Ego

One of the struggles I have with minimalism is the tension between my ego and the very real need I have to project a professional image.  Frequently, when we talk about projecting a “professional” image, we are really talking about projecting the image that we are wealthy.  For example, a cotton tank top is not generally considered professional enough for the most conservative of professional situations.  Make the same top out of silk, charge over $100 for it and call it a “shell” and it’s fine.  They are the same shape/silhouette and cover the same amount of skin, but the cotton tank top is considered inherently less professional for some reason.  Such arbitrary “rules” exclude marginalized from the professional sphere.

Scuffed shoes or bags and pilled or faded clothes are definite no-nos when it comes to looking “professional.”  A scuff or two doesn’t have any impact on the functionality of the shoes, but this cultural idea of “professionalism” forces us to get rid of shoes before they might really have to.  The conflation of “professional” and “wealthy” that we see here probably has to do with what I talked about previously: the idea we have, especially in America, that to be successful is to be wealthy and to flaunt that wealth.  In our society, by projecting wealth, we also project professionalism.  We are saying, “Look at how expensive my clothes are!  I must make a lot of money and be really great at what I do to afford these clothes!”  The lawyer with the scuffed shoes must not be such a great lawyer if they can’t afford new shoes.  That someone could afford new shoes but chooses to wear a scuffed, older pair is unfathomable in our society.

While in California, the driver of the bus tour told us that very wealthy people often purchase mansions for millions of dollars, only to knock them to the ground and rebuild.  It does not matter to them who lived there previously, how old the mansion is, etc.  In fact, many celebrity homes are lost due to this phenomenon.  They do this simply because they do not want to live in a “used” mansion.  This is totally ego-based.  I can imagine them telling their friends nonchalantly, “Oh yes, we’re just going to tear this old thing to the ground and totally rebuild…”  It’s like the ultimate humblebrag—I can not only to afford to buy this mansion, but to knock it down and build another one!

Designer clothes, bags and shoes seem to be the expectation in more conservative professional environments.  What is truly necessary to present a professional image and what is just ego-stroking?  Is ego-stroking in this context even a bad thing?  There is, in fact, evidence that dressing more professionally increases productivity and recent trends towards more casual dress in the workplace might be hurting overall productivity.  Wearing my new watch and a new suit for a recent hearing, I noticed my voice sounded way more confident than normal.  I feel noticeably more confident when I look good.  I had to do some introspection at this realization: Do I need a luxury watch, designer clothes, etc. to feel confident?  To feel worthy of the judge’s time and attention?  Why do I feel this way?

I found the answer in teachings I had learned in yoga: Let go of ego.  We are not our physical body.  We are not the clothes that adorn it.  However, the reality is that our deeper, inner selves are not visible to others, and so we must sometimes use our physical bodies and adornments thereof to project our inner selves to the outer world, especially when it comes to situations where we want people to have a positive first impression.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Weekly Update: Week 28

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID I SPEND MONEY ON THIS WEEK?

We went and visited my parents to finish up our vacation/staycation.  I always love spending time with my parents.  While we were in that area, we also had lunch with my oldest friend (who I’ve known since 3rd grade) and her husband.  It was lovely.

This week is not only my 30th 2nd annual 29th birthday, it is also our wedding anniversary. (I call it my “birthiversary” week.)  Such a momentous occasion as my 30th birthday had to be marked with some sort of gift.  (I know, I know, I know.)  After my recent thoughts about watches, I started to do some research. Like the author of the Corporette article that sparked my interest in luxury watches, I thought it would be nice to treat myself for my 30th.

This watch is the first watch I have ever had with automatic movement rather than quartz.  Watches with automatic movement will last much longer than quartz with the proper maintenance.  This watch is certainly a piece worth investing in.

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I chose a classic, timeless watch with a mother of pearl face that is not full of complications (fancy features like a stopwatch, compass, etc.)  It’s a watch that would look good for any occasion.  It wouldn’t look out of place with jeans, a suit, or a dress.(Seriously not getting paid for this endorsement, but if Frederique Constant wants to change that, please see my contact section, lol).

