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.
Frugality is always at the forefront of our daily life and finding ways to be more frugal has become somewhat of a hobby for us. From dumpster diving to making our own laundry soap, we’re likely to try all manner of things in the name of frugal living. Sometimes the goal is to save a buck or two, but more often than not, it’s for the sheer fun of it. We like to challenge ourselves to be more resourceful, to learn new skills, and find better ways to use what we already have. Our frugal efforts over the years have helped us to no longer pay for:
[Some] Personal Hygiene Items
We finally ran out of the all-natural deodorant that we scored for $1 a stick on clearance last year and had to go on the hunt for something new. Since the last time we purchased deodorant, it seems the market has become flooded with a lot more options, some costing more than $10 a stick. No, we don’t want to stink but we also want to eat and pay the rent. So we opted to make our own, using this recipe. And guess what? It works! We also started making our own mouthwash (with just water, baking soda, tea tree and peppermint oils). Yep, it works too.
Microsoft Office 365
Okay, this is going to sound silly, but, the one thing I was looking forward to most in leaving my job was not the freedom to do something on my own; it was being able to ditch Microsoft Office 365. For 7 years I’ve paid either an annual or a monthly subscription fee all because I was required to use Outlook. As soon as I quit, I switched to LibreOffice. It’s 100% free. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between their software and Microsoft Office when it comes to word processing or spreadsheets. Google Docs is another good free option.
It’s not always feasible to shop local so on occasion, we do buy online, and often it’s from Amazon. But, after a couple of years of paying for Prime, we realized two things – first, we ordered stuff a lot more often just because we wanted to get our “money’s worth” out of the subscription and second, all that packaging just didn’t make us feel good about our environmental impact. We cancelled Prime in 2017 and have made only 6 “strategically planned” purchases since then. Yes, Prime offers other benefits, like videos and books, but for us it was not enough to justify paying $119 a year.
More than six years ago, I ordered an $8 clipper set from Amazon – probably on Prime 🙂 – for the sole purpose of learning to cut our own hair. More inspired by the ineptitude of Great Clips than frugality, I watched a few YouTube videos and sat Angie down in front of the bathroom mirror for her first trim. I was terrified! As the years have gone by, we’ve both gained confidence. I’ve even given haircuts to other family members. At a cost of $30 every 6 weeks for the two of us, I estimate that we’ve saved nearly $1,600 so far.
Last year, we tried an experiment of not turning on the central heat unit in our apartment all winter. We used supplemental heat sources, specifically small room heaters. We saved $91.12 on our heating bill (over the previous year). This year, we’re going to do the same thing and maybe even toss a log in the fireplace every now and then.
Fuss at me if you want but I still like to flip through the glossy pages of a magazine every now and then. I just don’t like to pay for them. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get free magazines – the simplest being to go to the library or flip through your favorites at your local bookstore. If you prefer a paperless copy, go online. Many e-zines offer the same articles as the print version, for free. Often you can find offers for a free 1-year subscription to your favorite print magazines online. Free subscriptions are a marketing ploy to get you to purchase a paid subscription the following year, so if you do this, remember to cancel toward the end of your free period. To avoid clutter, I drop our old magazines in the lobby of the doctor’s office where patients can enjoy them while they wait.
We switched to cloth napkins about 4 years ago and have never looked back. I think we paid less than $5 for a set of 4 cloth napkins back then. They were on clearance, of course. The monetary savings is not that big (we save about $20 a year not using paper napkins) but the environmental impact is. Since most paper napkins are neither recyclable or compostable, switching to cloth greatly reduces the amount of waste we send to landfill.
Plastic Storage/Sandwich Bags
Almost 2 years ago, we ditched sandwich bags completely. At first, I thought we’d miss them but there really hasn’t been an occasion where we’ve reached for one and haven’t been able to find a suitable alternative. Even though we’ve cut back on purchasing packaged goods, we still end up with a lot of packaging every week – bread bags, produce bags, and more. Simply reusing these eliminates the need to ever purchase a storage or sandwich bag. For freezing, we have reusable freezer containers (yes, they are plastic but they were free). We also use glass jars. They do extremely well in the freezer, provided you leave a little head space.
