In this consumerism-obsessed, materialism-driven age, is it possible to transform ourselves from being obsessed with what we want to being content with what we actually need?
I am here to tell you that yes, it’s possible and easier than you might think. My family and I have been making this transition over the past few years, and we are amazed when we compare our mindset today with what it was when we began. We are learning what it means to be satisfied with what we need. It’s a beautiful thing to find now that the things we want and the things we need are harmoniously one and the same.
There is enormous freedom to be found, if you just know where to look.
Identify Your Greatest Need
What is it that you really need? For the moment, let’s lay aside the necessities of food, shelter, clothing, and good health, and let’s talk about the internal part of you. What is that one need that when left unmet throws every other part of your life out of balance? Identifying this is of utmost importance because no matter how much stuff you accumulate, how many avenues you explore, or to what extremes you go, you will never be fully happy until you identify and fill that one, basic, greatest need.
One of the first necessary steps to uncover this is to reconnect to your childhood self. Remember that person? For me, it’s a little brown-haired girl with ponytails, hazel-green eyes, and a heart full of hope that learned early on to rely heavily upon prayer and a connection to God that was authentic and integral. I personally found that my most pressing need was and continues to be a spiritual one. One of my earliest childhood memories is kneeling beside my bed to pray and finding a rare sense of comfort and deep-seated peace. That basic, deepest need as a 3-year-old is still my greatest need today. So simple, yet so profound.
Identify Your 2nd-Greatest Need
For me, it’s to live in peace and spend as much time as possible with the ones I love. The older I get, the more I see the brevity of life and feel a deep need to make the most of every precious moment. I find that I can’t function well when I am at odds with anyone in my inner circle, and it’s important to me to keep communication lines open and do whatever it takes to make them a priority.
Identify Subsequent Needs
Perhaps you feel an intense longing to serve others, create, travel, explore, learn, or teach. Think about what fulfills you and makes you feel complete, and identify what is preventing you from doing these things. What stands in your way?
As you identify your greatest needs, are you seeing a pattern? Are you noticing that true needs aren’t “things” at all? Authentic needs are matters of the heart, the inside of you. As your thought process is transformed to focus on what is internal, you realize that to fill those needs, you will find it necessary to eliminate much that is external.
Just a few years ago, my family and I “owned” a four-bedroom, three-bath home, with an oversized two-car garage on two acres of land. Our house, garage, attic, closets, cupboards, and drawers were stuffed to the brim, we were up to our eyeballs in debt, the continual upkeep and maintenance of physical possessions robbed time and energy needed to nurture our spirituality, and our lifestyle required my husband to keep his nose to the grindstone bound to a job he detested.
My husband felt a deep sense of nagging guilt over watching our only son grow up too quickly and not being able to spend enough time with him. We didn’t need much of what we wanted, and our wants got in the way of fulfilling our hearts’ needs. Our epiphany came when our identity was stolen, and we were forced to face the reality of all we owed and the toll we were allowing excess to take on our lives.
We sold our home, released about 90 percent of what we owned, became 100 percent debt-free, and moved to the mountains. We switched from the fast lane to a slow-moving pace that is conducive to the nourishing of our souls. Instead of going back into debt, we made the choice to rent a small, furnished home that someone else is responsible to maintain.
Several months after our move, my husband’s job was outsourced, and he took time off to help finish our 13-year homeschool journey. There was a time we would have been devastated and lost everything we “owned” because of the unexpected job loss. Fortunately, by making our needs our wants and our needs very few ahead of time, we were able to rejoice over being set free from such bondage. My husband was able to be completely involved and become the hands-on father he always wanted to be. During his time of unemployment, we were free to explore and do things together that we could never have experienced otherwise.
Life has a way of blurring the lines and injecting unwanted, uninvited distraction that keeps us from fulfilling our deepest needs. It may take some hard work, intense soul-searching, and deep digging to find what your greatest needs are, but there is great wisdom in seeking your true self. It’s there, though probably buried under a heap of cheap substitutes, insufficient fillers, and the inadequacy of excess possessions.
It all comes down to what matters most and the choices you are willing to make.
Cheryl Smith blogs at Biblical Minimalism.com. Her family sold their home, released 90 percent of their physical possessions, got out of debt, and now share their story and their Christian faith on their blog. She is the author of the books, “Biblical Minimalism” and “Homespun Devotions: Volume One.”