Unlike a Cartier or other brand, this Frederique Constant watch wouldn’t catch most people’s attention as a “luxury” watch.  Only the occasional “w-i-s” (or “watch idiot savant,” as watch people affectionately call themselves in online forums) might notice the otherwise nondescript watch.  There are no diamonds or gold. There is nothing particularly flashy about it.  It is just quality, pure and simple. These are all positives in my book, as my goal was to buy a quality watch, not for people to look at me and think “holy shit, she has a Cartier watch! She must be loaded!” (Or, more accurately, “holy shit, she has a Cartier watch!  Let’s rob her!”)  Most people don’t notice watches anyway.

This is one of the most expensive purchases I have ever made and, despite that, I did not experience any anxiety shelling out that kind of cash because I did extensive research and felt confident in the purchase.

Full disclosure: when I shopped with my now-husband for my engagement ring, I had a full-on, genuine anxiety attack in the parking lot at the thought of shelling out that amount of money on a single, fairly frivolous, item.  While I love it, I did not really do much research on the purchase. (My husband had to educate me on the four C’s and steered me away from a less expensive, but noticeably worse quality diamond, for which I am forever grateful.)

For an item that has been so oft-discussed on this blog, I realized I haven’t posted any pictures of my engagement ring. Well, here it is with my new watch and the diamond wedding band I wear it with.

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WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

Well, during the year of buying nothing, I made one of the most expensive purchases I have ever made.  So, there’s that…Many of you may disagree with my decisions to go on vacation and buy a luxury watch while I still owe on my student loans. I totally understand that perspective (and mostly agree with it, too!) but at a certain point, I have to live my life.  I do not live a particularly indulgent life, so I do not begrudge myself the occasional luxury.

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Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week: $0

Running Total: $4,520

Welcome to the Land of Fame, Excess

Los Angeles is not known for its minimalism–in fact, it’s home to the shopping capital of the world, Rodeo Drive.  Hollywood is famous for its lavishness and excesses.  The bigger the better.  On our trip to Los Angeles, I saw quite a few shabby apartment buildings but very few “average” homes.  Most of the houses I saw there were bigger and nicer than any house I had ever seen in my life.  Even the less fancy houses were still LARGE.

It seems that everyone there is trying to live like a celebrity, even if they aren’t one.  While talking to our Uber driver, he told us he was going to get a BMW, maybe a Tesla.  He also made sure to mention that his partner is quite wealthy and has a six figure income.  I responded “wow, that’s nice!” and he responded that those are just “normal” cars around here.  (Which isn’t really even true, because I noticed no shortage of Hondas, Toyotas and Chevys.  Just goes to show how skewed his perception is–probably from hanging around his partner and other people who make six figures.)

Everyone seemed to be very well-dressed.  Even those dressed casually seemed very “put together,” for lack of a better way to describe it.  It was obvious they put some serious effort into choosing their outfit for the day.  Almost every woman seemed to have a designer purse and almost every man seemed to have a flashy watch.

The glamour and excess made the homelessness and poverty that much more striking in comparison.  Living in an area that also has year-round warm climate, I am no stranger to homeless people.  There is a panhandler on the corner of many roadways near our downtown area.  I’ve often seen multiple people sleeping under an overpass or on benches in the park.  In Los Angeles, there are tent cities, people digging through garbage, and the homeless people just seemed dirtier.  This is probably because most stores have a security guard and a bathroom locked with a code to prevent theft or sink bathing.  Despite seeing many more homeless people there, very few of the homeless people in Los Angeles approached asking for money or had signs asking for money or food.  Where I am from, nearly every homeless person you see has a sign or will approach you for money.

At one point, on the Santa Monica Pier, I was eating pizza outdoors on the patio of a very nice Italian restaurant and a homeless man was picking through the garbage can feet away from me, which made me feel like a horrible human being.  He was nearly close enough to reach out and touch.  It broke my heart.  Why did I do nothing?  Why were we all pretending not to see him?

