Those Things We Just Can’t Let Go of

Let’s talk about those things we just can’t let go of.  The things we hold onto despite knowing we can and should get rid of them usually fall into one of a few categories.

“But someone special gave that to me!”

We all have those things that were gifted to us by someone special that no longer serve a purpose.  Nobody is suggesting we should get rid of precious heirlooms, but if items are taking up room in our homes without any useful purpose, we should consider why we are clinging so tightly to those particular objects.  Our memories are in us, not in our things.  We won’t forget grandpa if we let go of his old fishing pole that hasn’t seen any use in years.  There are antique shops, thrift stores and consignment shops that would more than likely be happy to take some of those things off your hands, if there is nobody else you can pass them on to. Perhaps we can find a use for an heirloom object in a new or different way that does serve our needs.

More likely to cause angst are those holiday and birthday gifts that accumulate year after year.  Even though you think she will, Aunt Mildred won’t notice that ugly sweater from Christmas a few years ago is no longer in the closet.  If, however, she happens to, just remember: the people closest to us want us to be happy.  If we explain that the item we received no longer serves us and we passed it on to someone who had more use for it, they should be happy for us because we did something that added to our happiness.  It would be silly to be offended over such a thing.

“But that’s for a special occasion!”

Do you, like me, have things you only use on a special occasion?  What are we waiting for?!?!  I’ve recently started using the crystal water goblets we were gifted for our wedding on a somewhat more regular basis.  There’s no reason to never use them!  Use them or pass them on to someone who will!

“But that was expensive!”

Sometimes, our judgment is clouded by how much money something cost.  It seems wasteful that this item that cost so much when it was purchased is useless!  When my husband was single, he overpaid for the latest, large, flat-screen television.  About 2 years ago, it stopped working and we found a very reasonably-priced second hand replacement.  My husband wanted to attempt to repair the television, which I whole-heartedly supported and he made a few unsuccessful attempts.  Remembering the astronomical amount he paid for it, he still could not let it go.  That broken television stayed in our house for nearly a year after that, until he could finally let go.

Part of the reason I have found it so hard to get rid of my DVDs is because of the financial investment that was made, not only in the DVDs themselves, but the DVD holders I got from the Container Store recently to store them.  Estimating how much I spent on all that stuff only now to just get rid of it really upsets me.

If these things are still truly valuable, and not simply junk that was once expensive, we should try to recoup some of the money and sell them.  I have sold quite a few things on eBay in recent months and it’s really been a benefit financially—not to mention getting rid of some clutter at the same time!

“But my ideal self would use that!”

Many people have things that we aspire to use.  Some of us own exercise equipment we rarely, if ever, use.  Maybe you got in on the “juicing” trend and did it for a month but haven’t used that juicer since.  Yes, it was expensive, and it totally seemed like something that would be used every day, but the reality is it isn’t being used and isn’t adding value.  Don’t let it take up room anymore.

I own quite a bit of makeup, but rarely wear much.  I have definitely pared it down, but could stand to get rid of some more.  I also have lots of hair clips and stuff I hardly ever wear that should go.  My ideal self would wear makeup daily and look gorgeous with a cute, but low maintenance clipped-back hairstyle.  That’s not the reality.  My hair and face are usually just wash, moisturize, and go!  I don’t need the fancy hairclips and excessive amounts of makeup.

“But I’ve had that for a long time!”

This is not to say I’m perfect at this minimalism thing, because I’m not.  I kept toys my grandma knit for me for a very long time, despite having no use for them—I’m too old for toys and won’t be having any children to pass them on to.  I don’t need to keep everything my grandmother ever knit for me to love her and keep her in my heart.  I didn’t keep the toys, but I have kept a tea pot cover my grandma knit me, which I actually get some use out of.

For the longest time I couldn’t get rid of a small “tooth pillow” I sewed in kindergarten.  This “tooth pillow” was two cheap pieces of felt sewn together that had a pocket on the front shaped like a tooth that went under my regular pillow (or next to it, for easy tooth fairy access) when I lost a tooth as a child.  The tooth would be wrapped in a tissue and go in the pocket, to be replaced by money.  I have absolutely no use for it and haven’t in years.  I finally threw it away recently.