No, we’re not Mrs. & Mrs. Scrooge. We do celebrate holidays and we do decorate our home. We just do it with someone else’s decorations. You’d probably (or maybe not) be surprised at the amount of holiday decor that gets tossed out, especially in the summer. Why? I have no clue! But I do know that all of our Christmas stockings, plastic Halloween pumpkins, and holiday lights were found in the trash.
The average American tosses out 81 pounds of clothing per year, most of which ends up in a landfill somewhere. Yes, people outgrow things or they wear out, but most clothing gets tossed simply because someone doesn’t like it anymore. I like to think we’re a stopgap in that problem. We shop garage sales and thrift stores to find all of our clothing. Sometimes we even find clothes in or near our dumpster. I honestly can’t remember the last time we purchased something new from the store to wear (besides socks and underwear). This sweatshirt I have on cost me 18 cents at a garage sale. And it’s just my style – warm!
It took me FOREVER to pay off my undergrad loans and to this day, I can’t recall a single time when having a degree has helped me get a job, a promotion, or anything else. Not that it can’t for some folks, but for me, higher education has not paid off. On the other hand, I’ve learned a ton of stuff watching Youtube, reading books and blogs, and taking free classes online (on topics ranging from nutrition to permaculture). I can count the number of jobs that has landed me – two.
Dishwasher Rinse Agent
A bottle of Jet Dry will set you back nearly $4. We hand wash a lot of our dishes but since our apartment was upgraded to new appliances, we’ve been using the dishwasher on occasion. Yet, we’ve never put a single bottle of Jet Dry in it. Instead we mix 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide with 10-12 drops of orange or lemon essential oil and fill the rinse agent reservoir. We’ve never had a single spot on our dishes.
A few yeas ago, I received a set of 3 wool dryer balls as a reward for completing an online survey. Though I was never really big on buying dryer sheets in the first place (due to all the chemicals in them), I did occasionally grab a box of unscented ones to keep the static down in the dryer. The dryer balls have been great as a replacement. One set is supposed to last for 1,000 uses. At 4 loads a week, that’s 250 weeks or almost 5 years. Another trick to reduce static, if you don’t have a dryer ball or are opposed to wool, is to use a balled up piece of aluminum foil in the dryer. According to my niece, it also works like a charm!
Excess Life Insurance
This one makes our parents cringe all the time. They believe that life insurance ranks right up their on the necessity chart with things like air, water, and toilet paper. We think otherwise. The purpose of life insurance is to cover debts when you are gone or to provide for your non-working spouse and children. If you are debt-free and have no children, it’s not necessary to leave a large sum of money behind. Angie and I each have a $10,000 term policy that we purchased for a few dollars a month when we were in our twenties. It’s just enough to offset the cost of a funeral.
Recreation Center Memberships
When we first moved to TN, we joined the rec center. We did it mostly to have access to the pool (something we took for granted living in Florida). What a huge waste of money! We went swimming only a handful of times and used the other amenities a sum total of zero times. When our lease was up in 2016, we moved to an apartment with a year-round pool. I can’t say that we’ve used it a whole lot but we don’t pay extra for it either. What we do use often is the great outdoors. With dozens of lakes and hundreds of miles of trails within an hour drive of us, why pay to play inside??
From Redbox promo codes and free trials of various apps to rewards through your favorite loyalty programs, there are just too many ways to watch movies for free these days to ever have to pay for one.
We also don’t spend money on satellite/cable TV, to-go coffee, or bottled water and we’re getting really close when it comes to books, but all of these topics have been explored at length here and on other blogs so I won’t bore you with the details. Now it’s your turn. How has frugality helped your bottom line? What things do you no longer pay for?