You can choose to want less

Are you a minimalist? Are you trying to get into minimalism? Sometimes it just comes down to wanting less. Here's how. #minimalism #intentionalspending #yourmoneyoryourlife #FIRE

Two months ago, I found myself at a run down coffee shop on a college campus, picking at an over-sized muffin and working on a pretty good anxiety stomachache.

I was there to meet with a financial adviser. I anticipated a terrifying, math-y, money-based conversation that would somehow make me feel both poor and stupid. (Like most people in the world, I prefer to feel not-poor and passably intelligent.)

My advisor turned out to be a lovely, helpful, totally normal human who used normal human words to explain complex subjects. I did not, however, expect her to be a source of Buddha-like insight.

As we were poring over my savings and retirement plan, she turned to a multi-colored graph and said “So there are basically three approaches to saving. You can work more. You can save more. Or you can want less.” 

And then the skies cracked open and a choir of angels tootling on reasonably priced horns announced a personal paradigm shift. 

I am not unfamiliar with the minimalist movement. I love a good capsule wardrobe. I know how to make do and mend. I don’t have a tv blahblahblah. I’ve lapped up a million magazine articles and life coach-written blog posts about the importance of less. But there was something thrilling about hearing this from a numbers-based, decidedly non-woo woo financial professional.

In fact, I like that so much, let’s say it again.

You can work more. You can save more. Or you can want less. Share on X

She was not espousing the emotional, psychological benefits of less.
She was not imparting the environmental benefits of less.
She wasn’t telling me that I’d like getting dressed in the morning if I had fewer clothes in my closet.

She was simply relating a numbers-based reality. I could stop working and spend more time by the water if I adjusted my vision for the future. I could have an apartment on the water in Minnesota before I could have a house on the ocean in California.

Now, I’m not saying we should collectively ‘aim lower.’ I’m not saying that we should all take mediocre jobs or date boring humans who don’t light our fires. I’m not saying you should stop wanting a vacation home in Italy BECA– USE I ALSO REALLY WANT A VACATION HOME IN ITALY.

But what if we took a look at the things that we believe we want and really, actively considered them? Are they goals that we set for ourselves? Or are they wishes that seeped into our brains via women’s magazines and billboards? Do we really want a fancy car or are we just enamored of our friend’s 2015 Audi?

What would our lives and futures look like if we gave ourselves permission to want a little less? To not quite strive so hard? To make a conscious decision to shift our focus?

I’ve given myself permission to want less. If you want it, here’s yours.


I’d love to hear about your relationship with wanting, striving, consuming. Have you spent a lot of time considering your goals and dreams? Have you ever found yourself chasing a dream that’s too big for you or not really yours to begin with?

P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

Photo by Spencer on Unsplash

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  1. lulu

    Living with less has been a goal of mine for several years. after reading the stellar book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, it has actually (no woo-woo) changed my perspective and thusly, my life. It’s all about finding your “click level” with what you own/want to own. It isn’t about sparseness or unlivable minimalism, just your “click level” and how to surround yourself with what feeds you instead of what you feel guilty about holding on to etc. Fascinating read, I think you’d love it!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ooooh! Everyone I know who has read it has loved it, I’ll have to check it out!

    • Lindsey @hazelhaven

      I instantly thought how much this was similar to Konmari too! It really does help you put things into perspective and only surround yourself with things that spark joy- without being too hokey!

  2. Kelsi

    I can’t recommend highly enough the Mr. Money Mustache blog. Last year I blew out the candles on my 30th birthday cake and thought, “I’m divorced, laid off, house poor, stuck with a car payment after a drunk driver totaled my old car, and have basically zero savings for retirement. What the f*** am I going to do?” One month later, I started my current job (and I really enjoy it!). Shortly after, I discovered the MMM blog through a friend. He describes himself as “a thirtysomething retiree who now writes about how we can all live a frugal yet Badass life of leisure.” I wish I didn’t have something cliché to say like “It changed my life!” but it did. I’ve completely restructured how I spend, save, and live… all through his free advice.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oooh! All that sounds so awesome!

  3. chloe

    SO MUCH YES! my boyfriend and I have been slowly readjusting our life priorities around this idea, the “wanting less”. we didn’t have an ah ha moment, but i’ve been influenced by the tiny house movement for years. we look around us at friends and family caught up in the rat race and the bigger houses and the expensive adult toys, and we chose to say no to that ourselves. we get to work less, or to stay in jobs that are more fulfilling but that pay less and still get to have the lifestyle we want because we are opting out of the huge mortgage.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I totally get it, Chloe. I’m renting a house (rather than buying) and at time I feel like I’m “doing it wrong” because being “successful” means “owning a home” but I don’t want to! I don’t want that responsibility!

      • Marie

        I totally hear you! I don’t fancy a mortgage and being tied down!

  4. J

    Hi Sarah! This is a nice and insightful post. I didn’t realise I had too much clothes until I had to clean my closet to make room for my boyfriend’s when he moved in with me the start of this year. I’ve always thought I only had a few clothes because the every day struggle was ‘I have nothing to wear.’ 4 garbage bags of unwanted clothes after, I realised I was living a lie. Haha! Now, my closet looks relaxed (there is space!) and clean and there is always something nice to wear. I also have more money to put into savings, which is always a plus. Like you, I’m not apologetic for wanting less now because I know I’m merely preparing for my future.

  5. NZ Muse

    I love this!