The old, smelly teddy bear from childhood that sits in a box in your attic.  The baby blanket and clothes from the last baby when it’s certain there won’t be another.  My old tooth pillow.  It’s obvious these things are just taking up space for no reason, yet we still can’t get rid of them.  We’ve endowed them with meaning they do not actually have.  It might make it easier to get rid of sentimental items if you can pass it on to someone you know will get use out of it or sell it to use the money for something you will get use out of–perhaps a memorable experience.

Weekly Update: Week 12

I realized this week that, other than the large fake bouquet that used to sit near the front door (and the derby hat I was reminded of when friends came over to watch the Kentucky Derby), I can’t think of too many specific items out of the approximately 6 carloads of items I have donated in the last 4-6 months.  I don’t really miss any of it, much to my surprise.  (I’ll be honest, I thought I’d have a few moments of “I wish I would have kept that.”)  To paraphrase something The Minimalists often say, “Simple isn’t easy.”

Last weekend when I visited my parents, part of that visit included visiting with close family friends from England.  Both my mom’s best friend’s daughter and the daughter’s best friend are around my age.  The daughter is married and her best friend is recently engaged.  Both are young professional women, like me.  I hesitate to mention it, but curiosity got the best of me.  I took particular note of their rings and (based on this totally unscientific, anecdotal evidence) noticed that the statistics are true–Americans on average have larger diamonds than people from other countries. Their rings were lovely: both had a similar size to mine, maybe even the slightest bit larger than my 1/2 carat, but certainly not the flashy, austentatious 1+ carat that has become almost expected in American middle class circles, especially for young professional women like us.  Americans tend to forget that there are 3 other “C’s.”  I enjoyed the elegant, understated look.

I also finally decided to use the credit card rewards points I have accumulated towards a Spa Week gift card, redeemable at the massage place near me which recently emailed me a 15% off coupon.  Double-win.

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

I used the Groupon and got my hair cut this week.  After a few hearings in the morning, I had an afternoon off and went out to lunch (a salad at Panera Bread) and walked around the shops in the area near where my hair appointment was going to be.  I have drastically cut down on my shopping-as-entertainment excursions, and I mostly walked down the street, but occasionally went into an air conditioned shop to cool down.  So, besides lunch out, I did spend money to give the stylist a tip.

OK, while it’s technically against the rules of my year of buying nothing, I purchased a stand/pedestal for the crystal sphere my Mom gifted me last week.  Normally, I wouldn’t make such a purchase, but because the crystal is perfectly round, my only other options would be to 1) not accept it from my mom; 2) sell it or otherwise pass it on after accepting it; or 3) put it in a drawer or other container somewhere hidden where it wouldn’t be able to roll around like it would displayed on my desk without a display stand.  To put this gift, which I enjoy, to its highest and best use (a very minimalist thing to do, if I do say so myself) a pedestal is necessary and unavoidable.  It was around $10, including shipping, so not a budget-breaker by any means.

Crystal sphere stand

It arrived and it looks great!  (Sorry not sorry!)

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WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

Nothing, mostly because I kind of cheated and bought the crystal pedestal.  Oops.

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

Running Total: $1225

Take Your Stinking Hands Off My DVDs, You Damn, Dirty, Minimalist

Each of us has a handful of things we have a hard time letting go of.  For me, one of them is my DVD collection. 

Not even my autographed ones–just the regular ones!  I had no problem letting go of my CD collection, once I made sure they were all downloaded on my computer. (After the corruption of my entire music library recently, I wish I hadn’t).  I got rid of quite a few of the books I own as well.  My DVD collection, however, has been presenting a challenge for me.  Now that we can stream nearly unlimited content at a moment’s notice, why do we need to re-watch movies?  No matter how much we love it, there’s too much content out there to watch the same thing twice, right?

