Today’s post is all about reevaluating what we need. I want to examine the many different things in life we think we need, and the things we actually do.
I’ll start by sharing a little bit about why I wanted to write this post. It’s my opinion that today’s society and pop culture aggressively conditions us to ‘need’ and ‘want’ things. Most people have become consumed with wanting more, having more, buying more, achieving more, in every sense of the term.
Advertisements everywhere will tell you that you NEED that new blender, that new bed set, that new car, or to go shopping so you can fit in with the hottest fashion styles. Blogs and best seller books will tell you that you NEED to jump on the latest food trends, so that you remain as “healthy” as possible. “Lose weight on the Paleo diet, no wait, the Keto diet! Read this list about why carbs are the devil. Read about these top 5 fruits that are secretly making you fat…”
Radio, TV, and printed ads market to us nonstop about the new “Deluxe Cheese Super Cheese Bacon Taco Cheese Pizza Meat Burger” that is now on the menu, or the new “Double Whip Chocolate Caramel Cookie Frosting Sprinkles Latte” everyone has been talking about. Just stop by on the way home to get one. And the next day too.
But there’s also more to want in life than physical things. We’re taught to climb the corporate ladder, pursue promotions, pursue salary increases, in a never ending race to the top. I mean, you’re clearly behind in life if you’re already X years old, and only making $Y a year, right?
And social media does us no favors in this never ending cycle of wanting. Friends, family, popular Instagramers and YouTube personalities alike showcase their best selves 24/7; making it easier than ever to compare ourselves to others. We scroll endlessly for hours, seeing their smiling faces, their exotic vacations, flawless skin, perfect teeth, expensive clothes, and suddenly we feel lacking.
With all of the above, I think it’s no wonder there are so many people today who suffer from anxiety, depression, and stress. We’re taught to constantly want the latest clothing trends, food trends, gadgets, etc. To want what others have, and to “Keep up with the Joneses” to appear like we meet a certain status. What we already have is never enough.
But what does all that wanting, yearning, striving and craving really get us in the end? If you were to ask me, I’d say it leaves us pretty unhappy and empty inside. Take it from someone who spent a lot of time wanting things at different stages of life.
Stopping The Madness
I think there’s a different way to live. Learning to live differently, but more importantly think differently about how most of us choose to live, was crucial in my own process for becoming happier, calmer, and more at peace with all the different facets of my life.
Don’t get down about all this though, because there is good news too! The cycle of wanting can be broken. It takes work, self reflection, critical thinking, and discipline. But the rewards from learning to think differently about ones life, and then acting on those realizations, are infinite.
What Does It Mean To Be Spartan?
This brings me to the story of why I decided to name my blog Spartan Life. When I started my blog, I really struggled to come up with a fitting name. Some friends thought it was homage to where I got my degree, Michigan State University (Go Green!). While I definitely have a lot of school pride, it actually has nothing to do with why I named my blog Spartan Life.
I wanted a single name that encompassed everything I wanted my blog to be about. But I had multiple directions I wanted to take my content. I wanted to write about healthy, whole foods plant based vegan recipes. I wanted to write about fitness, and exercise. I wanted to write about minimalism, and my shifting values. I wanted to keep a diary of my travels too, of all the places I had been and the lessons I learned from each adventure.
How can a single blog summarize all that?
When I stopped to think about it a bit deeper, I realized there was a connecting theme with all of these different categories that were important to me. When I decided to prioritize my health and eat well, I made the choice to say “goodbye” to all the junk food, meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, and oil that was making me feel bad – and instead focus on simple whole plant foods.
When I decided to begin weight lifting and explore fitness, it meant learning to re-prioritize the things I normally filled my days with – like watching way too much TV.
When I decided to explore minimalism, it meant learning to think critically about what I owned, and what value I got from my possessions. It meant discarding, donating, or dumping anything that didn’t serve a purpose in my life anymore, and not feeling guilty about doing so.
In my early 20’s I became inspired with seeing the world. I realized I had a pretty shallow world-view, never having left my home state before, and wanted to see how other people around the world lived. It meant saying goodbye to my comfort zone, and being open to new experiences.
All of these things have a consistent theme. I was learning to let go. I was learning how to change.
I was learning to say ‘no’ to what didn’t matter, so I had more energy to say ‘yes’ to the things that did. I was learning to reevaluate what I actually needed in life to be happy. And I was surprised to learn just how small that list actually was.
I learned how to begin ridding myself of that never-ending nagging in the back of our minds that tells us to want. I learned to minimize every area of my life, down to only the most basic and important things. To strip away the superfluous in exchange for new core values.
In short, I was learning how to be spartan.
Spartanism tends to evoke certain images for people, both good and bad. It’s officially defined as the following:
Spartanism: Suggestive of the ancient Spartans; sternly disciplined and rigorously simple, frugal, or austere.
It really does summarize so well the feeling I want to convey through my writing. My approach to diet, fitness, and lifestyle really can be summarized with a few short words: Keep it simple.
It’s also learning to think differently about all the little things that make up life. For example, I realized early on that the more I removed from my life the more I gained. Sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? But I think it makes sense. When I donated more than half my wardrobe I realized I only had a few select items that I truly felt comfortable in and wore regularly. Now with so few items, getting ready in the morning is a breeze. I can also do laundry for everything I own in just 2 loads, which is a nice plus!
