The Myth of More

I posted the following minimalist meme on my Facebook page the other day:

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It got the following response from my friend, which I simply responded to by posting this article from the Minimalists, in which Joshua Fields Millburn talks about leaving his 6-figure, suit-and-tie corporate job.

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My friend responded once again, and I did not respond any further.

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This is exactly why we need minimalism.  It is so easy in our society to get stuck in “the Cycle of More” – the more stuff we want, the more money we need, and the more hours we need to work to make ends meet.  When we realize that we can do with a lot less than we thought, we need less time and money to meet our needs and anything over and above that can be used for the things we want – depending on our priorities.

As well-intentioned as my friend might have been, they missed the point.  The nature of our capitalist culture is that there is always something else out there, so if we do not define our priorities, it’s easy to stay in the “Cycle of More” – A person with a Honda wants a BMW, the person with a BMW wants a Maserati, the person with a Maserati wants a Rolls Royce and on and on and on.  There are also innumerable upgrades and personalization options available – paint jobs, rims, seat covers, floor mats, hood ornaments – for a variety of budgets.  And that’s just cars.  Joshua “obtained bad debt and whatnot” because he entered the “Cycle of More.”

It is a myth that we can ever be satisfied by things.  There’s always a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, a newer and/or nicer car, a bigger television, a newer gadget – you name it!  Someone is always going to have something we want.  Without priorities, nothing is ever enough – we could have a salary of $1,000,000 per year and it wouldn’t be enough!  There’s always something bigger and better out there to entice us! As if there isn’t enough pressure from advertisements, marketing, and our own insecurities, other people can put pressure on us, directly and indirectly.

In high school, I worked part time to purchase my own car – a 10-year-old Oldsmobile rust bucket.  It wasn’t pretty, but it got me to work and school and, more importantly it was MINE.  I earned it with my own hard work.  I got my own car before my older brother, because I got a job first.

My parents had a convertible that was about 7 years old at the time and they’d had for a few years but was in PRISTINE condition.  Beautiful and shiny, it was extremely exciting when they let me borrow it on rare occasions.  My friends and I thought we were so hot as we piled in and headed to the mall.  The first friends I picked up squealed with delight as they saw our ride for the day.  When we went to pick up my friend’s boyfriend, I was waiting for him to be impressed, since our usual ride was the rust bucket, but he got into the car and sneered, “Do you have a car that’s NOT old?”  My heart dropped.

I got engaged the summer after my first year of law school staring down crippling student loan debt and bad future job prospects in a tough legal job market.  My then-fiance did not have the good job he has now.  I was accepted for a competitive public interest fellowship from my school, which awarded a stipend to a selected student who had committed the summer semester to working for a public interest agency.  I spent the summer working for Legal Aid, answering phones and interviewing clients to earn my stipend.  We had the conversation about getting engaged and decided to go shopping for a ring together.  Rather than financing it and going into debt for a piece of jewelry, we decided to pay cash on the spot, which we did.  That meant our budget was much smaller than the nearly $6,000 “average.”

I was thrilled with the ring I helped choose.  I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful ring.  It was exactly what I wanted.  We chose a timeless ring—a sparkly, brilliant, half-carat round solitaire on a simple, plain 14-karat gold band.  Eschewing typical American values, we prized quality over size, which is why my ring regularly attracts attention and gets compliments, despite its relatively modest size compared to American expectations.  (Just because I’m a minimalist doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy compliments!) When I recently went to have the ring cleaned and inspected – a service provided for free by the jewelry store we purchased it from – the clerk who cleaned it actually asked me what I use to clean it at home because it is so sparkly. (In case you’re curious, I swear by Goddard’s products –another voluntary, non-sponsored product endorsement).

It is a gorgeous ring and it never occurred to me that some people expected an engagement ring to be bigger and flashier, until I started showing it off.  A law school classmate, after seeing my ring, commented that she would say no if it was less than 2 carats.  (Indeed, there are people who believe that a woman should refuse less than a 1 carat diamond engagement ring as evidence the man does not love her enough).  Another chimed in she would say no if it wasn’t a designer ring by Tacori.  I wanted to cry.  This ring, which was such a source of pride and a symbol of love, made me feel embarrassed temporarily, until I gave myself a pep talk about not needing to impress those people.

