Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Category: Minimalist (page 2 of 8)

Great Minimalist Blogs (Plus Three Books & A Group)

Over the past year, as I’m researching topics or getting advice from friends, I’ve found a few good minimalist blogs that I thought I’d pass along.

Becoming Minimalist

If you need a dose of inspiration to pursue a life with less stuff, try Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist. He’s been living a life of rational minimalism for years in Arizona with his family. His posts are usually not very tactical, but are always motivational. Start with this blog if you need to be convinced of the merits of minimalism or if you need an infusion of inspiration to move forward on your own journey. Becker has also written the best book I’ve found yet on embracing minimalism with kids, Clutterfree with Kids and his book Simplify, which I’ve never read is constantly hitting the non-fiction best-sellers list on Amazon.

Zen Habits

This is not strictly a blog about minimalism; it’s a blog about changing your everyday habits for the better. In his blog, Zen Habits, Leo Babauta writes about topics ranging from how to get out of a funk to how to lose weight and keep it off. He’s developed a menagerie of habits that make life sweeter, and he discusses in detail how to make good habits and how to break bad ones. This is currently one of my favorite blogs because Babauta outlines concrete steps to help readers form better habits. I’m currently using his advice on leveling up to gain healthier eating habits and lose weight.

Minimalist Mom

I subscribed to The Minimalist Mom last year when Rachel Jonat was not writing much due to the birth of her third child. Then she moved from the Isle of Man to Vancouver and suddenly her posts have become regular and fairly relevant. She usually writes about something specific, like getting a smaller fridge or a new second-hand clothing website that she’s found. If you’re a parent, this is a great place to get ongoing ideas for life with your kids.

Marie Kondo

I haven’t been following any ongoing dialogue from Kondo, but her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is by far the best way to reduce stuff and get organized. I love, love, love her book and the KonMari Method. The book is a somewhat quirky and indispensible must-read for anyone trying to create a life with less.

Find Other Minimalists in DC or Your City

I also follow The Minimalists and, while I don’t usually find their blog entries useful (they focus more on their tours, books, and upcoming documentary), one thing they’ve done well is to establish minimalist groups in major cities across the country. There’s one in DC. To join, like the Minimalist.org: Washington, DC facebook page and you’ll be invited to meet-ups about once a month. You’re also treated to random articles found by the club members. I’ve enjoyed lurking on the site for a while and someday hope to join a group meeting.

Which blogs inspire you?

Why (and Why Not To) Shop at a Thrift Shop?

Halloween is here and this holiday is generally the only time I set foot inside a thrift shop to buy something. Despite my minimalism project, this past year was no different. I dropped stuff off at Good Will many times, but I wasn’t shopping there. However, my team at Opower decided to dress up as Minions for Halloween and I needed a pair of overalls to complete the ensemble.

Minion Costume

Minion Costume (w/o Overalls)

There is a thrift store near my house (Treasure Trove) that benefits the local INOVA Hospitals and my search for overalls was the perfect excuse to try it.

For being a place that sells random, unused items, Treasure Trove was refreshingly clean and organized. I quickly discovered that they didn’t have any overalls, but by that point I didn’t care anymore because I’d found the rack with my shirt size and was having a good time perusing it.

What’s so great about a thrift shop?

Brands

This store had some really good brands. People in DC spend a lot on clothing, but it’s nice to see their lightly used items being recycled! The shelves were filled with everything from Banana Republic to Calvin Klein to Loft (one of my favorite stores). Not everything was a gem, but there was enough for me to find about eight items to try on.

Quality

Everything was in really good shape. I found nothing that had stains, holes, or anything else that would suggest someone else once owned and wore these clothes. Some items were wrinkled, that’s about it.

Prices

Everything I took into the dressing room was between $7-$13, even the two sport jackets (Banana Republic & Ann Taylor). Not too shabby.

When not to shop at a thrift shop?

Don’t buy something at a thrift shop if you answer “no” to any of these questions:

  1. Is this versatile and well-made?
  2. Do you love it? Does it look great on you?
  3. Is this something you’ve been thinking about getting for a while?
  4. Do you have the money?

Even though the stuff is cheap, you still shouldn’t buy something you don’t need!

I got two shifts for $18.

Thrift Shop Finds

Thrift Shop Finds

I could potentially be hooked. Next time I need something, I know where I’m going first.

