A Quick Guide to Becoming Minimal

Minimalism has been on my mind for some time now, but only recently have I taken any action to get there. Unlike some that come into this practice full-throttle, I’ve done it by dipping one toe at a time. Packing up all my belongings and sending them off to Goodwill seems too jarring to me, not to mention how much work it would be.

minimalism guide

I started by taking on the structure of the minimalist challenge, adding one incremental item to my purge pile each day. But by mid-week somewhere in week 3, I started to feel pressured by the growing numbers, so I just aimed to concentrate on specific areas of my home, one at a time and worked from there.

So if like me, you’d rather not turn your whole life upside down all at once, here are a few ideas to get you started down the path toward a minimal lifestyle. I suggest taking a week to tackle each area. Also, remember that getting rid of the unnecessary stuff already in your life is only half the battle. The other side is saying no to the constant barrage of things that you continue to accumulate, from junk mail to half-used bottles of BBQ sauce. Everything collects and builds so naturally that you have to stay conscious about it.

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Start With Your Closet

  • Donate or sell your formal wear that you never wear. To stay current with fashion, use Rent The Runway when you need something fancy.
  • You don’t need 8 pairs of athletic shoes, do you? They look pretty, but perhaps it’s time to cull the heard and there’s lots of great places to donate them.
  • Undergarments that have lost their shape, have holes or just worn out – ditch these.
  • Got office wear that you never wear? Dress for Success is a great organization that helps women get dressed… for success.
  • Clothes you love but never wear – if you can’t find an opportunity to wear them, then at least profit from them! List your stuff on Poshmark or eBay. If you’re super lazy, just put them all in a pre-paid bag and ship them off to Thredup. They will pay you for what they can sell and donate the rest.

The end goal with your closet should be to have a small collection of clothes that you love and that you wear often.  It makes getting dressed so much easier, and trust me, once you’re out of high school, no one notices how often you wear stuff.  Honestly, I can’t even remember what I wore yesterday, so you can be sure I didn’t notice what anyone else wore.

Paperwork

I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t keep, but I will say that I took my most important docs and copied them to Evernote. In some cases, I still have the originals (for tax reasons) but most of this stuff I ditched.  I also started storing things like pet perscriptions, vet instructions, receipts for home and car repairs and other important info that I might need to reference somewhere down the line.  Evernote is an amazing platform for creating, storing, sorting and generally keeping yourself from becoming a hot mess.  I highly recommend it.

Photos

Memories are in your heart, not on Kodak paper. It may seem criminal to get rid of family photos, especially of people who are no longer with you, but how useful are those photos being stored in a container or old dusty album? Scan your pictures and share them with your family by creating a private family group on Facebook or Flickr.  Keep a backup on a hard drive to be safe. Bottom line, photos are more shareable when they’re digital.

Kitchen Stuff

This is an area where I realized I was collecting so much stuff I never used. Four sets of measuring cups, 72 forks and a juicer that was used once. So sad. I sold the juicer and ditched the gadgets. My kitchen feels more spacious and peaceful now and it’s a pleasure to cook in. Do I ever miss those gadgets I bought? Never. I can’t even recall what half of them were for.

Garage

Our garage is a breeding ground for half-used paint cans and lawn tools (note: we don’t have a lawn). I had a hard time letting go of things we might need in our “next house”, but given that we just moved here last year, I had to get over my future-hoarding tenancies and just admit that I don’t need lawn tools anymore.

Credit Cards, Bank/Investment Accounts & Subscriptions (this is what I’m currently working on)

minimalist finances

Every week the NYTimes comes to our house, and every week it goes into the recycling bin, unread. I have Dropbox, Apple storage and Evernote (all paid services), 6 credit cards (some were store cards I never shopped at), 8 investment and bank accounts (in two different countries) and a bunch of other accounts for things I never used. This consolidation took the longest amount of time and I still have to fly back to Canada to consolidate my retirement accounts in person, but it’s worth it. Dealing with banks and credit card companies is a pain. The fewer I have to engage with or find tax info for, the better.

You’re thinking this sounds like a lot of work, right? It is.

If you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth it because you’ve been fine ignoring all this crap for this long, then think again. I have found that the “stuff” in our lives that is left ignored or not dealt with tends to accumulate as low-grade stress. Got an anxiety problem? This could be part of the problem.

