Oprah had a show recently where she dealt with ways to simplify your life. It’s a good topic and one which bears repeating. Whether you are overspending and in debt or just have too much stuff and too many activities, the “What Can You Do Without Challenge” is a great exercise to help you get focused on what you really need. Seven days of no shopping, no spending, no wasting.
A lot of us spend and do and run around without giving it a lot of thought. It’s important to take a break from the non-stop, hectic pace of our lives in order to assess where we are and what we really want. On the show, Oprah featured two families who had taken up the challenge. One family with two small children had enough food stored up to last them a year. The young mother said she shopped every day. This wasn’t exactly a hoarding situation, she wasn’t stockpiling and then throwing away perishables, it was more like the Grocery Game run amuck. She had large shelves in her food storage area and all her groceries were neatly arranged and organized. As part of her challenge, she was limited to $25 a week for perishables and had to give some of her inventory away to a needy family.
The other family featured a widowed mother with five children. She had a closet full of expensive shoes and clothes, many with the tags still attached. She owned a large home and lots of stuff but was questioning whether she’d been happier in her smaller home with fewer things. She realized she’d been assuaging the pain of the loss of her husband by buying things. She was spending $400 a week on groceries even though she and her family ate most of their meals out. She was throwing away piles of food every week. Part of her challenge was to pack up everything in her closet that still had tags attached and anything that hadn’t been worn in two months. She was limited to $100 a week for groceries and prohibited from going out to eat for a week.
Both families were to limit driving (both lived very close to their family’s schools, two blocks in one case, and yet never walked). No shopping except for their grocery allowance for an entire week. No television and no computer. The idea was to live more consciously. This is the key. We go through our lives, always moving. We run from place to place, eating, doing and spending without thought. It shows up in our over-scheduled days, our obese bodies and our maxed out credit cards.
This challenge isn’t just about spending less. A lot of us are doing that already. It’s about living with more thought. If we cannot plop down in front of the television when we get home from work, we are forced to think about what we are going to do with ourselves and our children. If we cannot pick up the phone and order a pizza, we are forced to think about what we are going to do for dinner. If we have to limit our driving, we are forced to consider walking! If we stop running for just a week, we allow ourselves the time to think about what we are doing and what we really want.
This is not a punitive change and it should not be addressed that way. Children should not be told you are taking their television away as if it’s a punishment; but that you are going to spend more time together. You should not tell yourself that you are giving up a thing; you are giving yourself the opportunity to make a better, more fulfilling life. In the case of both of the Oprah families, the children were unhappy when the rules were announced but within a couple of days were happy with the new lifestyle and were not missing the things that had been removed.
Could you take a form of this challenge? What are you doing without thought? Could you give it up?