Why We Wear Cheap Socks

A few years back, Angie and I started seeing a lot of posts about how frugal living isn’t the same as cheap living, and I even wrote about the concept on a few occasions. Frugal living (to us, anyway) is about living on less than you earn, using your resources wisely, and not purchasing things that are unnecessary. Cheap living, on the other hand, tends to conjure up images of subpar goods, less than ideal living conditions, and things that are constantly in need of repair. You can be frugal and still have quality things. In fact, a lot of fellow minimalists will tell you that making a quality purchase that may cost more in the beginning far outweighs buying cheap things that will need to be replaced more often. Not only is it better for your wallet, it’s better for the environment as well.

Except when it isn’t.

Folks, I honestly don’t think that anything is made to last these days – be it “quality” or otherwise – so we may just be better off going cheap. For example:

In 2015, we purchased a quality brand name sofa from a local furniture store. Around that same time, my mom bought one from Big Lots. Ours cost 4 times what hers did. We use ours daily to sit and read or watch TV but hers has been slept on, jumped on by toddlers, walked across by a teenager, and lounged on for hours on end by kids and grand-kids alike. Our cushions are as dead as the pet goldfish I had when I was 10. Her cushions are just now starting to sink a little when you sit down. But, hold on…I have an even better one for you. Our good friend has a sofa that has been moved to 4 different apartments in as many years. It has been slept on, jumped on, and is used for hours of gaming every single day and yet, it is still comfy. Did I mention that it was used when she bought it??

And then there are the socks…

About the same time that we were buying our quality sofa, we decided to switch to wool socks. We read that they were the best socks for hiking since they wick moisture better than other socks. We bought a few pairs at Dick’s Sporting Goods and they lasted for about 2 years, which I consider to be a good life for a sock that gets used all the time. When we went back for more, we found they no longer carried that brand, nor could we find it anywhere. So we bought a pair of SmartWool brand socks and a couple of pairs of Columbia. After a year, the SmartWool is starting to get a little ragged. Want to know where the Columbia socks are now? In our rag bin. They make excellent dusters. The Columbia socks did not even last a few months before they started getting holey (yet, they cost $15 a pair!).

If I had to guesstimate, I’d say we spent about $160 on brand name wool socks over 3 years time. You might be thinking, that’s not so bad, but I’ll beg to differ. A sock is designed to protect your feet from moisture, keep you warm, and stop your shoe from rubbing a hole in your foot. In an unintentional (and unscientific) quality test, we found that cheap socks do this job just as well, if not better, than expensive ones.

Our “everlasting” cheap socks – mismatched on purpose.

I purchased these socks BEFORE Angie and I met in 2011. In fact, I was still living in TN when I bought them (at Big Lots). I moved away in 2006, so they are at least 14 years old. They cost $5 for 6 pair back then. When we “upgraded” our wardrobe to wool socks, we moved these to my mom’s house so we could use them in the yard. We still wear them every week, at least twice a week, and they still have no holes in them!

We have applied our same unscientific method to dishcloths, bath towels, walking shoes, manual can openers and even underwear and found the results to be consistent. Cheap lasts just as long, or longer, than more expensive “quality” items. The $20 can opener we got as a gift lasted about 3 months before we had to replace it with one from the Dollar Tree (that one has been used daily for 4 years now). The $18/pair Ex-Officio undies that we thought we needed to have for travel are unraveling just the same as the $2/pair undies from Walmart. And the $10/3-pack of eco-friendly dishcloths we ordered online – well, they are in the rag bin with the Columbia socks, while the $4/6-pack from Target are still washing dishes every night.

So why do we wear cheap socks? Because there’s no financial benefit to buying more expensive ones. When the so-called quality socks wear out faster than the cheap ones, there’s no environmental benefit either. Being frugal is always good but being cheap might not be such a bad thing either. Just think, if we had back the money we wasted thinking we were buying quality items, oh the savings we could have banked!

Have you ever purchased something expensive only to find it did not last very long at all? What items to you routinely cheap out on?

Minimalism Should Always Be a Choice

This week on his blog Becoming Minimalist, Joshua Becker brings up a subject that has been on my mind a lot lately – how the coronavirus will impact minimalism. If you have a bit of time, which you probably do right now, I’d encourage you to read it.

We are 8 years into our minimalist journey and it is very much still that – a journey. We have gone through all the usual minimalist stages – decluttering, downsizing, reassessing our finances, re-evaluating how we spend out time, etc. and still every year, we find some new way to simplify our life. Minimalism is something that we strive toward…on purpose.

Long ago, Angie and I came up with our personal definition of minimalism. It looks something like this…

We like to think that minimalism is about incorporating simplicity into your everyday life, about learning to live within your means and finding enjoyment in experiences, rather than in acquiring stuff. But most importantly, it’s about understanding yourself and what makes you happy.

I think most minimalists and aspiring minimalists feel this is a fair definition. So, bearing that in mind, let me get to the point.

In his post, Joshua Becker talks about how the economic fallout from this crisis may force people into minimalism. He and I both agree – that is not the way things should be. And that has got me thinking – if someone is forced into minimalism, is it really minimalism?

I’m inclined to think not.

This worldwide crisis has caused life to slow down and in many ways, that’s not a bad thing. We all could use a little break from the chaos that has become our lives of late – a chance to enjoy our homes, our families, our passions, and not worry about keeping up with the Joneses (because they can’t shop right now either). If out of this mess, a handful of folks start to think about what’s really important in their lives and move toward minimalism or voluntary simplicity, then that’s awesome! We welcome you to the tribe!

But when we’re talking about forced minimalism, we aren’t really talking about the people who can afford to take this time for quiet contemplation, are we? We’re talking about the many, many others who find themselves out of work, struggling to put food on the table because stocking up just wasn’t a financial option, and wondering if and how the rent will get paid this month. So yes, this crisis is forcing people into being more frugal, more careful with their resources, more minimal, if you will, but not in the way you’d want anyone to get there. Involuntary simplicity is stressful and doesn’t often lead to anything that resembles a better life.

I would love, love, love to live in a world where people buy only what they need, work only when they want to, and spend all their free time nurturing themselves, their relationships, and their communities. But in order for that – or any other version of the simple life to work – it has to be voluntary.

I do hope that this crisis is a call to those of us who have the privilege to choose a more minimal life to be a resource and an inspiration to others. Share your story. Share your tips. Share your thoughts, your fears, and your ideas. Now is the time to support and guide one another – especially those who are facing tough times – because that’s what we’re really talking about here. A crisis can’t force someone into minimalism but it can force them into debt or despair, and that’s not a road I want any of us to have to take to arrive at a simpler life.

What brought you to minimalism? What benefit does it bring to your life? Do you have an inspiring story to share with others? Just write a post and send me the link at minimalistsnextdoor@gmail.com. I’ll share the link to your story in our post next Wednesday (4/8/20).