When there are things we are having trouble getting rid of, we need to ask ourselves why.  What does it represent to me?  Why have I given it so much meaning?  For example, a crystal paperweight with the scales of justice I kept on my desk for the longest time, despite some chips in it, was hard for me to decide to get rid of.  Why?  I purchased it from a discount store, deeply discounted because of the chips that were already in it.  I look back and think, why did I want it anyway?  I thought about it and, despite the chips, it represented something to me.  I bought it while I was in law school, young and optimistic about my future and my career.  I am still young, but not always as optimistic about my future or my career.  It’s been a rough start.  So, I let it go.

I realized that many of the movies I have on DVD are available to stream on one or more streaming services.  Why is it so hard for me, then, to get rid of them?  Part of the reason is the fact that this collection I’ve amassed, while not huge by any standards, certainly cost me a lot of money over the years.  Somewhere between $5-$20 per DVD, plus the cost of the DVD organizers we purchased last year to hold them.  I know this is just the sunk cost fallacy.  Those DVDs served me well when I bought them, watched them and enjoyed them.  That was when streaming wasn’t widely available, live TV (maybe with a recording service) was the only option and re-watching favorite movies didn’t seem so absurd.  I was a poor college student that didn’t bother paying for cable, so DVDs were my main source of entertainment.

Furthermore, I picture growing old, watching and enjoying old movies I love but haven’t seen in decades.  It seems romantic and nostalgic.  Intellectually, I know this is ridiculous.  I tell myself that the DVDs no longer serve me and the whatever costs I have sunk into the collection were already sunk when I purchased it.  (Unfortunately, old DVDs are not the easiest items to re-sell.  I’ve tried.)  Now that video streaming is widely available and fairly affordable, there will never again be a shortage of new content.  Will I really be watching those old movies, like my grandparents did with those John Wayne movies?  I doubt it.  Something stops me every time I try to get rid of them.  I write many of the posts in advance and, believe it or not, a few days after writing this The Minimalists posted an article about getting rid of your DVD collection.  I will have to contemplate and work on this.  Maybe soon one of my updates will triumphantly announce that I have finally minimized my DVD collection.

Weekly Update: Week 11

After several weeks of no sales, this week I sold another item on eBay!  I was beginning to think the remaining items were just not going to sell.  All these weeks I haven’t mentioned eBay sales, my items have been listed but just haven’t sold anything.

I visited this parents this weekend and spent Father’s Day with my Dad.  As usual, I don’t get to visit my parents without my mom giving me some sort of gift.  After arriving on Friday evening, we woke up for breakfast on Saturday morning and my mom came downstairs in a beautiful coral colored dress.  I commented that her dress was pretty and she looked nice.  My mom immediately went upstairs to change into something else so she could offer it to me.  She often does this with friends and family, and buys almost all of her clothes secondhand because she likes being able to do this.

Resistance is often futile with my mom in these situations, so I agreed to try it on, since I didn’t think it would fit me anyway.  Lo and behold, not only did it fit, but it looked amazing.  My mom wouldn’t hear of my not keeping it at this point.  Yes, my mom literally gave me the clothes off her back.  She is amazing and generous like that.  She is truly one of the people whose love language is gift giving and so I accept it as the gesture of love it is intended to be, practicing gratitude.   After that, she took me to her favorite thrift store to shop.  I found an L.L. Bean tank top that seemed to look almost new.

1. Elephant statue.  My mom offered me this elephant statue; knowing about my new-found minimalism (and possibly sensing my initial hesitation as I assessed whether or not I wanted to accept it), she told me I didn’t have to take it if I didn’t want to.  I decided to accept it, as it would go very well with the other animal statues on top of my alarm clock.

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2.  Amethyst cluster.  I have often coveted amethyst clusters like this one when going to crystal shops.  They can be very expensive, which is why I haven’t purchased one for myself.  My mom knows about my crystal collection, but didn’t actually know that I wanted an amethyst crystal in particular, so this was a pleasant surprise to me.  I am so excited about this.

