“Live more by having less” is one of the important learning that I incorporated in my life since I moved to the Netherlands. This learning basically encourages everyone to improve the quality of life by having less. The Dutch way of living is simple, meaning that there is less cultural complexity – for instance the people are direct, honest, modest, and focus less on material things. These Dutch values are rooted from Protestantism, more specifically the Calvinism, a religion that entered the Netherlands during the 16th century. Despite this less complex way of living and simplicity, The Netherlands is still considered as one of the countries with the highest quality of life in the world (USNews.com). Thus, the Dutch are one of the happiest people while Dutch children are the happiest kids in the world (CNN). In my blog Raising a happy and balanced child the Dutch way, I explained why Dutch children are very happy and very contented in their quality of life. At the same time, I also wrote a blog about Achieving work-life balance by embracing Dutch work habits, which tells how Dutch people achieve a balance in their personal life and careers, both of which are important components to having a high quality of life.
In addition to raising a balanced child and having a work-life balance, there are also other ways to improve the quality of life based on the Dutch value of having less. We try to practice these value in our own family situation. Since my husband and I got married, we only had one sustaining income for more than four years. When I was finishing my PhD, my husband shouldered our family expenses from his PhD contract. After his PhD contract ended and I started working as a lecturer in an applied university. We live from my three days income, which is just sufficient for the expenses of a family of four. Yet, we still manage to enjoy our lives and give our children a high quality life that they deserve. We live in a good neighborhood in Wageningen. We try to ensure that we pay our mortgage as much as we can every year. We travel every now and then, in fact almost every week we go around the Netherlands and almost every two months we get out of the country! We eat lots of biological and organic products. And more importantly, we have the luxury to spend a lot of time with our kids. We don’t have a lot of money, which many people think. We don’t need to have a lot of money to feel rich and to enjoy life. Besides, money is less worthy if you don’t have the time to enjoy it and to be with your love ones, right? We just simply learn some life hacks to improve the quality of our life by having less, which is a Dutch value.
How to improve the quality of life by having less: Learn from the Dutch
In this blog, I’ll share some of the life hacks to live happier with less and make the most out of your life.
1. Dutch prefers quality over quantity.
The saying quality over quantity is well-known by many, yet practiced by few. I am a Filipina. Consumerism is very much part of the Phillipine culture since we are heavily influenced by the US. Filipino(a)s like to do shopping and to buy a lot of things. Shopping is both a pleasure, luxury and relaxation activity in Philippines.
When I came to the Netherlands I became more aware of this cultural difference. My husband pointed out that I don’t need a lot of things in my life, especially if they will not last long. According to a Dutch proverb, Goedekoop is duur koop (Buying cheaply is buying expensive). Thus, it is better to buy a few, expensive, high quality items that will last for 5-10 years, than to buy 20 or more pieces of clothes, shoes, or any items that will only last a year or two. Besides, buying high quality items is psychologically rewarding since it gives the feeling you give yourself the best long lasting products as compared to low quality items that need repair all the time. Of course, the topic of quality over quantity does not only pertain to material things. It can be extended to social circles, such as friends. In the Dutch culture, it is better to have few, quality relationships that will last long than maintaining many ‘friends’ or connections that require a lot of maintenance and time. This is especially true if you get kids simply because it is impossible to maintain a large social network. Besides, spending time with good friends is more-often much more satisfying than spending time with friends who you have less connection with.
2. In Dutch culture, money does not equal social status.
Being rich in the Netherlands does not give you a higher status in the society. This is reflected on many levels. For instance, not all rich people wear branded and expensive clothing. Using second hand items is very common in The Netherlands. People do not have to cope with the fast changing technologies and update their phone or laptop every year. Many Dutch even pride themselves for getting the cheapest price for high quality products. Being saving and simple is in the heart of the Dutch culture. In other words, based on this lifestyle, you cannot judge whether somebody is poor or rich. Oud geld en nieuw geld are words to describe this behavior and means as much as Old money and new money. Old money is a term used to describe people who have money for a long time, they are simple and classy and do not show off or waste their money. New money is a term used for people new to money, which are typically not classy, like to show off their money and are more wasteful with their money.
3. Dutch loves korting (discounts) and gratis (free) items.
In relation to being saving, Dutch love good deals, which is also rooted in their trading skills. Korting (meaning discounted) and gratis (meaning free) are some of the key words when shopping or buying in the supermarkets. Supermarkets always have discounts of the week or some freebies as part of their promotions. Many Dutch (as well as internationals) take advantage of these things! For instance, most Dutch buy and prepare their meal based on discounted items. The following week, their meal will depend again based on what is on discount that week. In addition, eating local vegetables and fruits that are in season is cheap, fresh, and sustainable. In terms of travels, dining-out and family activities, sites such as Social deal and Groupon offer many discounted packages. Often the products and services offered by these sites are of good quality while you pay bottom prices. We also use yearly memberships to sites or places that give large discounts, such as Hotelbon for cheap travels, and year round access or discount cards for museums and zoos. Of course this requires some forward thinking. Do not subscribe to things that you rarely do or not do at all! Only subscribe when you can estimate that based on your past behavior, the yearly fee will be earned back by the discount you receive.
4. Dutch prioritizes the real basic needs not wants.
I admit that sometimes, I am not very good at prioritizing the basic. However, my husband helped me realize which things I truly need. When shopping, we prioritize buying the basic needs in food such as the rice, pasta, protein sources, vegetables and fruits, and refrain from often buying chips, chocolates, or snacks. The trick is to think for each day ahead what you want to eat, and only buy those things you need for your planned cooking. The same goes for buying clothes, shoes, or any other item. Many Dutch shop when they need to or have reason to buy new clothing.
5. Dutch likes to eliminate unnecessary items.
Dutch people like to analyse and to eliminate unnecessary things whether it is at home, in their workplace, or daily life. For instance, at home we analyzed our monthly costs and identified the sources that drain our money. The results were actually quite surprising! Our main unnecessary expenses came from dining out too much, having unlimited data subscriptions in our mobile data which we scarcely used and only when outside, and paying for television that we never used since we always watch shows on Netflix and news on the internet. It was amazing how much we saved simply by eliminating these costs without even noticing the difference in our life style!
In addition, eliminating clutter at home is also part of organizing your life, and helps to improve the quality of life! Having too much items at home not only give positive value, but also the negative impact in your life. Having too much stuff consumes a lot of space and gives you a feeling of chaos. By clearing things at home, you can see and think more clearly since it gives you the feeling of space and clarity. Do you also recognize the feeling of unburden when you go on holiday with just a backpack? You might think that you possess your possessions but often they possess you. Thus, often having less is having more and living a high quality life.