This is why such an important part of minimalism is resisting these pressures.  While my friend’s boyfriend was incredibly rude about my car, he was in high school.  My law school classmates, on the other hand, I’m afraid had no justification for such snobbery.  When you are feeling undue pressure to enter the “Cycle of More” to impress people, remember this:

“To the barefoot man, happiness is a pair of shoes. To the man with old shoes, it’s a pair of new shoes. To the man with new shoes, it’s stylish shoes. And of course, the fellow with no feet would be happy to be barefoot. Measure your life by what you have not by what you don’t.”
― Michael Josephson

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Weekly Update: Week 3

I made another sale on eBay!

An ill-considered clothing purchase that still has the tags on.  It makes me feel so horrible to admit that.  The past is the past and I cannot change it.  All I can do is purge the excess and make better (and fewer) purchases in the future. $15 for the item.  Less than I would have wanted ideally, considering it was brand new, but at least I got a little money and got the item out of my closet.

Minimalism has already helped me achieve the clarity to focus on what’s important. After visiting with my in-laws for our niece’s birthday last weekend, we are visiting my parents this weekend!  I’m very close with my parents and I haven’t seen them since Christmas, despite the fact that they live relatively close to us, so I am very exited to go see them!  Focusing on these important relationships gives me a sense of purpose.

Despite having explained the year of buying nothing, my mom wanted to take me shopping, as usual.  We visited a local gift shop with lots of lovely little trinkets, and despite seeing several things I liked, I didn’t really need any of it.  Mom really wanted to buy me something, though, so I settled on letting her buy me some guest soaps – one shaped like a seashell, another shaped like a turtle and a 3rd shaped like a mermaid.  At least it was consumable and I had wanted to buy some cute hand soaps for our bathroom, as we have a soap dish instead of using liquid soap.  (This is because many liquid hand soaps are anti bacterial, killing good bacteria on our hands.  Most products labeled “antibacterial,” including antibacterial hand soap, contain the antibacterial agent triclosan, which may be harmful to human health and the environment.  But I digress.)

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

We did sort of a big trip to the store.  Our monthly stock-up trip to BJs is arguably not the most minimalist thing ever (Yes, we now have SO MUCH TOILET PAPER) but old habits die hard.  Being that it’s just the two of us, it takes awhile to go through the toilet paper and other things we buy in unreasonable quantities, but we somehow store it all in our small condo and actually benefit from not having to buy nonperishables like that on a regular basis.  We know we’re covered for awhile and save time and money buying in bulk.  What can I say – it’s a balancing act and we’re not perfect.

We obviously spent money on gas to go to my parent’s house–Well worth the tank of gas to spend valuable time with my family.

And now is the part where I make a confession to you, dear readers.  I was unaware until recently just how liberal Nordstrom’s return policy is.  Apparently, they are famous for accepting a return on almost anything, so long as it can be established the item is one the store had ever sold.  Obviously, I would never take advantage by trying to return something that showed signs of wear–this item really had practically never been used.

I purchased a chiffon wrap for a wedding (not any of the most recent ones, but one that was awhile ago) in a color that really didn’t go with anything.  It was expensive and I only used it the one time, wearing it over my shoulders for about 5 minutes before setting it on the back of my chair for the rest of the evening as I danced.  I’d always kind of regretted the purchase after that, but never considered returning it as it had no tags and I had already gotten rid of the receipt.  Lucky for me, it was still listed for sale on the store’s website.  So when I recently read an article that Nordstrom’s famously flexible return policy might be changing, I decided I had to at least try to return it ASAP.

Unfortunately, the Nordstrom near us closed about a year ago and there is not a physical store within 100 miles of our house anymore.  There is one at the mall near my parents’ house, though.  Seeing an opportunity, I brought the wrap with me on my visit with my parents and returned it at the local Nordstrom.  They gave me a credit for the full amount I paid.  I decided to spend the credit while I was there, so I took a quick look in the bag section (you will eventually believe me when I say I am a handbag addict) and found a cute Madewell shoulder bag in black that was on sale.