    That said I’ve kinda taken a total opposite approach. Earn more. (Yet work less) – that is, getting out of a creative field that pays crap.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Also a totally valid approach 😉

  6. Ana Elisa

    Love this post. I’m 29 and struggling with “I should own a house, start a family, but also travel the world and write books”. It’s important to reflect on what you really want vs what society makes you believe you want. Or maybe just understand your life’s timing and priorities.

  7. Sandra, Itu

    You Can Choose To Want Less – wow, that’s mind-blowing! Ever since I read “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez & (argh mind just went blank!), I’ve been working on downshifting. Not always successfully but 2 steps forward and 1 step back is still progress! From now on I’ll keep in mind that I am not powerless to control my wants, I can choose them!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Sandra, I read that too! So good!

  8. Rachel Marie

    My husband and I were about 3 months married and newly moved-in when we decided to take Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey. It was very enlightening and empowering. Our current goal is to kill our student debts (about a year there!) and build from there.

    Quite honestly, we’ve had to do a little bit of everything. 🙂 I loved that. We decided on a budget, decided on a savings goal and have been working from there. My income is being snowballed as much as is possible into the debt and we try our best to work solely on his income.

    With this plan, we were able to visit Greece, Italy, Denmark, Iceland and Boston for 6 weeks. We haven’t finished all our goals, but it was nice to have that big mid-way reward! <3

  9. Kate @ Cashville Skyline

    Wow, I love this! Just found your post and NZ Muses’ roundup. I’ve been in the “earn more” mindset through various side hustles. Wanting less has significantly boosted my savings, though.

  10. Megan

    I recently read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and have been on a mission to “kondo” my home. As a result of seeing huge piles of items that do not bring me any joy, I can say I have a much different take on spending money, on my wants and my NEEDS (because 99.99% of my “needs” are actually “wants”). I loved this post and it’s refreshing to know that wanting less is an approach to real saving!

  11. Dee @ Color Me Frugal

    For us, wanting less has been a powerful way to save money, pay off our debt, and build wealth. We do have wants for the future, but we understand that we first have to put in the time now to get our footing financially, in order to be able to have the things we want later in life. We are about a year away from being debt free- can’t wait!

  12. D

    Oh how I struggle with this. The wanting! I go through phases… Committed to buying nothing/less, then breaking and buying more than I ever would have, regardless of debt. Ugh. I usually return more than half. Man, it sounds even worse when I put it into writing. A change is needed. Thanks for the inspiration. Nowhere to go but up!

  13. Laura Guyot

    Thanks for the inspiration! You, Cait Flanders, the Frugalwoods and Joshua Becker have inspired my husband and I this last year. We purged our house, and we’re still purging. I imagine this process for us, with kids, could take some time, and that’s ok. We’ve made big progress. In December 2015, with the stress of the Holidays, I felt overwhelmed by finances and money and thought we’d never get out from under our $15,000 + credit card debt. I was fed up with living paycheck to paycheck and something clicked and I flew into action. For months now we’ve been only grocery shopping once a week, and I pack my husbands lunch and work snacks (huge savings there). And I believe those two things gave us the boost we needed. Then I read the your post “You can choose to want less” and that flipped a switch in me. This hit home for me more than anything else recently. I thought, YES, I can want less. I’ve spent the last year de-cluttering and I DON’T WANT TO WORK MORE. I was super motivated and I payed $800 toward a credit card between early December and early January. I’ve since paid the total off that credit card and with a vengeance I’m on to the next credit card with a goal of paying our full credit card debt off by the end of the year. I keep telling my husband that I feel like I’m in a dream, for the first time we have started to save and pay off debt and still have money in our checking account. So, thank you, thank you, thank you for the extra nudge I’ve needed. I wish you the best!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      A huge congrats on starting this super exciting journey, Laura! <3

  14. Alanna

    Ahh…every time I read your blog posts it’s like a breath of fresh air – you are setting me free! Lately I’ve been on this “want less” and be “content” kick and it is so freeing. I like to set big goals and dream big dreams and take action toward them, however, after thinking long and hard about what makes me happy, I had to re-think owning a French Chateau because, I can only live in one place at a time, and maintenance of such lavish things would NOT make me happy. And so we don’t need to own everything we desire – some things make more sense to rent! So like you said, you don’t have to aim low, just readjust what really makes us happy. Instead, I’d like to rent a French Chateau 1 month out of the year. 🙂

  15. Pommy Mommy

    Bravo on this excellent piece! And for your financial advisor! My husband and I made this very lifestyle decision. Within the first few years of us getting married, which is now 28 years ago, my husband and I thought we might like for him to be able to retire at 55. We lived in a two-family house we owned at the time, and the rent from the other half paid the mortgage. We eventually moved into a single family home, well below our budget. We paid that off early, so we were debt-free in our forties. (Get debt-free as soon as you can!) Most people think they have to retire at 62 or 65 or 67 – whatever Social Security dictates. We saved. We lived below our means. We maximized our 401(k) and took advantage of the company match. (NEVER leave the company’s money on the table!) We saved enough that we and our financial planner (a good one is worth their weight in gold!), thought we could make it on our small pension. We had two good six-figure jobs, and are now living on approximately 20% of that. It’s all because we decided the freedom of not having to go to work was worth taking a significant cut in pay. We worked at the same company together (where we met), him for 33 years and me for 25. It was very gratifying the day we retired together at ages 55 and 49, respectively, with incomes much lower than the VPs, etc., all because we chose a life of wanting LESS. Funny thing is, what we got was MORE!

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