Settling for Less: Our Story of Abundance
We value being hospitable. We value community and connection. We value our faith in Jesus. We are the Dillows and our simple living lifestyle has been abundant.
In 2010 Jeff and I were newly married, living in the Midwest, making modest incomes and on the hunt for our first place together. We looked at new buildings with spacious apartments, one with historic charm and a complex with some resort style amenities. We weighed the options and laughed as we signed the lease for a one bedroom unit in a nursing home turned apartment building. Yep, it was dated, it was ordinary, and it still felt like a nursing home but it allowed us a luxury we wanted above everything else we saw – the ability to save for the future even though we had no immediate goals in mind. We quickly found the real character of the place came from the best friends we made down the hall, an adorable man who hosted movie nights in the old drab theatre and from Franklin, the maintenance man, who we still quote to this day.
We moved in and as life started to settle we began to feel less connected because of our work schedules. Jeff was working nights, I was working days and weekends which left us missing the time together we’d hoped for. Jeff wanted to leave his career as a news photojournalist to run his own photography business. He put in the time working news while building his photography company and soon the time came where he could pull back and focus solely on his business. Being the calculated and financially risk adverse gal I am I came up with a “fun” spending challenge to help plump up our savings as we planned for his self-employment. For the month ahead we would not spend any money above the essentials of groceries, gas, bills and rent. We called this “no spend” month and we loved it.
At the end of the 30 days we found joy in becoming more resourceful and intentional in our time together. We found we enjoyed cooking at home and watching Netflix more than going out to eat. We loved going for walks and riding our bikes. After a month of not feeling like we were deprived by the experience we decided to try it again the next month. After so many months it turned into an ongoing effort. There were plenty of times we deviated. We would want to go out to dinner with friends, see a movie, buy a juicer after watching a food documentary, need a new pair of shoes, an irresistible decorative pillow, a clearance shirt at Target that was just too good a deal to pass up and the list went on. It wasn’t always perfect but since we started sprinkling in “no spend” months we’ve found saving towards a big goal to be more rewarding than little splurges throughout the month, and it helps to keep us focused on what we value most.
As Jeff’s photography business grew, I began a new job in the travel industry. Our careers were blending and overlapping with each other. He would shoot video for the company I worked for and I would assist him on his shoots. We got to travel and experience the world together but when we were home we didn’t feel like it was where we were meant to be. We wanted to move to a place that didn’t keep us trapped indoors because of extreme weather. We prayed for direction on where to go, decided that was San Diego and brought back the “no spend” budget to help make our move happen. We pared down to save more so we could make the move without depleting our finances knowing we would be starting Jeff’s business from scratch, and I was building up my client base as well. It’s been 4 years since we headed west and we’ve hustled hard to grow our businesses, pay off bills, spend less, give to causes we support, save and live in a way that reflects our family values. We’ve embraced simplicity and tried to keep a non-comparison attitude when we looked at what our friends were doing. We weren’t buying a house, a new car or filling our place with new furniture though at times we wished we were.
Since we started out living in a small space it wasn’t too challenging to maintain a lifestyle of not acquiring a lot of possessions. We transitioned to being a one car family, which can be limiting at times but moving to a neighborhood where we can walk to grocery stores, coffee shops and parks has been the right place for us to be able to do so. We adopted a vegetarian diet and cook at home 95% of the time. Simplicity in our meals and eating fewer ingredients is one of my favorite aspects of a minimalist lifestyle. I also love being able to tidy up pretty quickly.
Most of our furniture has been hand me downs or thrift store finds, and we aren’t bothered by it. We recently bought a few new pieces of furniture since our hand me downs were on their last leg. When a new need arises we sell or donate items to make space for new ones in an effort to keep our space clutter free. I don’t feel our home lacks character because of fewer possessions; we find the character comes from who we fill it with.
What I’ve found most helpful in being content with less has been focusing on the benefits rather than seeing it as a sacrifice. It also helps that we’ve added a “fun money” line to our budget so we each get to have some money to spend if there is something we want or need. Jeff usually indulges in burritos and falafel. I usually go for coffee with friends and DIY projects.
Currently, we’re in the midst of another big transition. Our family of 2 grew to 3 this summer, and I left my job to be home with our son, Sam. I never imagined I’d have a baby or step away from work but I’ve loved it and it’s pushed me to face the demons I have with productivity, self worth and my identity. Now, as I’m home taking care of Sam, Jeff is in a very busy season of starting a new business, and we’re working towards a goal that feels impossible.
We want to purchase a house with space to plant a community garden, grow our family and deepen our connection with friends and neighbors. It’ll be awhile until we can afford a house in San Diego so we’re embracing our current space (ugly brown carpet and all) and doing our best to live in line with our values.
A few weeks ago Jeff made the bold decision that our vision doesn’t have to be exclusively tied to home ownership. He planted squash, tomatoes, herbs and greens in the small patches of dirt around our complex. I made a sign and hung it on the fence encouraging our neighbors to take what they need. We’ll ask for forgiveness later.
We were encouraged when a neighbor one house over asked Jeff to start a garden in her yard too. It seems a house won’t be in the plan for us for a long while but we want our family values to thrive wherever we dwell.