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I had to pay the difference, and I did accumulate something nonconsumable during the Year of Buying Nothing.  However, I still consider the transaction to be very minimalist–I exchanged an item I have pretty much never used and purchased a high quality bag I’ll get lots of use out of.  So for that, sorry not sorry.

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

Surprisingly, nothing.  Since my digital decluttering, I am exposed to far fewer advertisements in my email and on my social media, which is where the bulk of the advertising I’m exposed to occurs.  Without the prompting from advertisements, I am not browsing online nearly as much.  It’s easier than I thought it would be. There were a few things here and there that were tempting, but I didn’t consider them seriously enough to list them here.

Minimalist Handbag Addict

In addition to being a lawyer and a yogi, I am also a handbag addict.  I told you purses would need their own entry.

There is nothing I love more than a great handbag.  Yes, this is the entry in which I attempt to justify having bought more than one purse recently—BEFORE the Year of Buying Nothing began.

For a working woman, a bag can be so much more than a bag—it can pull an outfit together, carry everything needed for the day and keep it organized and so much more!  A work tote is an absolute necessity for the modern woman in the workplace.  As I began going to court more often over the past year and needed to carry files, paperwork, and occasionally my laptop, it became clear that a new tote was needed.  The trusty Tignanello tote that had served me well for years carrying binders, notebooks and HUGE law textbooks during law school was no longer cutting it as my only tote.  After years of hard use, it was time for the Tignanello to take a rest on the back burner as a backup tote, perhaps to be passed on to someone else in the near future.

After obsessively researching work totes for weeks, if not months, I made the following (mindful) additions:

Dooney & Bourke Lexington Shopper Tote: This adorable tote is structured and professional.  I got it in black with brown straps so that it matches anything.  It’s large enough to carry some files and a legal pad, but not my 15” laptop.  This is perfect for interviews to carry a copy of my resume or for days when I need to carry some files or paperwork, but don’t need my laptop.  Sewn into the bag is a strap with a hook on the end to attach to car keys so they don’t get lost at the bottom of the bag—I’ve never had a bag with that feature before and never knew I needed it until I had one!

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(Photo from dooney.com)

Love 41 Simple Tote (Limited Edition Whiskey Brown): This lesser-known leather brand is known for its durable leather goods.  They are so confident in their products, they offer a 41-year warranty (hence the name Love 41), and their sales benefit charity.  Their sister company, Saddleback, offers a 100-year warranty on their products and boasts “they’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”  Both companies use full-grain, vegetable tanned leather that is designed to only look better with age.  I love this particular bag because whiskey brown is unique, as it is a limited-edition color that is not one of the brand’s standard colors.  The unlined interior gives the bag a rugged, durable feel.  This bag can take a beating!

In addition to being unique, the whiskey brown color goes well with a pair of shoes I already own and will look great for years to come.  I purchased one of the brand’s tassels in a complementary color to give my bag some extra pizazz.  In the month or so I have had it, it has already become my go-to bag.  It looks nice enough to take to work, tough yet light enough to carry around running errands, but doesn’t look out of place with my yoga pants when I lug it to yoga class!  With the open top, it might not be the most practical choice for when I go to court.

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(Tote pictured at work with matching Lucky Brand shoes)

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(Pictured with Love41 tassel in western cedar)

Satchel & Page Briefcase— I’m justifying buying yet another bag because I do not currently have a briefcase or a bag I can take to court that will fit my laptop besides my old Tignanello.  I’ve recently learned that, when it comes to leather, getting the highest quality for your money often means eschewing a designer or name brand.  I had originally purchased a designer bag to fill this need, but was less than enthused when comparing the quality of it to my new Love41 bag.  I returned the designer bag and went back to square one, this time looking at leather working companies instead of designer and department store websites.

