Shopping Simply

Simplicity changes several aspects of your life: your physical surroundings, your finances, and your schedule. Simplicity has changed so much of what I do, but the biggest change has probably been in the way I shop.

As a minimalist, I try to avoid shopping, but things wear out. I use them up. A new need arises. At some point every minimalist has to go shopping. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when it’s time to buy:

Know what you need. Before heading off to the mall take inventory of what you already have. Know the styles and colors of your shirts in order to determine if a new shirt is really needed. Know what types of shoes you have. The moment you’re standing in front of the dazzling shirt display of many colors is not the time to try to remember which shirts you already have. Know before you go. If you take inventory before you go you may discover that you need less than you originally thought.

Shop for versatility. When choosing an item try to go for versatile pieces that can be worn with several outfits. A white collared shirt will get more use than a silver top with sequins. Focus on the fundamentals and only get the specialized stuff when necessary.

Buy only what you need. Knowing what you need is half the battle. This should eliminate aimless wandering in the store. It will also help you stay on track when that friendly salesperson comes suggesting things for you to buy. There are some stores where I have to go with a detailed list of what I will buy because I get in trouble when I just go in without a strategy (Teavana anyone?). Have a plan and stick to it. Also beware of the group pricing ploy. If you need one then just buy one. So what if you save a dollar by buying three? Is it worth having two more shirts that you have to store and wash? Only take advantage of the group pricing if you need that many of that particular item.

Buy for quality. I wrote about quality here. I believe that if you’re spending your money you should get the best use out of it. I believe in buying high quality items even if that means buying less. Higher quality items will serve you better and last longer.

Use the envelope system. Instead of using the debit card, use cash. Decide how much you will spend and put that amount into an envelope. Use only the cash in the envelope to make your purchases. This should eliminate impulse purchases and help you stay on budget.

Get in and get out. Once you have what you need, make your purchase and get out of the store as soon as possible. Don’t wander around looking in other stores and other departments. Minimize your exposure to the temptation of new, shiny merchandise.

Mindfulness is the key to shopping as a minimalist: being mindful of what you need and being mindful of the tactics stores use to get you to buy more. If you know what you need and buy only the things you need you can avoid the accumulation of clutter and the stress of buyer’s remorse.



Greed As Idolatry

I am surprised by how much I am learning as I pursue the simple life. I’ve learned about the world and the society in which we live, but I have also learned about myself. I see how I have been conditioned to behave like everyone else.

At the moment, I am reading an article by Timothy Keller: Counterfeit Gods. He argues, based on Colossians 3:5, that greed is idolatry. Generally, when people think of idolatry we think of statues and shrines. However, according to Ezekiel 14:3, we can set up idols in our hearts.

Keller rightly states that the human heart can take good things (career success, love, family, material possessions, etc.) and make them idols in our hearts. Keller says it beautifully: “Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”

I can see evidence of this in our world. What’s scary is that I can see evidence of this in my own life. I have been conditioned to be addicted to material possessions. Stuff.

If I saw something I liked, I had to have it. Since committing to minimalism, I have made great progress. But it’s still hard to walk by a gorgeous pair of shoes without whipping out the debit card, because in that moment, those shoes are more than footwear. They are fashion, and style, and self-confidence. They’re everything that will make my life better. They are the solution to every problem. They have become my idol.

Even if I do pass on the shoes, I think about them all night long, and try to find a way to make them mine. And all the while, I feel that this is normal. That use to be my reality. However, minimalism has taught me that this is not normal. Idolatry comes in many flavors, and extreme materialism is one of them (one that I have personal experience with). I realized that greed was an indication of a sick society and misplaced priorities, but I didn’t realize that it was idolatrous. As I read through Counterfeit Gods, I am learning that greed is more than a problem. It’s an idol.

I could tell you time after time when the thought of something new overruled good judgment. The promise of that new thing would suck me in every time. Sure, I’d be happy and giddy for a while but the newness wore off and I was back to normal. Lucky for me (retailers?) there was another big sale only a few days away. I’d have another opportunity to try to fill that internal need with more stuff. And that’s how you wind up with enough bath products to last for years.

I have been there. The need for stuff can dominate our thoughts almost to the point of obsession. The need for more can become the driving force in our lives. That is when it becomes idolatrous.

I like the solution that Paul give later in the chapter: seeking to know our Creator and become more like him. This should be the focus of our lives. It is so easy to get caught up in the new and beautiful, but if we focus on knowing and becoming more like God then greed won’t get a chance to take root.