Think about it – we’re always reminding ourselves to cancel that thing or call that guy to fix something, but we keep forgetting, can’t find the right number or just couldn’t be bothered. So little things left unaddressed, sit as a reminder in the back of your mind that you still don’t have your shit together.

Once you deal with all this stuff, you start feeling more “together”. Like your ducks are all lined up and you know the name, balance and expiry date on each of those little critters. It’s about controlling that which you can control in life by reducing complexity and streaming processes. It works in business and it works in life.

Bonus: Not only does getting all this stuff taken care of feel good, the process becomes a very rude awakening to how much you spend on useless stuff you don’t need. It will have an immediate impact on your spending as it has on mine. I’m pretty sure Amazon.com is going to be reaching out to see if their most active customer (me) is still alive.

The Minimalist Approach to Workaholism

workaholic recovery

This is a personal post about something I’m struggling with now. I’m sharing it because I bet I’m not the only who might need the wake-up call, and the action steps to solve it.

Over the past several months I’ve been working to become more minimalist and intentional in my personal world with a hope to cultivate more engagement in the work that I do, but also more joy overall.

 

minimalist workaholic

What I’ve noticed through this process is that I’m an over-worker. Not sure I like the term workaholic, but I do work too much, and lately, that’s started to take a toll on my personal happiness. The overworking started several years ago when I was trying to get a food start-up off the ground (it got about 10 feet up in the air before it crash landed, metaphorically speaking) and it’s a habit that I’ve never let go of. So I continue to work evenings and weekends in addition to my professional day job, with my new side hustle.

The left brain, suck-it-up-buttercup side of me says “this is good. It will help you reach your goals faster so you can enjoy life more”. My right brain, the idealist in me (I’m a Gemini folks) says, “but you’re wasting life now doing all this work and you’re not promised tomorrow”. Both sides have equally valid points.

In a perfect world, I’d retire early from my 9 to 5 work with enough resources that it wouldn’t matter if my passion projects provided income or not. I could just focus on them full-time because I love the work.  I have a strong conviction around this because I think following a passion for your primary income is really bad career advice. But I’m not financially ready to retire, and I’m not willing to put off my passion projects until retirement because:

  • It’s my creative outlet (although still work).
  • It will help me retire early so that I can do this full-time.

But something has to give because I feel like my brain is working 24/7. As I become more minimal and intentional, I see how my non-stop productivity is creating disconnection with others, compromising my engagement at work and contributing to a low-grade, chronic anxiety. This “always be doing something productive” mindset is starting to chip away at my self-worth because on some level, I’ve adopted a belief that I’m only worthy when I’m working.

This is really bad.

So I’ve spent some time thinking about how I can turn the productivity bus around (or at least slow it down) so that I can balance work and pleasure for a more enjoyable life.

Here’s what I can realistically do to manage my “workaholic tendencies”.

  • Take the ear buds out of my head, turn off the non-stop learning-based podcasts and audio books and enjoy hearing what’s going on in my brain more.
  • Take little media fasts. I can’t shut my computer down for days on end, but I CAN stop the incessant social media scrolling.
  • Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow until my social media feeds contain only those who bring me joy or value. Pro Tip: want pure Instagram joy? Follow Tuna Melts My Heart and Hamilton Pug. Both are exceptionally adorable pups that leverage social media to advocate pet rescue.
  • Go to bed earlier and leave my phone in another room. I waste at least 30 minutes scrolling social media before bed. Not only is this wasting precious sleep time (I need at least 8 hours a night), but staring at illuminated screens decreases natural melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. I know I have to do this one.
  • Make more time for friends and family. I love the people in my life, but I find I’m spending more time alone (working) or in surface level engagement through Facebook. I’ve gotten to a point in this obsession to work that I have to think twice about meeting someone for brunch or happy hour because that time might be better spent doing something productive. I can’t believe I even admitted that out loud.

If I were to add a few stretch goals to this list I would also try:

  • Not working at all on Sundays (this would be hard for me)
  • Opting for fiction only audible books.
  • Drive to work in silence.

I am sure I’m not alone in my little obsession to work. I see it in my peers and the folks I follow on social media. Does any of this ring true for you?

PS – In full disclosure, it’s Sunday morning as I write this, so yes…. I’m still working on a Sunday.