Have you found a good thrift store? Where is your favorite place to buy used?

How to Be a Zero TV Family

We don’t have a TV in our house.

That admission is less shocking than it once was. The number of people who have dropped their cable subscription or never had one currently stands at around 10% and that number is growing. According to new research from Forrester as reported by NPR this week, that number will climb to 50% for adults under 32 by 2025. For us, that doesn’t mean that we never watch shows or movies online. It means that we don’t spend time with the TV on in the background, we don’t watch commercials, and we don’t watch anything we don’t really want to see.

We discovered the Zero TV lifestyle by accident many years ago. Nathan got a seasonal winter job working in Medora, ND, requiring us to pay for a house and an apartment for the winter. We didn’t want two cable bills too, so we bought a much cheaper Netflix subscription and spent a cozy winter watching Arrested Development online. In a small town in the middle of the prairie, you’d think TV would be an essential escape, but we quickly realized that we were wasting $50 a month paying for 140 channels we didn’t need to watch. It was an awesome and eye-opening winter. The next time we moved, we simply didn’t hook up cable TV and we got rid of our TV too.

What I Love About Being a Zero TV Household

  1. No cable bill: At $50 a month, we’re saving $600 a year by not paying for cable.
  2. No commercials: OK, there’s the occasional commercial online, but I don’t have to sit through 8 of them to watch a 22-minute show. Not watching commercials probably saves me money too. My kids aren’t bothering me about the latest toy craze and I don’t waste my time learning about something I don’t need. Granted, many people now have TiVO, but that’s an extra expense I don’t have to worry about.
  3. No politics: During the elongated political campaign season in the United States, the attack ads and constant news updates come fast and furious and they make me furious too. Imagine a world where you can simply turn them off. We did. Now, when I happen to catch political updates on CNN while waiting for a flight, they seem odd and petty. That alone reinforces my decision to go TV-free.
  4. More productivity: It’s easy to turn the TV on in the background, but that can be distracting. After a hard day’s work, I don’t immediately turn on the TV. Now, I do something else like read to my kids, finish a project, or grocery shop online. TV makes it too easy to lounge around. Not having a TV opens up a lot of time to do something better.
  5. Raising readers: There’s a big difference between kids that are constantly watching TV and those that are playing outside and reading. Pay attention and you’ll see it too. Too much TV has been proven to reduce vocabulary and math skills and decreases attention span, according to Professor Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal.  It’s easier to get kids to read when there isn’t a TV in the room.

 What Do We Miss About TV?

Sports events. In particular, we miss watching Badgers Football and the Superbowl at home. My husband wishes he could watch Nascar races. My kids aren’t up-to-date on their pop-culture because they haven’t seen the latest shows. Of course, they are only 5 and 2.

We get around these problems by socializing more. We can go to the DC Badgers game watch events or over to a friend’s house for the Superbowl. ESPN3 will sometimes stream the Badgers games online.

How to Be a Zero TV Family

So, how do we do it? Here are some specific steps you can take to become a Zero TV family.

Stop your cable subscription and get rid of the TV.

Not having a physical box at the center of your living room does wonders for encouraging you to spend your evenings doing something else you enjoy. The cash saved is nice too.

Figure out which of your favorite shows are offered online for free via the network website.

This may soon be a thing of the past, but I watch Downton Abbey on PBS.org and used to catch every episode of The Amazing Race on cbs.com. Most shows are posted within 24 hours of the original viewing date.

Subscribe to Netflix, Hulu+, HBO, Amazon Prime, or the particular sports package you miss.

You certainly don’t need all of these!! We only use Netflix and that works great for us, but some shows/movies aren’t streaming (like Game of Thrones) so we wait for the disks or subscribe to see them another way. For sports, you can subscribe to MLB, NFL GamePass, and ESPN online. If there’s a particular sport you’re after, Google it. I’m sure there’s a subscription for everything.

Download one or two news apps on your phone and read them daily.

If you like to watch the news, save yourself some time and read only the headlines you care about. Every paper and news station has an app today. Download it and get your news whenever you want. Washington Post now has a subscription fee, but you can read stories from NBC 4 Washington for free.

Limit screen time for kids.

Just because the TV is gone doesn’t mean kids will stop surfing the internet or playing games. All screen time takes away valuable outdoor and reading time. So, set limits up-front and stick to them. If you start early enough kids won’t even miss the screen time.

