“It is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”
– Sheryl Crow in “Soak Up the Sun”
Explosive. Spontaneous. Erratic. Misaligned. Draining. Cluttered.
These are just a few words that come to mind when I think of my older spending habits.
There was a time in my life when I’d go to the local pharmacy to buy tampons and come out with $50 worth of stuff that I didn’t need — hair ties, the latest shampoo with some new exotic oil, the season’s latest nail color, a copy of People and mints! And Costco and Sephora? Don’t even get me started on the money I’ve mindlessly wasted in those stores.
Shopping was my achilles heel. I could always justify investing in a well-fitted DVF or Bond No. 9’s latest perfume. It did make me feel beautiful. Or did it?
Looking back, I realize that most of my purchases filled me with worry and regret. I felt that I was drowning in stuff, meaningless stuff.
But, how do you break the addiction of mindless spending? You do what the French woman does, and cultivate the art of elegant simplicity.
Enter Mademoiselle Catherine.
Catherine is a beautiful and chic young woman who lives in the South of France. When she invited me to her home, I was intrigued.
First of all, Catherine was from a very affluent family. So, naturally, I made some assumptions of how I thought her home would look — giant screen TV’s, classical music piped throughout the rooms via a Bang and Olufsen system, fancy French gadgets in the kitchen, etc.
Boy, was I wrong.
As I stared at the small armoire tucked in the corner of her 10 x 10 bedroom, I was curious as to how she managed to always look like she had stepped out of the covers of French Vogue with a 12 piece wardrobe.
She told me, “A woman doesn’t need a closet full of clothes to look beautiful. She needs an imagination.”
When I saw her home, there were no fancy appliances in the kitchen, no state of the art entertainment center, no brand new cars sitting in the garage, no big Kitchenaid mixer on the counter, no Kindles or laptops in plain site. I didn’t see a huge ornate Henry V-like dining table like I had imagined.
It was minimal. Elegant. Simple.
To my overconsuming self, it felt like sweet freedom.
A vase of fresh flowers in the living room. A small television tucked away out of sight. An old radio in the kitchen. There were little pleasantries strategically placed throughout the house, but nothing pretentious. It was Zen a la francaise style.
I left Catherine’s home that day determined to master the art of elegant simplicity. I’m still on this journey, but I can affirm that each time I get rid of something that I don’t use, I feel like I’ve lost a pound or two.
Here are some practical tips that you’re inner French will love:
1. Analyze your spending for a week. Write down each thing you buy and have a meeting with yourself to go over each purchase at the end of the week. Was it something that you needed or loved? If not, then dig deeper into why you bought it. Elegant simplicity begins with awareness.
2. Create a do-not-spend day. In France, most stores, other than restaurants and a few grocery stores are closed on Sunday. Instead of shopping, people spend time with their families, on the beach, reading books and enjoying a day of relaxation One day without spending can add up over a lifetime. Choose a day and make that your do-not-spend day. Instead, make it a day of leisure. Your soul and wallet will thank you!
3. Align values with spending. I value delicious food, education, health and travel. So, I know that buying a plane ticket, getting a massage, taking an art class or spending a little extra on a beautiful dining experience is aligned with my values. I’ll drop $150 on olive oils, but a $60,000 car? No, thank you. I’ll take many trips to Paris instead.
4. Use the 6 month rule. If you haven’t worn or used it in 6 months, get rid of it.
5. Stick to a shopping list. Refuse to get side tracked. Take a shopping list with you when you go to buy groceries or clothes. Know what you are looking for and stick to it!
6. The 24-hour rule. On big purchases, I have a 24-hour rule. If I’m still thinking about and wanting something after 24 hours, I give myself permission to purchase it. This eliminates the spontaneous purchases that used to drain my bank account. Just this week, I realized after a good night’s sleep that I didn’t really want the $700 Missoni. The 24-hour rule saved me a lot of money and regret.
7. Get Back to the Good Ole’ Days. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my Apple products. And, modern technology is mind blowing with all its gadgets and devices. However, there’s something beautiful about using a whisk to mix the batter, reading a real book with paper pages and writing a handwritten letter. Where can you infuse a little bit of old into the new?
8. The This/That Question. In our self-help world, people are always preaching the law of attraction and abundance, and I get it. I really do. I follow these same principles, because energy is everything. However, I’m a practical gal who also looks at the numbers, and the reality is that you have x amount in your bank account right now. So, using the this/that question is a great way to decide how to spend it. I love to say, Do I want ________ or ________?
For example, do I want the brand new $60,000 car or do I want to travel to Paris? Easy, breezy!
Do I want the new bottle of perfume or do I want to splurge on dinner at Alineas? Hhhhhmmmm….not so easy. I have a decision to make. I opt for Alineas.
9. Aim to Impress Yourself, Not the Jones. Pride will drain your bank account, lead to debt and destroy the relationship you have with yourself. One of the things I admire about the French people is that they are not impressed by material possessions. Maybe it’s because they don’t have access to credit like we do, so it’s harder to be materialistic. Instead, they enjoy what they have and don’t try the impossible task of keeping up with their neighbors. The only person you need to impress is yourself, and trust me, you’ll be very proud when you spend your money on things YOU love, not what you think your neighbors think you should love.
10. Get Grateful. The Art of Elegant Simplicity requires that a person be happy with what she/he has. It lessens the desire to run off to buy the next thing when you are basking in the appreciation of what you already have.
As always, I want to hear from you. How have you mastered the Art of Elegant Simplicity? What do you still struggle with? Do you have any fancy-shmancy tricks on elegant spending?
Please leave your comments below.