Follow Your Passion – Inspiring words, but bad career advice.

passion yoga teacher

I’m not sure the first time I heard that expression, but I know where it led me. I was in Rishikesh, India, sitting on the floor of the ashram I was studying at listening to the American yoga instructor, (a recovering drug addict) talk about her experience of going from homeless to globe-trotting entrepreneur. After her recovery, she went back to school, earned an MBA and opened her yoga businesses both in the US and India, straddling life in both countries with her Indian husband. She wasn’t living my dream, but she was certainly living a life of her own design which I admired.

At the time I had just left my job (and my work visa) in the US. I was getting over the loss of my mother to cancer and I was struggling to figure out my own priorities. That loss made me realize that time was short, life was precious and my corporate job was sucking my soul. So I went to India because I had a passion for yoga and I had naively believed that following a passion was the best way to make a living.

However, my plan of getting certified and becoming the next yoga mogul had a wrinkle in it. I discovered that while I enjoyed practicing yoga, I hated teaching it. One can only say “inhale upward dog, exhale downward dog” so many times. It lacked the intellectual engagement that I knew I needed to make it a sustainable choice. So by the end of my Indian sojourn, I was more panicked than ever before because I had no idea how I’d make money from my half-hearted passion.

career advice

Fast-forward 10 years. I’m back at the same company I claimed was sucking my soul in 2007. I have tried (and failed) to make my passions pay off more times than I’m ready to admit (okay, 5 times. I’ve tried and failed 5 times). While I do enjoy my professional work, it’s not a “passion”. To be honest, my passions change and evolve over time, so making money from them would be hard to keep up with.

Instead, I’ve come to appreciate my corporate job for different reasons. I am paid well for what I do, and I truly enjoy the people I work with. They’re kind, smart and everyone holds their own. I’ve spent so much time chasing the idea of monetizing a passion that I overlooked the possibility of finding enjoyment and contentment in a corporate job. While I’m not exactly “living the dream”, I do have great health care, a steady paycheck, several savings vehicles at my disposal and the opportunity to continue to learn and try new things within the boundaries of my organization (I think the kids are calling it intrapreneurship these days).

While I don’t regret any of my entrepreneurial adventures, I do regret the lost income that I could have been making had I tried these ideas as side hustles rather than a reason to escape the doldrums of full-time corporate work. In retrospect, had I taken more time to examine the reasons I’ve disliked corporate jobs in the past, and tried to fix or adjust to these challenges, I would be far better off financially today.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that some people don’t become successful from following their passions, but their stories are the exception, not the rule. We don’t hear about the entrepreneurs who bet it all and fail (time and time again) because people rarely get famous from their failures.

I read a great article about Warren Buffet today. Now there’s a guy who followed his passion and became one of the richest people in the world! But here’s the thing – at age 27 with a net worth of $127,000 he was (modestly) financially independent and considered retiring. He chose not to retire because people were asking him to manage their money for them and he found the work interesting. He was able to call his own shots because he didn’t need the money.

While I’m not poo-pooing the entrepreneurial dream, I am questioning how romanticized it has become. It’s a risky venture, and best left to evenings and weekends until it proves to be a viable and sustainable enterprise. This is particularly true for the idealists among us who seek to “monetize passions”. As Elizabeth Gilbert suggests, let your creative pursuits exist purely because they are yours. Never expect them to financially provide for you, but rather always promise to provide enough for yourself so that you can support your passions.

My best advice to anyone considering a passion-driven career risk, especially if it involves going out on your own, is to take it slow.  Test your concept to see if it’s viable.  Is anyone asking you for your skill or solution?  It’s also a good practice to figure out if you’re well suited for entrepreneurship before leaving your job.  Experiment in your free time and see how good you are at the hustle of finding new business and selling yourself. Some people are naturally great at this. Some people need a little time to build the skill but can get by with practice. Some people find it to be an unnatural and painful practice that overpowers the benefits of that kind of “lifestyle”. Know where you fit on that spectrum before you commit to too much.

Are you an advocate of jumping in head first, or are you in the “test and iterate” camp like me? I think it’s largely personality driven.  Some folks can only succeed if they “burn the boats” so there’s no turning back, while others need lots of exit opportunities along the way.  You can guess where I sit now, but initially, I burned boats.