It was really hard for even me, a self-proclaimed minimalist, not to get caught up in it all.  Last week, I almost spent an obscene amount of money on a Salvatore Ferragamo purse, which I absolutely do not need.  I’ve been making a conscious effort to feel grateful for all I already have.  There’s very little I truly need to be happy.

Weekly Update: Week 27

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID I SPEND MONEY ON THIS WEEK?

This week, we spent quite a lot of money, since we were on vacation!  Monday was the first workday we were off, so it was the first day that really felt like vacation.  Before we left town, we met friends from out of town who happened to be in our city for a conference for dinner out.

On Tuesday, we went to a theme park and had lunch there.

Wednesday, the day before our flight out, I got a haircut and a massage and all the money those things involve.

We spent lots of money on transportation, since we decided not to rent a car.  (It was still cheaper to ride-share most places.)

We minimized the number of meals out we would have to buy by making a grocery store run for breakfast food, water, protein bars and some fruit.  We would only eat one meal a day out, which isn’t bad when you’re on vacation and have no access to an oven or microwave.

I took a few yoga classes while I was in Los Angeles, including one with a fairly notable teacher.  It was wonderful and relaxing.

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I got a little caught up in the excess of L.A.  With almost every woman walking around carrying a luxury designer bag around me, when I saw a Salvatore Ferragamo bag on sale, it seemed reasonable, even desirable to buy it.  This bag, which was insanely expensive, would add no value to my life and serve no purpose any of my other bags could not serve.  This would solely be about the “prestige” of carrying such an expensive bag.  I (barely) talked myself out of it.

Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week: $900

Running Total: $4,520

Reframing

Watching an episode of the British show “Embarassing Bodies,” one case in particular stuck with me—a little girl, Charlotte, struggled with out of control warts on her feet to the point it was difficult to walk.  The doctor suggested that they check the girls immune system, as her body is clearly not fighting the common virus that causes warts like most normal bodies do.

They find that the girl’s immune system is indeed deficient and she will need a bone marrow transplant.  Hospital staff are surprised that, other than her unsightly feet she is well.  Her mother later says that her mindset changed when she found out about Charlotte’s immune deficiency.  She went from being upset about her daughter’s warts, sad her daughter was suffering in such a way and angry nothing was working to being glad the warts allowed them to identify an underlying larger problem that could have resulted in much worse consequences left undiscovered.

Sometimes, we concentrate so much on the warts in our lives that we don’t see the suffering they have prevented by uncovering the deeper problems.  Everyone has experienced some sort of hardship—I have lost jobs, I didn’t pass the bar exam the first time, etc.—but every time I have faced something bad, there is almost always some sort of silver lining.  Losing previous jobs has led me to to the career I have now.  Failing the bar exam taught me about failure and disappointment and the value of being detail-oriented and double-checking your work.  (As I walked away, I realized on the contract essay, I wrote damages on the outline I’d created, but somehow failed to discuss it at all in the actual essay.  I failed that first exam by 1/2 a point.)

When it comes to minimalism, we can constantly think about what we lack or we can reframe it to be grateful for all we do have.  No matter the abundance, there is always something we lack.  Being grateful for everything we already have is an essential choice to live a meaningful life with less.

Minimalism is all about living a meaningful and intentional life.  There is no shortcut.  Live intentionally by making sure to always seek the deeper lesson.  Don’t simply treat the warts and miss the immune deficiency.

Weekly Update: Week 26

I made another eBay sale this week!  $40 this time!

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID I SPEND MONEY ON THIS WEEK?

We had dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant on Friday night to celebrate the beginning of our vacation.

This week, I was back on Amazon.  I bought some no-slip inserts for the shoes I recently bought.  While I recognize the Diderot effect in action, these shoes will be much more comfortable with the inserts and I definitely needed new shoes.

