A couple of years ago, I took a series of vows (or precepts) as a Zen student. Among them, I vowed not to take more than what I need. Now, if you live by intentions or vows , you know that a big part of that practice is bringing awareness into what happens when we break these vows. These are not rigid rules, but fluid guidelines that help us to hold ourselves accountable.
So when I brought more attention and awareness into the idea of living with what I need, I noticed that my life style by nature seemed excessive. I was working full time, often running late… dropping work clothes at the dry cleaner, ordering takeout, and hopping in taxis to get across town quickly. What I needed to maintain my pace was actually quite a lot.
Eventually I made a major decision to leave the full-time workplace and strike off on my own as a freelancer. I was terrified of going broke, so the first thing I did was look at ways I could slash my personal budget. Having more time at home meant I could get pretty creative with things, and running around less meant that I needed less too.
The results were remarkable: the less I worked, the less I needed, which created a positive feedback cycle that really allowed me to reduce my footprint. Of course, there is a point of diminishing returns. I’m not suggesting that if you work for four hours a week you will be able to live without food, BUT with trial and error I am finding a sweet spot in the production – consumption balance.
Here are some ways in which the freelance lifestyle has allowed me to cut back:
I consume less water.
After my last day in the office, I emptied my closet and gave away all of my office clothes. This might be a little extreme, but I was really excited to be liberated from the excessive routine I had developed in order to look “professional.” As a freelancer I’m not a slob, but I don’t feel the need to wear a freshly laundered and ironed outfit every day. If I wear the same shirt and jeans a couple of times during the week, it’s no big deal. And I’ve definitely realized that showering every day is excessive and completely unnecessary for most of us.
So by cutting back on my laundry and showering needs, I’ve been able to drastically reduce my water consumption. This saves me money; and more importantly, I am doing my part to conserve a valuable resource: water. (It is not unlimited, people!)
I save time and fuel.
Cutting out the daily commute was a huge life change. I was actually a bike commuter for most of my office life, but I still consumed plenty of fuel on those days when I was running late or had tons of errands to do. Adding my commute time to the morning beauty routine, I easily have an extra two hours a day for productive tasks. That’s ten hours a week, or more than an extra work day! Incredible! And it goes without saying that less fuel consumption is good both for my wallet and for the environment. (In fact, I’m starting to discover that most things that are easy on my wallet are also easy on the environment. Huh.)
I cook at home.
Working at home means that I can take a super long lunch break if I want to. Actually, I’ve found that a long mid-day break improves my ability to focus in the afternoon and my overall productivity. I really look forward to chopping veggies in the middle of the day. It gives my eyes a rest and my body a chance to be active after working on a computer all morning. And my home-cooked lunches produce very little waste: no takeout, and no rushing means that I don’t even buy pre-cut or washed, packaged veggies. Not to mention that my diet is way cleaner and healthier. I’m less stressed, and less likely to reach for a Starbucks latte or processed sugar to keep myself going. And yes, it is way cheaper and more sustainable. So I’d say that home cooking is a win across the board.
I have time to be crafty.
If you’re like me, beauty products are an important and comforting part of your routine. They are also costly, they come in plastic containers, and they often contain chemicals. So when I began my crazy budget-slashing spree, I realized that the beauty product insanity had to go. Since I had more free time (10 hours a week… remember?) I went on a DIY rampage and learned how to make things myself. These days, I make almost everything at home, from toothpaste to deodorant to body lotion and face cream. The only thing I have left to learn is the great art of soap making. (If you want to get in on the homemade beauty product fun, I recommend getting started on the Crunchy Betty blog.)
You might not necessarily be into DIY beauty products, but my point here is that the freelance lifestyle lends itself to creativity, which is pretty awesome. Who knows, you might even become an entrepreneur and sell your new inventions!
I don’t shop emotionally.
I have enough time to start my day with meditation and yoga. Sometimes I meet up with a friend for lunch or coffee. If there’s good surf or an important family engagement happening, I can take the time I need. I still have deadlines and hard weeks, and truthfully, I often work over the weekend. But the freedom in my schedule allows me to live a life that is spiritually, socially, and physically fulfilling. So I’ve noticed that lately most of my purchases are utilitarian. I don’t find myself buying clothes or shoes during my lunch break to justify the stressful ten-hour day I just worked. This is completely natural… the more fulfilled I am, the less I need. Let go of it, and it will fill you up.
Start small: How can you cut back?
My lifestyle changes have been pretty radical, I get that. Freelancing is not for everyone: it can be unstable, you can have months with no cash flow, and working for some clients can be worse than having a boss. So I’m not saying that you need to do exactly what I did. I’m just hoping that by sharing my story, I might inspire you to rethink your work/life balance. Maybe a bigger salary means bigger needs, and the difference you take home is not actually that much.
Perhaps working more and more does not necessarily equate a better quality of life. Maybe you can work from home one day a week, and reap the benefits of those savings. Or maybe you can forego working overtime in favor of doing something that makes you feel more whole.
So how about you freelancers out there? Have you been able to simplify as a result of your freedom?