Note: Today’s post is an excerpt from Tammy Strobel’s new print book, You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap).
She’s been featured on Peace & Projects before in this post about how she left her day job to become her own boss. Help her feel welcome by sharing your thoughts in the comments. Cheers, Tammy! You are simply sweet.
From Tammy’s book:
Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. — William James
Have you ever experienced a turning point?
Where the tide beneath your feet completely shifts and you start thinking in a brand-new way?
On December 31, 2007, I experienced a turning point — an idea that caused me to wake up out of a deep haze. It all started with a short YouTube video featuring Dee Williams. In the video, Dee talked about the idea of downsizing, or what she called “smart-sizing herself,” and why she decided to build a small, cozy dwelling on wheels.
After watching the video, I became completely intrigued by the idea of simplifying my life, and subsequently I read other articles about Dee and her little house.
In one article, she described a trip she took to Guatemala to help build a school. When she returned home she realized there was a lot of stuff in her life she simply didn’t need. In a small zine called The Little House Dee described her trip by saying,
“I met some incredible people. They were generous and kind and very, very poor. They didn’t have running water or electricity in their houses. They cooked outside and shared a bathroom with their neighbors. And still they seemed happy…at least, they made our work fun and helped me feel happy.”
When Dee returned to Portland, Oregon, she sold her “big house” and decided to downsize dramatically by building her own tiny, 84-square-foot home on wheels, a dwelling similar in size to the homes she saw in Guatemala.
Dee’s story resonated with me on a number of levels. She was the kind of person I wanted to be; she prioritized what was most important in life, like building strong relationships, giving back to her community, and doing what she loved for a living.
She wasn’t focused on the acquisition of material goods and was authentically living her ideals. Most of all, she seemed happy.
Dee’s story inspired me to go small and start thinking big.
After reading a lot of blogs and books focused on simple living, my husband, Logan, and I decided to start downsizing our living space. We gave away most of our belongings. Interestingly, the more we gave away, the better we felt. Happiness researchers call this a “helper’s high,” in which helping others through volunteering or giving reduces stress and releases endorphins.
Prior to this turning point, I had been living a “normal life” and I wasn’t happy.
Logan and I were thirty thousand dollars in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and felt stuck in a rut. Something had to change, especially if we wanted to make our dreams a reality.
As I was doing background research for this book, I wondered what a “normal life” looked like in the United States. I discovered some very disturbing trends.
For instance, in September 2011 the nation’s poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent — its highest level in seventeen years. According to the US Census Bureau, household income declined between 2009 and 2011, and the number of people without health insurance increased. In September 2011, National Public Radio reported, “Income declined for just about everyone — surprisingly — at a faster rate overall than it did in 2008, when the recession was in full swing.”
In addition, a variety of reports indicate the average American carries over eight thousand dollars in credit card debt and has 6.5 credit cards.
Like many Americans, Logan and I had good intentions — we wanted to pay down our debt, improve our health, and contribute to our community. Until we made a shift in our lifestyle, none of these things would happen.
Living simply enabled us to make our dreams a reality.
The lifestyle changes we made improved our marriage and relationships with friends and family members. For instance, by selling both our cars, we’ve lost weight — we get around by bicycle now — and we aren’t worried about earning enough money to pay for our cars every month. Instead, we used the money we would have spent on car payments to pay down debt.
Where We’re Going
In The Art of Non-conformity, Chris Guillebeau notes, “I adhere to a guru-free philosophy, I don’t claim to have all the answers.” I’m on the same page as Chris. I’m not a simplicity or happiness guru, and I don’t have all the answers.
As an avid reader, I learn the most from stories. During the course of this book, I tell a lot of stories about my life and the lives of the people I interviewed. I provide “micro-actions” for putting the ideas into practice. In addition, I share a number of inspiring lessons I’ve learned along the way. Those lessons include:
• Happiness comes from connecting to your community and building strong relationships.
• Money can buy happiness, but it depends on how you spend it.
• The excessive consumption of material goods won’t make you happy over the long run.
• Learning to get more from less is one way to find happiness, reclaim your time, and live on your own terms.
• Any kind of life change requires hard work, patience, and the willingness to be open to new perspectives.
Norman MacEwan, an author and scholar, once said,
“Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
I don’t want you to sleepwalk through life like I did.
I want you to find your own version of happiness.
Tammy Strobel is a writer, simple living advocate, coffee addict, and tiny house enthusiast. She created her blog, RowdyKittens.com, to share her story of embracing simplicity. Since then, her story has been featured in the New York Times, The Today Show, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, and in a variety of other media outlets. She currently lives with her husband in a tiny house in Northern California. Her blog is www.rowdykittens.com.
From the book You Can Buy Happiness (And It’s Cheap). Copyright 2012 by Tammy Strobel. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657.