Two year ago this weekend, my mind spun with the concept of what it meant to be rich.
I knew the world’s definition well. But striving for that wasn’t exactly working out for me. The more stuff we acquired, the more weighed down I felt. The more I had to clean, to pick up, and just flat out worry about.
From the outside, my life looked full. And it was, but not with the right stuff. Meaning and joy were being steamrolled by aspirations for more and by misaligned attachments. I felt like the good was being flattened and slowly squeezed out of my life.
Then my ah-ha moment came. Being rich, I realized, has little to do with financial wealth and everything to do with building a life that is full of what makes you come alive. Of making space in your life for what matters.
“Was I rich in what matters?” I asked myself that day. Quality time with my family, silent moments in prayer, beauty, peace, joy.
Or was I rushing through life, too focused on taking care of stuff to see the simple, beautiful gifts surrounding me? Too often, I was missing what mattered. Too often, I was on autopilot, defaulting to “hurry mode.” The idea of slowing and simplifying was a breath of fresh air.
And so I jumped in. All in. And my minimalist journey began.
Through radically simplifying my life—internally and externally—I’ve redefined the word rich, realizing the things I value most are often intangible.
Over the past two years, my life has become unquestioningly richer through living a more intentional life with less. And I think your life would too.
Here are 5 riches I’ve found you gain by living with less:
1. Stronger, “tuned in” relationships
Living with less will help you tune into your relationships. Before simple living, I’ll admit that at times I was guilty of treating the people around me as another task to check off my to-do list. Feed the baby. Check. Give the 4-year-old a bath. Check. I felt like there was just too much to get done. I couldn’t really be present during those moments with family because I was usually feeling overwhelmed and thinking about the next thing that I needed to do.
Living minimally has strengthened these important relationships immeasurably. I’m now tuned into the needs of my family and able to teach our daughters important life skills like self-regulation and self-care (directly and by modeling). I’ve learned my husband’s needs as an introvert living with four other people in a small space and can help make sure he gets the downtime needed to be present around our family. I’m able to deeply enjoy the people around me and know I’m much more enjoyable to be around, as well.
2. White space
With fewer possessions and commitments, margins surface. You suddenly have white space in your life, which you can now choose how to fill.
I’ve realized the importance of downtime and, honestly, of intentionally doing nothing. Not in a lazy sort of way, but in the sort of way that rebalances your nervous system, allowing the parasympathetic system to take over. I work to fill this downtime with breathing exercises, mindfulness practices (observing what’s going on around me and putting it into words is my favorite), or intentionally listening to whoever’s around me.
3. Spiritual growth
Simplicity nourishes your soul. It gives you space and time to go inward and learn who you really are.
In my experience, as a Christian, the best way to get to know yourself is by getting to know the one who made you. This means conversing with him regularly—about why he made you a certain way and how he wants you to accept and use the gifts you’ve been given.
Lisa Avellan of Simple & Soul says: “Minimalism isn’t about your stuff; it’s about your soul—the ‘you’ underneath all of the stuff.”
By working to detach from your possessions and clear away the clutter from your life, you get in touch with the real you. And, with this self-confidence and self-knowledge, you can make your biggest impact in the lives of those around you.
With more time to process the events of each day, you begin to see more purpose behind things that happen. Taking time to connect the dots of life events, whether good or bad, will help you understand their meaning. Reflection helps you reach your personal goals as you identify and adjust what isn’t working. Through self-reflection, you learn to grow from your mistakes and learn to give yourself grace as you journey through life.
Through reflection, I’ve been able to realize how little I actually need to be happy. And that while basic possessions are needed, newer and bigger stuff doesn’t increase my joy.
A minimalist lifestyle leaves more space for creativity. When your first impulse no longer is to buy something new, problem-solving can require more outside-the-box thinking. Plus, your mind is more at peace and free to think creatively when it’s not bogged down with visual clutter.
With more downtime, my mind has been more able to transition into a creative space for writing. Our brains have different levels of brainwave states and our creativity emerges in the alpha or theta brain state. These states require relaxation and lower stress levels (which is why more ideas come to you on a walk, in the shower, or upon waking). If our minds are constantly in doing mode, it’s hard to tap into our creative minds.
Ask yourself this today: “Are the things I am rich in things that make me come alive?”
If you answered no, only you have the power to change that. Minimalism will give you more time and space, but you still must choose what to fill it with.
A rich life doesn’t mean a perfect life and it certainly doesn’t mean a life without trials. It doesn’t mean a life where nothing is ever taken for granted or one that’s stress free.
But it does mean a life with space for what (and who) you most value. A rich life is a life that you can look back on, day after day, and know that your time was spent well—on what matters.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband and two extremely lively young daughters.