Top Questions to Ask Yourself If You Want to Learn to Live With Less

Is decluttering a struggle? Author Christine Platt explores what our past can teach us about letting go.

Person decluttering clothes and books, separating items into bins labeled "charity"
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So much of who we are and how we behave or respond to certain situations is rooted in our childhood. Whether it's always looking for a deal, our innate response to stock our pantries because we grew up with food scarcity, or even conforming to gender roles, the behaviors and experiences from our childhood often inform our adult spending habits.

What we watched, were told, and learned from our caregivers and community often has a profound impact on our relationship with money and how we spend it. So how can we undo these ingrained toxic money patterns and learn to live with less (or more, if we so desire)? Author Christine Platt explains.

Adapted from The Afrominimalist's Guide to Living With Less by Christine Platt. Copyright © 2021 Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted and edited by permission of Tiller Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Positive or Adverse Childhood Experiences

Often, we are unaware of how our childhood experiences impact our lives on even the smallest levels. One of the stories I like to share that underscores just how deeply our childhood influences our adult behaviors involves one of my friends and her dear husband, who has an affinity for using a lot of dish soap when he washes the dishes.

To protect their identity, even though there is no shame in any of our childhood stories—we did not choose our caregivers—let's call this wonderful couple Mary and Brian.

The Story of Too Much Dish Soap

One day, as Mary and I engaged in conversation about the husbands we loved but who annoyed us so much, she shared, "I just walked past the kitchen, and Brian is in there washing dishes. Girl, the bubbles are literally overflowing out of the sink! I just don't know why he has to use so much dish soap and make such a mess!"

Ever the friend who equally complained about such trivial matters, I laughed: "Well, at least he's doing the dishes!" "Seriously," Mary said. "He's been doing this ever since we got married. It's so annoying and unnecessary." Upon realizing this was a true sore spot for her, I inquired, "Well, have you ever asked him why he does that?"

Childhood Poverty Impacts Our Perspective

A few days later, she told me that she did indeed ask Brian about his obsession with dish soap bubbles and was moved to discover why. Although he was now successful and quite wealthy, Brian had grown up poor. Raised by his grandmother in the Deep South, most of their household items were purchased at dollar stores and, even then, had to be used in moderation.

Whenever Brian washed the dishes, his grandmother only let him use minuscule amounts of dish soap, just enough to clean the dishes and never enough to make bubbles. So, now that he is an adult, he buys the best dish soap and enjoys making as many bubbles as he wants. Whereas my friend Mary sees a mess, Brian finds fulfillment in bubbles overflowing out of the sink and enjoys an experience he longed for but never got to delight in as a child.

5 Childhood Patterns to Consider

As you begin the self-discovery of learning about why you have more (or less) than you need, think about how your childhood experiences may have knowingly or unknowingly influenced your behaviors.

  • Think about what your caregivers determined were necessities and how they went about both acquiring and managing them.
  • Consider how they prioritized their spending to meet your family's needs versus fulfilling their personal wants.
  • Reflect on how your circumstances with abundance or scarcity may be influencing your current decisions.

Then, take out a journal and answer the following questions. Use that self-awareness and insight to come up with an action plan for your ultimate goal. If it's to live with less, start mindfully decluttering. If you want to treat yourself, create a budget—and leave room in there to buy yourself something you'll love.

Money Talks

Was money—spending and saving—talked about openly in your home? If so, was the discussion healthy or a source of contention?


Did you receive an allowance? If so, did you have to "earn it," or was it given freely?


How did your family celebrate milestones and key achievements? Were you rewarded with money, gifts, or non-tangible affirmations?

Hobbies and Pastimes

What did your family do for fun? Which experiences were considered regular activities, and which were considered "a treat"?

Unmet Childhood Needs

Can you identify unmet needs and desires from your childhood? If so, how have they shown up in adulthood and/or in what ways do you find yourself seeking to resolve them?

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