Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Defining the Shopping Fast

Ok, so we've agreed go on our shopping fast and I think we're actually already on it (maybe I should confirm that...). Things we've been working on a little bit in terms of finalizing our plan for the fast is what exactly are the parameters of a shopping fast. Obviously, you can essentially decide for yourself how exactly you want to define the fast, focusing on what your goal for the fast really is. A few points we've been working on might help if this is something you're going to consider.

  1. Duration. This is pretty much the first term of the agreement. I was originally thinking of making our fast 3 months long, but Kyra suggested stretching is through next June. I think this is where the purpose of the exercise has to be made clear. My thought was to go through with the fast for the sake of learning how little we truly NEED to add to our lives/household while keeping it at a manageable duration. Kyra was focusing less on experience for experience's sake, and more of removing herself from a dependence on shopping to deal with stress, boredom, etc. Since I'll be extra busy from this July through next June, Kyra wanted to extend it for that whole period. I've seen articles where people have tried a 1 month clothes fast and failed miserably, then I've seen (and shared) where whole families have gone a year without shopping for any non-essentials. The point of the fast is to challenge yourself to give something up and to grow through the experience, so if you're thinking about how do you need to go for it to be a challenge at all, then how long you're willing to maintain the challenge. 
  2. Scope. The second part is to determine what you're targeting for your fast. Again, what you're hoping to accomplish is going to be the driving factor in figuring this out. Are you wanting to do a socio-political freegan experiment? Are you wanting to curb your dependence on new clothes? Are you wanting to stretch your self-sufficiency by only buying food? Are you going to only allow yourself non-consumables? We're focusing on stuff, we're essentially stopping all stuff-related purchases. We haven't gone to so far as to say that Zip-Lock bags aren't technically consumed by use so we won't purchase any more. Instead we're going with if we use something up we can replace it - food, ingredients (including for our homemade soaps & toiletries), cleaning supplies, etc. 
  3. Pre-determined exceptions. We're human, and humans need some grace, so determining where you might be willing to allow wiggle room. One question we raised was about what to do with gifts at birthdays & Christmas. I found this excerpt from Joshua Becker that I felt addressed this subject well - "We have taken the approach of still allowing our relatives the opportunity to buy gifts... It is an expression of their love. They desire to show their love by giving gifts...We did not want to take that away from our family" So gifts of money/gift cards will be accepted and spent gratefully for the love with which they're given. Also, Kyra has a couple small, specific gaps in her wardrobe (don't even get me started on women and their low quality shoes), so she's perfectly free to spend previous gift money on those specific items. Also, we had a baby due in a few months and it's completely possible that a true need will arise that we didn't foresee, meaning we'll need to be flexible. 
  4. What about the kids? This is another question to get ironed out early if you have children. The temptation may be to exempt anything child-related from the fast, but the truth is that their clutter adds tremendously to the mulch in our home, not to mention to new expenditures. We're already getting our 4 year-old son involved in our minimalizing efforts (he LOVED ranking his stuffed animals until we mentioned that we were going to bag up the half that were least favorite) and he makes occasional comments about us selling some of our items. It's definitely a goal to have them grow through this experience also, so we need to take a cue from some of Becker's points in the article I linked earlier. Letting them know what's going on, start with our items, let them know what to expect, focus on positives, and work in special, bonding experiences. Now, we're ok making gifts for the kids for their birthdays and Christmas, but we do want them to experience giving to others. We toyed with the idea of having them make all their Christmas gifts this year (something we'll be doing), but decided that rather than giving all their aunts a macaroni & finger paint masterpiece that we'll relax the fast for them so they can continue to focus on giving to other at Christmastime. 
Oh, and I had to resist my first purchase yesterday. It would have been a great book to read, but the point is to have to grow and practice a little self-denial. If you read it, tell me the high points :)

Photo: Flickr, hospi-table. Image altered. 

