What do you really need this Christmas?

Hi everybody,

In the lead up to Christmas I have been pondering the question of “what do you really need?” The answer, of course, is very little. I love the saying that all you need is “someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to”. I guess there are a few other things you need, as well – something to eat, something to drink, shelter from the elements, etc. – but none of us really needs very much and I suspect that everyone reading this has most, if not all, of what is really necessary in life.

I can understand as much as anyone the desire for more. I’ve recently moved to a warm climate and I have been having fun buying new dresses and summer clothes. Luckily, though, I have learned to recognise when I become enchanted with the idea of a possession that costs money, contributes to clutter, and won’t really enrich my life. Last June I made an effort to not buy a single item (aside from the necessary groceries and toiletries) for the entire month. It was a great exercise and I definitely saved money but the big take home was I realised that if I could just resist leaving an item momentarily and walk out of that part of the store, the desire for the item would leave almost instantly.

It’s easy to see how constant consumerism can drain your personal finances and make your house a cluttered nightmare but when you start thinking about it from a global perspective it starts to become really frightening. In essentially every moment of our lives we are influencing the lives of people all over the world – not to mention the world, itself! I was saying to a friend this afternoon that even if you so much as use a public toilet and wash your hands you have to wonder about who made the soap and what the working conditions where like, what was in the soap and where will it end up after it goes down the drain, how did it get here and how much carbon was released in the process, etc. When you think about everything in this way you start to realise how dangerous our culture’s incessant consumerism is – and I know I am fearful of what the future effects of it will be.

I don’t want to go all negative-town on you guys but I was just curious about if any of you keep this sort of stuff in mind when it comes to your holiday giving and receiving? A few years ago my brother gave me a Kiva gift card which was really awesome. With Kiva you loan money to people in under-developed countries for entrepreneurial endeavours. I loaned my money to this old man who wanted to buy some ladders to pick coconuts. As Kiva gives out loans, not grants, I did get the money back eventually and when I got the email saying that my loan had been repaid I was actually in a tight money sitch and so it was a super awesome moment! I’m sure it was awesome for him, too, when he got the loan and was able to buy his ladders! Lately I’ve also been giving out gift cards for movies, restaurants, etc. a fair bit. People are always stoked about them and they don’t contribute to material consumerism or clutter which is exciting to me. Gift cards are also super cheap to send (esp. if you have relatives overseas like I do) which makes it doubly awesome!

My month without buying crap – 22 days in

Many times this month I have seen items in shops that I wanted or for whatever reason I’ve thought to buy different things. Because of this challenge, though, I obviously haven’t been able to. The amazing thing is that within minutes of thinking “oh well, I can always buy it next month” the desire for the item usually left. I realised that, at least for me, the desire for things is strong but fleeting and there aren’t that many things that I really do actually want or need. The desk fountain that I was coveting really bad at the beginning of this challenge I don’t really want any more. I still think it would be cool but I don’t feel like I need to have it. In fact the things I do think I’ll buy at the end of the challenge are so few that I can name them right here.

1. New underwear. Apologies for the TMI but I do need some.
2. New toiletries bag. My old one is showing its age. It’s dirty, it’s faded, I’m sick of looking at it, and I there are so many cute ones for sale right now
3. Large photo album. I am sick of staring at my giant pile of lose photos.
4. Possibly a large yoga mat and bolsters. More on that in a minute.

The really crazy thing that has come out of all of this is that I’m almost getting a little addicted to not having stuff. Rather than focussing on what I can buy when this challenge is over, I’m more focussed on what else I can get rid of. I have donated quite a lot of stuff to thrift stores this month and am enjoying pairing down what I own more and more all the time.

I think part of my desire to get rid of stuff has to do with my wanting to move. I want to move out of state and the less I own, the easier that will be. I’m a bit of a seagull in that way .. before I fly away I like to do a big dump 🙂

Partly inspired by this process I’ve also finally got around to sending a whole lot of stuff back home to my parents (stuff that belongs to them that I have been storing). By doing this I’ve now cleared out a space in my laundry room and I’m thinking of putting my kitchen table in there for the time being. If I do that I can have a large space free where I can put a big yoga mat that can just live there. I really don’t use my kitchen table for eating and so most of the time it’s just a dumping zone. I haven’t been doing any yoga for like a year and my body feels all stiff and creaky. I definitely want to start doing it again and if I don’t have to actually move furniture around to do it, there’s a much better chance I’ll actually do it.

