times a week and ice cream and treats a whole lot more than that.
We’d also regularly buy “nice little things” to decorate our home. A decorative painted canvas over here, a leather Pottery Barn catch-all over there.
Fashions would change and our home decorations would be out of style, so we’d go get new ones. The excitement would last for a day or two and then dissipate.
The same went for clothing and gadgets. Every purchase felt positive in the moment. But a few hours or days later, the high was gone.
We thought we were treating ourselves.
But we were actually depriving ourselves.
While we had all of our little luxuries, we were missing out on the big luxuries - our dreams.
As an example, we continuously told ourselves that we couldn’t afford to travel because we never had enough money.
Whenever we tried to save, we’d get frustrated at our lack of progress. Saving money was hard because we didn’t want to give up what made us happy in the moment. Disappointed, we would give up and go back to our little luxury purchases.
We were stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle. We couldn’t travel because of our flippant spending, so we made more flippant purchases and made travel unreachable.
We wanted to do something big, but we were stuck doing small things instead.
We deserved better.
What You Deserve
There’s a store near our house that sells fancy napkins, candles, wine glasses, accessories and other knick-knacky, decorative stuff.
The slogan on their sign says it all:
“Nothing you need…Everything you deserve!”
That still gets my blood boiling. If you pay attention to commercials these days, you’ll see a lot of marketing centers around the concept of “treating yourself” and about what you “deserve”.
According to the ads, you deserve to look your best, feel your best, and do things that make you happy.
I don’t disagree with that.
But when these commercials then tell you that a hamburger and fries or your twenty-seventh pair of shoes are going to do those things for you, I feel compelled to point out what this is - a bait and switch.
Convincing you that you deserve the little luxuries is the ultimate Jedi mind trick from the dark side of the force.
They want us to think that we’re depriving ourselves when we don’t buy them. But we’re depriving ourselves when we do.
If it’s a choice between the small stuff and the big stuff, we want the big stuff. We want the memories of an international vacation. We want the lasting joy of having a reduced work schedule. We want the freedom of being debt-free.
But giving up the little stuff to gain the big stuff is easier said than done.
Master Yourself - Get What You Want
We’ve been following lots of great thinkers on frugality and minimalism and we’ve noticed they all have something in common.
The frugal and minimalist aren’t masters of deprivation - they are masters of prioritization and masters of self.
When faced with the choice between impulse-purchase happiness or progress toward their dreams, they choose dreams.
They are disciplined and dedicated, with laser-like focus on what’s important to them. While they push toward their goals, the inconsequential melts away.
That’s what Jaime and I aspire to be. Not masters of deprivation, but masters of our own selves.
Once we slowed down our spending on the little luxuries, we found ourselves better able to achieve our real dreams. Travel, freedom, and a mini-retirement.
As we decluttered and minimized, we realized that we already had enough. The reason those additional purchases weren’t providing lasting joy is that we already had what we needed and they weren’t going to provide the big things we really wanted.
We’re not perfect, nor do we ever expect to be. But we’re working on getting better every year. We continuously try to identify what we value most and remove the rest.
We recognize that we are our own biggest obstacle when it comes to getting the freedom we desire. If we can master ourselves, we’re certain to get it.
Now, when we feel the urge to “treat ourselves”, we ask what that treat is really costing. Is it worth depriving us of our dreams?
If we can live by that question, we can start to find joy in what we have and see the path to the future we want.
Have you purged yourself of a little luxury to get something bigger? Was it worth it?