Valentine’s Day 2021 is almost here, and you know what that means: Time to carve an hour from your stressful schedule to make a (masked-up) run to the store or maybe do some quick online browsing for flowers, teddy bears, or chocolate for your spouse and kids. Done! You’ve proven your love once again, right?
If this scenario makes you feel a little empty, life and business coach Steve Cook says there’s a reason. Too many of us are substituting symbols and tokens of love for the real thing.
“Our loved ones don’t want more sparkly, frilly, sugary stuff for Valentine’s Day,” says Cook, author of Lifeonaire: An Uncommon Approach to Wealth, Success, and Prosperity. “They want our time, our attention. They want us to be happy. They want real conversations that aren’t always cut short so that we can rush off to some obligation. That’s what love looks like, or should. It’s not about gifts.”
To most of us, being able to spend big chunks of meaningful time with our loved ones sounds wonderful. It just doesn’t sound realistic. That’s because we’ve arranged our lives in a way that forces us to work ourselves to death to achieve “the American Dream.” (What’s more, when we are around our families, we’re stressed out and grouchy.)
But Cook says we can change that. We can overhaul our lives in a way that allows us to start giving more deeply of ourselves to the people who really matter. One cornerstone of Cook’s path to prosperity is cutting life down to the basics. By cutting things we don’t need—the giant mortgage, the shiny new cars, the pricey data plans, the flashy gifts—we free up money to fund income-producing assets. And from there, everything gets better!
Benefits to simplifying your lifestyle
• You’ll spend more time with family. Without expensive distractions to, well, distract you, you might find yourself going on hikes or bike rides, playing board games at home, or volunteering at the local food pantry or animal shelter together.
• You’ll set the right example for your kids. You can tell kids all day not to be materialistic, avoid debt, conserve and recycle, save for the future, but if you don’t practice it, all your preaching is meaningless. We believe what we live every day.
• You’ll find a new sense of peace. Ask anyone who has started controlling their money rather than letting it control them: Instead of feeling deprived, you feel good. Without the low-grade hum of anxiety that comes with overspending, you’ll feel more available for what really matters.
• You’ll get more mindful and grateful. Consumerism creates a desire for more, more, more. In the quest for what we can buy and where we can go tomorrow, we miss out on the present. Refocusing allows us to start noticing sunsets, birds at the feeder, or the simple pleasures of baking cookies or throwing a football with our kids.
• You’ll get to know your community. When we’re not spending thousands on big vacation getaways (in the post-COVID future, of course!), we’re more likely to explore local parks, libraries, and other close-to-home attractions.
Putting It to Work
So how to make it happen? First, you’ll need an adjustment of your priorities and a major mind shift. But the rewards are totally worth it. Here’s how to get started:
Think “Family NOW, work LATER.” Most entrepreneurial or career-driven types believe that they need to work really hard during their “prime earning years” so they can relax and enjoy The Good Life later. Cook says that’s exactly backward. When our kids are young, we should live now and work later. No amount of rationalizing that you’re “doing it for the family” can make up for missing those precious formative years.
“Make this your mantra, and it will help you immediately put things into perspective,” says Cook. “Yes, you must work some, but if you don’t have a big mortgage and two car payments, you will be able to put in a lot fewer hours and spend a lot more time with your children now, while they need you. Your business can grow slowly and organically over time.”
Trim Work Hours If You Can
Start spending fewer hours at work. Try to cut your work hours by 10 percent, advises Cook. Years of conditioning have us believing hard work means working a lot. Yet Cook says the most successful people work less, often make more, and love their life. The truth is, short periods of efficient hard work are much more productive than “overdrive 60-hour workweeks.”
“If you have worked hard all day, you will likely be less productive in the final hour or two that you would normally work anyway,” says Cook. “Instead, go home and spend quality time with your loved ones. This is deeply rewarding for them as well as for you. And having enough time off to recharge means you will be ready to give 100 percent the next time you’re at work.”
Trim Internet Time
Go on an information-and-media diet. Most of us spend too much time surfing the Internet, watching upsetting news stories, and scrolling through social media. This is a bad habit that creeps up on us slowly and insidiously and makes us anxious and unhappy. Before we know it, we are addicted, and we let “screen time” steal our precious moments with our spouses and kids.
“When you’re at home, close down your laptop and put away the remote control,” says Cook. “Make a no cell phones rule at dinner. There’s a lot more time for movie night, charades, puzzles, and family projects like growing a garden or training for a marathon together.”
Refocus on Your Marriage
Get intentional about restoring your damaged marriage. Too many couples work hard at their job, come home exhausted, and sit in front of two separate TVs. They may pursue individual hobbies and interests. Over time, they drift apart and lose their passion for each other. But when a couple sits down together and creates a vision to work toward—one that includes making their marriage a priority—their relationship shifts almost overnight.
“There’s no better time to truly celebrate a love-centric holiday than committing to your partner in love and life,” says Cook. “Make Valentine’s Day your starting point to a better relationship and work at it until it becomes stronger than ever.”
Change Up the Celebration
Change how you celebrate. The way you celebrate Valentine’s Day (any holiday or special occasion, really) should reflect your newfound priorities. Make it about togetherness and creativity, not buying stuff. For example, instead of ordering from your favorite pricey restaurant, prepare a family meal together. Mom or Dad can make the entrée while younger kids set the table. Older children can each be in charge of preparing a side item. You can purchase several different chocolate bars, host a “chocolate tasting,” and rate your favorites for dessert.
You might also put the focus back on love by giving to others. As a family, you could make homemade cards to give to elderly neighbors or deliver clothing the kids have outgrown to a homeless shelter. (With a simpler life, you’ll have a lot more time for such things.)
“Simplifying your life is an act of love for the people that mean the most to you,” says Cook. “What we do every day speaks so much louder than what we say.”