Do you have additional tips for becoming a Zero TV family? Share them!

What I Learned From One Year of Minimalism

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I didn’t quite make my monetary goal for the year, but I learned an incredible amount that was far more valuable. Here, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned by trying to reduce “stuff” and obligations this year.

#1 – Marie Kondo can help you get organized

If you really want to reduce clutter and get your life organized, the KonMari method, which Marie Kondo outlines in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, is, by far, the best method to use.

Her method is simple.

  1. Discard “stuff” by considering things by category (clothing, books, papers, etc), NOT by room. Ask yourself if each item sparks joy. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. You’re left with a household of things you truly love. I was surprised by how many things I used to have that I rather disliked.
  2. Organize completely. Don’t buy anything fancy, just organize using the storage room you have and maybe a couple of shoeboxes.

I have yet to make it to the “organize completely” phase, but I have been floored by how well the “discard” phase works. Of all of the methods I tried this year, I found Marie Kondo’s to be the most useful. Her book is a quick read and I highly recommend it.

#2 – Clean 10 minutes a day

Set a timer and see how much you can clean in just 10 minutes. Do it every day. This is the only way I can keep my house reasonably clean and it’s really painless. I can get a lot done in 10 minutes and when that timer goes off, I’m done. No guilt for anything left out, I can get that tomorrow because I know I’ll have another 10-minute opportunity then. Some days I get so much done that I’m motivated to continue – not because I have to – but because I want to. This habit gives me a fresh start to every day and it’s really easy.

#3 – Wait 30 days before you buy something

I’m not talking about cereal or deodorant. Go ahead and buy those when you need them. However, for items that you’ll use over and over again (that will persist long after you purchase them) give yourself a chance to think twice about them. The 30-day rule lets you consider other options or do some research. It also shows you how much you want an item. If you can’t stop thinking about it for 30 days, then it’ll probably be something you enjoy for a long time, so buy it.

#4 – Increase automatic savings when you get a promotion

If you get a 3% raise and you’re already sending 8% of your paycheck to your 401(k), increase the amount you save to 9-11% right away when you get a raise. You’ll still feel like you got a raise (unless you’re very disciplined and save the entire thing – kudos to you), but you’ll also painlessly increase your savings, which could mean an extra six figures or more when you retire.

#5 – Experience gifts are awesome

It turns out that wine, chocolate, trips, and my personal favorite, massages, have become my favorite things to give and receive. Experience gifts are consumable; things that people use up, so they don’t stay around the house. They make the best presents because they build memories instead of a stockpile of “stuff”. The Minimalist Mom has a great list of 90 clutter-free gifts for any occasion.

#6 – Don’t throw away anything that doesn’t belong to you

Even kids notice when something is missing. If anyone catches you in the act of discarding something that’s not yours, the hit to his or her trust is massive. It’s not worth it and eventually #7 happens.

#7 – Your family will start de-owning stuff on their own

I think my husband jumped on board shortly after I’d cleared off my side of the dresser for the first time since we bought it. It looked like the border between Haiti & the Dominican Republic.

Haiti & The Dominican Republic

Our dresser looked like this…only in our case the bare side was the best. Photo Credit: National Geographic

Our closet also became easier to use. Eventually I noticed that he’d gone through his massive T-shirt collection and had thrown a bunch away. He didn’t tell me he did it, but he did. Finally, we sat down and considered the family DVD collection together.

When you first start to de-own, it can be really hard to do it alone, knowing that the dent you’re making is only a fraction of the total family “stuff”. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’ve noticed my family jumping on board, slowly but surely. Nathan has even mentioned (with a hint of gratitude that he may never admit to) how much cleaner certain rooms are now.

#8 – Time is your most precious resource

Seriously. Assuming you have basic necessities covered, nothing else matters (well, except your health). My new goal is focused on carving out more time for the things that matter (including health) because time debt is no longer something I’m willing to live with.

#9 – Shopping for groceries online is the best lifehack ever

I save 1-1.5 hours each week by shopping for groceries online and then picking them up at the store. I also save loads of money because I can easily see my total and kick things out of my cart. There are just so many very cool ways that shopping for groceries online makes my life easier. The link above to my online grocery-shopping manifesto is worth checking out if you’d like to try it. I lay out all the pros and cons.