 

 

Travel + Happiness

Travel Happy

Recently my husband and I went on an all-inclusive trip to Cabo, Mexico.  We do this at least once a year because Cabo is a short flight away and we really like the sunshine and the beach.  It was an investment to be sure, but one we thought was worth it (well, until we made the trip home).  Here’s what happened and how we netted out from a “return on happiness” standpoint.

travel happy

  • Cost of hotel and flight: $3,172.83
  • Cost of Dog Care: $400 (including tip)
  • Cost of transportation in Cabo $140 (including tip)
  • Cost of airport parking: $70

Total Trip Cost: $3,782.83 for 2 people

  • $630.47 per day
  • $26 per hour

This is the first trip I’ve taken since I’ve started thinking carefully about spending and happiness. It inspired me to look at how effective the investment was in making me happier. I figured the trip cost $26 an hour. I spent most of those hours floating in a pool with a cocktail in hand, sleeping in, eating well, reading magazines, people watching and feeling the warm sun on my skin.

Was it worth $26 an hour? I think so.

The trip wasn’t all great however. There were some drawbacks, like the transportation company that did a bait and switch on the type of transportation we purchased. Tip for you – make sure your transportation company provides a description of the vehicle they’re picking you up with in writing before you pay for service (and certainly avoid Eliker Transfer if you’re going to Cabo).

Then on the way home, my husband almost got kicked off the plane because an Alaskan Airlines Flight Attendant decided she wanted to pick a fight. I won’t get into the gory details, but it was very terrifying and nothing would have predicted the erratic behavior of the flight attendant.  Given what we’ve seen from United lately, the idea of flying is becoming wildly appealing.

Fly the friendly skies much?

Fortunately, we’ve got the attention of Alaskan Airlines because I cc’d the executive staff on our detailed complaint letter and fellow passengers that saw what happened were compelled to file complaints as well, but I would have much preferred never to have been put into the situation we were. It was frightening.

All said these experiences were a stark reminder that travel is a gamble and you never know what you’re going to encounter. From bad weather and long waits to food poisoning and unstable flight attendants, very little of the experience of travel is in your control, so when you book your trip, you can only hope that the gamble pays off.

So while I don’t regret my trip, I’m not chomping at the bit to get on a plane again. In fact, there’s a good chance I will only fly again this year for my committed business trips. Given that there are no out-of-pocket fees for those trips (except doggie care), the cost risk of travel is minimal.

So here are a few ways to think about travel experiences in terms of happiness. Maybe it convinces you that you need to put more energy into your travel experiences, or like me, you might be thinking less is more.

The Upside of Taking a Trip

  • New experiences
  • Escape from the everyday
  • Learning about a new culture
  • Meeting new people (fellow travelers and locals alike)
  • Being in preferable weather (that might mean 80 degrees at the beach or 30 below on a snowy mountain)
  • Trying new food
  • Acquiring unique things like art or fashion
  • Taking in local attractions – museums, theater, music
  • Enjoying peace and quite – trees, beach, mountains, whatever
  • Spending quality time with loved ones

The Downside of Taking a Trip

  • Bad weather that can often spoil intended plans
  • The discomfort of travel – long flights, car rides, long lines.
  • Terrorists on a mission
  • Disappointing service or quality of travel
  • Crazy/unpredictable people
  • Unexpected expenses due to delayed or missed flights, bad accommodations, etc
  • Minor inconveniences like noisy rooms, uncomfortable beds, lost luggage
  • Major inconveniences like being dragged from the plane seat you paid for and getting a bloody face
  • Illness or injury incurred because of travel
  • Additional stress on other family members (i.e. dogs, kids) who are left behind
  • Additional efforts required to tie up work and home obligations that need to be addressed in your absence
  • Theft or break-ins that happen back at home or while you’re away (we were robbed on our recent trip to Costa Rica)
  • The overall cost

In all honesty, I am writing this blog post from the plane that my husband was almost removed from, so I’m a little negative on travel right now, but often these situations inspire us to look deeper at the cost of our investments. I’m actually grateful for the experience in some ways because it helped me look at the true cost/value of travel (but would have preferred it not happen, of course).

So what say you? Are you a consummate traveler that doesn’t mind the adventure of not knowing what will happen, or are you more of a cautious investor in getaways?

9 Happiness Killers to Quit or Ditch

When was the last time you let something go? Think about it, you accumulate new experiences, habits, responsibilities, relationships and beliefs every day of your life, but do you ever take time curate what you already have?

happiness killers

This has been on my mind since reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKewon, a must read for anyone aspiring to live with more focus and attention. He talks about the importance of only focusing on what’s truly important, and that list shouldn’t have more than 5 things on it.

Go on a Quit or Ditch Spree

Warning – this will feel REALLY good.

