In March, Kurt and I kicked off the three-month Contentment Challenge created by Nancy Ray. We had realized that our living environment was regularly the highest thing on our stress list, and because we had an approximate end date in sight for our time as Floridians, it was beginning to wear on us more and more.
We also had realized that we both soothe our worries and stresses by buying things. It could be treats at the grocery store, clothing during a sale, or meals out even when we have a full fridge. We weren't content and were using stuff to try and fill that void. So, we decided to make a change and try to break those spending habits for three months.
Each month of the Contentment Challenge is themed and the theme for the first month is generosity. With each month's theme, there is an activity challenge. Completing those monthly activities was actually one of my favorite parts of this challenge - it helped me actively feel like I was making small changes in my own life. The challenge accompanying the theme of generosity was to clean out our closets and donate clothes and other items that we weren't using anymore.
Both Kurt and I completed this monthly challenge. For me, it felt pretty easy - I regularly donate old clothes and items that aren't my style or don't fit anymore. It was a little bit more difficult for Kurt, but he too had a full bag by the time we were finished!
I really liked beginning the challenge this way because it felt like I was giving myself a clean slate. The larger purpose of the Contentment Challenge is to not spend money on those superfluous things in our lives, but starting the first month by giving things away also allowed me to clear out some of that stuff that was weighing me down. I felt like I had permission to clear out the old and prepare myself for a new way of living!
The theme of the second month of the challenge is gratitude, and the activity that accompanies this theme is to keep a gratitude journal.
Last year, one of my best friends gave me a gratitude journal. And it sat on my bedside table for months following because I couldn't figure out how to jump into it. Having this as the prescribed activity during this month of the Contentment Challenge gave me that reason, and writing in this journal has truly become one of my favorite parts of how I spend my day.
Writing down the things we are grateful for can be a powerful activity. It's easy to tick off the big things that are always noticeable - a roof over our heads, food on our table, or a loving and supportive marriage. But taking the time to consider those smaller things that are sometimes overlooked or aren't always present helped me to find contentment in both the seemingly regular and the wonderful parts of my life.
Using this gratitude journal also really helped me process my feelings as Kurt and I have navigated our miscarriage and rounds of fertility treatments. Making the time to read my bible daily and write in my gratitude journal has changed my perspective and my heart; those events have brought such a negative cloud to our lives, and yet I'm recognizing that I've been able to remain positive throughout them by actively choosing gratitude instead of sadness.
The final theme during the third month of the Contentment Challenge is freedom, and the activity for the month is to give away some of the money that you've saved during the previous two months of no spending.
While I didn't give away the extra money I had in my savings account, I did choose to use it to pay off one of my credit cards! Paying off the balance of that card gave me two things - first, a huge sense of pride and accomplishment. I felt like I had won, I had beaten my debt for once instead of it beating me! And second, I felt motivated to keep going with these new behavior patterns after the challenge ended. The activities and behavior changes I had participated in during the first two months of the Contentment Challenge had helped me come a little big closer to getting rid of my debt, and I wanted to continue to feel that sense of accomplishment and success.
What I learned
After completing this challenge at the end of May, I realized that three months of almost no spending really caused me to question what I value and prioritize. While Kurt and I didn't limit our spending as much as we originally thought we would on day one of the challenge, we absolutely talked more about the decisions we were choosing to make when we did spend money. We held each other accountable in spending less, and often reminded one another why we had committed to this challenge in the first place - we wanted to stop filling our voids with stuff because we had collected quite a bit of it.
As we prepare to wrap up - and pack up - our lives in Florida, I'm finding myself wanting to shed more of that stuff. Moving almost 1,100 miles to the northeast is truly a fresh start for us, and I want to make sure that what we choose to bring with us reflects that new beginning as well.
For me, I've learned that trying to live a content life means trying to live with less surrounding me - less stuff, less debt, and probably most important of all, less self-doubt. Each of the monthly activities helped me to learn more about what I value and the impact certain choices have on my confidence as an individual and as a partner. By choosing to live with less for three months, I unlocked a part of myself that can be truly happy with who I am and what I have. Now, I just have to keep practicing by making choices that help me live a life of content rather than a life of regret!
I'd love to know what makes you feel content in your life. How do money and things play a part in that contentment? Have you ever embarked on a challenge such as this one? If so, how did you do? If not, what's holding you back? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments!