A Privileged Life

Sometimes I feel like there should be a note at the top of every post I write here. It would read something like this:

Disclaimer: I am a white university educated woman living in the first world.

I have led a life of privilege.

Sure, from under the mountains of consumer debt, or when I compared myself to those that have more than me, I didn’t always feel privileged. I didn’t always feel or see that in this world I was one of the lucky ones. Clean drinking water, access to education and healthcare. I have all of that.

I am privileged.

I want to live with less but I already have so much.

When you read posts here about the small ways my husband and I have changed our lifestyle, or even some of the bigger ones, please know it is a privilege to do this. Most people don’t get to make these choices.

For most people in this life, less isn’t a choice. Less is a reality.

It’s a sobering thought: I’m enjoying just having a half dozen pairs of shoes when there are so many that go barefoot.

At times I feel like this pursuit of less is a silly thing to think about, write about and put my efforts into. There are bigger causes. I’m not curing cancer or helping people get off the streets.

But then I’m reminded that small change can change the world. I’m reminded that because I can see more clearly that I am living a privileged life, I’m giving more.

The real tragedy of leading a privileged life is not your warm bed while so many live without a bed at all. The real tragedy of leading a privileged life is in not recognizing that you’re leading it. And it’s been easier to feel rich, to enjoy everything I do have, to see the privilege in my life and to give more, since I let go of a lot of stuff.

Do you think you lead a privileged life?

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  • Yes absolutely! Totally agree with you.

    When I’m stressed (kids & bedtime in a pre-dinner state of mind usually does it), I always calm myself down with thoughts of the less fortunate: kids without anything, including a bed etc.

    Nice post.

  • You have no idea how thought provoking this simple post is! Thank you for this beautiful insight. I have never thought that my minimalist journey could never be a journey for others as they don’t have enough to part with in the first place. I have a very privileged life, thank you for the reminder.

  • Absolutely! We may not have much extra money but we have more than enough to eat, a house that is warm and dry, and health care. We (my DH, soon to be LO, and I) have more than many even here in our own country let alone the poorer nations of the world.

    I try to remember this when I am coveting something.

  • Yes. Yes, I do. And I am thankful for the reminders every once in awhile that tell me to slow down and to appreciate what is around me. Simple, brilliant post. :)

  • Does anyone else feel that, as much as we tried to simplify our lives and appreciate that less is more, it is difficult to get our children to understand the concept? Mine are 7 (twins) and I get frustrated that I cannot find a way to open their eyes to what we have and what others do not.

    • I understand where you are coming from. My son is 4 and we have spoiled him. Family has spoiled him. Friends have spoiled him. He has more toys than he will ever hope to play with. And yet every time he gets a new toy, he sees the pictures of accessories & other toys on the packaging and the first words out of his mouth are not “thank you” but, “next time I want…” Our motto at the store has become “not today, not today” just to remind him that he doesn’t HAVE to get a new toy just because we are at the store. (And mom also goes without ‘toys’ to set the example for him, too)

  • Absolutely, I am living the privileged life. Anything that I have on earth, though, pales in comparison to my relationship with Christ and what is to come. Thanks for the reminder. We should always count our blessings and actively seek ways to help others.

  • just found your post and really enjoying your thoughts and inspiration. i’ve been trying to simplify for the sake of my sanity, our family, and our world. so glad i found you.

  • I completely agree. I have been in the states and seenPeople with little to nothing, with not even a mattress to sleep on.I have stood in a dirt road in South Africa and watched a paper bag of fruit “explode” into nothing in seconds. I am thankful each and every day that I am privileged enough to provide shoes and medical care to my children. That I am privileged to not watch my children die of malnutrition or starvation.
    We have a family of 6 boys , 1 girl, and one on the way. We always have room to minimize . If we can do it on an income of one and be it far under what American consider to be “poverty level” than nearly anyone can. There is no room for entitlement in this world !

  • “small change can change the world”. I’m here to tell you that you definitely changed my life. Yours was the first blog in which I was introduced to minimalism and I’ve been following for a little over a year. I would consider myself a minimalist now. Your blog has impacted me to shop local and less (a lot less), give away a lot of my possessions to charities and buy used when possible. I’ve given myself permission to let go of the emotional attachment to things and focus more on experiences and relationships. Thank you for your posts!