Train your focus. Guard against greed and excess. Let your life God-driven, not greed-driven.




From Materialism to Minimalism

About 8 years ago, an ex-boyfriend diagnosed me with a severe case of materialsm. We were functionally engaged: the guy and I were planning to marry and he introduced me as his fiancèe, but we had no wedding date and I had no ring. It turns out that we were all wrong for each other and marrying him would have been a big mistake. I had several hesitations about him, and he had several about me. One of his hesitations was that he thought I was very materialistic.

When he said this to me, I scoffed at him and told him that the problem wasn’t that I was materialistic. The problem was that he was broke. I believed that he was intimidated by my stuff because he couldn’t afford that lifestyle.

Part of the problem is that I was listening to some theology that promoted the accumulation of stuff.  They advocated hoarding, calling it “abundance,” and taught that more stuff and more money indicated God’s blessing.

A few years later, I learned proper exegesis, and I realized that the theology I had embraced was questionable at best. I learned that money was not an indication of God’s blessing. I learned that God loves the poor and that he expects us to do the same (rather than condemn them for their lack of “faith”). I had a paradigm shift.

In 2011, I stumbled upon a website about minimalism. The idea was foreign to me, but somehow it struck a chord with me. I realized that my focus shouldn’t be on getting more and more stuff. My focus should be on living life to the fullest and helping others to do the same.

Since that time, I have embraced minimalism and have been working to root out materialism. Materialism is sneaky though. It has many faces. Sometimes it shows itself in our tendencies to stock up when there is a sale. We buy six bottles of shower gel because three just won’t do. It can show up as a desire to compete. Your friend has a stunning new purse and that makes you want one too. Materialism can show up as fashion obsession. We have to have the latest fashion items in the latest color, and we have to have them right now.

For me, contentment is the key to curbing materialism. When I see and appreciate what I already have it makes me less likely to get obsessed with what I don’t have. Yes, it would be awesome to have that new Too Faced eye palette, but I have a really nice palette already. I love the colors that I have. Why do I need more? Contentment says, “What I have is enough.” This attitude is like kryptonite to materialism.

Practicality also combats materialism. Yes, another purse would be nice.  But how much use will I get out of that purse? Where will it be stored? Would the money used to purchase it be better used elsewhere? Sometimes thinking things through is enough to redirect that desire to have more.

Embracing minimalism has brought me face to face with my own materialism. While I feel that I have made great progress, I still struggle with materialism sometimes. I still want things. The difference is that I have learned to be more content and to think more practically. These have been most helpful in rooting out materialism in my life (this is an ongoing process). What has helped you?

Enticed By More

Recently, my commitment to minimalism was tested. Big time. How? It was Lancome gift time, and I am a huge fan of their Genefique anti-aging serum. If I just purchased one vial of Genefique, I would get eight items for free!

Perhaps I should back up a little. I am recovering from a severe beauty product addiction. At one time I had enough beauty products to keep me and my family looking and smelling good for the next year (at least). I had no less than 30 tubes of lipstick. It was that serious.

As I browsed the cosmetics offers (why was I looking at them, anyway?) It took everything I had to navigate away from the page that was enticing me to buy. For some time I rationalized the potential purchase by saying that I was getting more for my money. What is the enticement of more?

  • More entices us by making us feel that we do not have enough. I do not have a vial of Genefique, this is true. But I have an array of skin care products that will last for months. So why would I need more?  I don’t. Not having enough is not the issue. The issue is that the ads and vendors entice us, making us feel that we do not have enough.
  • More makes empty promises. Part of the allure of more is that it promises to make us/our collections complete. I think that if I just have this one product, then I’ll have everything I need — until the next product or free gift comes along. More promises to add to our lives, to complete us. This is a promise that can never be filled with things. Things cannot make us complete. If anything, having more stuff robs us of precious time, space, and peace of mind.
  • More clouds our judgement. When staring at an 8-piece gift with purchase, I am not thinking about the fact that I have bills to pay. I am not thinking about the unused beauty products sitting under my bed. I am not thinking about the fact that I have no place to store these items. More blinds us to practical things. More fills our eyes with lust and sound judgement falls by the wayside.

More is not what it seems to be. It is not an indication that we do not have enough. It is not what will make us complete. And most of the time, more is not in your best interest over the long term. More is not better. It’s just more.

The Pride of Possessions

You can read my first article on the Lust of the Eyes here.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”

1 John 2:15-17

It’s unfortunate, but our stuff means a lot to us. We organize it. We clean it. We care for it — sometimes more than we care for people.

