Summer Shopping

After a long and brutal winter, spring has finally come to Chicago. The weather is warming up and I am starting to get my summer wardrobe in order. I have to address wardrobe because many of my things from last year are in bad condition. They need to be thrown out. I just haven’t taken the step of purging them yet.

I also want to do a better job with my appearance. Lately, I just feel like I look like a bum every day. I want to present a better image of myself so I have decided to get some key pieces into my wardrobe. I had to go shopping, something I haven’t done in a long while.

It felt weird to shop after so many years of intentionally not shopping. I was reminded of how very easy it is to overspend. I was reminded of how your mind works when shopping: I love this! I’ll wear this all the time. I need another option for shirts/pants/skirts.

You start to see yourself wearing the clothes in different settings and imagine how you’ll feel stepping out in that flattering new outfit. You get caught up in that emotion and before you know it you come home with a bag full of clothes.

This whole experience of pulling out last year’s clothes and buying new ones has given me some insight into what I want my shopping habits to be like going forward.

First, shop for quality. I love a great bargain as much as the next person, and I don’t have the biggest budget right now, but I now recognize the need for buying quality merchandise. It’s important because quality makes a huge difference. The cheap pieces I had before look a mess this year. They look ratty and worn, even some that I got just last year. That’s not a good return on my investment. Quality garments look better to begin with and they maintain a better look over time.

For example, I have trouble with light colored pants. I would like a pair of khaki or white capris but the ones I am trying on look absolutely ridiculous. I think it’s because I am being bargain conscious and going for the ones that are on the biggest sale. I realized yesterday that I need to go to a store known for making quality pieces and get a well-made pair of pants. It simply will not do to skimp on quality here.

Shop for the long haul. Yes, that brightly colored dress is the height of fashion this year, but about when you pull it out next year? Consider carefully and focus more attention on the timeless classics.

That being said, high-quality, timeless pieces tend to cost more. That means that I generally will purchase fewer items and I believe that’s a good thing. A small wardrobe of quality pieces that I love is better than a bunch of cheap clothes that don’t look good. It is worth the investment to buy good clothes. Going for quality items from the beginning will decrease shopping time and save money in the long run. Lesson learned.

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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.

 

 

 

Sneaky Stockpiling

As I shared in a recent post, I sometimes have a hard time letting things go. I got new running shoes to replace a worn out pair, but kept wearing the old ones. I let the new ones sit on the shelf in the closet for months. The same thing happened with a pair of clogs at Christmas. I finally did move into the new shoes last week, but only because the soreness from running in the old shoes got to be too much. his is not new. Even as a child, when my mother bought me things I would put them in the drawer or closet and wouldn’t wear them for weeks. Apparently my stockpiling tendencies run deep. My family used to make fun and ask why I saved things for so long. I don’t think that I was ever able to answer them. So why was I saving my shoes? Part of me felt guilty for eating ice cream the day before and I didn’t feel like I deserved new shoes. Another part of me didn’t want to wear them because they were expensive and I don’t know when I will be able to afford another pair. Therefore, I wanted to delay using them as long as possible. Of course, I believe in using things completely. I believe that we should get all the use out of whatever we buy. But to continue to use something beyond its usefulness is impractical. To do this when you have a replacement is nothing more than stockpiling. Since I started simplifying I thought I had broken my tendency to stockpile. However, I am seeing that disuse is just another form of stockpiling. Stockpiling is not just buying more than what you need. Stockpiling is also not using what you already have. Either way you’re amassing a supply of something. Really, this is a trust issue. Isn’t it always? This is about me not trusting God to provide new running shoes when I need them. It is about a fear of scarcity or running out. Stockpiling is a behavior that is driven by fear. Stockpiling is a problem though. It’s a problem because when we stockpile we use things to comfort ourselves. We look to things to provide security instead of finding security in God’s promises to care for us. Another problem with stockpiling is that stockpiling can easily become hoarding. Hoarding is stockpiling taken to the extreme, where a person accumulates beyond the point of what is useful and beneficial. Storage becomes a problem; either finding enough space to keep all the stuff or finding a way to secure it. And this is where we see the ugly side of hoarding: obsession. At this point, the stuff owns us.   Not using what you have is just another form of stockpiling and it is rooted in fear. Judiciously use what you have and don’t give in to worry. When the time comes, ask God for what you need. He will take care of you.

Why Is It So Hard To Let Go?

It’s the craziest thing. I purchased a pair of running shoes recently. I bought them because my old shoes were worn out. I had been looking forward to the purchase of these new shoes. The week I bought them I had a long discussion with my best friend about why I needed these shoes. But when I finally bought the shoes, I looked at how cute they were, put them back in the box, and proceeded to run in the old shoes.

This makes no sense. My best friend saw the humor in the situation. I was really looking forward to getting the new shoes but once I got them I didn’t put them on. I couldn’t let go of the old ones.

