This is a guest post from Amanda, a Colorado tech writer and an activist for children with congenital heart disease.

For a couple of years I’ve been learning the “tips and tricks” to saving money. I’ve read about freezing your credit cards, paying yourself first, the “latte factor,” etc., but the most important thing I’ve learned, I learned from myself: to change the way I live, I had to change the way I think.
To save money, I had to save myself from my inner- consumer. I had to learn the true relationship between money and stuff. I didn’t have much money or stuff growing up, and once I had it, I couldn’t stop wasting money to get more stuff. I thought, “It’s only money.” But that ‘s a lie consumerists tell to themselves.
Money represents many things:

  • Money is time. It’s the time you spend to earn it and the sacrifices you make to get more: the time you spend in school to get a better job, the weekend work you do to get ahead, and all the other things you miss out on.
  • Money is power. It enables you say yes or no to opportunities or demands. It lets you opt in or opt out of positive or negative situations. Having money lets you retire at 55; not having it keeps you working indefinitely.
  • Money is security. If you’ve ever been truly poor, just knowing that you’ll still have a roof over your head even during a hard time is worth its weight in gold. Money in the bank can give you peace of mind.

Stuff is sneaky. Stuff can give you a false sense of time, power, and security.

Stuff will not enhance the quality of your time, unless you have only the stuff you need to do the activities you enjoy and no more. Yet, so many people (myself included) accumulate more stuff than they can ever use even if they lived forever. Last year, about two weeks before she died, my grandma sat in a nursing home realizing she would never go back to her house. She lamented a craft room jammed full of stuff that she would never use. Too much stuff makes you feel like you won’t ever have enough time. Too much stuff makes you feel time-poor.
Stuff might make you feel powerful, like when you buy a really fancy TV or brand new furniture. But if you buy it on credit, or wipe out your savings, it actually weakens you. If you have debt or no savings, what happens when a true emergency happens? You are powerless. Stuff can steal your power.
Stuff can be emotional and disorienting. I know a wonderful lady who is adored by everyone, but she can’t get rid of her stuff. It makes her feel secure. But having 26 clear glass vases that have no monetary value, but not having room for your breakfast cereal, is probably not providing you the right kind of security.

Taking control of your environment — determining what stays based wholly on what makes you happy because it is useful, beautiful, and has meaning to you — leads to confidence. If you can have the confidence to make decisions, to keep your space and your mind free of clutter, then you should feel more secure in who you are, not the stuff you have. Both of my grandparents died last year, and we had to clean out that craft-room and a tiny house overrun with stuff. My grandparents were two of the least happy people I knew; coincidentally, they probably had more stuff than anyone I know.
I’ve learned to choose my stuff wisely, and to get rid of stuff that drains my energy or steals my power. I had to change my mindset before I could do that. Not so long ago, a walk-in closet only three-quarters full would make me want to spend more money to get more stuff. Now it makes me happy, because I know exactly what I have, and can find it and use it. Once you can change your mindset about money and stuff, you begin to learn that less stuff leads not only to more money, but also to more time, more security, and more power.

Here are some examples from my own life:

  • No cell phone = no one calling me when I’m busy, no life-endangering car-talks
  • Fewer books = opportunity to take my kids to the library and save for their college
  • No crafty hobbies I won’t get around to = no guilt about all that stuff I’m not doing
  • No fast food lunches = no fatty food that doesn’t even taste good, and better health for me
  • No knick-knack collections = cleaner house and less time spent dusting stuff I don’t really want
  • No fancy cable package = less time wasted being a couch potato & longer life expectancy because I’m up off my butt using my time and money wisely

Remember that just because I choose to live without cable or a cell phone or certain hobbies doesn’t mean that everyone should. Find the things you can’t live without and jettison the rest. A life with less stuff can be liberating — the money you save is just a bonus.

Amanda’s previous articles at Get Rich Slowly include:

Look for more from her in the future.

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