I’m realising mostly that when you have less stuff, you have more room. Room for yoga, room to think, room to not clean, room to save money, room to save planetary resources, and room to appreciate the stuff you have that you actually love.

Photo credit

How cluttered is your life?

As some of you know, I am very passionate about home design and over the past year or so I’ve become fascinated by minimalism. I’ve recently had the opportunity to actually live the minimalist life. I’ve moved to a studio apartment where my entire living and sleeping area is confined to a single room with just two other small rooms – a bathroom and laundry – tacked onto the back.

I wasn’t sure how I’d go with living in such small quarters but it’s actually been really great. I think I would call my little house here a practice in “cozy minimalism”. I have lamps, candles, blankets, and pillows around the place but in no way does it feel cluttered. Eventually I will move out of here and into a larger home but I imagine I will continue to employ a minimalist mentality to any new space I enter.

Most people think of minimalism as the stark, “modern” style of home design that has recently become trendy. I find this style of home design interesting and inspiring in its un-cluttered aesthetic but also somehow at odds with the “live simply” mentality that is the heart of true minimalism. Here in Canberra there are “minimalist” homes going up all over town and a lot of them sit at the $800,000 to million dollar+ price point which is just crazy and totally at odds with the non-consumerist minimalist mentality.

To me minimalism is about living simply, without clutter, and focusing your energy and money on what is important to you rather than on stuff.

Here are a few ideas for any of you interested in moving toward minimalism:

1. Drastically reduce the amount of knick knacks you keep around.
Knick knacks are something many people find difficult to part with because they almost always hold sentimental value. The problem, though, is they clutter up a place like nobody’s business. One trick I’ve come up with is to put all your knick knacks in a box and only put the most important ones back out again. Donate or give away as much of what is left in the box as possible. And for God’ sake – don’t buy any more!!

2. Dare to wear out your best clothes – and chuck the rest.
Don’t save your nicest clothes for a special occasion. Wear them. It’s better to wear things out than to hold onto them for so long that they go out of style and have to be thrown out anyway. Go through your closet and get rid of absolutely everything that you don’t like, doesn’t fit, or that you just don’t wear and never will – and be brutal about it. Whatever is left, wear!

3. Take the time to put your photographs in albums – and chuck the rest.
There’s no point having a gigantic box of lose photos sitting around. Take the time to properly display your memories and get rid of the anything that isn’t worthy of either being framed or going into an album.

4. Eat out your fridge and cupboards before you replenish them.
Food can be a major money sink, especially when you’re routinely buying perishable items that go mouldy before you use them. Throwing out or not using good food is also disrespectful to the farmers and land that was used to create it.

5.Be honest about how many skin and hair care products you really need.
So often our bathrooms are full of samples and random products that we have barely used yet have been sitting there for years. If you’re not going to use them, throw them out. If you are going to use them, use them.

6. Invest $5 in a library card
You really don’t need to be buying books that you will only read once. There’s also no real point in spending money on dvds and cds when the technology will soon become irrelevant anyway. Save your money and start going to the library.

7. When it comes to furniture and other big ticket items, buy things that truly speak to your heart.
The beauty of minimalism is that when you do decide to purchase something, you have the luxury of opting for quality because you haven’t been spending all your money on meaningless crap!

8. Use the time and money you would otherwise spend on the acquisition and care of possessions to better your life.
After you have de-cluttered your space, set to work on de-cluttering your whole life. Get rid of the thought patterns and beliefs that have been tripping you up, clear up your financial mess, let go of those so called friends who do you more harm than good. At the same time, sign up for that art class you have been wanting to take and call up that family member you don’t get to see as much as you’d like. Minimalism is about clearing out what doesn’t matter so you have more time for what does.

Photo credit