  • Thanks for reminding me of this fact! I like to think that it is not about what we get, or don’t get, but about who we become. And at the same time that we are privileged to have so much, we as a modern society, are being deprived of opportunities to become internally more beautiful. “Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.” C. S. Lewis

  • You are not contributing to a culture that promotes consumerism as the ideal, and that is something. Not to mention the great example you are setting for your son. Good post!

  • Wow. I know I live a privileged life. I just rarely think about it. My husband and I have made some “bad” choices that have turned out to be really good choices for us. We have also made some bad choices that were actually bad. But we have had the opportunity to make those choices. Circumstances were not thrust upon us. Thank you for taking the time to remind us to look at our lives in a different light.

  • every time i scrape the remnants of my kids’ uneaten food “scraps” into the dog’s food bowl, i wince; partly in shame and partly in gratitude and acknowledgement of my privileged life. great post – i think i found my gratitude for today.

  • My first desire for living with less came when I traveled to countries in Africa and saw people who had so little and so few resources that we take for granted but, they were genuinely happy and shared what they had with others. When I came home from that first trip to Africa, I went to Walmart and other stores and nearly vomited seeing how much was available to us but how unhappy, spoiled, and ungrateful so many were. As I looked at our own lives and home, I realized how the “stuff” was actually taking away the joys in life because I had to invest time in storing/ organizing things in an attempt to make life easier. That’s what the “stuff” industry told me would make life easier. I immediately started purging. Returning to Africa and even Westernized countries in Europe has further encouraged my continuous purge as life is so much simpler and beautiful when it is not focused on having every kitchen gadget or buying that dress shirt because it is on clearance. As our home clears, so do our hearts and minds and the ability to focus on the beautiful adventures that happen everyday continues to grow as does our joy. Thanks for your lovely post! Less is such a blessing!

  • Yes. I am privileged. Lucky. Fortunate. I have a nice home, wonderful husband and a gorgeous, healthy baby who I get to spend all day with. Additionally, I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I thank God every day for my life. I do often wonder, “Why me?” Why am I one of the luckier ones? I believe it means I should be doing something bigger. Not sure what that is yet… although I do think raising happy, intelligent, compassionate children is another small way to change the world. Working on that right now!
    Great post.

  • I definitely feel this way. Probably it hits home for me most everytime my mother in law ships another box to us, filled with clothes and happy meal toys for my kids. I want to complain that we don’t have space, they have too much already, etc. But then I always find myself thinking that it’s incredibly selfish and spoiled to think that way when there are so many with so little. Thanks for the reminder that most of us have resources to help others. That I do.

  • Love this post….it is so true and important to remember when we are feeling overwhelmed or sad. I do lead a priviledged life and I am so blessed with all that I have both material and not (the not being more important!!!). In the community I live in, this can be hard to remember but so important. I am surrounded by people who are all about bigger and better and I have to keep myself grounded to not get sucked into their commercial lifestyle of “keeping up with the jones'”.

  • I am very fortunate!
    I’ve always known I was lucky. From the time we sent canned goods to Chernobyl in mr Herrin’s homeroom… I spent my babysitting money on that. My heart has always gone out to the pensioners living in rooms in the downtown east side because they have to live amongst addiction- because they didn’t have a clue what inflation would be like. The world has changed so much. I know you’re speaking about a much bigger portion of the world…. But sometimes the things close to home are important too! (I read a book called “the door is open” about a soup kitchen/ respite- it was life altering.

    Admittedly, as I’ve gotten older- I am more and more aware of my luck to be born here, with enough I everything… But I don’t think I’m as giving as I was. I am very happy to see my little cousins contributing to raising money for great causes and awareness for important issues.

    I wonder a lot about how we know more as we get older, but we choose to ignore more as well?
    I am grateful every day, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

  • I think one of the great tragedies of modern life is our collective failure to recognize a luxury when we see one. The truth is that we’re surrounded by luxuries day in and day out… yet we seldom see it that way.

    And it’s not just that we’re all callous pigs either. The giant marketing machine doesn’t want us to feel satisfied – they are busy “generating need” at every turn, because this crazy economy of ours would pretty much collapse if people weren’t busy buying things. Plus, I think it’s hard to feel privileged when the average American has less free time than feudal serfs or colonial slaves did.