Curiously, our stuff means a lot to other people, too. People are very interested in our shoes, our clothes, our gadgets. They use these things to make an assessment of us. It determines how we are perceived. For so many, we are what we accumulate.

Is this why we accumulate? Not necessarily. We accumulate things for several reasons. Some things we accumulate for ourselves, — they satisfy a need in our lives. Some things we acquire simply because we want them. Some things we accumulate for emotional reasons (fear, desire for security) And some things we accumulate for others. We buy the car, the house, the clothes not only for how they make us feel, but also for how they make others feel about us.

Everyone wants to be liked. We all want to be affirmed and admired. This becomes a problem when we use stuff to gain that affirmation.

Dave Ramsey puts it this way:

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

It’s the pride of possessions described in 1 John 2:15-17. We take pride in what we have. While the lust of the eyes creates a desire within ourselves, the pride of possessions is an attempt to create desire in others. We want others to want what we have.

This stems from insecurity. When someone feels inadequate, they look for things to supply what they feel they are missing.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:15

I think that Jesus was spot on: one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. We are not defined by our stuff. We shouldn’t define ourselves by our possessions or define anyone else by theirs.

It’s really easy to get caught up in what clothes we wear, what handbags we carry, or what car we drive. It is also easy to define others by these things. We are conditioned to. But in order to simplify our lives, we have to change our thoughts about things.

Things are great when they meet a genuine need. We should definitely use what we have wisely and responsibly.

Things should not be used to achieve status – in our eyes or someone else’s. That is the pride of possessions. It is of the world, not from the Father. And it is all passing away.

The purses that I carry will eventually wear out. My car will eventually have to be replaced (a looooong time from now, I hope!). My makeup will eventually be used up. None of it lasts.

But whoever does the will of God abides forever. That’s a whole different perspective. If I could focus on the things that really last, it would change my life. Let’s face it: Jesus is not going to ask me about which purses I carried. At the end of my life, it will not matter what gadgets I had, what shoes I wore, or what car I drove. All that will matter is whether I did the will of God. That’s the status I want, and it can’t be bought.

Minimalism – Heart and Soul

Earlier today, I had an experience that caused me to question my commitment to minimalism. I looked at my bottle of perfume and decided that I would buy a new one. I love, love, love this fragrance and my employer is offering it to employees for almost 60% off. That’s an incredibly good deal. Being a bargain shopper, I decided to take advantage. That doesn’t sound like overconsumption. Minimalists wear perfume, too.

The problem is this: my current bottle of that fragrance is nearly full. Still, I decided to buy another – simply because it was a good deal. My aunt reminded me that I didn’t need another bottle because the one I have is full. I responded that my current bottle was the smaller size and would only last a few months. Surely that justifies purchasing another bottle, right?

After taking some time to think about it, I realized that I really don’t need another bottle of perfume. The urge to buy was partly fueled by my desire to get a good deal. But it was partly driven my tendency to stockpile. A few months worth of perfume should be enough for anybody. But my mind didn’t see what I actually had, it only saw what I didn’t have.

I consider myself an aspiring minimalist. I have a ways to go, but I have already begun simplifying my life. I have fewer clothes and body products. I buy less stuff. I get more use out of what I have. I have simplicity in my head, but is it in my heart?  Am I really living this thing out? Or is my commitment to simplicity so shallow that I can’t resist a good deal?

I look back at the progress I’ve made in simplifying my life. My attitude about stuff has changed dramatically. I have given away bags and bags of clothes and shoes. I have saved a lot of money. I have spent more time doing the things I love than ever before. This makes me want to simplify even more. I am thoroughly convinced that having fewer possessions leads to a fuller, freer life.

My life bears some of the fruits of minimalism, and I am really encouraged by that. It’s not just a cute idea, or something interesting to write about. This is how I live my life. It is a part of me. And getting caught up in the heat of the perfume moment does not change that.

Just because I’ve chosen to simplify doesn’t mean that I will never again feel the urge to purchase something that I like. What is does mean is that I will give careful consideration before I plop down the debit card. It means that I will determine whether the purchase will meet a genuine need, feed my need for security, or simply provide an emotional high. It means that I will buy only what is essential.

Minimalism isn’t about not feeling the urge to buy things. It’s about not giving in to the urge.

Do you still struggle with the urge to buy? How does it effect you? How do you get through it? I would love to hear about it. Comments are welcome.

Minimalist Hair

My hair is minimalist. Yes, I have minimal hair (about an inch), but that’s not what I mean.  My hair itself is minimalist. And yesterday, it taught me a lesson about beauty.