When I donated box after box of random trinkets, kitchen gadgets, excess towels, blankets, tech toys, and books I knew I would never read again (but remained on my shelf for years collecting dust) my closets and shelves became “organized” instantaneously. No more overstuffed drawers or cupboards packed from floor to ceiling. Cleaning and storing what I decided to keep is effortless and quick now.
Basically, the more we remove from our life (the unnecessary), the more attention we can give to what remains.
When I realized how important traveling was to me, it meant saying ‘no’ to a lot of things so that I could save up money to do so. And the things I “gave up” – it turns out I didn’t miss. Like dining out as often as I did, going out to bars, shopping, paying for subscriptions I only rarely used, etc.
I gave up a lot of these “pastimes” and “luxuries” in the pursuit of something that mattered to me much more – saving up to travel the world. And to me the trade off has been more than worth it. Not only that, but now that I don’t do all of those unimportant things, I had even more time to spend towards my health and hobbies (that actually brought me joy) like working out and reading.
So Spartanism to me is learning to let go, to say no, and to reduce different areas of our lives down to only the necessary.
Something I want to clarify, is that I don’t view Spartanism as a means to deprive yourself. It’s not some battle cry for the hardcore, or some kind of ode to masochism. It doesn’t mean you need to live in a shack in the mountains. It doesn’t mean to only wear burlap sacks. To me, it just means learning to live simply, learning to want less, and learning to be satisfied with what you already have. I don’t think wanting, by itself, is an evil thing. It’s natural to want, and okay to want. It’s wanting in excess, and without thought that is the problem.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” ― Epictetus
My Top Tips For Spartan Living
If you at all feel stuck, stressed, or anxious, maybe Spartanism could be for you. Try reevaluating your needs, and just maybe, as I did, you’ll find that not every craving in life is an actual means to happiness.
So the following, are my personal tips for how to live a more Spartan life.
Maintain A Simple Diet
Center your diet around whole plant foods: lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Not only is this diet scientifically proven to be the healthiest diet for us, it’s also the most environmentally friendly, and compassionate diet. No other diet can claim these three things.
Do I still eat junk food? Of course I do! But it no longer makes up the majority of my diet like it used to. I eat about 1 “cheat meal” a week, in which I allow myself to get vegan junk food like Daiya mac n’ cheeze, SO Delicous cashew-milk ice cream, Gardein veggie-sausage skillet meals, etc. Eating healthy the majority of the time doesn’t have to be a sacrifice though. I’ve been inventing recipes for years that make healthy eating delicious and something to look forward to!
Exercise Consistently and Regularly
Find an activity you like, and just do it. It could be running, swimming, dancing, yoga, weight lifting, Pilates, biking, etc. Just lay down/sit down less, and move more. It’s as simple as that.
“Your food should appease your hunger, your drink quench your thirst, your clothing keep out the cold, your house be a protection against inclement weather. It makes no difference whether it is built of turf or of variegated marble imported from another country: what you have to understand is that thatch makes a person just as good as a roof of gold does.” – Seneca
Realize That What You Already Have, Is Enough
Whenever I get the idea to buy something these days, I now add it to a list I keep track of on my phone. Then I let the thought sit with me for a few months. If after that waiting period, I still think about that item, then I’ll head to the thrift store to look for one, or try to acquire it from some other ethical source. Often times I realize after awhile… I don’t actually want that item anymore, and I then delete it from my list. This keeps my “wanting” in check, so that I don’t impulse-buy things anymore.
Browse Technology less, Prioritize Inner Growth
All the TV re-runs, the endless hours spent scrolling social media, the countless time spent in front of a screen – how is it serving you? Cutting back on this one is hard, I know. I personally struggle with it. But it can make room for way more rewarding things.
Prioritizing inner growth looks different for everyone. It could mean pursuing hobbies that make you feel alive. Whether it’s knitting, reading, crafting, gymnastics, home-brewing, learning languages, traveling, working with charities, gardening, etc. It could mean expanding your world view; watching documentaries and reading books that challenge your current opinions, and your current way of seeing the world. It could mean focusing on your mental health; learning to forgive those who have wronged you in your past, or to become angry less quickly. Maybe you have some painful past experiences to work through, or aspects of yourself you’d like to change. Investing in yourself in any way, shape or form is never time spent unwisely.
Keep Things Simple
We have one life to live, and it goes by in the blink of an eye. Be “busy” less. Consume less. Give more. Want less things, and spend more time pursuing values. Compare yourself to others less, and worry less about what others are doing. Instead focus all that attention inward, on becoming the best version of you. The more I try to practice this in my own life, the happier I become.
We all have the power to choose how we spend our time. We also have the power to reevaluate what we actually need in life to be happy, and maybe realize, that what we already have is enough. Maybe you don’t know what makes you happy in life. That’s ok too. Self-discovery and learning to figure it out is fun! And no one has “life” figured out, no matter how perfect they may seem outwardly. But I think that reevaluating the way we live from time to time is a healthy exercise we should all engage in occasionally.
Who knows, maybe the best and happiest phase of your life is just around the corner? And all it takes to start is a little change.