  1. Quit Commitments: Weekly or monthly meetings that occur just because they do. Are they necessary? I recently moved a weekly meeting to bi-weekly and reduced it from an hour to 30 minutes. We still cover everything that needs to get done. Same goes for social commitments that occur on repeat. If you’re still enjoying them, great! If there’s something else you’d rather do with that time, bow out.
  2. Ditch clothes and office things: This is where I’m focusing right now. Every month I like to buy a few new things to add to my wardrobe, but rarely do I remove anything from my closet until I find it overwhelming. Same goes for books, papers, collectibles etc. So much stuff gets accumulated throughout the course of a week, but rarely do we make a conscious effort to constantly edit and reduce.
  3. Quit Facebook people you don’t really know: I find that Facebook is the new breeding ground for loose social connections. It may feel good to see a high volume of friends on your page, but what value does it bring? Facebook’s algorithms are ever changing and it seems you rarely see updates from the people you’re interested in following. Be vigilant with your social connections, particularly on this platform. The less noise, the more enjoyable it is.
  4. Ditch junk drawer stuff: Does anyone actually buy something with the idea that it would be the perfect accessory for their junk drawer? Is it just me, or do junk drawers expand on their own? Crazy!
  5. Quit overstocking fridges and pantries. Again, I’m embarrassed by the food that stockpiles up in my pantry only to be found 3 years later. I have the best intentions of finding a food bank, but I lack in follow-through.
  6. Ditch books and photos: This is a really hard one for me, but as I go through my Minimalist Challenge I’m forced to ask myself if I really ever want to read the books that are just taking up room on my shelf. Photos capture memories of many people who aren’t in my life anymore, but they’re not adding value by sitting in a box, unadmired for years at a time. Memories reside in the heart. Not in a photo. Ideas belong in your head, not on a bookshelf. If you’re unable to let go of some photos, consider scanning them, or just taking a photo of the photo with your iPhone, so you always have it with you.
  7. Quit friendships that don’t make you feel good: More broadly, it’s a good practice to look at your social group and make sure you’re surrounded by people you truly want in your life. Very often we have friends in our social circles that don’t make us feel good, but the idea of editing your friends seems cold and heartless. Guess what – it’s not! It’s a-okay not to want to spend time with your friend from 20 years ago even though you’ve completely grown apart. The best thing is that you don’t need to intentionally break up with them. Just be less available and time will eventually move the two of you apart.  If you have people in your life that drain you, that’s on you, not them.
  8. Quit outdated beliefs: If you live in the US, there’s a strong possibility that you have some pretty hard line beliefs around politics and social issues. You probably have opinions about cultures, foods, habits and behaviors, too. But are they still relevant? Were they based on a past experience that perhaps isn’t true or accurate? Beliefs are hard to let go of, but when they go unchecked, they can limit and control you.
  9. Quit Social Media: I’m a sucker for social platforms. I love seeing what’s out there and how people are using them, particularly for business purposes. But it’s easy to overdo it with social and I’m guilty as charged. That said, by being incredibly selective about who I follow on Twitter, I have to say, I actually love the platform now!! It’s like creating your own cocktail party where you invite only those people you want to socialize with (even if you don’t know them). It’s when you start following anyone and everyone that ruins the experience. I find the same is true for Instagram. Less is truly more on these platforms.

Tackling all these at once might be too overwhelming, but it’s the kind of things that you want to think about if you’re focused on minimizing, simplifying and optimizing. I find that these are key areas where we tend to hold on to “stuff” that holds us back. So if you’re ever wondering how to tangibly “make your life better or simpler”, this is a super place to start.

Would you rather have more work from home days or a 10K raise?

commuting

As far as I know, my boss isn’t chomping at the bit to give me a 10K raise or more work from home (WFH) days, but given the option I’d say no to the cash and yes to the WFH time.

Here’s why:

A little search of Mr. Google revealed this dismal little factoid.

commuting

Given that my commute is about an hour each way (give or take 15 mins depending on traffic) I could actually spend an extra two to three weeks on vacation for the about of time I spend commuting in a year. Pause for a moment while I let that settle in…. ouch.

Not only am I spending potential beach time on the highway, apparently commuters suffer all kinds of health issues (not surprisingly) such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and depression. We also have shittier marriages, thus higher divorce rates and our kids are more likely to have emotional problems.  Awesome! Thank God I don’t have kids.

Oh, and as if that isn’t bad enough, commuters are apparently less likely to vote (except me). Given the political circus we’re living in here in the US, this one stings the most right now.

