How to backtrack after chasing the American Dream

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I recently wrote an article on how living in Italy changed my idea of minimalism and it had a lot of wonderful responses and questions. The main question: how can we live like this without actually moving to Europe? Obviously, we can’t live exactly like this because we don’t have control over billboards or shopping malls but we do have control over our homes, minds and where we choose to shop.

After we moved back to the United States we dived head first into the American dream. We bought a house that was too big for us, furnished the rooms that we didn’t have furniture for, acquired all the maintenance items ‘needed’ to upkeep the house, including a power washer, snow blower and leaf blower AND we bought a new car. What. Were. We. Thinking? Honestly, we weren’t thinking. Consumerism had taken hold of our minds and bodies. Even my eldest daughter would go into meltdowns when she couldn’t get something she saw in a store, which had been completely unlike her in Italy. I felt her pain, I wanted it all too. All the big, shiny cars, houses, clothes and furniture.

In January of this year, I started digging ourselves out of the hole we had dug. I’m still digging but I have a goal in mind and that is what pushes me forward. Europe left its mark on me, I had only just forgotten about it for a short time.

4 ways we are putting a stop to the American Dream:

1. Selling the big car for a smaller one

Europeans drive small cars. Large families cram into small cars and yes, it may be uncomfortable for the duration of the ride but they learn to work together to get where they need to go. It’s called teamwork and it takes a lot of understanding and patience but it’s a life lesson, a life lesson that we are forgetting quickly in America. So the big ole’ mini-van is on its way out and I’m back to a Prius (just like I had in Italy, ironically). We are a family of four, who fit very comfortably in a Prius, no one is complaining.

2. Playing the ‘We are moving’ game

I love this one. My husband and I have been playing this little game on the weekends. We will ask, “If we were moving to a 2-bedroom apartment would you take this?” We like to imagine we are moving to a 2-bedroom condo or townhouse, (eh-em no yard work)! So far, we decided, the huge dining room table we bought is going, as is our second tv stand. Why I have two tv stands…I don’t know, seemed like a good idea at the time, so we could all watch tv separately, which never happens and is completely frivolous now that I think of it.

3. My kids will learn to share their stuff

Sharing is a fact of life. There are a few instances when you never have to share, but for the most part, we need to share our lives with others. I have to share a room with my husband (and a bathroom, sigh) but I’ve always had to share with my sisters, then with my college roommates, etc. etc. We do not need two individual bathrooms for my husband and I and arguably we do not need double the amount of toys so that each child has one of their own. If we can learn to share we won’t have double of everything, all while teaching great life lessons to our kids. Some minimalists go as far as owning close to nothing and borrowing a lot of things they need, like a lawn mower, or blender but it’s okay to own one of these if you use it often!

4. I refuse to go into department stores or malls

Too. Many. Choices. The noise, the lights, the smells. It’s all too much for me to go into big box stores or department stores anymore. When you live without them for years, it can really make your head spin when you return. I had an actual panic attack in a mall when we returned from Italy and I had a moment of decision paralysis when I had an entire aisle of juice to choose from in the grocery store. It’s insane the number of choices offered in just about any store in America. I now limit my choices extensively. I only shop at Trader Joe’s because they only have exactly what I need and nothing else (I promise I don’t spend more than at the regular grocery). I have considered ordering my body products online, as Target has become a death bed for my wallet and I try to shop at only locally owned shops when available. I’m so looking forward to our new, specialty, in town coffee shop that doesn’t sell Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts!

I was required to read The Paradox of Choice in college and I’m reminded of it everyday.

What are you doing to downsize your big life?


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