Back to Basics Minimalism

Once upon a time, in another career, I led a campaign to get “back to basics” in the way we provided service to our clients. As our company grew from 80 to 800 employees we lost sight of some of the fundamentals of good business and made some simple processes way too complicated. I won’t bore you with the details of this little campaign (which involved a lot of flowcharts), but I will say that I never forgot the lesson learned from it: Simpler is always better.

We’ve lived in TN for almost 2 years now and in that time we’ve strayed from some of the fundamentals of minimalism. I know it wasn’t intentional. We didn’t go out and buy a whole bunch of stuff. We didn’t set out to fill our calendar with things to do. But over time, things happen. We adapted somewhat to the culture around us, a culture that values gift-giving at every occasion and likes to fill their days with more to do than can possible be done.

In short, life has grown a little bit too complicated lately and so it is time for our own back to basics campaign. Which is going something like this –

Basic #1: Declutter. On Friday, we launched a major decluttering effort in our shed. This project has been on our to-do list since January, when we decided not to keep the camping and kayaking gear that we haven’t used in 2 years. (Note- we still actively engage in both activities but we have enough gear to outfit a small group excursion and well, there are only 2 of us.) After an awful experience with Letgo a few weeks ago and no luck on Craigslist in finding real buyers, we decided to try an app called OfferUp. BINGO! This was just the boost we needed – everything we listed from the shed – EVERYTHING – sold that very day. We made $155.

On Saturday, we continued decluttering, cleaning out the bedroom closet and drawers. T-shirts we’d held on to for sentimental reasons – gone. “Good” socks that we absolutely hated to wear – gone. The broken $20 sewing machine that was going to cost more to fix than we paid for it – gone. It felt good! In total, we got rid of 61 items.

Basic #2: Unplug. On Sunday morning we turned off our phones. We made ourselves an amazing brunch – frittatas, fresh fruit, and a mixed berry muffin. We talked, we laughed, we read books, we planned meals for the week, and made a big pot of soup. As we continued our decluttering efforts, going through the kitchen cabinets, we found an unopened box of Borax. “Remember when we made our own laundry soap?” I asked. We reminisced for a moment about simpler times and decided to make a few jars of soap. This was a fun and easy project that did more than just give us a usable result – it reconnected us with some of our core values: frugality, resourcefulness, and sustainability.

Basic #3: Waste Nothing. Building on that momentum, Angie put a new compost bucket on the patio. We had stopped composting a few months back (in the winter) when my mom had declared it too muddy to trek to the compost bin. We recently ordered a new bin that could be kept closer to the house and on Sunday, we resumed our composting efforts.

Basic #4: Stop Buying (or in our case, stop accepting) Stuff. Thankfully we were both born without a shopping gene. On occasion we like to browse the thrift stores or REI but for the most part, we don’t have a problem with wanting “stuff”. We do have a problem with saying no. Just this week, my niece gave us a box of clothes to keep at our house for the baby and a high chair. My mom gave me 3 new shirts and Angie a pair of shorts. And we found a box of discarded items by the dumpster that contained 2 brand new blankets, still in their packaging, and a lot of nearly new picture frames. I’m happy to say that we only kept one blanket. We gave the rest of the box to Goodwill. The high chair and clothes went to my mom’s house, where they are needed, and we got rid of one item of clothing for each new item brought in. It’s one small success today while we continue to work on “no, thank you” for the future.

Minimalism is not a very common practice here in our area and definitely not one that is embraced by my family. I never imagined when we moved back to help out, that our choice to live simply would be such a bone of contention. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been questioned or teased about wearing the same pants I wore the day before, for using a towel more than once, for not buying Angie a birthday card (let alone a present), for having only two sets of sheets for our bed, for being a cheapskate, and more. In fact, just the other day, I had to justify why I was getting rid of “perfectly good clothing”. I’m not criticizing my family. They are who they are, just like we are who we are. Which leads me to the following…

Basic #5: Be True to Yourself. I believe that this is the most important principle, not just of minimalism, but of life. You have to live on your own terms, doing things your own way, regardless of what others think or say, in order to be truly happy. Minimalism is no different. It is an individual journey toward one goal – creating more out of less. More time from less obligation. More money from less spending. More happiness from less stress. Being true to ourselves means remembering (and sometimes simply reconnecting) with the one principle that has guided us in our minimalist journey for the past 5 years – simpler is always better.