    So, to answer your question… yes – I absolutely feel privileged. And I feel privileged not only to have healthy food, clean water, safe shelter, access to health care and more luxuries than I can shake a stick at. I mostly feel privileged that the the winds of fate somehow allowed me to see through it all and recognize the depths of my privilege, and to have the courage to take back the one commodity that is in such short supply in this “consumer culture” of ours – my time!

  • Do you know about this website? http://www.newdream.org/ When you contemplate what goes into STUFF, by buying less of it, you are making a big difference. All over the world. My husband and I are trying to “live lightly” and your blog continually inspires me. :-) I keep telling him that minimalism is the new environmentalism!

    And yes, when I look around at my house (which most people consider too small) and the lovely furniture that my husband makes by hand, and the fact that I can stay home with our children, I am ashamed that I have to remind myself to be thankful!

  • I think I’m hugely priviledged and shake my head in disappointment when I hear myself whining about life in Switzerland and wanting to go back to the UK. I ashamed sometimes, really. It’s a completely luxurious decision to make. Really good post and definitely food for thought.

  • I feel like I am living a privileged life. I never worry about having enough food, I have a home and enough clothing. Anything beyond basic needs is privilege.

    My husband and I have been on a journey of simplifying throughout our marriage. We’re living minimally in our small home and foregoing frivolous spending so we can bless others. There are so many in our community, who have so little and I’d much rather invest money into someone’s life than another pair of jeans or shoes!

    Sure, my simple lifestyle isn’t going to make a huge impact but it will impact the lives of some.

  • Yes, and I try to remind myself of this fact often. Since my husband lost his job near the end of 2010, we have had to eliminate so many things from our lives. And yet, even on my one small income, we never go hungry. We have electricity and running water and a comfortable bed. We are able to have pets. We can’t afford to go out for entertainment, but we have shelves full of CD’s to listen to, and access to library books. When I think about all that, I know we really have no right to complain.

  • The thing I like to do when I am feeling that I am being deprived of something is have a bath.
    I get to relax in warm, clean, potable water and then pour it down the drain.
    That’s when I reset my values and realize just how rich we are!

  • Absolutely, I live a privileged life. And thank you for this post.
    There is a big difference in standard of living between someone living in poverty in the developing world and someone in poverty in a highly developed country, for sure.
    Some studies (Marmot, http://www.unnaturalcauses.com) suggest that one of the main factors leading to health inequities in wealthier countries is the ever-widening socioeconomic gap between the wealthiest and poorest. I think that the choice of living with fewer possessions and using less resources, while focusing on relationships, experiences, and our communities, can have a positive impact on all the social factors that contribute to public health. What do you think?

  • Thank you for the always timely reminder that everyone can, in their own small way, change the world for the better. What a goal to have for life!

  • I didn’t think i had a privilege life until i started reading your blog, which i have only just found. I don’t have a lot i subsist on the basics of life but i have a home, i have food, i have a clothes and a bed to sleep in and i have people who care. I shall be back!

  • What a wonderful line of thought Rachel!
    amysfinerthings.com has a lovely piece of writing too on the same subject, from a different angle.
    “It’s easy to think the grass is always greener in your neighbour’s yard. And perhaps it is. At least the part you can see.
    But remember…
    When you’re weary of fixing another meal and doing dishes yet again, somebody wishes they had food to put on the table.
    When you’ve folded and put away another mountain of laundry, somebody wishes their children had proper coats and hats to wear to school.
    When you’re groaning over the highest heating bill yet this year, somebody wishes they weren’t so cold.
    When you’re losing sleep and gagging over a child’s stomach bug episode, somebody is praying for a miracle over her child’s hospital bed.
    When the exhaustion and nausea of the first trimester are about to do you in, somebody is weeping (yet again) over a negative pregnancy test.
    When your headache intensifies over your teen’s college financial paperwork, somebody is visiting the site of her teen’s fatal wreck.
    When you wake up to another cloudy, rainy day, somebody is praying for moisture to end a season of drought.
    When you pick up your husband’s dirty socks and take out the trash because he forgot, somebody is wishing that for just a moment she didn’t have to do it all alone, all the time.
    The next time your situation threatens to steal your joy, try to remember… somebody wants what you have.
    Give thanks in all circumstances…
    1 Thessalonians 5:18″

  • I have to remind myself of this often. Thanks for sharing!

