It's the weirdest phenomenon I think I've ever seen. We set goals, make plans and work hard to create a life that is simple and as stress-free as possible.
Yet it seems like the same things that we thought would set us free actually enslave us over time to a life of strife, worry and fear.
Who knows when or how or where it starts? You see it as early as elementary school. Kids compare what they have or wear with their classmates. By the time they're in high school, it's cars and clothes.
Then, it's getting into the best college. It seems to take a break when we get our first full-time job. Maybe that's because our focus is on mere survival and enjoying life for its own sake. But as soon as survival is assured, the race is on again.
The rat race takes another pause when we find the love of our life, get married and start a family. At that point, our focus is generally on giving and loving and serving our spouse and family. We count our blessings and settle into a comfortable routine. Life is good.
Then, for some reason we start noticing the Joneses. We buy a bigger house. In fact, we buy the biggest house we can afford. Then nicer cars. And because the nicest cars are too expensive to buy with cash, we LEASE them, guaranteeing that we will ALWAYS have car payments.
Then the charge accounts at various department stores. BOOM! All of a sudden, we're the personalized version of Greece.
And it's not just with possessions that we complicate our lives. We have this obsession in America that we have to have a contingency plan for every possible calamity. Americans must be the most insured society on the planet.
Car insurance, homeowners, life, accident, health, even nursing home (long term care) insurance. In essence, we're betting against ourselves. We even have angst about affording our insurance premiums.
So we end up with layers of angst and guilt and worry. "How did I get here? How long can I continue this way? What am I ever to do?" Then comes a recession or a job loss to help clarify things.
Folks lose their cars, their homes, credit cards, retirement savings, even the ability to pay their insurance premiums. It's all gone. What's left? Nothing!
Janis Joplin said it best. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Many folks have learned that lesson the hard way.
If it's too hard to give away, it's almost guaranteed to be taken away. As stated in the tile to the column, "The hardest part of simplifying your life is giving up those things that complicate it in the first place."
OK, Tim. How do I start simplifying this life of mine? I'm glad you asked. One of the things that has helped me is to start living by a core set of principles. Here are some of the principles that guide me. Maybe you'll find them helpful.
- I was designed to be healthy. The more things I do the be healthy, the healthier I am.
- Insurance was designed for catastrophes. I buy high-deductible insurance (car, home, health, etc.) to hedge my risks, not to cover EVERY possible contingency.
- Debt is bad. I pay cash for what I buy. "When you find yourself in a hole, stop diggin!" Somebody get that word to Washington, D.C.!
- Cash is king! The more you have (whether in your pocket or in the bank) the more flexibility you have in all aspects of your life.
- The grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence, but probably because there's manure all over the place over there. Stay close to home.
- Discretion is the better part of valor. When in doubt, "No" is probably the best answer.
- Worry will flat kill you. The instruction manual asks the question "Who can add a single hour to their life by worrying?" The answer is simply "No one."
Remember, adequate is enough. And, enough is the key to simplicity. I wish you much success in simplifying your life. There's a peace that simplicity can provide. I welcome you to the simple life.