As I was searching, I found a briefcase from Satchel & Page, a leather company I found out about online from other Love41 fans.  Like Saddleback, Satchel & Page offers a lifetime warranty. This briefcase bag has the distinct honor of being my last purchase for an entire year.  I am still waiting to receive it because Satchel & Page uses a kickstarter-type model to crowdfund their production runs.  I should get it in a few more weeks.

(NOTE: These are completely voluntary and unpaid endorsements on my part.  There are no sponsors yet.)

Weekly Update: Week 2

I am beginning to realize I started this Year of Buying Nothing challenge during a particularly socially active month for us. 

Two weddings this month, our niece’s birthday, and other events.  It certainly sounds like we’re out on the town all the time throwing money around, but I assure you this is quite an unusual month for us.  I’ve only ever used a ride-sharing service once in my life before this challenge and now I’ve used one twice in few weeks!

Having unsubscribed from most of the emails I get, the lack of email is noticeable.  Believe it or not, it might be starting to get to me just a little.  I am trying to get past checking email as a habit.  I’m sure I will soon, as there is rarely any email coming in anymore.  More and more often there is still no email when I check it.

We have missed out on experiences in the past due to a lack of money, and I am determined not to let that happen anymore.  We are headed to Los Angeles for a vacation this year and are hoping to go to Europe in 2018 or 2019.  Minimalism is the way to make that happen.  Spending our money wisely and not accumulating “stuff” so that we can have those experiences instead is the way to go.  Research shows that’s what makes people happy.

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

In addition to less spam email, I want less junk snail mail.  At the recommendation of The Minimalists, I signed up for DMAChoice a service that allows you to opt out and drastically reduce your junk mail.  It cost $2 and the opt-out lasts for 10 years.  We’ll see if it’s worth it.  I think $2 is certainly reasonable for less junk mail for the next 10 years. Think of all the time I will save not going through useless mail and the paper and ink that won’t be wasted printing it!

We spent money on going to a whiskey tasting and an Uber ride to and from the event.  (Our ride there was free because it was my first ride, but the ride back cost a few dollars).  My husband is a huge fan of whiskey and really enjoyed the event when he went a few years ago, so we decided to go.  We spent money on dinner out downtown after the event.  We so rarely go downtown, it was nice to be able to make an evening of it.  Had we spent our money on “stuff,” it would be hard to justify spending the money on this experience.

I also went to afternoon tea at a fancy tea room with a friend.  If I had spent all that money on “stuff” I wanted last week, going to the tea room with my friend would have been financially very difficult.  I might have missed out on a great experience because I “couldn’t afford it,” not realizing the reason I couldn’t afford it was because of the stuff I mindlessly accumulated instead.

I did have to spend money on a watch battery.  A watch I have had since around 2012 stopped and needed a new battery.  I spent $10 to get it replaced.  The value this adds to my life should be obvious.

After months of dividing my files between multiple storage services (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google, etc.) to keep each under the threshold for free service, I finally decided to bite the bullet and upgrade so that I can keep all of the files in one place.  It was $20/year and totally worth the money to keep all of my files together.

Our niece’s birthday present was purchased before the Year of Buying Nothing began, and even if it wasn’t, buying toys for children wasn’t part of the buying ban.  Buying presents for the children in our lives brings me (and them) joy and the goal is to resist spending money on tangible “things” that clutter up my house and spend money in ways that represent my values.  (Nobody said anything about cluttering up my sister-in-law’s house.  Lawyered!)

It has certainly occurred to me how the little amounts of money I am spending lately are on things that are calculated to improve my life.  These weekly updates are actually pretty insightful for me to write because it forces me to confront my habits, good and bad.

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

The minimalist mindset is finally beginning to settle in a little.  There was only one thing this week I really, seriously considered buying.

1.  Leather headphone organizer/cord keeper–I saw this and immediately thought about the headphones I keep in my tote bag.  While I wrap them up nicely and they do not usually get tangled up, it would be nice to have this to keep them organized.  As with all of the things I’ve wanted to buy since beginning this year of buying nothing, I’ll be just fine without it.

