I didn't say one must be a monk to be a Buddhist. It is simply the ideal way of life, full renunciation. And so aspiring on the path means aspiring for renouncing life.
I'll tell you an interesting story. I didn't get married until later in life. By that, I mean in my late 30's. Prior to that, I lived, as you say, perhaps not with full renunciation, not ordained as a monk, but living on very little, for many years on less that $6,000 a year, devoting as much time to meditation, dharma study, involvement with the local sangha, and even spending a year working at a retreat center, which I left because, frankly, it was just too perfect.
When I got married (my wife is not a Buddhist, and generally has a very low opinion of anything remotely 'religious') and we had a baby, I was an at-home dad. Fortunately, I can work from home. During his first 2 years, our son hardly ever slept. Maybe for a half hour at a time. So, neither did I (intense sleep deprivation is an amazing thing in itself). He would only drink formula (and only if it was cold) which meant that it was my job to do the feeding, and getting up all night. When he would sleep, even if i tried to meditate, I couldn't, because my attention was always waiting
for that second when he would wake up. Candles and incense and little bowls of stuff (Tibetan tradition) were just totally out of the question. I had time to read a little, mumble mantras, visualize filling bottles of formula as offerings, but that was about it.
Now, generally, people say, "yes, it is hard to practice Dharma as a householder....so many distractions, so many other obligations" and this would at first appear to be a perfect example of that statement. But in fact, it was the best thing that could have possible happened, because Now I could no longer rely on all of the routines and rituals and trappings and "stuff" that had made up the cozy little Buddhist comfort zone I had relied on for so many years. It had to be internalized. Dharma practice is like blood in that regard. You can't see it from the outside, but it has to be running through every vein in your body.
And I think about this when the topic comes up about how prince Siddhartha left his family (but with a big palace, and servants), and basically abandoned his comfort zone, and I think sometimes, that is what is important. It's not so much about whether you are a lay person or a monk. It's about getting past complacency. The attachment to that identity, those fictional character we create for ourselves. I think to myself, "put all your buddhist stuff, your dharma language, your beads, your intellectualizing, all that stuff that you think makes you a good buddhist, just put that all in a box up on a shelf..then show me your dharma!"
For me, that is what renunciation is. As soon as you have settled down into a Buddhist cozy spot or whatever, renounce that. Renounce that "Here I am, at last "
thing.Even renounce renouncing it.
For Siddhartha it might mean leaving his family. but for a non-married person, it might mean getting married.
Moving away from one's comfort zone is really being a 'homeless wanderer". It really puts one's practice to the test.
And the funny thing is, the more you move outside of your comfort zone, the bigger it gets.