The Life-changing Magic of Working from Home.

I do get the freedom to work from home occasionally.  It’s a privilege I try not to overuse for fear of having it taken away. But on those days where I do work from home, here’s what happens:

  • I get an extra hour sleep. I wake up at 7:15 rather than the typical 6:15. This makes my brain work better, my creativity a little more active and I’m a whole lot happier to be around. Another bonus – the more you sleep, the less you eat (especially the bad stuff).
  • I get to journal in my jammies. Okay, you may not see this as a huge life bonus, but I do!! I love taking my morning coffee upstairs and getting back into bed to hand write three rambling “morning pages”. I sort SO much mental clutter out this way and what I can get out on paper saves emotional tax in rumination (something I’m really good at).
  • I workout early. I still carve out time to workout when I get home when I commute to work. I’m kinda religious about this, but working out in the AM has a ton of extra fat burning benefits and it’s just better to get it out of the way!
  • I am more productive with writing projects. My job is 90% writing and that’s a hard task when you’re sitting in a cubicle with people talking around you. I literally have to stick my fingers in my ears to hear myself think. At home, I can write uninterrupted in my quiet office with only the sounds of a snoring pug nearby (which is awesome).
  • I eat better. I generally bring my lunch to work anyway, so it’s not a cost savings, but it’s just nicer to eat freshly prepared food on a real plate and not Tupperware.
  • I work longer. I don’t take a lunch break (rarely do at the office, either) and I’ll work a bit later. On the days that I commute in, I aim to leave by 4:45 to get in front of the 5pm onslaught of commuters. When at home, I’ll knock off around 5:30, but still start at 8am.
  • I don’t have to get “dressed”. I’m WAY more creative and a happier human being overall wearing yoga pants and flip-flops. It feels like me. Clothes with zippers and buttons….. not so much.
  • I’m more inspired to cook. Those days where we resort to takeout sushi is generally a result of having the life slowly sucked out of me on my commute home. It’s exhausting. If I’m home, I take salmon out of the freezer and whip up something healthy.
  • I have more energy. Read above note about having life sucked out of self on highway. It really does drain me.
  • My dogs love it. We have a dog walker that comes 4 days a week, regardless if I’m home or not only because those days can shift and change dramatically. But my dogs love hanging with me and that feeling is mutual. Any time spent with my critters is time very well spent in my books.

But is it worth $10,000 in extra pay?

Oh, hell yes. First off, the realized benefit of that 10K is actually only about $6,500 (or less) after taxes. If it’s one extra day a week, that’s a savings of:

62 miles a week x 50 weeks = 3,100 miles
3,100 miles x $.535 (standard mileage expense) = $1,658.50 in saved car expense

That brings us down to around $5,000.

Now given that a single day working from home saves me 3 hours in commute and getting ready time (don’t judge) x 50 weeks = 150 saved hours annually.

If we divide that into our $5,000 extra income that’s $33 per hour.

I know that seems like a lot of money to some (and it’s nothing to sneeze at for me), but frankly, my time spent doing all the things I just listed is worth more than an additional $33 per hour for 150 hours throughout the year, not to mention my health and happiness.

This is a number we all have to come up with on our own, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing short of an additional $40K per year that would make me want to commute more day a week into the office.

What about you? Would you grab the additional cash and suck up the commute?

work from home

Adventures in Minimalism (there’s no turning back).

Minimalism

This is not my first minimalist rodeo. I went on a “stuff binge” after Marie Kondoizing my house last year. Actually, it was a pretty lame attempt as you’ll never catch me folding my t-shirts and standing them on end. It’s just not my jam.

But I DID take that opportunity to get rid of a bunch of stuff. I have no recollection of what I got rid of, but I don’t miss any of it (clearly), so I guess it wasn’t that important to me.

That makes me kinda sad.

It makes me realize that most of what I spend money on has little to no value and not only would I have a hard time selling it (remember the Apple watch fiasco?), I don’t even miss it when I give it away.

Lately, I’ve been cutting back a LOT on my extraneous spending. Not with the intent to radically reduce my expenses (although that’s a part of it). It comes more from a place of wanting less stuff in my surroundings and realizing that stuff really isn’t all that important. Or most of it’s not.