I also bought copies of books and CDs by some of my favorite comedians that I will be seeing at the convention in Los Angeles coming up.  While the fans will get to (informally) meet and greet the comedians, I’m not even sure they’ll be selling merch at the convention, so this might be the only way I can get autographs, which will be my souvenirs from this trip.

I also decided to buy a teacup.  While I definitely didn’t need it, I was gifted an heirloom tea set years ago for my wedding, and the antique set (which, according to my internet searches is 100+ years old) came with 2 tea cups, but 3 saucers.  I finally decided to look on eBay and see if I could find a replacement and — lo and behold! — I found a seller who was selling the cups without the saucers.  I bought one to complete the set.

Like the shoes I had to replace recently, I also had to buy some new clothes for work.  Most of my work clothes are quite a few years old and some of it was given to me.  Because I have so few clothes for work, they wear faster, so I had to break down and buy a few more.  I went to Bloomingdales and bought a few high quality, versatile pieces while they had their 25% off “friends and family” sale — a new black suit and 2 dresses.  (My current black suit is about 4-5 years old at this point and worn often.  I needed a new one.)

Once again, this is where my minimalism collides with my professional goals–if it was up to me, I would not replace these clothes, but wearing faded, pilled clothing is not professional and would be looked down upon, especially for court.

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week: $0 (mostly because I bought all that other stuff.  Oops.)

Running Total: $3,620

How to be a Minimalist

We’ve talked about what minimalism is (to me) and why minimalism is something we should incorporate into our lives, but we haven’t talked much about HOW.  I’ve expressed my concerns that, by focusing on the decluttering process, proponents of minimalism contribute to the misconception that minimalism is only for the privileged, which is the reason it hasn’t been the focus of my blog, but I think it’s time to discuss some of the things I use to help me declutter.

Categories, not areas

One thing I have personally found very helpful in decluttering the excess from my life is to concentrate on categories, not areas in a home.  For example, I would concentrate on “clothes” rather than “closet” because there are also clothes in the drawers.  I would concentrate on “office supplies” instead of “desk area” because there are other areas that have office supplies.  This may not work for everyone, but I find makes it easy to see what I have across the entire category and get it all together.

90/90 rule

An idea that is often promoted by the Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, is that if there’s an item that hasn’t been used in the last 90 days, and won’t be used in the next 90 days, it should be minimized.  (Exceptions for seasonal items like winter clothing, etc., which will obviously be worn again when weather permits.)  It doesn’t have to be 90 days–set a time limit and stick to it!

Would I buy this again?

Out of all of the tips and tricks to minimize the excess, my very unminimalist husband finds this the most helpful.  Go “shopping” and contemplate whether that item would make it into the shopping cart today.

Imaginary moving

This is a test I find particularly helpful.  Pretend the moving vans are outside.  What is worth the effort to pack, load up in the van, and unpack?

I have minimized about 7 carloads worth of items from our small condo and I think about how much time, money and effort it would take to transport those carloads and carloads of items to the next place we move to had we not minimized.  7 carloads of stuff we don’t really care about that we probably would have just mindlessly moved.

Hangers

If minimizing clothing is a struggle, turn all the hangers around.  As each item is worn, turn that hanger the opposite way.  In 3 months/6 months/1 year, consider donating what hasn’t been worn (With the exception of seasonal clothing that you know you will wear when that season comes back around).

No stress

Above all, remember: Minimizing and decluttering is to simplify and reduce stress in our lives.  If decluttering is stressing us out or giving us anxiety, something is wrong in the process.  We should try our best not to compare our houses to other people’s or whatever mental image of “minimalism” we have.

Stop accumulating

Most importantly, though, is to make a commitment to consume mindfully.  Implement a shopping moratorium.  Maybe a week or a month.  Maybe try a whole year. After that no spend period helps identify spending triggers, spend more mindfully going forward.  Ask for consumable gifts or simply the gift of presence.  The best way to declutter is to control the amount of clutter coming in going forward.  