It wasn’t so much that I was emotionally attached to the old ones as it was that I wasn’t ready to step into the new pair. I wasn’t ready to step into a new phase of running. I didn’t know if I had what it took. Would I be consistent? Would I eat right? Would I do these shoes justice by training and eating like a runner? I knew what a runner should be doing and the shoes reminded me of that. I was afraid that I wasn’t up to the challenge.

It’s the same thing with writing. I hesitated to open the Writer’s Market I bought because I wondered if this would be the time that I actually used it. Would I put in the time? Would I finally do it? Would I press through the fear and feelings of inferiority to pursue my dream? Purging is the same way. It can be hard to let go of the jeans in the bigger size because it will mean that you can’t mess around with diet. It can be hard to let go of the purse you bought in Paris because it reminds you of better days and it’s hard to think about life without that memorial. It may be hard to let things go because you’re afraid of going without in the future.

It can be that way with people too. We can hold on to relationships. I stayed with my college boyfriend for months even though I realized that he wasn’t right for me. Our relationship wasn’t working. But I stayed with him because I was afraid to be alone again. I was afraid that I would miss him. I was afraid of what my life would look like without him so I held on to him. When I graduated my family took a week long vacation. That was the longest I had gone without seeing or talking to him — and it was fine. In that short time I realized that life without him was actually better than life with him. I broke up with him as soon as I got home and I haven’t looked back.

It can be hard to let go of the old because we are afraid of the new. It is completely understandable. The next thing can be scary. The unknown is always scary. And it’s okay to be afraid. The fear manifests itself in the holding on to things of the past because we are afraid of moving into the future. It becomes problematic when we let that fear hold us back.

Things aren’t just things. They mean something to us. They can come to represent periods of time or thought patterns or habits. There comes a time to let go of things and all that they represent even if it means moving into a scary new future without them. Don’t hold on to the old because you are afraid of the new. Yes, the unknown is scary. It might be hard. But might also be great. You will never know if you don’t move forward. Release the old. Prepare for the new. Go boldly.

Spring Cleaning

It’s spring! At least that’s what the calendar says. It’s still a bit chilly in Chicago. Still, it’s a time of hope and renewal.The days of winter are over and the season is changing. There’s something about spring that makes people want to change too.

Most people take advantage of the change in weather to shake things up. Everybody prepares for summer differently. Most people, however, use spring as a time for cleaning and rearranging their homes and lives.

The Changing of the Wardrobe

We are expecting 50’s and 60’s this week so the time for the wardrobe change is drawing near. It will be time to exchange the sweaters and turtle necks for tee shirts and tank tops. It will be time to exchange boots for sandals and pants with shorts. I am waiting to break out the summer skirts because that’s of my favorite things about summer.

This wardrobe change is a great time to purge. There are two things you want to do before putting winter wear into bins. First, examine your wardrobe. Is there anything you don’t want to wear next year? Are there things you’re just tired of looking at? If so, donate them. Also be sure to check the condition of your items. If you have sweaters that look worn and socks with holes now is the time to throw them out. Don’t bother storing things that belong in the trash.

Second, you should wash everything you intend to put away. If there is a chance that you wore it be sure to wash it. Moths are attracted to body oils, perspiration, and saliva. You don’t want to pull your items out in the fall only to discover that they are full of holes. Once you have pared down and put things in storage it will be time to continue cleaning elsewhere.

Down and Dirty

This is the time to give your home a deep cleaning. There’s just something about a good deep cleaning that feels good. Here are some ways to clean yourself happy.

Focus on the furniture. I may dust from time to time but in the spring I like to polish the furniture. I also go through the pile of mail that accumulates in my bookshelf. I also evaluate old magazines to see if I still want them or if they should be recycled. I like to make things neater as I go into summer. Make sure to vacuum your furnishings (sofa, chairs, etc.). You may even want to move things around for a new look.

Next, clean out the cabinets. Check for food that has gone bad. Look for boxes and bags that have been opened and check to see if the contents are still fresh. If they’re stale, throw them out. If there are nonperishable goods you know you won’t use donate them to a local food pantry. This is also a good time to clean the shelves and the doors of the cabinets.

Do some mattress maintenance. This is a good time to vacuum your mattress (dust mites!) and to rotate it on your bed. You can turn it, flip it, or both. If you use a mattress pad be sure to wash it. Mattress pads take a while to dry so be sure that you start early enough in the day.

Consider cleaning the carpet. If you have a carpet shampoo machine this is the perfect time to clean the carpets of all the salty residue from the winter. If you don’t have a machine, consider having your carpets professionally cleaned.

Washing windows? Some people do it, some people don’t. If you are among the latter, consider hiring a professional.

Prune your plants. Check for any dead leaves and pull them off. Also check to make sure that your pot is big enough. Your plant may need to be repotted. If you’re ambitious you can attend to your plants in your yard and garden as well.

