Sunday, October 24, 2010

Down in Frugal Rock

One of the key tenets of minimalism is frugality. This doesn't mean that Garrett and I aspire to live in a cardboard box (though he sometimes fantasizes about living in a van). It's more about resourcefulness.

Examining the material goods you own is a good first step on the path to minimalism. When you think about it, a lot of the stress (and debt) in your life can be attributed to THINGS and the pursuit thereof. Our obsession with acquiring things can be harmful to ourselves and to the environment. (Check out "The Story of Stuff" for more insight.)

It's rewarding to look through your belongings and think seriously about why you own them. Ask yourself:
1) How often do I use (or wear) this?
2) Have I ever used this?
3) Will I ever use this?
4) Is this broken?
5) Don't I have three others of this?
6) Could I put this closet space to better use?
7) Could someone else enjoy this more if I donated it or sold it?
8) Do I really want to pack this when we move again?

Bit by bit, Garrett and I have gone through most of the corners of our apartment. Such a task can be overwhelming, so it's best to break it down into more manageable chunks. Start with one bureau. The next day, move onto one closet. Later, tackle a drawer, cabinet, or bookshelf. Another strategy is to choose a surface area (say, a desktop or a tabletop) and clean it. Not just take things off it and stuff them into drawers, but really look at them and decide if they're worth keeping.

As part of our downsizing, we've donated clothes, shoes, and hats to Goodwill. (They'll even take your used eyeglasses.) We've trashed odds and ends that were just taking up space. I recycled old papers I haven't touched since filing them away. I gave half-used-but-still-fresh beauty products (shampoos, hand creams, etc.) to friends and co-workers. We've given blankets and towels to the Humane Society. (We had enough sheets -- if not enough air mattresses -- to sleep a family of ten.) I've sold a number of books to the used bookstore around the corner -- though you'll never catch Garrett doing that!

I've also tried to minimize the amount of trash I produce by recycling even more. I placed a gift bag next to my desk for scraps of paper (old to-do lists, receipts, etc.), so that I will recycle them instead of throwing them in the nearby wastebasket.

Of course this system doesn't work if you turn around the next day and buy a bunch of new things. The other side of the frugality coin is to think seriously about your purchases. When Garrett thinks about a big purchase, he writes it down, along with the date. He revisits the note 30 days later to decide if he still wants it. That's restraint! Other bloggers have suggested that, if you buy something new, you should donate something old -- so it balances out.

You can take the project as far as you'd like. Some people set a cap at 100 personal items. I'm not ready for that quite yet. Our next project might involve bigger items, like a sofa.

By reducing the number of things we own, we've added to our serenity. Our place is neater. And, hey, there are fewer things to clean! There's also a light, happy feeling that goes along with getting rid of THINGS.

We're moving towards independence by limiting our possessions. Most people work long, hard hours so they can buy cars/video games/clothes/etc., and then they work longer and harder so they can earn more money to buy better cars/video games/clothes/etc. When you limit yourself to the essentials, you can be satisfied with what you have. You can step off the consumerism hamster wheel!

Alright, I'm stepping off my soapbox for now. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Independence, Meaningfulness, and Serenity

The blog is back!

Apologies to friends and family disappointed by the lack of posts since July. I'd like to think of it as a sabbatical. We now return to blogging with a sense of eagerness and purpose!

At the beginning of September, Garrett and I embarked on a journey. As we started our third year in Houston, we reflected on where we had been and where we would like to go from here. Thus began Project: Minimalism.

Prompted by a news story, we started exploring blogs about living simply. One of our favorites is Zen Habits. As stated on that blog, the philosophy underlying minimalism is this:

1) Identify what's most important to you.
2) Eliminate everything else.

Simple but powerful!

I'd like to use this blog as a forum to document our journey and explain our rationale.

In the first few weeks of minimal living, we identified our goals. Here are our lists --

1) Nurturing my relationship with Garrett
2) Working with and on behalf of children, especially those with disabilities
3) Staying fit and healthy
4) Living near nature, among a community with shared values
5) Living a debt-free life

1) Kristin
2) Finishing my PhD
3) Becoming more autonomous
4) Being healthy
5) Being creative

Together we decided that our mantra will be "Independence, Meaningfulness, and Serenity." When we examine how we spend our time, energy, and money, we will ask ourselves, "Is this helping me achieve independence, meaningfulness, or serenity?" If the answer is no, we should probably place our efforts elsewhere.

I hope that this blog will add to the meaningfulness of our lifestyle -- or at least some clarity! Stay tuned for more ideas and achievements.