Weekly Update: Week 25

I learned this week that there is a name for the “floodgate” effect I had mentioned I had noticed in myself last week.  I learned that this is a well-documented behavioral phenomenon known as the Diderot Effect.  It made me feel not only validated, but also very observant to have noticed this about myself.

I made a $10 eBay sale this week!  Excited to get this stuff out of my home!

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID I SPEND MONEY ON THIS WEEK?

We went out for Mexican food with friends on Friday and I rented a Redbox movie for us to watch.

I got back on Amazon and bought a part for my car.  I have no idea what it is, but my husband (and his mechanic friend) assure me that’s what has been causing my car to make the clicking/banging noise I have been complaining about and replacing it will solve this problem.  My husband replaced the part this weekend, so hopefully this will prove true as I drive it this week.  So far, so good.

More lightbulbs had to be replaced (it’s getting spooky now) and we made a grocery store trip, one our largest since Hurricane Irma.  We are at home all week other than Friday night out with friends.

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week: $0

Running Total: $3,620

Regrets, or an Open Letter to Bert Kreischer

The Bertcast, a podcast hosted by comedian Bert Kreischer, is a comedy podcast and not a minimalism podcast, but they briefly skirted the subject on a recent episode without calling it by name.  On a typical episode, Bert and his guest(s) talk for hours, usually drinking and getting drunker and/or higher as the episode goes on.  It definitely makes my work day go faster.

Towards the end of the episode, an intoxicated Kreischer begins talking about fatherhood with his guests, both of whom are fathers to small children.  His own children are older (his oldest is 13) and he says that one of the regrets of his life was how much he worked when his children were little.  He wanted them to have a big house, and a pool and everything they wanted, he explained.  So he threw himself into his career, touring almost every week and spending a lot of time away from them and his wife.  The alternative, he said, was to put his career on the back burner, which would have led to significant regrets about what his comedy career “could have been.”  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, in his view.

One of the guests chimed in, asking Bert how much would be enough.  How much money did he really need?

This is the question we try to ask ourselves as minimalists.  Each item we spend money on costs a little part of our lives.  Time spent working instead of doing things we would rather be doing like spending time with family.  Time and money spent cleaning, maintaining and storing all these things we’ve accumulated.  We have to define our priorities and use our resources in a way that aligns with these stated priorities.  If we don’t define our values and priorities, we can get stuck in the cycle of more.  There’s always a bigger house, newer car, newer gadget, etc.  It’s never enough unless and until we decide to be content with what we have.

That’s not to say there is no room for luxuries–that’s where priorities come in.  If a fancy private school is a priority, maybe live in a smaller home or drive a less expensive car.  Perhaps be a one-car family instead of a two-car family if that’s possible.

His children are what drew Joshua Becker into minimalism.  He simply realized how much time and energy he was spending on “stuff” as he spent the day cleaning the garage while his son played in the backyard, wanting his dad to join him.  The stuff was keeping him from what mattered: spending time with his family.

To paraphrase the Rolling Stones: there’s not necessarily room for everything we want, but if we prioritize, we’ll find there’s room for everything we need.

Weekly Update: Week 24

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID I SPEND MONEY ON THIS WEEK?

We have been pretty disciplined this week.  We have been concentrating on eating food we have in our house since Hurricane Irma.  The only grocery shopping we have done since my final stock-up before the storm was when my husband stopped and picked up some milk.  We were lucky that our power was not out long enough to ruin our food. What probably went a long way in saving our food was that we took large containers, filled them with water, and froze them, leaving the big containers of ice in the fridge and freezer for when the power went out.

By the weekend, the restlessness was starting to set in.  We had to get out of the house for awhile! We went out on Friday night to a restaurant we had already purchased a Groupon for–a Brazilian steakhouse where waitstaff walk around with large skewers of meat to offer to diners. After eating a large meal, we went to the mall–not to shop, but to walk around and help our digestion. We did not intend to purchase anything and we did not, but I have to admit I did get some enjoyment out of looking at things, even if I didn’t buy them.  We came home that night to a message from friends.  We made plans to meet up with them the next day and we spent most of Saturday hanging out with them.