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Minimalism and Being Childfree

In addition to being a minimalist, I am also childfree.  Without getting into too much detail, I have a condition that makes it more or less impossible to get pregnant without medical intervention.  While our decision to remain childfree is not completely by choice, my condition is something I have known about since I was a child myself and it is something I have come to be completely fine with.  I revel in the extra time, money and freedom being childfree affords me.

I have previously discussed my passion for the environment and how that relates to minimalism.  Being childfree is the most environmentally friendly and minimalist decision one could make.  The planet is simply overloaded with over 7 billion people and the Earth’s limited resources are not equitably distributed.  That’s why, while there is famine in the third world, food waste is a huge problem in America.  This is where minimalism comes in and not using more resources than necessary.  For those who truly feel the call to parent a child, why create another human being when there are plenty available to adopt?

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I’m not suggesting that being childfree is the right choice for everyone.  Obviously, someone has to do the reproducing to keep the human race going.  What I am suggesting is that people who do not feel an extraordinary call to be a parent should not feel pressured by society to do so anyway.  I can tell you from experience that there is extraordinary pressure on young women of child bearing age to reproduce.

It is also not lost on me that my minimalist journey is made quite a bit easier by being childfree.  Our 750 square-foot, one bedroom condo with no garage would just not be a practical option with a child.  As a childfree person, I also do not have to be burdened with the idea of my child’s “inheritance.”  I don’t hold onto things, wondering if it’s something I’ll pass onto my children someday.  That’s not going to happen.  At the risk of sounding morbid, nobody wants your crap when you die.  There’s certainly no reason for anyone to retain things for this purpose only.

There is so much money my husband and I will not have to spend, so many things we will never have to buy or pay for because we are choosing not to have children.  That’s not to say I have money to burn— for the foreseeable future, quite a large portion of my money will go towards the student loan debt I accumulated going to law school; I would also like to take advantage of my freedom to travel with my husband.  A child doesn’t really fit into that picture.  Not having a child allows me to use my time, money and other resources in ways that fit with my values and priorities—paying off debt, traveling, career advancement, and hobbies like yoga.

Weekly Update: Week 1

Yesterday marked one week since I began my minimalism challenge not to buy anything for one year.  So how did week 1 go?

Last Monday, the first day of the challenge, I mailed out a purse I sold on eBay.  $100 (minus eBay and Paypal fees) in my pocket.  On Thursday, I sold another item on eBay and made another $25!  The bag was a color that didn’t go with much of my wardrobe.  I regretted selling the bag for about 10 minutes, because despite it’s unusual color, I really liked it.  I sold it intending to replace it with something that suits my needs better, which was my last purchase before my year of buying nothing.  While I haven’t bought anything new, this week I am still receiving a few things I purchased prior to the beginning of the Year of Buying Nothing.

I was happy to receive the items, but it was also a little anxiety-provoking.  It’s very very real now.  This endeavor seems so much harder facing the prospect of not having any purchases to look forward to.  No new shiny things to open.

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

We spent money on few small trips to the grocery store, a tank of gas, and a Lyft to a friend’s wedding across town (um, yeah, open bar).  The ride there was $5 off because it was my first ride, but still cost a few dollars.  Our wedding present for the couple was purchased before beginning the Year of Buying Nothing, so they got a physical gift.  Also, we did get takeout once from Jason’s Deli and dinner out at the comedy club—we got free tickets to the show—but other than that we ate at home (hence the grocery store trips).

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

There were lots of temptations—I am still in the mindset of see it, want it, buy it.  These are the things I saw this week that I definitely would have purchased had I not committed myself to this Year of Buying Nothing.

1. Saddleback Leather Co. Digital Paper sleeve—100-year warranty and apparently the perfect size to carry folders like the type I carry for court all the time. It was on sale 25% off.  However, I totally can and should make do with what I currently have.

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2. Lucky Brand Beaded Hamsa Pouch.  Perfect for using in my tote bags for organization. This was a very nice pouch and was on sale, plus an additional 40% off the sale price as well.  While it was tempting, I do have cosmetic bags and pouches currently that serve the purpose of organizing my tote bags.  If I’m honest, with myself I don’t really need another.