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Party Like a Minimalist

I just read an alarming statistic – Americans spent upwards of $15 billion on food, beverages, decorations, and apparel for this year’s Super Bowl, an event that lasted about 4 hours and in most people’s minds, an event that has now been forgotten (especially for Falcons fans). $15 billion comes out to roughly $135 per person – and by “per person” we’re talking about the 111 million folks who watched the game.

The outrageous spending for the Super Bowl is not a unique occurrence. Every big event (or holiday) in American culture is characterized by excessive spending. I bet if you Google “how to save money on ____” and insert any random event (birthday, Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, etc.), you’ll get 9 articles advocating some level of spending for every 1 article that talks about saving money by using what you already have at home. Why? Because we’re conditioned to equate celebrations with spending.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the grocery store on Saturday. We were amazed  – overwhelmed, really – by the huge amount of Super Bowl nosh in people’s carts – chips, dips, wings, all sorts of beverages, and party trays by the dozens. We even watched one lady blindly grab a stack of $17.98 veggie trays (not even a glance at them or the price) and pile them atop her tier of beer. So many thoughts crossed our minds – how much of this stuff will actually be eaten? How many calories are in all those processed foods? How many people will call in sick on Monday because they ate or drank too much? (The answer to that last question is about 1.5 million.)

As a minimalist, seeing such examples of extreme over-consumption makes me a little angry at the person (for not being more aware) and at our culture in general for perpetuating the lie that happiness comes from the store. At a time when 80% of Americans are in debt, we should be doing more to encourage living within one’s means. Yet, of all the articles I read today about Super Bowl spending, not a one of them spoke to the fact that the vast majority of viewers weren’t in a position to afford all the awesome new things being hawked in those $5 million dollar ads (much less the $15 billion that they had already spent in the name of watching those ads).

bigsandwich
Our Game Day Sandwich

Now make no mistake, we love football and were just as excited as everyone else to sit down to the Big Game yesterday. Heck, we even had my mom over for dinner and served chips and salsa for an appetizer! Our entree was a play on words – we made soup for the Super Bowl, along with a really big sandwich. Our cost for items outside of our normal grocery list – just $1.49 (for a loaf of Ciabatta bread that was on the clearance table).

My point in all of this is not to convert everyone to minimalism or chastise folks who spent more than a buck and a half for their game day celebration. My point is to raise awareness. As a society, we need to stop falling prey to the idea that big events require big dollars and realize that simplicity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We can apply a “less is more” mentality to every aspect of our lives – including times of celebration. Partying like a rock star for every occasion is expensive, time consuming, and mostly unfulfilling. Remove the hype and hoopla, the crazy need to outdo the Jones, and you also remove all the stress.

My advice – be a trendsetter and party like a minimalist instead. Spend time not money on putting your party together. Be creative and resourceful, using what you already have at home. Invite only the people you enjoy being around. Serve only what can reasonably be consumed in the time frame. Create an environment where it’s easy for you and your guests to avoid all excesses – overeating, overspending, and over-indulging in drink. And most of all – be the life of your party.  Be present, enjoy the moment, and those around you will do the same.


Weekly Progress to Goals Report (week ending 2/4)

    • No Spend Days = 3
      YTD = 20/200
    • Meatless Days = 3
      YTD = 16.5/144
    • Miles Walked/Hiked = 8/0
      YTD = 65.8/1,000 and 3.6/100
    • Decluttered Items = 38
      YTD = 188/2017
    • Side Hustle Income = $67.57
      YTD = $155.28/$1,825