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.

What Do Minimalists Eat?

“Stop showing me pictures of food! I’m starving to death and that looks delicious!” my sister said yesterday, as I scrolled through the photos on my phone.

“You can have this deliciousness in your life too,” I teased , stopping on a picture of our dinner from the night before – stir-fried veggies sizzling in a cast iron skillet. “It’s available every day, right from the very store where you work.” (She works at Aldi.)

“Right! After you cook it!” she scoffed. “I honestly don’t know how you have the time or money to eat like that every day!”

I’m not picking on my sister. In fact, she’s not the first person to wonder what and how we eat. Month after month, the most searched terms on this site are always “minimalist diet”, “minimalist meal planning” and “what do minimalists eat”. The short answer there is food. Minimalists eat food.

My sister considers herself a minimalist and she most frequently dines at the drive-thru. She works full-time and has a 16-year-old son with a bottomless stomach to feed, so it’s easy and convenient for her. My mom, also somewhat a minimalist, could eat peanut butter and bananas every day, with the occasional bowl of soup thrown in for good measure. Minimalism isn’t really about what you eat.

But…

As minimalists, Angie and I believe in simplicity in all things. For us, good health is the cornerstone of a simple life and food is the fuel that powers good health. From the multitude of medications that clutter your cabinet to the doctor’s appointments that take up your time, from the drain on your physical energy to the stress on your family, there’s nothing simple about battling chronic disease. I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on this blog) but I do believe that many of the diseases we face today – diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure – are related to what we eat. If eating well reduces the risk of these diseases, that’s about as simple as it gets. So…with that being said…

We eat food, mostly plants, the occasional piece of fish, and whatever my mom makes for us on those rare occasions when she cooks. This might include meat but more often it’s a dessert. She loves to bake and we’ve just learned to accept that. We eat three meals and two snacks a day, consisting of mostly the same menu items all the time.

We make most of our food from scratch – including non-dairy yogurt, sourdough bread, and crackers – but this did not happen overnight. It has taken us almost 5 years to get to where we are today. After watching Food, Inc. in 2015, we started reducing our meat consumption. Next we cut processed foods. The quick meals and packaged cookies were easy but it took a lot longer to cut out things like chips and cereal (which are still sticking points for us at times). Then we joined a CSA to increase our exposure to different veggies. For most of our lives, the only veggies we knew were potatoes, carrots, green beans, broccoli, and salad fixings. We now eat more veggies than I can list. Which led to the garden. The next step in our food journey was to grow part of our own food. Last year, we grew tomatoes, squash, peas, eggplant, okra, blackberries, peppers, onions, sunflowers, and microgreens. Recently we started eating more fermented foods for good gut health.

We don’t follow any particular diet. No Keto, no GAPS, not even the Mediterranean Diet. We generally eat what we want, even chocolate chip cookies. We don’t really practice moderation either. I have, in the not so distant past, eaten an entire pizza by myself. Okay, so it was only 10 inches and it was homemade, but the point is…we don’t put much thought into what we eat anymore and it seems to be working just fine.

A typical menu in our home might look like this:

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with apples, blueberries, or cranberries and nuts (sweetened with honey)
  • Sourdough toast or an English muffin with jelly and fruit
  • Non-dairy yogurt, a banana, and dry toast
  • Sourdough waffles, pancakes, or apple fritters with maple syrup

Lunch 

  • Soup and salad*
  • PB&J or a veggie wrap with homemade potato chips
  • Grilled hummus or grilled cheese sandwich with a salad or raw veggies

Dinner

  • Pasta with any one of a variety of sauces, including marinara, pumpkin-goat cheese, sweet potato puree, stir-fried veggies, or olive oil and garlic
  • Mexican, including veggie burritos, mushroom fajitas, fish tacos, or just a bean and rice bowl with salsa
  • Veggie stir-fry with brown rice
  • Veggie plate, comprised of whatever is in season or pulled from the freezer, with biscuits (lately it’s been pumpkin or sweet potato biscuits)
  • Homemade pizza
  • Baked potatoes with vegetarian chili

*Soup and salad is our go-to lunch combo. We make a big pot of soup every Sunday – either vegetable, black bean, tomato, potato, or chili. We pair it with whatever salad items are in season. In winter, that may only be lettuce, carrots, and celery 🙂

Every lunch is served with a fruit, usually an apple or orange. Our snacks mainly consist of air-popped popcorn, fresh fruit, dried fruit, peanut butter and crackers, or occasionally, that dessert my mom made for us.

Keeping our menu items roughly the same all the time helps tremendously with shopping and meal prep. At the end of last year, we started ordering bulk groceries once a month online (and picking them up curbside) and shopping weekly only for fresh foods. So far, this has really worked in our favor. We spent only $90 on bulk groceries (from Walmart/Sam’s Club) in December and less than $100 on fresh foods, including a produce box from Misfit Market (something we’ll discuss in more detail next week). The fresh foods also included items for two holiday meals, so I imagine the cost will be even less this month.

My sister is right about one thing. Eating well does take time, but I’d argue that the amount of time it takes to prepare a healthy meal is nothing in comparison to the time it takes to recover from being sick. We spend 1-3 hours every Sunday morning in the kitchen prepping for the week ahead. We pre-chop our veggies for salads and stir-fries. We also make soup, spaghetti sauce, beans, rice, or bread products in bulk (depending on our needs). A lot of this we freeze for those times when we want a quick meal. With our prep work done, dinner usually takes 30 minutes or less to prepare.

So what do minimalists eat? We eat food from the garden, the Farmer’s Market, the grocery store, and sometimes even restaurants. We eat organic when we can. We eat food that’s fun to prepare and fun to eat. Yes, chocolate can be good for you! We eat pizza. We even eat birthday cake…at least twice a year anyway. But always, always…we try to eat food that nourishes our bodies and our minds and gives us the best shot at a long and happy life.

Are you following a particular diet plan? Does it work for you? What are some of the most frequent menu items in your home? Do you bulk shop? We’d love to hear your thoughts and/or questions.