Recently, I cut all the relaxed hair from my head –  about seven inches. I was left with 1/2 inch of natural hair. It’s cute and it’s very low maintenance. Usually, I wet it, rub in some curl enhancer, add some oil, and go.

Since the “big chop” last month, I have been reading blogs and watching YouTube videos about which products to use on my newly shorn hair. The blogs caution readers against constantly buying more products to try, lest they end up with a collection of things they don’t like. So I read reviews and decided on one product. Yes, I just got one. Don’t look at me like that.

Yesterday I washed my hair before church. I really liked the way it looked after washing – with no products on it. It was curly and cute on its own. I worried that it would get frizzy or nappy when it dried, but I decided to see how it would turn out. I added a little oil for shine and went to work.

The curls held and it wasn’t frizzy for nappy. I was very pleased with the result, and it made me examine my supposed need for all the various hair products I’d like to try. Since everyone else is using hair smoothies, curl enhancers, and hair milks, I assumed that I should, too. I thought that I needed products designed for natural hair for it to look good. I don’t.

I think back on the many hours I spent reading blogs about hair and various product reviews. All this time was wasted. My hair does’t need a million different products. It has minimal needs.

This makes me want to rethink some of my other beauty “necessities.” Do I really need all the makeup I have? All the lotions, creams, and exfoliants? Maybe it’s time to simplify my beauty collection. *cringe*  Maybe it’s time that I stop looking at what everyone else is doing and discover what I need.

What is your beauty routine like? How have you simplified this part of your life? I’d love to hear stories. Feel free to leave comments, suggestions, or inspirational stories for me.

My Latest Downfall

I had good intentions, I really did. I went to Sephora a few days ago to pick up some foundation for my aunt. How nice of me, right?

Of course, once I crossed the threshold of the store, I felt a sense of euphoria. It had been a while since my last trip, and there were so many new things. Yes, I was there for my aunt, but it would be harmless to look around, right? After all, I thought, I’m a minimalist. I won’t buy anything. I’ll just look.

And look I did. Then, I tried on. Then, I’m ashamed to admit, I bought. I bought a lipstick and a lip gloss. And I wanted to buy more! If I had more money, I probably would have bought a bronzer, a blush, and a tube of mascara.

All the way home, I told myself how pathetic I was. I wouldn’t have felt so bad if I had only left with one thing, but I left Sephora with two things. I thought about all the lip products I have in my red bag at home. And I thought about the fact that I had fallen off the wagon. Again.

Once I stopped beating myself up, I found a more balanced perspective. I just ran out of my favorite lipstick, and I am about to use the last bit of the matching gloss. The shades that I bought are unlike anything I have. It really wasn’t a bad purchase. Minimalists do buy lipstick. It’s ok.

While it could have been worse, I also know that it could have been better. I don’t want to make unplanned purchases every time I go to the mall. So how can I avoid this kind of mistake in the future?

  • Never walk into a store casually. Know that stores are full of attractive things, and that those things are showcased so that you will buy them. The displays are intended to entice you to buy – as much as possible. Be aware of this walking in, and make a decision to resist.
  • Know your weaknesses. It’s important to know where you are most likely to slip. In my case, it’s makeup. Avoid the biggest temptations as much as possible.
  • Have a plan. Make a list. Set a budget. Stay on task.
  • Limit browsing. It was a mistake to go browsing in a store like Sephora – if you look long enough, you’re bound to find something you like. Don’t browse for fun. Don’t look at what you don’t need.

I’m hoping that my next trip to the mall is more successful. Though I did give in to temptation this time, I don’t consider myself a failure. I won’t consider myself a failure until I stop trying altogether.

Fear Exposed – The Root Of It All

I’ll admit it: I have a problem with bath products. I can’t even begin to describe the stash of bath products under my bed. To say that I collect various products in various scents is a gross understatement.

But it’s not all about smelling good (though part of it is about that). It’s not even all about the sales (though that’s part of it, too). Part of it is about the fear of not having it when I need it. This is at the root of it all.

It started when I was in college, and I didn’t have a car. So the summer before my first year I stockpiled all kinds of things that I didn’t want to run out of, from soap to ketchup packets. It was so bad that at the end of the year, I had a huge bin of bath products. There was enough to sustain my mother and me for six months.

As ridiculous as it may be, that same fear still lives in me. It’s the reason that I get a new stick of deodorant the minute my current stick reaches the halfway mark. It’s the reason I that I have three extra toothbrushes. It’s the reason that I go crazy when the Body Shop has a sale. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to physically run out of something because I somehow think that it will be catastrophic (like deodorant). Sometimes, it’s about buying it now because I’m not sure I will be able to buy it later. Either way, it’s the fear of running out that causes me to buy and buy and buy.