Why We Need to Live With Less

Living With Less: America's Quest for Simplicity
Image compliments of Masters in Human Resources Degree Guide

Monday, March 30, 2015

Minimalist Grammar Rant - Less vs. Fewer

I'll admit that I'm a little bit of a grammar Nazi. I was an English major in college and it's still with me. So when I read blogs talking about our need for "less things" it's a bit like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Ok, here's the difference.

When using the words "less" and "fewer," we have to be aware of whether we're talking about quantities or measures. Quantities can be counted, while measures have to be... well, measured. You can count towels, shirts, and plates, but you can't count laundry, clutter, noise, etc. You use "fewer" to describe things you can count - fewer shirts, fewer plates, etc - and less to describe things you have to measure - less clutter, less noise, less space.

I just described the traditional "counting" rule. Maybe an easier way to think of it is to say "fewer" for plurals, and say "less" for singles. Examples: fewer appleS, less fruit (no plural); fewer shirtS, less clothes (no plural, despite ending with an s); fewer thingS, less stuff.

Ok! Now go forth and tastefully, not ostentatiously, use good grammar in a way that doesn't make you sound like the middle school grammar teacher that every hated!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What to do with DVDs?

Flickr: bobbigmac

I'm not sure what your media center looks like, but ours looks beautiful - on the outside. But open the doors (and they always tend to hang open) and it's purely chaotic. There are DVDs stacked up that were haven't been put away since Christmas. Of '13! Really, you could argue that minimalizing our DVD collection could be extremely easy - just throw away all the DVDs that are sitting in our DVD racks! :P This situation is complicated by a couple factors. 1. I've never in my life been in the habit of putting my media (starting c/ VHS and tapes) away when I'm done. 2. Our kids watch the same cycle of about 5 DVDs day in and day out. Actually, that wasn't very many factors, was it...? It's hard to look at the media center and not get frustrated with the way we keep it, but that hasn't yet led to real changes in our system. 

Since starting to work on minimalizing our lives, I've developed this wonderful vision of ripping all our DVDs, storing them on an external hard drive, and streaming them to the TV. PC World has a good article here that describes how to accomplish this using a nice app called Plex. The problem is that doing with require buying more stuff.We could then get rid of all the cases, and just keep the disks in a nice disk binder. At a minimum I would need to buy another external hard drive, a large disc binder, and some way to splice a tablet to our TV.  I've argued with myself that buy more for the sake of minimalizing might be acceptable, but that argument isn't gaining in my mind. When you couple that with our impending shopping fast, it gets halted completely. 

So what options are left to us? The first step will be to do a minimalization just like we've started in the rest of the house. All the DVDs will come out of their racks - added step of going back in their cases - and then we'll decide which ones are really worth keeping. For the sake of ease we'll move the kids' FWDs (frequently-watched DVDs) up by the TV (in their cases!) and put the remaining disks back into their racks. 

The Minimalists advice for your DVD collection was basically this: get a life and stop watching the same movies all the time. Others have said to embrace Hulu or Netflix instead. I get those thoughts, but we're also trying to spend less time in front of the TV completely. We do really enjoy watching the movies we have and we found that when we had a subscription service we were spending WAY too much time watching it because there was always something new to watch. I think if we focus instead of having a core collection of movies that we actually value enough to keep around and watch repeatedly, we'll had the right things that we'll watch the right amount. 

Any thoughts/ideas that I haven't covered here? What have you done to try to mange your media? I'd love to hear some more suggestions!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Attacking the Kitchen

Flickr: rubbermaid

We started minimalizing our house about 3 weeks ago. We started in our bedroom closets and are gradually spreading out from there. I will admit that my closet isn't done, but I have several things still mentally tagged for the sell & discard destinies.