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3. Tiger eye sphere.  This is also a very beautiful crystal piece.  I’m also excited to add this to my collection once I get a pedestal to put this on.

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4. The Pocket Book of Stones.  My mom gifted me this book with the crystals.  I have no idea where my mom got any of this stuff, but it was such a pleasant surprise.

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

It was Father’s Day this week.  Since the car wash went over so well for his birthday a few months ago, I bought my Dad a Groupon for an oil change.  My parents have a couple of cars, so anything that will help with the cost of maintenance–car washes, oil changes, etc.–will be more useful for them than any trinket.  As a matter of fact, my dad informed me that one of the cars had recently become due for an oil change.

We went out for a late lunch/early dinner with my parents and my brother, and my husband and I decided to pick up the bill.  It didn’t seem right to let Dad pay on Father’s Day.  I love that minimalism allows me the financial freedom to do this for my family.

I also indulged in some fancy hand cream from l’Occitane.  It was on sale, plus Plenti was offering bonus points.  Like foot cream, I also go through lots of hand cream so I took the opportunity to stock up.

Loccitane lotion

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

  1. Madewell weekender: I came across the Madewell weekender in the sale section of Madwell’s website.  I mentioned before that I was looking at nice weekender/duffel bags for traveling when I noticed while traveling for my friend’s wedding that my nylon duffel was starting to fray where the straps attach.  This nice leather one is what I was envisioning.  It is way too tempting to replace my old bag now.

Madewell Weekender

Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week: $270

Running Total: $1225

Collections

Minimalism looks different to everybody because we all live different lives.  I happen to have more than one yoga mat.  Even one mat might be too many for someone else who doesn’t do much yoga.  For me, as a yoga practitioner and teacher, I can sort of justify having more than one.  Someone else may find tremendous value from a comic book collection or other things that I would not find valuable at all.  There is no universal list of things we should have or not have, no matter how many people might try and tell us otherwise.

If I haven’t lost you already, here’s where I might lose some of you.  You’re no doubt already familiar with my handbag addiction.  I’m going to be a little vulnerable here and tell you that, while I consider myself a minimalist, I do maintain a few collections.  Lest you thought I was a perfect minimalist with a nearly empty house, I am here to remind you how imperfect I am.  And that’s OK.  I’m fairly new to minimalism and, in the last 3-6 months I’ve been purging the excess from my life, I’ve gotten rid of so much.  Some old habits die hard, though, and I can’t bear to minimize these collections just yet. I am a work in progress, like we all are. The decluttering I’ve already done has made me feel so much freer and lighter and that’s why I chose to challenge myself with a year of buying nothing.  The easiest way to control clutter is to stop buying more of it.

1. CRYSTALS

I have a collection of crystals, used mostly decoratively (sometimes, I use them to aid my meditation practice, but not often).  My crystal collection adds beauty to my personal space.  I have a large rose quartz stone and a large aquamarine heart that I use as paperweights in my home office.

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Also on my desk in my home office is a plastic succulent and a collection of religious statues and crystals — lapis lazuli and fluorite obelisks, and a clear quartz pyramid.  This adds beauty, but also some tranquility to this area.  I work from home occasionally and this is a sort of sanctuary.  If you think this is cluttered, you should have seen it before!!!

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A clear quartz cluster on top of the notepad on my desk.  I’ll be the first to admit, I might have gone a little overboard with the crystals.  But, wait–there’s more!

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I keep a selenite tower on top of my alarm clock next to my bed, along with a group of small animal statues.  Admittedly, not the most minimalist bedside table.

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A closeup of the bowl of small crystals I have near my bed.  My collection includes amethyst, carnelian, sunstone, more rose quartz, black tourmaline, labradorite, bloodstone and citrine.  For holidays, a local crystal shop I used to frequent will give out a free small stone, and several of these were free from that shop.  They really sparkle and shine in the light.  It may be a little thing, but they’re beautiful and they make me happy.

