It was a Friday morning and I was looking at our bank account, feeling that special anxiety known to freelancers everywhere: Waiting for project payments to arrive. Blink slowly. Nope, still not there. It looked like we wouldn’t get paid until Monday. It hasn’t always been this way.
Eighteen months ago, I left a profitable, exhausting, corporate communications career to strike out on my own and travel the country with my husband in our Airstream trailer. While working for myself is wonderful in so many ways—fewer meetings and more mental space are just a few benefits—it’s hard not to miss that regular paycheck. Cash now comes in waves instead of a predictable flowing river.
Mulling it over, I realized we didn’t really need anything, so there was no sense in stressing over that low balance. We had food in the fridge, wine in the cupboard, books to read and feet to walk on—as long as we didn’t spend mindlessly over the weekend we’d be fine.
But I didn’t want to be the household nag, or to feel like a martyr all weekend. All this required was a simple shift from the mindset of sacrifice to one of a challenge; from the feeling of lacking what we don’t have to one of appreciating what we already own.
While we’d be doing the exact same thing (not spending any money), positioning it as a a kind of game immediately felt fun and full of potential. So I proposed the “buy nothing” weekend challenge to my husband, and after only a little haggling, and a few, “But what will we do?” questions, he agreed.
Shifting Our Mindset
By Sunday evening, the weekend had sped by, we’d used zero dollars and we felt more relaxed than we have in months. Here’s what we did (and didn’t) do:
1. We caught up on work.
That project we were waiting to get a deposit for had a Monday deadline. Normally we try to keep a somewhat normal weekday work schedule to avoid burnout, but sometimes it’s nice to just work when we have work and then take off a weekday once we’ve met our deadlines.
2. We went outside.
Instead of going out to a movie or a restaurant, we took our dog out for short walks and a hike in the nearby national forest. On Sunday we set up our camp chairs outside and watched the sunset. We’re currently in New Mexico, where the sky puts on a free show every night. We hadn’t watched it for more than a minute in weeks, but that night we lingered for hours.
3. We celebrated with family.
My mother-in-law just moved to the town we’re staying in. Saturday night we brought some supplies over to her place and cooked potluck-style. I dug out a bottle of champagne we’d bought awhile back, and all of a sudden a simple meal of sautéed veggies, rice and chicken felt like a full-on fête for her move, our being together and life in general—no fancy restaurant needed.
4. We ate our leftovers.
Over the weekend we did run out of things like cheese, yogurt and chocolate that would typically inspire an impromptu store run. But instead of racing out to restock, or going out to eat because we didn’t feel like having what was in the fridge, we lived without and used what we had. Our meals were simple, but nothing went to waste and it was a great reminder of what we need (nourishment) vs. what we want (cheese, always cheese).
5. We drank less.
Because we knew that we only had what was already in the house, we drank less and savored it more. It turns out the weekend can feel complete without that Saturday afternoon brewery visit. The one that always somehow tallies up to at least $40 when one beer turns into two and we just can’t resist the siren song of those truffle fries.
6. We made things.
I love decorating for holidays, and Halloween is my absolute favorite, but every year I battle an internal conflict between the joy I get from decking out our small home and the feeling that it’s a waste to spend money and storage space on things that only get used once a year. Usually my practical side wins, but this year instead of passing up the quick hit of happiness, I dug out my yarn stash.
Lo and behold there was a ball of bright orange cotton and one of flecked, black wool that had been sitting neglected. By Sunday night I had crafted a small army of crocheted, fuzzy-legged spiders and a nubby pumpkin patch. They make me smile each morning, and because they’re so small they carry zero storage qualms for our 188 square-foot living space. Plus I used up something we were storing and turned it into something I really enjoy.
We remembered our values.
While we strive to live simply year round, this weekend has been a much needed reset. It was a reminder for us to pause for a moment and give ourselves the space to consider what we want vs. what we need, that chocolate is not a necessity, that experiences will always hold more value than anything we could purchase and that we already have plenty. And how fortunate we truly are for that.