Committing to live simply has forced me to deal with this fear head on. I can’t just go to The Body Shop and mindlessly buy body butters. No, I have to deal with it for what it is: fear. I’ve been shopping based on fear for years. It’s interesting that no matter how much I bought, it didn’t make the fear go away. Sure, it would temporarily mitigate it, but the fear always came roaring back, and I would dutifully go and shop.

Now, when I start feeling anxious about my reserves, I have to work through the fear of running out. I have to remind myself of my ridiculous stash, and tell myself that I will not run out. I have to remind myself of my commitment to minimalism, and that shopping will not be consistent with my new lifestyle. I have to remind myself that I already have more than what I need. Usually, I have to think back to the root of the fear and address it.

Once again, it comes down to trusting God’s provision (see this blog post). Will I/Can I trust God to make sure that I have deodorant? It sounds silly, but this is what it’s about. For me, this is part of what minimalism is about: trusting God. Yes, clearing clutter is part of it. Yes, being free to live the life of my dreams is part of it. Saving money, unplugging from consumerism, downsizing, are all facets of minimalism. But for me, part of it is learning to trust God and his provision.

In less than a year, minimalism has improved my life. It has saved me money and helped me to clear clutter. I has helped me to unplug from the consumerist culture, and to give more thought to what I really need. It has given me a different focus. And it has forced me to confront one of my deepest fears. It has impacted me more than I thought it would, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Kitchen Sink

I have an embarrassing confession to make. If you took a look in my purse, you would never know that I am a minimalist. Twice this week, people commented on how much I have stuffed into my purse. People ask how I can carry it without back and/or shoulder pain. According to my coworker, I have everything in there but the kitchen sink.

Of course, I never intended to have a purse with a jungle inside. It just happened… very gradually. And that’s the way it tends to be: you add a little something here, drop a couple of items in there, and soon enough your purse weighs as much as a small child.

Just so you can get an idea of what’s in my purse, I’ll list some of the contents:

  • wallet
  • sunglasses w/ case
  • makeup bag, which contains an embarrassing array of products: 4 lip liners, 5 lipsticks, 4 lip glosses, 1 lip balm, and 1 lip brush
  • car key
  • house key
  • coin purse
  • iPod touch
  • hand lotion
  • mirror
  • a bottle of Aleve (nearly empty)
  • a bottle of prescription naproxen
  • comb
  • gum
  • tissue
  • hair ties (3)
  • mini jewelry catalogues (10)
  • powder (to remove excess oil from my face)
  • facial blotting papers (also to remove excess oil from my face)
  • library card
  • samples of Elizabeth Arden facial moisturizer and anti-aging serum
  • miscellaneous mail
  • gift cards: Cheesecake Factory, Target, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks
  • feminine products (4)
  • business cards (2)
  • assorted pieces of jewelry
  • 1 fiber bar
  • 4 pens, 1 highlighter
  • assorted receipts
  • a plastic water bottle

I know, I know, it’s ridiculous — even for a non-minimalist. But for a minimalist, the state of my purse is an abomination.

In examining the contents of my purse, I realize four things:

  1. that I have trouble differentiating what I need from what I want
  2. that I have not yet conquered the fear that “I may need it later”
  3. that I will use the “just in case” rationale to justify just about anything
  4. that I don’t know how to make do with what I have on hand

I knew that I had lots of room for improvement as I pursue simplicity in my life, but I had no idea that my consumerist/hoarding tendencies were this severe. I read about people who have simplified their lives to the point where they can fit everything they own into a backpack. They own little, and they carry even less. What kind of minimalist am I when I carry all this crap with me everywhere I go?

This is ridiculous. If I can’t simplify my purse, how can I simplify my life? If  I can’t sensibly determine the things that I need to have with me at all times, how can I hope to determine the things I need in my life overall?

Though I am very discouraged by my lack of progress, I am committed to steady improvement. I have decided to challenge myself with these immediate changes:

  • where I have multiples, I will reduce to just one
  • seriously reevaluate what I need to have with me. Do I really need a mirror all the time? When is the last time I have been to the Cheesecake Factory? (perhaps I need to take a trip there and use these gift cards)
  • clear the clutter. It’s time to remove the mail, the receipts, the fiber bar, the water bottle…

The real challenge will be long term: learning what it is that I truly need, and sticking with that.