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2. PIGGY BANKS

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I have had the beautiful, handpainted piggy banks on the left since I was a kid.  The one on the far right I just thought was cute and thought it would look good with the collection I already had.  I know I could do with just one, but I actually do keep change in them, though…

3. AUTOGRAPHS

I collect autographs–books, CDs, DVDs, it doesn’t matter.  I am obviously a comedy nerd, (if you couldn’t tell by how much I talk about going to the comedy club) so many of these autographs are from my favorite comedians.  Lots of musicians in the mix as well.  Yes, everything pictured here is autographed.

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When I was younger, I played the saxophone.  I went to a concert of my favorite saxophone player, Mindi Abair, who I looked up to so much as a female role model in the male-dominated saxophone game.  I happened to be performing at the same theater the next night in the teen talent show, playing my saxophone, which my companion excitedly told her.  (I was about 14 and too star-struck to speak).  She thought it was awesome and signed my CD: “To  (my name) Keep rockin’ the sax, girl! ❤ Mindi Abair.”  Many years later and it’s still one of my prized possessions.

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4. POLITICAL PINS AND BUMPER STICKERS (not pictured)

This started in 2008, when I started getting lots of free Obama swag.  Then, I ended up working on a political campaign and kept a few bumper stickers.  Then, my husband’s uncle passed away and his sweet, lovely aunt heard I collected them and gifted me her late husband’s stash of buttons.  I have quite a bit of political memorabilia, spanning time periods and the entire political spectrum.

Weekly Update: Week 10

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

You’ll remember from last week’s update that the firm I work for is taking photos for the website this week.  In addition to purchasing the new shirt I bought last week, I scheduled an appointment at my local blowout bar for Tuesday, the day pictures are to be taken, before work that day so I will look my best.  The best part is that my blowout bar of choice offers a discount on Mondays and Tuesdays– Blowouts are $10 off on those days.

I’m not a blowout person–I’ve only had a blowout once before.  I get a haircut about 3-4 times per year, and I rarely blowdry my own hair–I usually let it air dry.  This is a special occasion where I will be photographed and these photographs will probably represent my professional image for a long time.  I thought $30 was more than worth it.  I considered having my makeup done there as well, but decided against it.  $50 is way too much, considering I only need very subtle makeup to begin with and I’m more than capable of doing that myself.

We got free tickets to the comedy club once again and had dinner out this weekend.  It was a great night out with my husband and a friend of ours.

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

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

Running Total: $955

Rewards Points

My credit card, like many, offers rewards points. I pay the balance in full each month, determined to keep my student loans my only debt right now, but still get points for every dollar spent. The number is not going up very quickly, since I am not really buying much on that card right now. There are countless retail establishments that offer gift cards starting at $25 for 3,000 points. Usually, when I hit 3,000 points, I redeem the points for a gift card for one shop or another. I am currently over 4,000 points and haven’t redeemed them yet. I did briefly consider redeeming the points for a T.J. Maxx/Marshalls/Homegoods gift card and returning to Marshalls and purchasing one of the things I wanted to buy when I went there last week, mindfully using my points to purchase something I would have anyway instead of mindlessly shopping, but decided against it. Even though the gift card would have paid for the Cynthia Rowley dress (except sales tax), that doesn’t mean I need the new dress any more than when I declined to pay for it with my own money. Regardless of how much I paid (or didn’t pay) for it, it would still needlessly clutter my closet.

In addition to my credit card, I am a member of a website that gives members points for filling out surveys. These points are redeemable for prizes. As you’ll remember, I recently redeemed quite a few of my points on this website for a $25 gift card for Macy’s to purchase a new collared shirt for work photographs–boss asked us to wear blue. That gift card, along with some Plenti points, allowed me to get this shirt, which I will wear for years to come in multiple situations, for free. While I’ve been very clear that I have more than my fair share of clothes, I think I’ll get much more use out of the shirt than the dress from Marshalls. Several of my dress shirts are getting old and will need to be replaced soon anyway, so I would have needed a new shirt soon enough, regardless of company photographs.