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3. Blessid Union of Souls Kickstarter.  A contribution of $25 or more gets you a digital download of the new album, plus an autographed physical CD.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but, like so many other ill-thought out purchases, given time to truly consider the purchase, I realized I only really know that one song they did like 20 years ago and I might be confusing them for another band, so I’m glad I didn’t actually buy it.

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4.  Butterfly prayer flag: The butterfly is a very special symbol to me and that is why I really wanted this flag.  It would be very nice to have, but I will be fine without it.  That is the whole point of this experiment, isn’t it?

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I really love the message of it, but I do not need to have the physical version of the flag to love and appreciate the flag’s message and carry it with me.  I don’t know where I’d even put it if I had bought it, to be honest.  So, rather than clutter up my house with the physical version of the flag, I had the idea to take a screenshot of the image and set it as the lock screen on my phone.  That’s even better than buying the flag because it’s free and I can carry the message with me always and be reminded whenever I look at my phone.

5.  Last year, I was in a good friend’s wedding and bought a very expensive bridesmaid dress.  With the wedding we’re going to this weekend, I assumed I would re-wear that dress–it’s the only thing I own that would work for the wedding’s formal dress code and there’s no way I wasn’t going to wear it ever again after spending so much money on it.  Trying it on the night before–EMERGENCY!–I had apparently lost enough weight that the dress was far too loose.  While I was freaking out, my husband did some quick googling and suggested a belt to make the dress work.  A few months ago, I would have bought a new formal dress without questioning it.  At the very least, I was considering buying a new sash or belt, as the teal dress was a very difficult color to match.  I turned my closet inside out and found a scarf to tie around the waist to make it work.  I even got compliments on it from other guests!  I’ve been very impressed with myself finding creative solutions to meet my needs and make do with what I have.

Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week: $135 (does not include the cost of dress or sash I briefly considered buying because I did not actually shop for any or consider anything specific)

Minimalism and the Environment

The environment is one of my pet political causes. 

I grew up in a small coastal town where the environmentalism is strongly encouraged: part of the curriculum from elementary school through high school involves field trips to the center for environmental studies where students participate in an age-appropriate environmental science lesson.  The biggest political divides on the local level there are not Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative, but pro-environment versus pro-development.  Appreciation for the environment was instilled in me as a young child.

Environmentalism and Minimalism, for me, go hand-in-hand.  Being deliberate in how we use resources and not using more of these resources than we need obviously benefits the environment.  While there are more people than ever, we are taking up more space per person than ever and spending more money on storage than ever.

Passing used items on to someone else when we no longer need them and seeking to purchase second hand or re-purpose something we already own instead of buying something new keeps items out of the landfill.  There is also an environmental impact associated with manufacturing these new items.  If people bought less, less would have to be produced to meet people’s needs.  Consider passing on any item of clothing you have not worn within the last 6 months.

Choosing quality over quantity helps the environment in multiple ways—most obviously, when you own less, you take up less space and have less of an environmental impact.  So-called “fast fashion” is an environmental nightmare.  That cheap, but cute, top you bought was designed to fall apart quickly.  Clothes have become so cheap that very few people bother repairing clothing that has a tear or has lost a button.  Many adults today do not even know how.  We have more clothes than ever and keep them for shorter periods than at any time in history.  Many items remain unworn and it all has to end up in the garbage eventually.  If you’re honest, you could certainly make do with what you’ve got.

In addition to all that, the cheap fabric so many items of cheap clothing are made from today leaves behind microfibers that are one of the biggest sources of ocean pollution.  All this negative environmental impact and we haven’t even considered the plight of the underpaid factory workers that slave away making these goods.  Something to consider before making your next (probably wasteful) clothing purchase.

Clearing the Digital Clutter

One thing has become apparent very quickly—if I am going to be successful in my endeavor not to buy anything for an entire year, my digital habits must change. 

Every online order requires an email address and that nearly always results in that email being added to the brand’s/store’s email list.  This constant barrage of emails about “new markdowns” and “lowest prices of the season” is a challenge for me.  I’ve been a bargain shopper since the day I got my first credit card—how can I not at least look?

