Book Summary: You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel

The Book in Three Sentences

In this book, the author shares a series of practical steps you can take to downsize your life. This is a motivating read for those interested in the tiny house movement or minimalism. The book takes us on a journey to personal happiness, a path that anyone can take if they’re willing to make some changes to their life.

You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) Summary

Introduction: Rethinking Normal

The idea is not only downsizing but also simplifying your life.

Part 1: The Paradox of Stuff

Chapter 1: Buying Things Will Not Make You Happy

How can you simplify your life? What changes can you make to your routine to get more freedom and time?

Chapter 2: The Stuff You Own Owns You

The average American is exposed to 3,000 ads every day. People spend money in a variety of ways, such as to impress others, to reward themselves for hard work, or to comfort themselves. Upward comparisons lead to low self-esteem, depression, and distress.

There are different ways to declutter. The 100 things challenge, for example, encourages people to downsize personal possessions to 100 items. This includes shirts, books, dishes, shoes, and so on. Of course, the idea isn’t to count objects, but to be mindful about what you bring into your life and what you use daily. You can also apply the one-in, one-out rule, so every time you buy something new, you get rid/donate/sell something else.

Strobel introduces the concept of life energy, so before buying a product, think about how much you have to work to pay for it. The stuff in your life should serve a purpose and make you happy. If that isn’t the case, then your stuff owns you.

Here are some micro-actions, you can take in order to declutter:

  • Stay away from malls/stores
  • Sort through your stuff slowly
  • Try the 100 thing challenge, but make your own rules (you can count a library as one thing)
  • Write down an extensive list of fears
  • Find a support network

Part 2: Finding Happiness Through Simple Living

Chapter 3: Changing Your Relationship with Stuff

Here are some tips the author suggests:

  • When you travel pack less
  • Wait thirty days before buying stuff
  • Adopt the “one-in, one-out” rule.

Chapter 4: The Power of Debt

The author suggests the debt snowball method which consists of paying one debt at a time from the smallest to the biggest one. Use your credit cards sparingly or cut them up. To eliminate non-essential spending: cut back on eating out, don’t shop for clothes you don’t use, get rid of all subscription-based services. Also, create a spending plan that includes housing, food, and utilities.

Other tips include

  • Examine your attitude toward money
  • Establish an emergency fund
  • Give yourself a reward

Chapter 5: Sell What You Can, Give the Rest Away

Think about how much time it takes to clean and organize you place. Decluttering makes you feel lighter, freer and happier.

People hold on to stuff because it’s part of their perceived identity. In a way, the belongings you hold on to represent your personality. If you accumulate stuff you don’t use though, it prevents you from doing meaningful things with your life.

The author introduces Project 333 in which you narrow down your wardrobe to 33 pieces of clothing and you wear those items for the next three months.

The items that are included in the project are:

  • Clothing
  • Accessories
  • Jewelry
  • Outerwear
  • Shoes

The items you don’t count are:

  • The jewelry you don’t take off
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Workout clothing

The less you shop, the less you want.

Evaluate how much time you spend managing your stuff. Grab an item and ask yourself, do I use this daily, weekly, or monthly? Sort your things into three piles: to keep, to donate, and “I don’t know yet”.

  • Decide what to do with your things
  • Don’t fear the trash
  • Talk to your partner
  • Join project 333
  • As you let go of things, increase self-care. Take care of yourself, replace stuff with experiences you enjoy. Start doing what you always wished you had time for.

Chapter 6: The Joy of a Small House

  • Create a detailed list of activities you do in your home.
  • When you come home, put your stuff away immediately
  • Make sure each of your belongings has a designated home (computer, power cords, devices, clothing, books, phone)
  • Have fewer, multipurpose items
  • Take advantage of vertical space
  • Get creative and use space-saving containers

Chapter 7: Reclaiming Work

  • Create a journal that focuses on your passion
  • Every morning, list your three most important tasks for the day
  • Prioritize your spending
  • Take classes and read as much as possible
  • Test the waters (start a blog, write an ebook or develop a free online class)
  • Be aware of your media consumption
  • Dedicate an hour of work for every hour you spend on social media or watching TV
  • Seek out mentors and ask for help

Part 3: Buying Happiness

Chapter 8: Time Is the Only Real Wealth

When people spend time with friends, they work less, but they’re happier. Those who focus on making money, work more, socialize less, and aren’t as happy.

These are the biggest time wasters:

  1. Commute: avoid it whenever possible. Commute but not by car, so take the train, bus or use a bicycle if you can. Do activities you like while you commute.
  2. Television: watching television is the primary leisure activity of Americans (2.8 hours a day). Replace watching television with something more productive, such as reading. Try putting the TV away and see if you still want to watch it. Be aware that most living dining and living rooms center around the TV.
  3. The internet can make you happy if you use it in moderation, but the ubiquity of internet-connected devices makes it difficult for everyone to focus. The answer to this problem according to the author is to unplug during weekends. The author tried a month-long sabbatical in order to write this book. This included no blogging, no mindless internet surfing, no email, no social media. The only exception she allowed was book specific research. 

If you want to identify your biggest time wasters, track your time for a week while you work, watch TV, commute, use the internet, exercise, among other activities. Write down your activities to see which you should cut back or eliminate completely. Also pay attention to how much time you spend in your car, either commuting, parking, or in a gas station. Once you’re ready to start a new routine give yourself 30 days which is the amount of time a habit takes to form. Finally, change your workflow by single-tasking.

Chapter 9: Money vs Experiences

Does your lifestyle support your values?

Make a list of your priorities, needs, and wants. According to them, what do you want to spend your money on? What you want is not the same as what you need. Create a bucket list with all the activities you want to do before you die. Consider helping others using your unique skills and abilities.

Chapter 10:  Relationships Matter, Not Things

Simplifying might remove the sources of your problems: money, stuff, debt, stuff, cars, and so on. This gives you time to focus on relationships. Make a list of activities you love and engage in them with loved ones.

Chapter 11: The Art of Community Building

  • Share and borrow stuff
  • Volunteer
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbors
  • Go car-free or car-lite
  • Flex your “citizen muscles”

Chapter 12: The Power of Tiny Pleasures

  • Make a list of your tiny pleasures.
  • Do something nice for another person every day.
  • Ruminate less
  • Identify one thing you can do every day to improve a skill

Love life, not things

Further Reading

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