The biggest area of clutter in our lives is our kitchen, though our bedroom was a top contender until very recently. It was difficult to know where even to start, so I started with the most visible thing in our kitchen - the utensils canister that holds the kitchen tools we use on a near-daily basis. I took some cues from Leo Babauta to guide me. Here are some of his tips:

  1. Do it in small chunks. One canister, shelf, or drawer at a time. 
  2. Take everything out of a shelf or drawer at once. Dump it all out, and maybe take the chance to clean the drawer/shelf/canister while you're at it :) 
  3. Sort through your pile, one item at a time, and make quick decisions. Put back the stuff you KNOW you really use. The other stuff sort into sell/give away and throw away piles. 
  4. If you are on the fence with a lot of things, create a “maybe” box. There were some kitchen tools we weren't sure of, so we put them in a grocery sack so they could possibly be saved from donation/selling. These were things like the 4th and 5th spatulas - Kyra does a lot of canning, so maybe she really does need that many, but probably not :P
  5. Celebrate when you’re done! Don't forget to admire your accomplishments!
After we'd gone through this process with the canister, we'd managed to take out 1/3-1/2 the tools without eliminating a single type or size of tool that we frequently use. Duplicates were an easy choice, as were damaged items. 

2 days ago we started in on our glasses. We had multiple sets of very nice breakfast glasses that we simply have not used. If we hosted more breakfast parties, then perhaps they'd get a lot of use. That's DEFINITELY not where we are in life. 

The first real difficulty we had was our mug collection. I was all for eliminating most of the non-matching mugs and sticking to the mug set that matches our plates and bowls. Kyra felt the opposite - she prefers to have unique/special mugs to drink from on a regular basis and wanted to get rid of the boring matching mugs. We were at a small impasse until later that day I realized what our family norms are. My mother's kitchen only has matching mugs, my MIL's kitchen only has random mugs. For their family, choosing your morning mug is almost a part expressing your feelings about the morning. 

One thing we've learned in our marriage is to respect family norms, then work around them in a way that works for our little family. So with that we got rid of the random mugs that just didn't have much significance or were just plain ugly as well as about half of the matching mugs. We decided to keep 12 mugs. That number might end up going down in the future months, but it's still a good step. 

Other high points from the kitchen so far - if you honestly can't remember that last time you used a kitchen knicknack - no matter how useful it seems in theory - get rid of it! 

We're going to have a great garage sale in a couple weeks :P

Anyone need a couple sets of barely-used breakfast glasses?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Barriers to our progress

Flickr - jonbro
When I think about where we want to go vs. where we are, I start seeing the barriers that are preventing us from getting there. This can be either good or bad, depending on how your respond to them. Here are the barriers I'm seeing for us

1. Not Knowing Where We're Going to Settle. This is really in the forefront of our minds right now. I'm a little over a year from starting my "real," post-training job. We don't know yet where that is going to be. We have 1 good offer and the possibility of another, but we're still very much in limbo and not sure in which direction to proceed.

2. We're amassing stuff. We've just very recently starting working on trying to rid ourselves of the clutter in our lives - particularly the clutter in our house. We're very early in this journey and need to make a lot more progress before I feel we're ready for the next step.

3. Debt. We're in no place to make a down-payment for a property, as we have a significant consumer debt monkey on our backs. We want to make sure that we move forward from a position of security, not continued instability.

4. Time Demands. I'm about to start a 1-year job that is about 1.25 hour away from home. Currently I live 8 minutes from work. It's a wonderful opportunity and Kyra and I are both fully on board with it, but at the same time we know that this is going to eat up a good chunk of the margin in my life/our lives. Again, we want to move forward from a stable place, not from a shifting sand.

I'm tempted to list the stresses of parenting a toddler, a 4-yr old, and a newborn, but these aren't the barriers in our lives - these are the goals. As we work on focusing in on our lives/goals, we need to be intentional that everything we do is to add value to our family, not to give pleasure to us individually.

So I'm curious, what barriers in your life are keeping you from where you would like to be? Please share!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our path to the simplified life

After settling on a destination, the next step on a journey is deciding how you're going to get there. Sometimes the way someone decides to get somewhere defines almost as much of their journey as the destination itself does. Two groups may both tour Ireland and see the same sites, but if one group travels with a large travel agency-organized tour bus they'll have a very different experience than a group that undergoes a wandering backpacking trip.