Also, I never realized how many brands and designers I follow on social media.  Why do I do this?  This is nothing more than just letting these brands advertise to me for free!  If I wanted to buy something from the brand, I could just go to the website and see what sales are currently being offered.  Better yet, I would see if the thing I want is on sale.  Why is it so tempting to buy something I don’t need just because it on sale?

So, I spent quite awhile yesterday unfollowing brands and designers on various social media platforms.  I unfollowed at least 50 accounts on Instagram and just as many on Facebook and Twitter.  As advertising emails come in, I am unsubscribing.  Not only will this help me save money by not being tempted by so-called “sales,” but I will also save time not receiving these emails and browsing the sales I won’t be buying anything from.

Digital clutter is not just unwanted emails and social media accounts.  We all have contacts in our contact list we no longer need—that college friend we haven’t spoken to since graduation, the former coworker we never saw outside work hours, etc.  While you’re organizing your physical life, organize your digital life—Delete some old contacts; trim down your social media “friends” or “followers;” remove duplicate files from iTunes and create playlists to keep organized; delete old emails you no longer need and organize the one you should keep into folders; organize your photos; whatever you need to clear the digital clutter.

Clearing the “digital clutter” is essential to saving time and money.  So many people complain that their productivity is impacted by their email, so limiting the number of emails we receive is important.  Usually we can’t stop our email from being added to the list when making a purchase online—only a few allow us to uncheck the box subscribing to emails—but we can make a conscious effort not to subscribe in the first place when we can and unsubscribe as we receive them in the future.

After beginning to unsubscribe from any email list that doesn’t serve me as emails come in since yesterday morning, the amount of emails has dramatically decreased. It’s also become obvious to me that checking my email has become a habit for me when I’m bored.  There are almost always at least a few junk emails I can delete or maybe an advertising email and I can browse the sale for a moment, even if I don’t actually buy anything.  Yep–internet window shopping as a hobby.  I guess I’ll just have to come up with a more productive use of my time.

The Year of Less

April 3, 2018.  That seems like such a long time away from now.  But that is the next time I will buy anything.  Starting today, I will not be making any consumer purchases for 1 year. 

Surely, there must be some exceptions to this ban, right?  The ban will apply to anything that is not consumable.  The most notable exceptions are the common-sense necessaries like food, toiletries and the like.

The ban WILL include gifts for adult friends and family.  Rather than “stuff” they almost certainly do not need or want, we will be gifting the adults in our lives experiences or some other “consumable” thing, but nothing that will stick around their house.  We will take them out somewhere and buy them a drink or nice meal; or, if that’s not possible, perhaps a gift certificate or Groupon for an experience they would enjoy or tickets for a concert or show they would like to go to.  However, I cannot bear the thought of denying our niece and nephew toys.  (Sorry not sorry.)

I experimented with this concept with great success for my parents’ last birthdays a few months ago.  I bought my dad a Groupon to get his cars washed and my mom a gift certificate to get her hair done.  They both enjoyed and used these gifts—in stark contrast to the adorable Kate Spade travel mug and copper Moscow mule mug I bought them for Christmas a few years ago that I thought they would like but still sit in their cabinet with the tags on.  My mom happily texted me a picture of her new hairdo after getting it done last weekend.

In addition to the usual methods of accumulation, my Mom’s job involves working with clients in their homes and many give her things they no longer need, which often get donated or passed along to me if my mom has no use for it.  It can be anything from clothes to kitchen gadgets and small appliances to a dining room table.  This was great when I was a broke college student and was passed on essentials I might not otherwise have and couldn’t afford to buy for myself.  Many of these things were slightly outdated when they were passed on to me, and even more outdated now.

Over the last few months, my husband and I have been clearing out the excess.  At least 5 carloads of donations to the thrift store and lots of eBay sales later, and it’s beginning to look a lot less cluttered in our small condo.  Getting rid of lots of old, outdated things that no longer serve me (many of which I did not even purchase in the first place), necessitated some mindful shopping to replace some of the junk.  For me, a big part of minimalism is investing in a few, high quality things that will last for a long time.  What is the point of clearing out junk only to replace it with more junk?

