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If you’re like most people, you wake up in the morning and go to work five days a week. You spend about 8 hours a day at a job you hate because that’s how you pay for the things you want and take care of the people you love. The problem is, this 40-hour workweek leaves you exhausted when you finally do get home. Worse still, if you’re in a relationship, the person you chose to spend your life with has a similar job with a conflicting schedule. Between work and the daily commute, the two of you rarely see each other. If your family size is larger than just two, the scheduling gets even more complicated and family time has become a rarity. When you do have time off together, there’s an endless list of housework, lawn care, and other chores that fill the free time you have between work weeks. If you’re beginning to think there has to be a better way – I’m here to tell you that there is.
The first step to getting out of this rat race is defining what you need. These things are basic to all people with little variation. For example, everyone needs food, shelter, and water. However, people in cold climates also need access to heating and warm clothes. Those in more temperate or tropical climates can get away without heating – and before you start thinking that air conditioning is a “need”, it isn’t. One way to help you differentiate between needs and wants is to ask yourself if you could survive without it. You cannot survive very long without food, but you can live a long and happy life without 20 pairs of shoes in your closet. You would not last more than a few days without water, but you can walk anywhere you want to go if you don’t own a vehicle. While you do need shelter, you could live in a home that doesn’t have a two-car garage and 3,000 sqft of interior space.
Make a list of those things you need in your life to survive and make sure this is a very short list. If there are more than ten items on your needs list, there are probably a few items you could actually live without.
Now, this list is not the only things you will have while living an intentional life. However, this exercise will help you realize just how much excess baggage you’re carrying with you. The first thing you need to do with this list is compute the monthly and annual cost of just those things you need. Compare that figure with your current income and you’ll probably find that you’re far exceeding your needs. Think about the people around the world that die every day because they cannot afford adequate food, shelter, and clean water – then reflect on how lucky you are to have a live with so much luxury.
The next thing we’re going to do is add a few creature comforts to that list you’ve started. These are the things you want in your life and are willing to trade some of your freedom for these things. Keep in mind that each item you add to your wants list will cost you money – which equates to freedom. You see, when you spend time at work earning money to pay for your needs and wants you are automatically giving up your freedom to spend that time in other ways. Perhaps you would like to spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you’ve always wanted to travel and see the world. There may even be a business you’ve always wanted to start. If you’re trading your time for money to pay for your needs and wants then you have less time to spend on these other activities. As valuable as money is – your time is the most valuable thing you have. You cannot make more time and you can’t borrow it either, money is much easier to come by.
Go through your list of wants again and again until you narrow it down to only those things you feel that you can’t live without. One interesting thing I’ve found is that the items on your want list will gradually shrink as you begin to lead a more intentional life. Years ago, I wanted to have a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home with 1,800 sqft of living space. As I became more intentional with my life, I felt that a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment with 1,000 sqft would be acceptable. Later, I found myself living in a 300 sqft apartment while studying in Barcelona and I loved it. Today, when I’m traveling, everything I want fits into carry-on luggage and I love it! I do have a few extra items in my apartment, but they cost nothing to maintain and I received them at no cost.
The goal here is not necessarily to live with fewer and fewer possessions. Rather, the intention is to spend less time acquiring and maintaining things that take you away from what’s important in your life. Don’t be surprised when your list of wants begins to shrink as you become more comfortable with intentional living.
If your passion in life is to spend time with your family – ask yourself if buying more things and working longer hours will help you achieve that goal. Use this same question to help you decide how to best spend your time and money any time you’re tempted by some bright and shiny thing.
This is just the start of your intentional life. Once you know what you need and want, you can begin to think about what you’re passionate about. Spending more time with your passions and less time doing those things that drain you will energize your life. Rather than coming home drained and longing to escape into a sitcom, you’ll be refreshed and excited to talk with your friends and family about what you’ve been doing with your day. As you stop spending money on things you neither need or want, you can begin to pay down debt and build your savings. At some point, you will be in a good position to chase your passions full-time even if it requires a cut in pay – because you don’t need as much money. This may sound scary now, but I’ve already made this transition – and it’s amazing.
Ten years ago, I was working as a restaurant manager and earning more than double what I make now. I had two car payments, an 1,800 sqft house, an unlimited cellphone package, and the best television package available. These luxuries took up my entire paycheck and left me gathering credit card debt. I longed to travel and see the world, but I couldn’t see any way to make it happen. Fast-forward through those ten years and today I live in a 500 sqft apartment, earn less than half as much as I did before, and I’ve been to Bolivia, Spain, France, Italy, Andorra, Turkey, and the UK. This summer I spent a month traveling around Europe and I have plans to visit much more of this world.
Stop going through the motions of your life and wishing things were different. Start living with intention today and focus your time and resources on creating the life you want now.