I reminded myself that minimalism is about using my resources to further what I value. We’ve talked about time and money as resources, but credit card points (or other “points”) are a resource just like anything else. Before, I have just picked a store and gone shopping, browsing the store with that gift card burning a hole in my pocket, feeling compelled to buy SOMETHING, ANYTHING with my gift card. I am very proud of myself for looking online first and choosing a specific item that I actually needed and then getting the gift card to purchase it rather than aimlessly browsing and buying something I otherwise might not have.

I still have quite a lot of Plenti points left and did not spend any of my credit card points. What to do with them? Instead of redeeming points for a gift card for some “retail therapy,” I am considering redeeming it for a gift card towards a massage instead, which I haven’t had in a long time and desperately need. (Yes, need. I do not use that word lightly.) Having been involved in multiple car accidents in the past, regular massage is more than just a pleasant way to unwind for me—it is an actual medical necessity that relieves pain. Though it would be more money out of my pocket (the massage would cost more than the $25 gift card put towards it from the points), I would be using my resources in a way that is consistent with my values—namely, health. Maybe I’ll use them for a restaurant instead of a store and go to dinner with my husband. Maybe I’ll let the points stack up and redeem them for something larger like airfare or hotel to put towards a future vacation. Definitely an experience or something consumable.

Weekly Update: Week 9

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

For the first time since starting the year of buying nothing, I actually bought something. For the past 2 months, I have been spending money almost exclusively on experiences and consumable items.  While an exception to the buying ban is consumables, I have not had any need to purchase any toiletries yet.

I have dry skin, so lotion goes pretty quickly.  I especially have to moisturize my feet regularly to keep them from flaking and cracking.  I buy Gene’s Vitamin E cream in bulk–the 16 oz container lasts a long time and is much less expensive than anything labeled “foot cream”.  While we had a membership, I got it from Sam’s Club.  I found it on Amazon instead and ordered it.  (**Another totally voluntary, unsponsored endorsement. Review written by someone else.)

I also ordered some spray sunscreen–It is summertime, the pool is about 50 feet from our condo’s backdoor and I am susceptible to sunburns.  I have some lotion sunscreen, but I usually keep some spray especially for those hard-to-reach places on my back when I go sit by the pool with nobody to rub it in for me.

This week, I went out to lunch with a friend and browsed the shops.  It was tough, but I resisted. It will take more than a quick trip to the mall for me to break the year of buying nothing.  I felt bad that my friend, aware of this blog, my new minimalist lifestyle and the year of buying nothing, seemed to be self-conscious about her purchases, like she had just taken a shot of whiskey in front of a sober person.  It felt like she thought I was judging her for purchasing things, but I wasn’t.  Honest.  The cute Lucky Brand dress she bought looked banging on her and at the price she paid–Who could resist?  I hope it brings her lots of value.

Confession time, dear readers: My boss asked me to wear a blue shirt for company photographs this week, so I did have to purchase one, as I did not have one that was appropriate for the occasion.  It’s a versatile design, capable of being dressed up with slacks, a pencil skirt, or suit and also looks good dressed down with jeans.

The best part is that it did not cost me any money out of my pocket–I am a member of a website where you can answer surveys for points and redeem those points for prizes.  I redeemed my points for a $25 Macy’s gift card.  On top of that, I have been hoarding Plenti points, which covered the difference.  Despite the circumstances, this is a beautiful and multipurpose piece I’ll wear for years to come and a worthwhile investment.  I was also very mindful in choosing something that could be worn in many situations.  It was also already on sale, plus an additional 20% off.

Blue tommy shirt

WHAT ELSE WOULD I HAVE BOUGHT?

1.  Koch Leather wristlet.  This wristlet by Koch Leather looks durable and functional.  You know my love of handbags and my recent fascination with wristlets in particular.

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2.  Koch Leather pouches.  Apparently, Josh Koch wants to take all my money this week, coming out with all these beautiful new leather things.

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3. Cynthia Rowley shirt dress.  I went shopping with my friend and saw this shirt dress.  Normally, I would have bought it without a second thought.