I am already more minimalist than I previously thought.  I purchased 2 suits—one black and one gray—a few years ago, as I began interviewing and starting my legal career.  I invested in a new suit—a navy blue one—about a month ago, prior starting my one year challenge, because the suits I own are already a few years old.  I also bought myself a new pair of shoes back in January—the first pair in about a year.  Handbags, however, are my favorite indulgence and they deserve their own entry.

What Minimalism Means to Me

Do you think you could never “do” minimalism?  Do you think minimalism has no applicability to your life?  Just not sure what it is?  Well, this one’s for you.

Like so many undergraduate students intending to go to law school, my major was Philosophy.  Despite the stereotype of philosophers sitting around, debating trees falling in forests and the like, Philosophy class is where I really learned the art of forming an argument.  Defining terms to be used is of utmost importance, so defining what minimalism means to me seemed like a logical topic of my first entry when I decided to start a blog.

Minimalism has been a hot topic in the new-age, spiritual community lately.  When I started hearing about Minimalism quite a bit recently, I noticed that many of its proponents speak about it as if aspirations of corporate, mainstream success are completely incompatible with the philosophy.  Some make it seem like minimalism is “all-or-nothing” and either you’re a total minimalist with four bare, white walls and no furniture or you’re a greedy, corporate shill.  This is a false dichotomy.  It doesn’t have to be either one or the other and acting as if it does doesn’t help the movement.  Many people have a preconceived notion in mind of what the end result should look like, and it’s not compatible with what they want their life to look like so they resist rather than opening themselves to learning more.  Who wants four bare, white walls?  NOT ME!

As I learned about minimalism, it really resonated with me.  I’ve never been a flashy person—My car is nearly 10 years old; I have an engagement ring that many Americans would consider to be quite modest; my husband and I share a small, one bedroom condo with no garage.  At around 750-square feet, we’re partly minimalists out of necessity.  I’ve nixed conversations about getting a storage unit at multiple points during our relationship and have had to prevent myself as well as my husband from buying things because we simply don’t have the room.  That didn’t stop us from accumulating excess.  Gifts for birthdays and holidays; those mindless “impulse purchases” we just couldn’t stop ourselves from making; the sentimental things that serve no practical purpose, but we just couldn’t bear to get rid of for some reason.  With only 750 square feet of space for the two of us, it all adds up quickly.

In retrospect, I was raised as a minimalist.  My parents had their priorities and spent their money accordingly.  I grew up in a middle-class household where we never had to worry about where our next meal was coming from and we had family vacations, but we did not necessarily get the hottest name brand clothes or every toy we wanted.  School supplies had to stretch a few years.  I went through most of college without the capability to send or receive texts because my dad didn’t see the point of it and refused to pay for it.  I didn’t have the ability to text until somewhere around 2009-2010 and didn’t have a smartphone until 2014.  However, I was sent to college with the newest MacBook to ensure my success.  (See?  Priorities).  To this day, my mom balks at even discount store prices, as she almost exclusively buys her clothes in second-hand stores.

Minimalism is, above all, about mindfulness and intentionality in all aspects of one’s life.  We each have limited resources available to us—time, money, etc.—and so how we spend them should be the most important thing to us.  We should be very careful what we do with these precious resources since once either time or money are spent, they cannot be recovered.  Minimalism is, at its core, about efficiency, and who doesn’t want to be efficient?  Using limited resources to maximum benefit is the main goal in a nutshell.

Minimalism applies not just to physical stuff, but to how resources like time are spent.  Life is too short to work a job that’s not fulfilling, spend time with abhorrent people, or waste as much time as most of us do watching TV, opening junk mail, or checking the phone for the next important email/Facebook status/twitter update.  Time is an even more important resource than money.  While money can’t be recovered once spent, it’s a resource that replenishes.  There’s more every payday.  There’s no such thing as making more time and there’s no life ledger to tell you how much you have left.