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American Family Budget: Operation Minimalism

Operation Minimalism: Mint.com/blog

I’ve been so focused on (and some might say stressed out by) my family’s new budget that I only just started to realize how it’s affecting us in a way I never expected.

Little by little, our budget is making life simpler.

Sure, less money to spend makes us buy fewer things. That’s a lot less stuff to clean and dust in the house.

But our new lifestyle has changed more than just the amount of stuff we have, it’s also changing the quality of that stuff, as well as our time and our mindsets.

Drowning in Stuff

I’ve been a de-clutterer for years. When we moved into our current house in 2010, I relished the clean slate it represented.

“It’ll be different this time,” I swore. “I’ll stay on top of the clutter and keep this place looking just-moved-in.”

Four years and two metric tons of Oriental Trading Company plastic tchotchkes later, I admit defeat.

As I continually purge our stuff, my family swoops in to replace what I remove.

The boys acquire books and papers and little toys. Their ill-fitting clothes pile up in cupboards and corners.

Once upon a time, the big brother’s clothes could be passed to the little brother, but now that they are 9 and 7, they both grow out of their clothes like David Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk.

One day their shoes fit, the next day they explode.

Our budget not only put a limit to the amount of things we can consciously acquire, but it also reinforced my desire for a more minimalist home environment.

 [Read: Could You Be a Minimalist?]

Just because we have the money for something doesn’t mean we have room in our home or our lives for it.

“Where will I put this?” I wonder, when I come across that perfect accessory for my living room. “But you don’t need more LEGO’s,” I say to my son at least once a week.

And even though you wouldn’t know it to look around my cluttered home, I walk the walk.

I was recently blessed with an entire day alone in my house, and I used it to clean out the master bedroom closet.

That’s right. A whole day to myself and I spent it in the closet.

I pulled everything out, made bags of items to sell, donate, and trash, and put the keepers back in, nice and neat. I ended up with more space, and great things to sell for more money, too.

What’s the Rush?

Last spring I rushed back and forth across town several evenings a week picking kids up from school, dropping this one off at baseball, picking the other one up at karate, dropping off the carpool kid, rushing to get home to get dinner on the table, seeing my husband for two minutes before I rushed to get to my own evening events.

I was exhausting myself.

I had recently quit my big old day job in order to have more time to care for my family.

I considered Sports Chauffeur one of my duties. But I also found myself filling the new free time with new obligations and events.

Since then, our budget cut for sports and other kids’ activities has reduced our time commitments dramatically.

Now we limit them to one sport per season (plus karate) and a break during the summer. I also found another karate mom who carpools with us.

We save money, hassle, and gas.

Limiting our gas spending also makes me very picky about the events I attend.

I no longer RSVP with a yes to every shiny party invitation that takes me deep into Los Angeles traffic. I save time and sanity there, too.

Quality Time

Still, not filling up my time is a struggle for me.

Give me 20 minutes and I naturally multi-task: I can talk on the phone while making dinner, running a load of laundry, and overseeing the kids’ homework.

But I do a better job when I focus on each of those things, one at a time.

I have a wonderful example right in front of my nose.

While I scurry around in the morning making lunches, my husband quietly sips his coffee, allowing himself to wake up.

While I scurry around cleaning the kitchen after dinner, he draws pictures with the kids, or plays games with them.

He reads with them. He lets them stay up late.

I tell myself “I’ve been with them all day, I don’t need to sit and play with them,” but the reality is that I don’t sit and play with them in the afternoons, either.

I make them do their homework, or change into their sports clothes, or do their chores. I get them set up with an activity (or a TV show) so I can do laundry or start chopping vegetables for dinner.

But Stewart doesn’t worry about that stuff. He just spends his time with us. It makes him happy.

I take the cue from him, and lately I’ve been enjoying my family much more. Dinner still gets made.

The floor still gets swept…just a little bit later.

Our budget has slowly changed me. At first, I was forced to choose what we can afford, whether we’re talking about things or activities.

Over the last few months, I’ve been approaching the bigger things in life with that same mindfulness. It’s become easier to focus on what’s important.

We only have 24 hours in a day. We don’t know how many days we have.

Doesn’t it make sense that we aim to spend our time – and our money – doing or acquiring only the things that make our lives richer?

Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based writer who has a husband, two little boys, and an obsession with spreadsheets.