The path we've chosen involves a combination of several things: homesteading, a small farm, gardening, raising our own animals, food preservation, minimalism. Most of these things are totally new to us, though we're slowly working on integrating them into our lives. We have a 220+ square foot garden, my wife can's quite a bit during the growing seasons, we're raising meat rabbits, and I hunt for our red meat every fall. Still, we're very much urbanites and have a long way to go to getting our family where we hope to go.

Fortunately, it's a path we'll get to travel together.

Our Shopping Fast

So, last night Kyra and I went on a great date. We saw the new Cinderella movie (really, very good!) and had some great conversations. I've been spending a lot of time lately reading through the Becoming Minimalist archives, and I came across this article that talks about the idea of doing a "shopping fast." I also found a trio of interviews here  that wasprobably themost informative part. Quick refresher: a fast is a time of intentionally giving something up for the sake of a spiritual/philosophical time of growth. Think Lent. So this family decided that they were going to fast from shopping for anything but true essentials - food, toiletries, etc - for 1 year. I read it and thought it sounded like a great idea! We've been working on minimalizing recently, and part of what it's made me realize is that we really simply purchase too much stuff. So when I read this idea, I thought it sounded great. What I didn't expect was for Kyra to agree to it immediately! Here are our reasons:

1. We need to minimalize more. Our hope is to move into a small house (less than 400ft2) in the country within the next 2 years. In order for us to physically fit in that space, we need to have fewer things than we currently own! This won't be possible if we keep amassing more and more stuff.

2. We buy too much stuff. We both feel that we shop more for pleasure than for actual need. When we're stressed/tired/bored, sometimes getting something new just seems like an easy pick-me-up.

3. We're carrying consumer debt. It's not a horrible ammount, but until about a year ago we'd never carried a credit card balance for more than 1 month. For the past year we've been "trying" to get our balance paid off, but we've made little/no headway, despite me working a small side-job.

4. We don't want our kids to learn our shopping habits: Our kids are old enough to see stuff and want it. We're experiencing the toy aisle meltdowns. Maybe this is the nuclear option, but we want to be able to start teaching them now that joy doesn't come from things.

Next step: defining the terms of our fast. Hopefully that goes as smoothly :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Desination

So I've called this a journey and every journey needs a destination, right? My first thought was that our goal in our journey to simplicity looks something like this picture - rural, pristine, farmhouse, farm animals, the pond where I'm fly fishing to bluegill and crappy in the summer, woods where I'm hunting with my sons (only one of whom has actually been born so far) in the fall. But then I realized that this place isn't our destination at all - it's essentially a big collection of really cool stuff - the pond, animals, the barn, the treestand. Yes, Kyra and I want to raise our family on a small farm, but it's not because we want a farm - it's because we want to give our children and ourselves a different lifestyle and to raise them with the work, discipline, and social freedom that will accompany that lifestyle. We also care about providing them and ourselves with healthy, grass-raised, local food that we've managed ourselves. So yes, I love this picture and the place looks positively perfect, but this isn't what I want. I want healthy kids turning into strong adults. I want young adults who can recognize when society is trying to manipulate them. I want children who are capable of anything that needs to be accomplished and are confident that they can do it. I want teens who know who they are and aren't going to let others convince them that they need to be someone else. I want a family that is connected to nature and the seasons and all the different but unique aspects of every part of the year. This is our destination, and I definitely hope that we can keep from confusing the destination with the path along the way.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Starting the Journey

If we're being honest, my wife, Kyra, and I started this journey quite a while ago, but it's just now that we're actually starting to put the metal to the road. For the past several years we've been shaping our shared vision of the life we want to live, and even more the life we want to provide for our children. I think where we went down a somewhat different path than a lot our peers is when we realized we didn't want our children just to have the 2.0 or 3.0 version life we had, but that we genuinely want to place their childhood in a setting that will equip them in specific ways. We realized thatwe want something different for our children and for ourselves. With that, we're trying to move forward with intentionality.