10 Ways to Cultivate Elegant Simplicity

Elegant simplicity

“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.

Simply Yours,


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14 Responses to 10 Ways to Cultivate Elegant Simplicity

  1. as always, I adore your posts about how the French women live… choosing quality over quantity is something I learned here, but I still struggle with my spendings, it’s like I don’t know where the money goes!! So I’m loving your advice on writing everything down and analyzing without losing the joy of pamper yourself with the things you love the most!

  2. Tonya,

    It is so refreshing to read how you are living your life. I hope this message reaches many people, because it is so true that we try to buy happiness. Our society is satiated with consumerism. Having and creating wonderful experiences with friends, family and even strangers should be more of a priority. I am trying to get rid of all my stuff too and feel much lighter when I do. I love France too.I lived with a French family in Nice when I was 16 and I spent a year in Tours when I was 18 and am now fluent. I visit Paris quite often and love the French lifestyle. I am going to the restaurant le Grand Vefour in Octobre. Have you been?

    Keep on writing your inspirational thoughts.
    Merci beaucoup et passez une tres belle journee!

    (Sorry I don’t have accents on my laptop)


  3. Love this entry! I really feel overwhelmed and stress about all the stuff and clutter I own but somehow I can’t seem to get rid of it and I’m always thinking about the next thing I want to buy!
    But once thing I know for sure: I’d rather spend money on experiences as you say! My travels will always come first 😀

  4. Tonya, this is another beautiful article, with so much for us to learn from the way of the French. There’s a real frenzy that seems to build up as people try to outdo each other in keeping up with the Joneses, and it takes real strength and courage to turn your attention back to the things that really matter to you, and not trying to impress people whose values may be different.

    I’ve found that it helps to look at the people you’re hanging out with, and if you always feel the need to ‘keep up’ with them or impress them (and you always let yourself feel inadequate), then you’ve got to decide whether your friendship with them really is genuine and caring.

    And I love your practical tip of not spending more than you actually have in your bank account. There might be times when you can borrow to invest in your business (if you can see that you’ll get a return), but that just can’t be the case for personal purchases. Most people spiral info fear if they’re in personal debt, and that sure isn’t attractive to more money.

    Thank you for these beautiful articles! You’ve found yourself a regular reader right here!

  5. Four things have been helping me with my overspending and clutter problems:
    1) Not keeping anymore than 2 or 3 nicknacks or things on one shelf. I can switch them out when I want to, but never more than 2 or 3 at the MOST.
    2) Remembering that I will not take my earthly things with me when I go to heaven. And trying to put my desires in the things above, and not on the things of this world.
    3) Asking myself, “Does this thing give me enough pleasure to justify the real estate ( space) it is taking up?” If not, it’s time to get rid of it.
    4) Would I rather have this thing, or would I rather have the empty space it’s taking up? Would I rather have a zen atmosphere?

  6. You caught me today thinking I needed to collect a piece of collectable art. I brought it and now I wondering where am I going to put it.
    Your tips are wonderful and I probably heard them before but I need to be reminded again.

  7. This is one of my favorite sayings “live simply so other may simply live”
    I have always thought that less is more. I think it might be in my DNA……….or is it because I was born in England. My mind set is very much that of the Europeans even thou I live in Vancouver now. Being practical helps, Plus I look at an item and figure out how long I need to work to pay for it. That helps me decide whether it is worth it or not. Being a Professional organizer also helps. Great tips and good read. Thank you for sharing

  8. I’m far from mastering the art of elegant simplicity, but I’m quickly becoming an adept student. We are in the process of getting rid of all of our useless junk … and by “getting rid of,” I mean shredding, selling, donating, throwing away, recycling …. any manner of disposal will work. I found documents from 1998 in our filing cabinets! They’re now gone. And it’s liberating.

    Next up is to buy a house–not too big, not too small–and make it fabulous.

  9. Thank you for this inspiring and practical article. I am planning to de-clutter one of my closets tomorrow and the 6 month (although I may make it 1 year rule) is a good one to apply. That way once I have removed things that I no longer use or wear, I will be able to start loving what I have. Thank you.

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