We went to the local library’s book sale.  I did buy a book–an autographed copy of one of Arianna Huffington’s books for my autograph collection.  (It was embarrassingly inexpensive and the money goes to the library, which I patronize for free regularly.  I thought it was a win-win.)  Ironically, I noticed that many of the DVDs for sale at the library were the same movies I donated to the Goodwill months ago.  As I mentioned, many of those films are now available on streaming services, so I guess a lot of people finally felt better about letting go of them.

For those not in the know, this was the first Saturday of Oktoberfest.  We spent the afternoon at a local brewery’s Oktoberfest celebration.  It was really quite hot, so after a few hours, we decided to go get pizza at a local pizza place.

We also spent some money on future entertainment.  Planning our vacation in more detail, we purchased tickets to a local theme park for the “staycation” portion of our time off.  In addition, we bought a Groupon for a discounted Redbox gift card.  Conveniently, a movie I really want to see and don’t want to wait for it to get to Netflix to do so will be available on Redbox this week and I was planning to rent it anyway.

I could not resist the siren call of Amazon, though–I got an email offer for $15 promotional credit for Prime Now for purchasing $50 or more in Amazon gift cards.  I bought the gift card and spent it on consumable things on my wishlist I would have purchased eventually anyways: Essential oils for my diffuser–lemongrass and eucalyptus–plus kwan loong pain relief oil, which I swear by for my painful, recurring foot problems. (**Another totally free, un-coerced, un-sponsored product endorsement–if you have any kind of pain, I highly recommend this natural, topical oil.)

All of these are consumables.  Only one of the items I purchased from Amazon was nonconsumable–focusing on health, I will be purchasing a rehabilitative, medical device. (I won’t go into further personal details.)  I will be spending the $15 Prime Now credit on tea, body wash and face wash–also all consumables and all things I intended to buy soon.

I actually spent quite a lot of money this week, but (if I do say so myself) all of the purchases were made very mindfully, after much consideration, and fall into the categories of experiences, medical, or consumables.  I took advantage of “deals” for stuff I was going to spend money on anyways, rather than allowing a “deal” convince me to buy things I otherwise wouldn’t have.  I am actually quite proud of myself, since it is very clear to me how this money was spent in ways which are more in line with my needs and values.  None of this money was spent on “stuff” that will clutter up my house and I will decide in a year or two I hate.

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

 

1. Missoni umbrella.  I guess the hurricane got me thinking about rain and umbrellas, and I saw this cheery Missoni one on Rue La La.

Missoni umbrella.png

It’s obvious that there is a “floodgate” effect.  When I allow myself to purchase a few things, it’s hard to shut off the “shopping” part of my brain.  While I was browsing Amazon, I made the mistake of clicking the “new items” banner I saw.  And all of a sudden I wanted everything…

2. Agate coasters.  The day before I saw these on Amazon, my husband and I were discussing the merits of replacing the chipped, decade-old Thirstystone coasters we use that I kept from college.  Then I saw these, and you know I am obsessed with crystals.

Agate coasters

3.  Agate bookends.  I have admired similar items when I have seen them in Homegoods and stores of that ilk.  They would match the coasters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Agate book

4.  Baggu drawstring bag.  If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know I love bags.  I have totes, shoulder bags, crossbody bags, clutches/wristlets, a satchel, and a briefcase. One of the few types of bags I do not own is a drawstring bag.  It strikes me as very classy, but casual in a way other bags aren’t.

Baggu drawstring

5. Owl kitchen mat.  I saw this and immediately thought about how cute it would look in our kitchen, which is currently without any kind of mat.

Kitchen mat

6.  “Little But Fierce” as a woman who has always been small for my age, this (adapted from the Shakespeare quote) is practically my life motto.

Little but fierce

7.  Sloth canvas tote.  Obviously, the last thing I need are new bags, but this is just too cute.

Sloth bag

Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week: $273

Running Total: $3,620