minimalist desk

A Family Optimized: Designing the Life We Want to Live

A DESIRE TO LIVE A SIMPLER, MORE MEANINGFUL LIFE

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Famous last words? Maybe not.

About a month ago, my wife and I bought a new house.  We went a bit over our budget (the American Way?) but nothing that puts us in danger of not being able to pay bills.  We ended up selling our old house for a lot more than we thought we would and my father-in-law surprised us with a very generous gift that, altogether, put us in a really great position to buy an amazing home with an awesome yard in the exact neighborhood in the exact city where we wanted to live. Go us!

We had some hardwood floors refinished, got new carpet for the whole first floor, painted dozens of walls, then eventually, moved in.

As most new homeowners know, it is very easy and quite fun, to spend lots of money on your new house.  I even downloaded Pinterest and began pinning design ideas for different rooms.

The money flowed out and the fun was had but at some point I remembered that we had planned to start watching our finances more closely upon moving in.   I had a lot of other plans for the transition to our new home including a better daily health regimen involving improved eating habits and a revived exercise and yoga practice.

While I was able to get the health and fitness habits started the finances were quickly ignored as we shuttled back and forth between the house, Lowes, Target, and Home Depot.

Then in the middle of the blogosphere, I was reunited with the Internet gurus of minimalism and financial independence.

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of voluntary discomfort.  There’s a weird sort of joy that I find in it.  It’s like weight lifters who like to feel the burn or a runner’s high.  No pain, no gain!

So, after a day or two of reading about the evils of consumerism, and how cutting your spending, increasing savings, decluttering your home, becoming more frugal, and freeing up your time will help you live a more meaningful life,  I was ready. I was all in.

I just had to convince…you know who.

THE PITCH

I love my wife dearly.  She is amazing in more ways than I can remember. She has always been supportive of my many interests, whether music, writing, or some other shiny object that has caught my attention.

So, I pitched the idea of  “living a simpler life.” I thought that sounded more appealing than, “hey, let’s become minimalists,” and it was a more accurate.  After all, while aspects of minimalism are certainly appealing to ME, I just didn’t think that would be an easy sell.  And since my true desire was for the results one gets from living more simply, I figured compromising a little before presenting the idea was in everybody’s best interest.  If I came on too strong, we would probably end up tossing the idea completely.

The truth is that we had already talked about watching our finances and spending more consciously, I just wanted to take it to the next level and really only spend money on things that brought lasting joy or value into our lives and top spending money on short-term conveniences.  I wanted to get rid of most of what we hadn’t unpacked yet. We had been living in the new house for two weeks and we had dozens of boxes yet to be opened.  What was in those boxes?.  We obviously weren’t missing any of the stuff that much!

I told my wife, somewhat in passing, one evening that I had an idea that I wanted to ask her about. I told her that I was excited about it and to make sure she has energy to chat the next day after we put the baby to bed.  You see, when she starts to get drowsy, it’s hard to shake her out of it, and it’s no fun to talk to somebody yawning through the conversation.

The next evening, as promised, I went downstairs from putting the baby to bed to find my wife sleeping on the couch.  I have to be honest.  At the time, it irritated me and it set things into motion in the wrong direction.

Admittedly, I think the environment, ambiance, or the mood of a party, a gathering or in this case, a conversation is very important.  I wanted excitement and I knew I wouldn’t get excitement from her, no matter how exciting my pitch was, if she was half asleep.  So I went in to the conversation with a bad attitude.

It was supposed to be a positive conversation full of energy and excitement about this idea of living simply and more meaningfully, and it ended up a half-hearted attempt by grumpy-me to sell pseudo-minimalism to sleepy-her.

As expected, she was open to the idea, but the excitement that I had for the idea was nowhere to be found on her side of the couch.

I voiced my disappointment and the floor fell out from below us both.

THE AFTERMATH

The floor didn’t exactly just disappear, but let’s just say we didn’t notice the loose, rotten floorboards, the missing nails, or the creeks and cracks warning us of the impending descent.

We both left that conversation stressed and disappointed.  My wife still stressed from the move had been having a rough couple weeks at work, our baby had been torturing us with sleep deprivation at an even higher frequency than what we had already found unbearable, and she had a family member that just went into the hospital with little hope of coming out.

To say she was a “little stressed out” would be an understatement.

In hindsight, It was stupid of me to say, “Hey lets choose this stressful time in your life to drastically limit ourselves in several aspects of our lives!  It’s voluntary discomfort! Short term pain for long term gain. Doesn’t that sound awesome!” …and expect excitement.  It was also inconsiderate.

But, to be fair, it really did sound exciting to me.

Nonetheless, that was the moment in time that I chose and the following weekend was awful.

The topic came up multiple times as I tried to figure out why she wasn’t gun-ho like me.  The confusion peaked when she pointed out all the stressors currently in her life and then said, “I don’t know why you’re making me do things I don’t want to do!”

I didn’t think I was!

We had already discussed the mutual desire to watch our finances, and I thought clearing the clutter in life, physical and otherwise, to focus more on spending quality time with our son and each other was something else she was already on board with.  I just wanted to push the start button (and the fast forward button).

We argued in circles all weekend.  But eventually we came to an understanding.

We did want the same things.  We both wanted more time.  We both wanted less stress.  We both wanted to stop spending our hard-earned money on things we didn’t really care about.  But I put the “idea” in the wrong package.

I put a pretty hat in a box marked “pain and suffering”. Who would want to wear that? Well, me apparently… but I digress.

I hid the idea of a happier life, inside a sales pitch for pseudo-minimalism.

(I say pseudo-minimalism because I wasn’t even presenting the idea of true minimalism.  I simply wanted to borrow some of the ideas and practices of minimalism and apply them to our own lifestyle in a way that reaped as many of the benefits as possible while maintaining some of the things that bring value to our lives but may not necessarily be minimalist.)

Though we made it to our destination: understanding, we had already taken a long, ugly, and miserable route  to get there, complete with stops at the crowded relationship tourist traps – “arguments” and “accusations.”

NOW WHAT?

Believe it or not we are venturing on with our own version of this idea of living a more meaningful and fulfilled life through simplicity but on our own terms.  I’m not making my wife give anything away, I never suggested that anyway. We are simply going to be more mindful of the opportunities to optimize our life.

We will think about the value that something brings into our life before spending our money on it.  After all, I didn’t spend a week or more at work away from my family just to buy a sofa.  So while we think putting some furniture in our new living room will bring us joy by giving us a place to relax and hang out with family and friends, we don’t have to spend $2000 on a sofa.

We are going to create the life that we want to live.  When there is not enough time for the things we want to do.  We’ll figure out how to make the time. Not enough money.  We’ll make more, spend less, or save it.

The idea of Life design isn’t just for single twenty-something males working remotely from Thailand on a laptop. It’s for anyone with the drive to make things happen. It’s even available to the average family, like us.

We are going to help each other identify and pursue passions, watch for the every day miracles and express gratitude for them, and grow our family together on our terms.

Our goals: Happiness, growth, excitement, and equanimity.

This is our family, optimized.

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