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4.  Romper (unphotographed).  My friend talked me into trying on a few rompers. There were two in particular I really liked, and strongly considered choosing one of them to buy.  I reminded myself that, although it is summer and a new romper seems like a logical purchase, I already have multiple sundresses at home I can wear when in need of something soft and breezy to wear.  I am also realizing that clothes that are inappropriate for work have limited utility as they can’t be worn a majority of the days of the week.  I already have more than enough clothes to fit that limited need.

Total amount I saved that I would have spent this week:  $155

Running Total: $955

Is Minimalism a Cult?

While I’ve already addressed the criticism that Minimalism is an anti-poor philosophy that is only for the privileged, another criticism of minimalism is that it is a pseudo-religious, borderline cult. Indeed, some of the adherents of minimalism follow the philosophy with religious fervor and regard the prominent advocates with reverence usually reserved for religious figures. For example, many of those who call in with questions for The Minimalists seem to be seeking permission from their saviors. Some seem to forget The Minimalists are just two guys named Josh and Ryan.  To their credit, The Minimalists often give callers helpful rules of thumb and suggestions to work through their issues, but reject any perceived messiah status. Listeners can often hear The Minimalists telling those who ask questions, “you don’t need our permission.” 

I grew up without a structured religion. As a practitioner and teacher of yoga and a recovering Philosophy major, I am not a stranger to a wide range of philosophical ideas, and I’m fairly well-versed in Eastern religions for a Westerner. The philosophy of minimalism does not have overt religious connotations in and of itself, but one could certainly project their own religious and moral values onto the philosophy if they were so inclined.

As Josh pointed out in a recent live show/podcast, people often project their own beliefs on to the minimalist philosophy.  Josh points out that, in the same week, a Christian praised them for spreading the Bible’s word and someone more familiar with Eastern religions noted that they seemed to be very in tune with Buddha’s message.  The Minimalists themselves have different religious and political beliefs.  They adhere to that old maxim about avoiding those topics of conversation with each other or, according to them, all they’d ever do is fight about it. When asked about which religious and spiritual practices they align with, Ryan answered, “It doesn’t matter what organized religion you belong to or what God you worship, they all want you to live a simple life.”

There really is something to that.  For example, the Bible says the meek will inherit the Earth. Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Proverbs 13:7 reminds us “A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life.” Poets like Thoreau and Wordsworth that likely leaned Christian have extolled the virtues of living a simple life. However, every group has its hypocrites.  The philosophy of living a simple life that was present in early Protestantism is highly contradictory to the  modern megachurches, highly-paid celebrity preachers, and the so-called prosperity gospel. Some argue that churches should be opulent to honor God and inspire awe in the people who worship there. I would argue that perhaps God would prefer to be honored by using that money to help those in need.

Living simply is not an exclusively Christian idea; most religions teach the value of humility and living simply.  Leaders of almost every religion are expected to renounce material possessions to some level. Mahatma Gandhi, who drew spiritual inspiration from Hinduism, Jainism, the Ascetics and others, said “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Buddhism teaches that attachment is the root of all suffering. Everything is temporary so to attach one’s happiness to something like material possessions which can easily be lost, stolen or broken is setting oneself up for unhappiness. Despite the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish people being wealthy and even greedy, this article written by a Rabbi sounds like it could have been written by one of The Minimalists. Indeed, many of those who are Orthodox wear black to demonstrate their lack of concern about being fashionable. They also cite the ease with which they can choose clothing to wear when it all matches. They are more concerned about their inner, spiritual selves than what others think. Sounds pretty familiar, huh?

Almost all religions teach some version of Minimalism, so it is pretty disingenuous to suggest that The Minimalists or any other person promoting a minimalist lifestyle are part of some sort of religious cult promoting any particular religion. Indeed, much about organized religion makes me uncomfortable and I probably would have avoided it if it was related to any particular organized religion. The philosophy itself transcends religion; regardless of what your spiritual, religious, moral or other beliefs, minimalism can be applied to your life and, I believe, benefit it greatly.