My amazon bill has gone down ENORMOUSLY in the last few weeks as a result of this mindset shift. I did do a little shopping yesterday for 2 new rugs and a kindle adapter. I figured the rugs will contribute to our comfort, which is a huge value for me and the adapter was a necessary evil as I left mine in Cabo. If I can keep up this sense of “reasoned shopping” (i.e., not buying something because I’m bored/sad/lonely/in need of a temporary fix) I’ll be able to maintain a more minimal lifestyle.

Meanwhile, I’m now on day 7 of the Minimalist Game, coined by the Minimalists themselves. The idea is to give up a sequential amount of stuff every day for 30 days. So, day 1, give up 1 thing, day 2 give up 2 things (you get the idea).

Day 1 I decided to let go of my Breville juicer which I’m sure I paid more than $100 for and used about three times before I realized I hate juicing and I hate cleaning a juicer even more.

Here’s the sad part – I offered it (for free) to all my local friends and no one wanted it. I can’t even give my so-called “valuable” stuff away!

Back to the minimalist game…

  • Day 2 I ditched two credit cards I never used. I canceled the cards and snipped them up. That felt REALLY good.
  • Day 3 I started to resent having to find a certain amount of things every day so I just committed to giving up 28 things by the end of the week.

Here’s where I ended up….

breville juicerbecoming minimalistcredit card

It’s mostly kitchen items, clothes and a few odds and sods. I didn’t count the things I found that just got pitched in the garbage.

Next week things are going to get harder as I have to round-up 77 items. At this point, I have no idea what I could purge, but I’m pretty sure I could figure it out.

But even though this is hard to do, it’s important work. It’s like peeling back the layers of stuff that has no function or purpose. It just exists.

Yesterday I saw this tweet from the Minimalists – “Get rid of the excess that makes life opaque so that everything worthwhile shines through.”  That’s been on my mind all morning as I go through my stuff.

Quick tip on making this process easier:  Keep a bag and a box in several rooms where you think the most purging will happen.  It just makes it easier to constantly be purging and always keeps the process top of mind!

I’ll check in next week with an update on my purge progress. If you’re interested in playing along, just start. The rules are simple.

Let me know how you do!

Once you’ve bought it, it’s your problem

owning less

Lately I’ve been trying to unload “stuff” I don’t use. Most of it has gone to Goodwill, but there are other things that I find too valuable to donate yet selling them is harder than I expected.

I have an apple watch that my husband bought me for Christmas a few years back. I have rarely worn the thing and to be honest, I don’t get much value out of it. I am constantly staring at my phone or computer (sad, but true), so I always know what time it is. As for the other features – meh… not really interested in them.

ebay apple watch

 

So I put the watch on ebay and see what happens.   **Insert cricket sound.**   I guess I’ve overpriced it at $170, but like most things, we always overvalue what we own. It’s a psychological phenomenon called the endowment effect.

So given that it wasn’t selling, I decided to try Facebook Marketplace. BIG mistake. I’m not sure where Facebook is going with that platform, but I ended up getting some emails from pretty sketchy characters offering low ball figures who failed to follow up if I agreed to their price. I decided to pull the watch from FB because I didn’t really want to hand deliver anything to these people. I’m not sure if you guys have had much success with Marketplace, but I think it’s a waste of time.

When it comes down to it, selling your “stuff” can be more trouble than it’s worth. My experience trying to sell this watch has really shown me how owning things we don’t use can be cumbersome. I have to keep the damn thing charged in case I do want to use it and I have to keep all the packaging in case I do actually end up selling it.

It’s a pain in the ass.

Sure, it’s not a big pain in the ass, just a minor pinch, really, but when you think of it, I have so many little pinches in the ass with all this stuff I own, that it all adds up. No wonder we’re all suffering from so much anxiety and depression these days. We have so many little, minor stresses that snowball into larger sources of anxiety that we can’t quite put our finger on the single cause anymore.

Whoa! There’s an interesting revelation.

So there’s not much I can do about the stuff I’ve already acquired other than continue to use it, donate it, or accept that its value is much less than I place on it and therefore sell it at any price I can get. But the greater lesson here is that once I acquire something, it becomes not just my possession, but also my burden. My burden to care for it, get it fixed if it’s broken and ensure it’s got what it needs to run as it should (my watch requires energy and wifi to power it).