#10 – Minimalism ruins the fun of shopping

I can’t just make an impulse purchase anymore. For example, if I’m shopping for clothes, I can’t just buy the first shirt I like. No, now there’s a little voice inside my head asking annoying questions like, “Is this well-made?” “Is this versatile?” “Does it look amazing on me?” It’s a great voice, but sometimes I wish I hadn’t swallowed the red pill and changed my life forever.

#11 – It is impossible to get kids to get rid of stuff

Many will tell you they’ve succeeded in getting their kids to give away their toys. I’ll believe it when I figure out a way that works with my kids.

#12 – One extracurricular activity per week per family member is more than enough

This rule helps us all minimize the craziness that comes with too many obligations. It keeps us (the parents) from turning into a shuttle service and it helps us all prioritize what activities we really want to be involved in. I’ve also found that constricting activities to weekdays is helpful. That leaves our weekends freed up to explore and go on Family Adventure Days. Alison has soccer, Maddie is in gymnastics, and I stay late at work one night a week for yoga. Perhaps this only works because our kids are so young, but the rule works for us right now.

#13 – Minimalism is a journey

At first, I naively thought I could organize my entire life and then sit back and reap the rewards. Then the junk mail showed up and our kids had birthdays and received a bunch of presents. Freeing yourself from your stuff only works as well as your system for ensuring new stuff doesn’t catch you offhand. Figure out how you’ll defend yourself before you get started and you’ll have an easier time sticking to your wonderful new excess-free world.

One Year of Minimalism

I find it funny that my list naturally came out to an “unlucky” 13 items because I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon this project for the last year. It’s changed how I think about the world and how I make decisions daily. I am, without a doubt, living a life closer to my dream life. I am excited to continue it with a new goal and I’m glad that you’ve been reading.

Share this post if you know someone who could benefit from it!

New Year, New Goal: Happy Anniversary to my Minimalist Project!

One year ago this week, I set out to achieve a goal:

By September 22, 2015, I will “earn” $25K by reducing spending, getting rid of things we don’t need, or earning a little extra doing something I love.

That date was last Tuesday, so how did I do against that goal?!

I earned $10,330.51!!

Do I feel bad about missing the larger $25K goal? Absolutely not. This has been one of the best, most enlightening projects I’ve ever done! I also realized halfway through that tying this journey to a dollar amount was a pretty terrible idea.

#1 Lesson Learned

Why? Because it’s not the money that matters, the real reason to embrace having less “stuff” is that it leads directly to having more time.

Time to spend with the people you love

Time to travel

Time to learn a new hobby

Time to try a new recipe

Time to relax

Time to read

Time to learn

Time to be you.

Time is the only thing that matters and this year I’ve given myself a lot more time.

How I Saved $10,000

I also ended up saving a substantial amount of money that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Who wouldn’t want an extra $10,000? That’s huge! Where did that come from?

  • $1288.67: We refinanced into a lower cost mortgage in March and since then have saved over $1000.
  • $4219.77: This is the amount we’ve saved simply by not buying extra stuff we don’t need for the house (furniture, knick knacks, etc). It’s amazing to see this amount consolidated into one number. That’s a lot of money that I’m happy I still have.
  • $1410: We paid off our car with our tax return and have been saving the extra funds.
  • $3412.07: This is miscellaneous savings. Extra funds from coming in under budget on groceries, bills, and other budget categories. We saved most of the money from raises we were lucky enough to get this year, I sold a few things, and saved all of the interest earned on various accounts.

If I’d had more motivation to make money, I also would have tried harder to sell some of the items we de-owned. I have a huge pile downstairs of the things I’ve earmarked through the KonMari Method. The only reason this stuff is still around is – quite frankly – because I’m being a bit lazy. However, I like to think of my laziness simply as prioritizing time spent with the kids in the evening over making progress on this goal. It will be donated or sold by the end of the year.

Stuff We're Getting Rid Of

Stuff We’re Getting Rid Of This Year

New Goal

I loved this project so much that, for the next year, I’ve decided to continue it, but with a slightly different goal:

Over the next year (by Sept 30, 2016), I will finish organizing using the KonMari Method and then concentrate on finding at least two hours a day to work toward long-term goals such as starting my own business and writing a book.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and joined me in the past year! Especially my husband, Nathan, our two daughters and my friend, Jossie, who have all gone above and beyond in their support this year.

Here’s to another great year!

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