What is truly necessary? A guide to living frugal

An ongoing quest for me, and one that I am renewing this year, is to eliminate all that is unnecessary from my life. Now, you might read this and think that I am cutting everything fun from my life, but that’s not true. Let me explain.

The first question in this quest, of course, is what does “necessary” mean? We must first examine what things are necessary … and the first question in this examination is … necessary for what? What is the true aim? My answer, which will be different than others, is “necessary for a happy life.”

This definition, then, would include many things besides the basics of clothing, shelter, and food. I might not need a good relationship with my wife in order to survive, but it is necessary for me to be happy in life (I’ve found). Same thing with my kids. To be happy, I must develop a good relationship with them, make them happy, and spend time with them.

But that doesn’t mean that anything I do with them counts as necessary. I can be happy with my children just by going to a free park — I don’t need to buy them things all the time or go costly entertainment (like movies, the mall, or waterparks).

Similarly, we need to eat, but we don’t need to eat junk food. True, you might say that sweets, or french fries, make you happy. Well, that’s the key to this whole exercise: do you really need something to be happy? And even more, do you need it on a daily basis, or can it be an occasional treat?

Coffee and chocolate are two recent examples for me. I love both. A lot. But I am addicted to them (because of the caffeine), and that makes me want them more than I really need them to be happy. So I am trying to cut them out, at least for now. I think later, after I kick the habit, I can indulge in those things as a treat, once in a while, without lapsing into addiction.

Other things I can cut out (except as treats):

Going to movies (I rarely do this anymore)
Sweets, like pastries or baked goods or candies (rarer now, but still a MAJOR temptation)
toys (gizmos and gadgets that are a lot of fun, but not necessary – like an mp3 player)
new books (I try to buy used now, or trade em)
eating out (have been trying to cut back, but still, lapse more than I should)
And some things that I need to think hard about:

cable internet (I have this at work — it’s nice at home, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary)
cell phone (I don’t NEED it too much — it’s convenient, but it’s rare that I really need it)
On the whole, I’ve cut out a lot already, and I’m very happy with the simplicity I’ve created so far. I have a lot more to do, but it’s the process that I enjoy, not the end product.

Some recent posts on this topic elsewhere:

Originally published by Leo Babauta