The same thing goes with cars, homes, boats, jewelry, expensive clothes, art, technology and all the other stuff we accumulate. It requires space to store it, experts to maintain and repair it, often insurance to cover the cost of replacement and whatever else is required to keep the stuff useable. I learned first hand how much of a drag this can be when we owned a lake home in Southern California. If we weren’t buying stuff to fill our home, we were paying someone to fix it, paint it or (gently) remove critters from it. And then we had to spend as much time as we could there, just to justify the cost of maintaining it, which was stressful in itself.

Eventually, we took a loss on the home when we sold it (after we had a break in which is another story), but it was a relief to get rid of it. I’ve vowed never to own a second home again. With all the options to rent homes through Airbnb and VRBO, I see no reason to assume the burden of vacation home ownership again.

This perspective has really enlightened me to the purchasing decisions I make, largely on autopilot. There’s such a striking similarity to buying and eating habits. We consume mindlessly because we want what we want, but when the consequences show up in the form of stuff or fat, we wonder how we ended up where we are. When we try to cut back, we experience a visceral sense of deprivation that keeps us wanting to go back to our consumptive habits. Because we deserve to consume. We work hard to have that privilege.

But instead of looking at less consumption as a deprivation, I see it now as freedom. Freedom from the weight of carrying everything I consume. It feels lighter, calmer and much less stressful to consume less. Less stuff and less feeling of “stuffed”.

So the big “ah ha” for me here is to focus on saying “yes to less” rather than saying “no to more”. It feels less like deprivation and more like freedom from burden and anxiety.

What are your thoughts on consumption? Do you think you could be more mindful of what you acquire?

Dave Ramsey – Financial advice with a side of Jesus?

dave ramsey review

In my quest for seeking out money mentors I naturally checked out Dave because so many people swear by him, but man, I just can’t. I bet some of you LOVE this guy and you’re going to send me ranty emails about being ungrateful or unGodful or whatever, but hear me out.

Why would your financial status have anything to do with your proximity to God?  If you’re a religious person, that’s great, but do you really think God is up there giving out $100 bills only to nice people?  God doesn’t only reward “the good people” with nice cars and mortgage-free homes, does he?  Because if that’s the case, Mother Theresa and Gandhi got the short end of that stick.

I also take issue with his idea of paying off your home as a sound financial tactic (at least for those of us living in America).  If you are living here, you have an amazing opportunity to write off the interest you pay on your mortgage.  That’s a huge tax advantage that I think is worth leveraging, especially given how low mortgage rates have been over the last 10 years.  Meanwhile, those funds that you’re not putting toward the capital of your home could be better used making 7% or more in index funds. 

Pay down a 4% tax-deductible mortgage or invest in an index fund with 7% (or more) in returns – which do you think is going to get you to financial freedom quicker?  I know there are some cases where paying down a mortgage makes sense, but for most Americans, that money will work harder in other places.

I also feel like tying up too much of your net worth in your home can be a very risky investment.  Homes have little liquidity unless you borrow against it, so if all your money eggs are in your home basket and the market tanks – you’ve got problems if you need to sell. 

Finally, while I do think paying off your debt is important, I think prioritizing paying off the higher interest debt rather than the small debt makes a bit more sense.  I can understand the psychological benefits to seeing small debts go away, but the higher interest stuff is still out there snowballing at a much faster rate.

Personally, I’d rather focus on avoiding an avalanche that might take me out rather than the little hand-size snowballs that might ruin a good hair day at worst. 

Anyway, I’m not a financial expert by ANY means, but those are my thoughts. 

Think of your money like this….

invest don't shop

I read this on a Mr Money Mustache post and I thought it was so clever: think of your dollars as little employees that work for you. 

Now, with that in mind, you can send your employees to a highly-civilized investment project where they will grow and develop while helping the world do great things. Alternatively, you can send your dollars to The Gap where their employment contract with you is eliminated the minute they reach that grubby cashier’s hands.  Gone. They’re all fired and now you’ve got this ill-fitting, scratchy acrylic sweater to work for you instead.

Sadly, your new employee (the scratchy sweater) isn’t quite the little worker-bee that your dollars were.  It doesn’t go out and grow and expand.  In fact, it does the exact opposite when you put it in the dryer for the first time where it officially quits on you.  Forever.  Bye bye acrylic employee.

I think this is such a powerful way to think about money and how it serves you.  Now, I have nothing against sweaters from the Gap, but when I think about how money can either work for you, or you can wear it, I’m pretty sure I’ll pick the “work for me” option, (almost) every time now.  I know I’ve exceeded the appropriate volume of clothes about 10x over, but this mindset has definitely shifted my thinking.

XO

caren

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