Ah, the daily grind. The hamster wheel. The 9-5 sentence. There are many ways to describe the way many of us live our lives.
The sad but true fact is that many people don’t love what they do every day. And if you don’t love what you do, going to work is a chore. It’s something you must get through — something you must endure.
It’s all too easy to get caught in an unpleasant cycle of working to pay for a nice house to live in so that you can go to work and buy things that you don’t have time to enjoy because you’re working longer hours to pay for them.
As we get more money, we think we need more and more stuff, and then we feel like we need to earn even more money to keep up with the growing purchasing expectations society places on us. It’s a vicious and unrelenting pattern — and it’s reality for a lot of people.
Many people who feel trapped in this cycle might find themselves saying, “a different life sounds great, but I could never do that. You’re so lucky.”
There’s also a tendency to vilify those who have found a way out of their own misery, or refer to them as irresponsible and flaky, as if being happy and following your heart is a bad thing.
I don’t mean to discount the very real privilege that can hugely impact different people’s life circumstances and options. But I do mean to challenge the way we think about success and freedom in modern America. Freedom and success can take many forms.
Let’s take a deeper look at this issue:
Saving money is the first step in freeing yourself from the grind. Take a hard look at your monthly expenses. How many of them are absolutely necessary? Be honest here and remember that “convenient” and “necessary” are two different things.
Could you pass up your Netflix subscription and downgrade your smartphone’s data plan to save a bit more each month? Could you give up the new car you’re making payments on to take public transportation or walk/bike where you need to go instead? Could you spend more time eating in and less money dining out at restaurants?
Look around your home. What are your assets? What would you be willing to part with to fund your quest for freedom? Selling items you already own is a great way to simplify your life and make money quickly.
Many people think that being free from the grind means restricting yourself in other ways. We live in a culture of never enough — never enough time, never enough money, never enough relationships, excitement, things, variety — you name it, we think there’s never enough of it. But it doesn’t take long to realize less is more.
Practicing minimalism doesn’t have to mean you live in a stark, white, tiny house and own only 15 things. It could mean that, but it doesn’t have to. A minimalist approach to home organization can help you sort through your clutter — both physical and mental — challenge you to get rid of things that aren’t serving you, and even help you save money. By reducing your needs, you can get the most out of the resources you do have.
Pursuing a Healthier Lifestyle
Health is one of the big reasons why people choose to change their lives and free themselves from the treadmill that always seems to be on. Modern lifestyles and work schedules make it difficult to prioritize health. But there are major consequences if we don’t.
“Many working professionals spend their careers being relatively inactive, spending time in front of computers, often for more than eight hours per day. This inactivity was less prevalent in the past, which surely contributes to the spike in weight gain,” according to Bradley University.
Physical activity, plenty of water, and healthy fruits and vegetables are all parts of the University of Southern California public health department’s list of things that keep people healthy. We cannot continue to sacrifice these things for longer hours and more emails answered.
Obesity and other health problems from inactive, computer-centric, stressed-out lifestyles impact our physical and mental well-being both at work and at home. We as Americans seem to enjoy this strange competition of who is busier and more stressed out, one-upping each other’s number of meetings, unanswered emails, and commitments.
Why is busy equated with successful? Why doesn’t successful mean happy, healthy, and present? Even if society’s definition doesn’t change, we can change it for ourselves and for those we love and care about.
Realizing What’s Important
The answer to the question of what’s really important to you will most likely change throughout your life. But hopefully, some things remain constant, like happiness, peace, and relationships.
Ask yourself what you would do if money was no object. Even if these things really are unattainable in your current set of circumstances, you can create a list of things to do to get you closer to accomplishing your goals. You don’t have to spend a year on the road or drastically uproot your life to make this change, since happiness cannot be entirely satisfied by outside influences.
Is money and a high-powered career as important as spending time with your kids and creating memories together? Is the ability to buy the latest iPhone worth being essentially handcuffed to the internet all the time? I think that if we all looked in our heart of hearts, the answers would be clear.
Freeing yourself from the grind is possible. You, too, can get off the hamster wheel and serve the last day of your 9-5 sentence. Enjoy the elusive simple life by cutting back your expenses and clutter to make room for what’s really important to you — whatever that is. Your life depends on it.
Lettie Stratton is a writer and urban farmer in Boise, ID. A Vermont native, she is a lover of travel, tea, bicycles, plants, cooperative board games, and the outdoors. She’s still waiting for a letter from Hogwarts.
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