    On another note, I bought the book bundle last week that included your book on baby’s first year. While I’m past that stage now (my youngest is now 20 months) I enjoyed it very much. Many of the other books included weren’t that great, but yours, Josh Becker’s, and one other (can’t remember the title–Do More with Less perhaps?) were standouts.

    • Thanks, Starr. Yes, Courtney Carver’s Be More With Less book and Joshua Becker’s book are excellent. Glad you enjoyed them. I’m still working through that book bundle myself.

  • Yes!! Thank you. I think about this a lot, too. I so agree that getting rid of stuff–while a luxury for us, because we have so much–is a mindful thing to do, and it opens up space–mental, physical, psychological–to be better able to serve others. I read somewhere “give something away everything” and it stays with me. I love stripping away layer after layer in our apartment. I have noticed that the fewer toys my son has, the more he plays with the ones left. The fewer CDs I have, the more I listen to music. The fewer book I have, the more I really take them out and reference them, make notes, cite references, experience them and make them part of my life. And in general, the less clutter in my way — both physical clutter in my living space and schedule clutter on my calendar — the more time I’m able to devote to worthy causes. When you’re drowning in stuff, it’s hard to even “get your head” there. You feel bombarded and overwhelmed. It’s really true that the less you have, the more you have to give.

  • I LOVE THIS POST. Living in the Philippines, where majority of its people face the sad reality of living less, I feel privileged because I have the choice of living however I want. I also feel privileged to be raised by my parents, who themselves grew up living on less than what they really need. But because of their hard work and sacrifice, our family is much better off than theirs did when they were young. Not only this, but my mom and dad have also taught us about minimalist living ever since – they work hard everyday to send us to the best schools in the country, and to make sure we have all the things we need so we could study well and be healthy. Even though this kind of prioritization means that we can’t afford a lot of clothes, shoes, and toys, and we can’t always go on trips during vacation, our parents taught us to invest in our good education, and to put our basic needs ahead of our wants.

  • Hi! New to your blog (excited to read more!), but have been following a few others about living with less (and enjoying life). NEVER think you’re not talking about something important! If everyone on the planet put more importance on living life, loving people, and making wise choices, rather than going crazy trying to get more stuff, the world would be a much better place!

  • Yep my life is too! Clean water, health insurance, enough money for basic needs and more. My kids even go to private education. Yep. We have it good. Needed to be reminded of this. Thank you!

  • I love this. I’m not a mom. I’m nowhere near ready for motherhood. I found this blog because a friend of mine posted CrappyPictures’ blog on Facebook and it lead me to this. Anyway. That’s all beside the point. I’m on my way to becoming a social worker (just finished my junior year of college) and privilege is a HUGE topic in most of my social work classes and I love the way you put it so much. It’s true; so many people don’t think about it. Even in this country, certain aspects give some people vast advantages over others. Race, sexuality, gender, the part of the country you were born in, soicioeconomic status, etc. It’s so important to recognize privilege because, while you can’t change it, you can grow by realising it exists. It’s a fallacy to think that having debt or paying your way through school negates the privilege that is given freely just because you’re white or male or heterosexual or WHATEVER. And if you’re really interested in the subject, check out Tim Wise on YouTube. He has a killer 57 minute presentation on Privilege. It’s really well done.

  • Hi! This is a very interesting blog. I am from the Philippines and not from a first world country. I considered myself privileged. I may not be on the upper class but I consider what I have in the middle class. I have the basic needs clothing,shelter, food. I can still afford to go to the mall, eat out, send my children to a private school. I don’t have a car nor fancy stuffs. Living here is not as wealthy as living in the first world but even though I don’t have that life I know what I have is enough. I am thankful and I am blessed. I thank you for inspiring people. This blog will keep reminding people how blessed they are. When I feel bad about life I just stop and think of what I have and how lucky I am to have them. :-) Btw, I shared this blog on my Facebook wall it’s a good read! I salute all minimalist people! Live simply! :)

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