Make it Do or Do Without

Minimalism isn’t necessarily about stuff…except when it is.

There are a lot of opinions out there on stuff, especially in the minimalist community. For some, the ultimate goal of minimalism is to own less stuff. For others, it’s all about owning the right stuff. And still others say minimalism isn’t about stuff at all. No matter what camp you fall into, one thing is certain – you probably own some stuff.

We have stuff too – not nearly as much as we once did but definitely more than enough, in my opinion. Some of our stuff is second-hand. Some of it was purchased new. And some of it, a lot of folks might consider to be downright OLD.

Our dinner plates were a gift from my grandmother in 1991. She got them back when grocery stores used to let you collect points to purchase things like dinnerware. My mom bought the quilt on our bed from a quilt shop in the Smoky Mountains sometime around 1996. I’ve resewed the seams at least a dozen times. But the oldest item in our home is also the one that we use most – our flatware was a gift given by First & People’s Bank to folks making regular deposits to their savings accounts in 1969! For the longest time, my mom kept the 32-piece set in a drawer in the China cabinet, still in the original boxes. When she gifted it to us in 2015, we put it right to good use.

But, before you think I’m only talking about our heirloom stuff…

The one television in our home is a 32″ RCA that turns 10 next month. My favorite winter boots – they just turned 10 last month.

Across the room, I can see the heating pad that Angie uses all the time. It’s covered in electrical tape and probably should have been discarded years ago. Then there’s the curtain that we turned sideways to give it a new look.  And the thing that started this whole train of thought in the first place – our vacuum cleaner. It’s the only one that Angie and I have ever owned.

Yesterday, as I was changing the belt on the vacuum cleaner, I started thinking about how often things are discarded rather than repaired these days. That led me down the rabbit hole of thinking about how often perfectly good things are discarded because they are no longer in style (or their technology is out-dated). Take that TV in our living room. It is heavier than a brick, can’t be mounted on a wall, has older-LCD technology, and is considered “small” by today’s standards. We probably should have upgraded it already. Except…it still works.

Same for that quilt. I mean, who in their right mind sits atop their bed and uses a headlamp to see how to hand sew all those tiny little seams that keep coming apart in the washer. Me. That’s who.

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without is something our grandparents used to say. Basically, it was their mantra for saving money, because let’s face it…it isn’t ever really about the stuff, it’s about the money. Every thing that we own costs money. When we are constantly upgrading our stuff to keep current with trends or technology, what we’re really doing is running on a never-ending treadmill. We trade our time to a job to earn the money that it takes to trade for the stuff that we think that we need, and around and around we go. By learning to be content with what we already have – to make it do, or do without – we can step off the treadmill.

Yes, there will be times when we need to replace something we own. One day, I will have to break down and buy a new computer, but right now, I’m okay with one that’s only slightly faster than a turtle. It gets the job done, and in the end, that’s all I care about.

As a minimalist, I’m building a life that isn’t based on the amount of stuff I own (however large or small that amount might be). It’s based on how I get to spend my time. If I can lessen the amount of time that I have to spend chasing money simply by choosing to Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without, then I’m going to fix the vacuum, sew the quilt, and put another piece of tape on that heating pad. Every. Single. Time.

That’s Not What I Ordered!

Last week, we talked a bit about what minimalists eat. I thought maybe the post would get people thinking about food (and it did) but I didn’t anticipate that a lot of those people would be the ones I live with every day!

My sister and I spent an hour yesterday weighing the pro/cons of various fad diets we’ve seen come and go in our lifetime (remember the Grapefruit Diet??). My 12-year-old niece asked me if I thought it was time to stop being a vegetarian, just before we had a heart-to-heart on why not all carbs are bad. Angie spent an afternoon at the DMV talking to folks about the benefits of online grocery shopping. My mom told her doctor that she attributes her improved health to eating less meat. And me…well, since that post, I’ve decided we’re no longer going to dine out.

Now, I would love to tell you that my decision was based on some higher ideal. I’d love to show you how dining at home saves money (it does) or how it’s healthier for you (it is) but while all these things are true, we’re calling it quits on restaurants for another reason – quality.

The last few times that Angie and I have gone to a restaurant, the quality of food, the quality of service, and the quality of the experience have all been lacking. The sad part though, we’ve gotten so used to this being commonplace that we find ourselves making excuses for it, as if it is somehow our fault we receive poor service. What do we expect from a place like that? It’s not exactly a 5-star restaurant. Maybe the server was having a bad day. They were just too busy. We should have known better than to stop in at dinner time. 


If someone hires me to write a grant for them, it doesn’t matter if my cat threw up on the bed that morning, my car wouldn’t start, and my best friend’s first cousin broke up with her boyfriend. I can’t turn around and say – well, if you wanted it done on time, you should have gone with a $60/hour grant writer instead of me. You get what you pay for! And if I have 5 clients all with deadlines on the first day of the month, it isn’t on them to come back when I have more time. It’s on me to learn to prioritize (or say no, if I can’t do something!)

So why do we accept sub-par quality from a restaurant, especially ones that fall in the category of fast food or fast casual? Because we expect that cheap equals bad? Let me tell you – there’s nothing cheap about paying $10 for a salad at McAlister’s or $8 for a burrito at Moe’s or $9 for two frozen custards at Culver’s. Yet, every single one of these places has been a disappointment to us for one reason or another, all of which can be summed up in one word – quality.

You might say, Culver’s was the last straw though. My mom wanted to go there specifically to try their frozen custard. She saw an ad and being a dessert nut, she thought it would be delicious. We ordered two caramel cashew sundaes and what we got instead was a plain dish of vanilla custard, a cone of vanilla custard, and a few cashews in a separate cup. When I asked about the mix-up, I was told that “they weren’t allowed to mix add-ins for a cone”. Okay, that’s all well and good but we ordered two sundaes – which were prominently displayed on the menu board, dripping in caramel and cashews. Despite the fact that we were in the right, the manager wanted to argue with us  and we ended up with two vanilla custards and a handful of cashews.

Now, I understand that a lot of folks would have persisted until the restaurant got the order right. Under normal circumstances, I might have too but after one round, I knew I was going to lose. The manager was the one who prepared our desserts and there was no convincing her that she had done it wrong or that we weren’t asking for something they couldn’t do. It was a mess and instead of a sundae, I got a headache.

And a new perspective on dining out.

Our budget is smaller than it has been in years so every dollar is important. I don’t want to give them away in support of poor quality products or services and I definitely don’t want to give them away for something I didn’t ask for in the first place. And that doesn’t just apply to restaurants. Throughout my life, I’ve lost a lot of dollars to poor quality goods and services and I don’t want to do it any more. Frugal living just doesn’t make allowances for wasteful spending.

I expect, because we’re human, there will be the temptation to dine out again in the future (especially after we’re over this recent rash of bad experiences), which is why I’m writing about this today. You all are now our accountability partners. If I even so much as mention a restaurant (that isn’t work related), you have my permission to call me out on it. 🙂

Have you banned a particular restaurant, service-provider, or retailer for poor service? Or maybe you’ve banned restaurants altogether? How’s that working for you? Are you ever tempted to return? We’d love to hear your story!