Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Buying Less and Loving More

I have been thinking a lot lately about trying to be more frugal in several areas in my life. I am not sure what has brought this on; perhaps it is the "are we or aren't we in a recession" debate; it could be that we will have a newborn here in August and will be spending more than we are now; or it could be related to my ongoing desire to cut down on trash and just generally reduce/reuse/recycle more.

Let me be clear in the fact that we aren't suffering for cash over here (not that there is much extra at the end of the month); we both have great jobs; but lately I know we both have felt that our spending and overall purchasing has been somewhat wasteful, and so we are trying to be smarter.

I was reading a new blog last night called (yes, I found it because I was doing a Google search on feeding a family on a budget and spending less than $75 a week on groceries). I was struck by a post that Lynnae had put up about Minimalism. It really struck a chord with me.

Minimalism Means Less Clutter

Chris and I have always liked to have a lot of open space wherever we are living--be that in our first apartment, the 900 square foot house we rented in Connecticut, or our current 2,700 square foot house. We have tried not to fill up our space just because we have more of it to fill.

That has proven to be a challenge with James--of course he needs toys and such, but pretty much all of his toys fit in a great organized little space that Gini helped me to put together. I am mindful of not buying him a new toy on every outing (although Chris struggles with this a bit more than I do.) I read somewhere that toddlers really only need a few toys to keep them occupied, or else they become overwhelmed. I think that seems to be the case for James. I pull out a basket filled with cars, blocks, trains or books in the morning, and then switch it with another box after his first nap, and then another in the evening. He is pretty much content with that system so far, and I don't need to have a toy room or playroom to store all of his things in.

There is other types of clutter in our home, including my incessant need to buy books--but we are working on it. For some reason, counters free of clutter make me happy and sane

Minimalism Means Less Waste

"If I bring less stuff home, I don’t have as much opportunity to waste," as Lynnae says on her blog. I think that Chris and I used to shop as a form of entertainment. But about a year ago, we had a talk about that and have stopped doing it for the most part. Instead we spend time together in the backyard, or playing with James, or going for a walk. I cull the paper online every week to see what sorts of activities are gong on, like car shows, parades, craft shows, etc., to make fun outings for us to attend that don't cost much money.

Does that mean that we don't buy anything? Well, no, but we do try to keep it to essentials, or things that will enrich our lives in some way.

We have been buying less groceries and recycling more, and I know that has meant less trash waste. Our garbage pickup is twice a week. We used to have a huge barrel full or garbage, and I mean STUFFED with probably 6 or 8 bags twice a week. Now we maybe have three bags twice a week. We have a lot less food waste, because we are trying to smart about menu planning and shopping, as well as using our pantry the way it is meant to be used--for stockpiling essentials, not, candy (eh hem, Skittles, Starburst, cookies and the like--which has been difficult as of late).

While our garbage has been reduced, our recycling has definitely increased. Recycle pick-up is only twice a month--that is so BACKWARDS, don't you think? If anything, we could use one trash pick up and one recycle pick up a week.

Minimalism Means Learning to be Content

I think that there is a tendency to have more, want more, buy more. I remember my first really great full-time job as a Marketing Associate in a regional theatre. I was so excited to be making $22,000 a year! It seemed like so much more than the $16,000 I had made at a smaller theater the year prior. My boss had said "Now, remember, when you make more money, you spend more money." She was right. Every new job I have had, I should have banked the extra--but do we ever do that? No, we buy the new car, get a nicer apartment, make clothes shopping a habit, eat out more, you name it. I don't regret that I did all of that fun stuff, but how much of it have I really needed?

I like to look at it this way--if I never made another dollar to spend on entertainment and extras, would I still be happy? ABSOLUTELY! I have my husband and my boy, the rest of my family and my close friends, and that is all I need. Would I miss Old Navy and sushi and mindless shopping at Target? Yup. But does that stuff put a smile on my face? Maybe for the moment--but not for the long term.

Minimalism Means Really Loving What I Have

By embracing Minimalism, I cut out everything but what I really love. Lynnae talks about the Laura Ingalls Wilder book series, and how Laura only had one doll and that was her most precious thing. I wonder, is there any one item I have that is totally precious to me? (Other than my family and my animals?) I might be hard pressed to pick one thing. AND THAT IS BECAUSE I HAVE SO MANY THINGS.

This stuff has been on my mind for a while (can you tell??) Here are a few more things I am thinking about:
  • Turning off my TV for a week. We definitely watch too much. I asked Chris last night, after the news, after Idol, and after Jeopardy, did we really see anything that left a lasting impression on us, or enriched us in someway? (Other than David Cook's yet again amazing performance on Idol, the answer was no.) We need to read more books, play more games, take more walks and just BE together more. My fellow Blogger Stephanie is on day 4 of her own TV-less trial (you can read about that here.)
  • Make my own bread. I have a bread machine and for a while I was making tons of homemade bread. How hard is it really, when you aren't doing the mixing, kneading or baking? And I know how much Chris loves the smell of homemade bread when he walks in the door after work.
  • Take more walks outside, not on the treadmill. When I am on the treadmill, I mindlessly watch the View or some other crap like that. When I am outside and James is in the jogging stroller, we talk (well, talk between huffing and puffing) I point out birds, he counts trees, you get the idea.
  • Finish my new book. I begged Chris to change our bedroom lamps to a taller kind that would actually cast light on whatever you were reading. I wanted to read before bed every night. I did it for about a week, and then I relapsed into watching the news in bed before falling asleep. There's nothing like filling your head with the latest meth bust, child shot while walking to school or three-car pile-up right before laying your head on your pillow.
I'll start with that little list first, and see how far I get.

I added a few new blogs in my blogroll, including "No Impact Man," "Crunchy Chicken," and "More Deliberate Every Day." These are blogs being written by individuals who have taken the three R's to a new level, and I am inspired and amazed by how they are incorporating "living deliberately" into their own lifestyles.

And one final note--I said to Chris the other day that I am somewhat amazed at how the term "green" is popping up everywhere. I am totally conscious of big business turning green. It can only have some perceived potential profit impact for them to be doing so--I can't imagine that Exxon Mobil has had a sudden change of heart. It makes me suspicious, like when major cigarette companies started running "smoking is harmful" ad campaigns a few years ago. I also think that recent comments by Al Gore related to this "green washing" effect are right on the money. However--if it helps the environment even a little bit, I am here to support it.

If you made it all the way to the end, thanks for reading!


Gini said...

I enjoyed reading this Allison. And I think a lot of people have this in their own mind, I know I do. It is surely a sign of how things are changing. The poor economy has hit everyone hard. But for me, everytime I think of changes, I have to think, small changes by small changes. When we got married 16 years ago our life plan was to have the best we could and provide for our kids over and above what our parents did. And when we both worked, we worked very hard toward that. Now its just Bill doing the working - but still harder than ever, just to have "it all". Today, we are there. Big house, big cars, 3 kids, 3 dogs, lots of everything. Almost overwhelming at times. It's hard to imagine changing ones way of thinking from - work hard to have the best in life that you can to living minimally. But it's worth trying. One step at a time I guess.

Allison said...

Thanks! It is the American way, I guess, to want to live the best you can. And I am not saying that having a big house and lots of stuff is detrimental, (Puh leeze, I adore your house!) But I just think it might be time for Chris and I to step back and take a breath and appreciate what we have. I think you are right on about making "small" changes. I'm not ready to take on cloth diapers composting in my kitchen, or asking Chris to ride his bike to work and I may not ever be.

carolyn said...

Hey Allison thanks for popping by Willow House. Just been having a quick look at your blog, you have such a beautiful family (human and animal.
I found this post very interesting, I think one does tend to get into the habit of buying things and quite often its the buzz of buying that gives the pleasure not the item. I have a couple of friends, Mother and daughter, who are always buying clothes and then taking them back the next day!
Anyway, I read this book last year:
Not Buying It:My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine
and found it absolutely fascinating. It inspired me (just for a moment) to have a go at not buying it myself. It's certainly worth a read.

Jerolyn said...

I enjoyed this post as well and have to say that Darin and I certainly don't have the "best of the best" or the "most of the most" and honestly that's ok with us because I can say we live within our means and are virtually debt free other than house and van...and I am proud of that fact. I won't lie and say I never look at beautiful homes and cars and "stuff" and say "wouldn't it be nice, or I wish we had that, or maybe someday we could..." But for now I am truely happy with what I have been blessed with, a outstanding family and a load of awesome friends. You included of course!
Thanks for the great post!
Live Simply.

Kim said...

Hear Hear! What is it they say - necessity is the mother of invention? Sometimes it takes a kick in the pants (or wallet!) to make us do things we should have been doing all along. It's so important to strike a balance between what you want and what you need, and to decide what it is that makes you truly happy. Coming from a meager upbringing, it certainly wasn't the "things" we had (or didn't have) that make up my most precious memories. In fact, it's just the opposite. It's getting 3 hot dogs for a buck at Xtra Mart or eating pork chops for months because the butcher had a great deal on a whole pig. To this day, I get so much joy from recreating the crazy peasant meals we ate as kids (some of which are too embarrassing to describe or admit to publicly!!). Gini and Chris, you know what I mean!
Great post, Allison.

alice c said...

It is so important to understand the issues at stake and make informed decisions. That way you can protect the world that your children will grow up in.

Denise said...

Wonderful! This is something that I am striving for, too. Not only will this help preserve dollars in our pockets and our wordly resources, but it will also preserve the values that we all grew up on. xo

Kim said...

Can I just say you soooo inspired me!! I totally agree with everything you said!!