What about the random things? Shower curtains can be washed, linen closets can be purged and organized, freezers can be cleaned out, and refrigerators can be sanitized. If you’re really ambitious you can even tackle the attic or the garage.

Clean Inside

This takes Spring Cleaning to a whole new level. A friend of mine does a body cleanse every season to remove any toxins from her body. She does fruits and vegetables, and supplements with protein shakes. I have done a similar cleanse in the past. I haven’t decided whether I will do it this year but I am thinking about it.

Check In

This time of renewal is a good time to reevaluate your Life Plan and see how you are moving toward your vision. Making good progress? Great! Keep it up. Is there room for improvement? Don’t beat yourself up. Just make some adjustments and move forward. Spring is a great time of year because it holds so much potential. New things are coming. Get ready. Make this your best Spring Clean ever.

Why You Should Slow Down

We live in a world that is addicted to speed. We have quick rice, quick oatmeal, and a while host of other convenience foods. We have a plethora of fast food options for when we want food on the go. We routinely sacrifice quality for speed.

All this rushing around is not good and it is not efficient. It has bad effects on our health, our emotions, and our overall productivity. We all need things done but rushing from place to place and activity to activity is not the answer. Instead, it is counterproductive.

It creates stress. Rushing from one task to another creates stress. There is the pressure to hurry and get one thing done so that we can dive right into the next task. It makes us drive like madmen. It makes us feel guilty when things when things take longer than expected. All this stress builds during the day and when it’s time for sleep our brains are still buzzing.

It is less effective. Benjamin Franklin had it right: haste makes waste. A rush job often has to be redone. Why waste the time? If it is worth doing, it’s worth taking your time and doing it right the first time.

It prevents you from enjoying the moment. Rushing around keeps you focused on the next thing. It keeps you focused on the clock. It packs your schedule so full that you don’t have time to enjoy anything. We miss beautiful moments with our family and friends. We miss the beauty that is around us. We miss the opportunity to reflect, think deeply, and absorb all that God is trying to teach us.

How can we slow down?

Simplify your schedule. You must control your schedule or your schedule will control you.  Do not take on too many commitments. Sometime you have to say “No.” Choose only the things that are most important to you.

Plan properly. Be realistic. Don’t plan errands on opposite sides of town and leave no time scheduled for transit. Include things like driving time, meals, and meal preparation into your schedule.

Build in time for relaxation. Despite what the messages on television tell us, we cannot do it all. It isn’t healthy. It is not healthy to rush from place to place and collapse in bed exhausted at the end of the day. Many things that we do during the day deplete our physical and mental energy. Each day we should take some time to fill ourselves up. I usually do this by journaling or reading. Some do this by meditating. Find a way to recharge your battery every day.

Slowing down is the only way to retain your sanity in this crazy world. Slowing down helps us to be more productive. We can think ahead about ways to do things properly and allows us to execute that plan in a way that creates quality results.

Slowing down allows for more happiness. When you take your time eating you can really savor that slice of cheesecake. If you take your time on the drive home you can admire the beauty of nature. If you take your time you can really engage others as you talk to them.

In a world of speed, it pays to slow down. Take a walk to decompress. Do some yoga. Read a chapter of your favorite book. Schedule some time to relax each day. Get out of the rat race and take some time to slow things down. You life will be better for it.

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?

What Happens After You Purge?

You’ve gone through your things. You’ve determined what to keep and what to part with. You know what things have to go. But what will you do with them? Here are a few ideas for those things that don’t make the cut:

Give it away. There is a good chance that someone could use the things you no longer need. Do you know a mom that needs kids clothes? Does your church distribute food or clothing? Do you live near a Goodwill or Salvation Army? There are may ways to give to people in need. That sweater you never wear could really be a blessing to someone else.

Sell it. Similarly, there are many places to sell your stuff. There are lots of consignment boutiques that will sell your things for you and give you a portion of the proceeds. I recently discovered the joy of selling on eBay. It’s pretty simple to set up and account and start selling. If you prefer something more immediate you could host a garage sale — alone or with neighbors. You could also sell things on Craigslist. If you want to sell, chances are, someone is looking to buy. And it never hurts to get some extra cash.

Barter it. Bartering is gaining popularity. It’s alternative to buying. It is a way to get something you need and get rid of something you don’t. And bartering is not limited to goods. You can barter services as well. Maybe you need a Powerpoint presentation made and a friend needs your books from last semester. Each of your needs could be met with a simple barter.

Toss it. If you can’t donate it, sell it, or barter it, you may have to trash it. Some things are fit only for the trash. You shouldn’t feel bad for putting these things in their rightful place. Recycle when you can. When you can’t, toss it.

Yes, purging is difficult. Not only do you have to decide what you don’t need, but you also have to decide what to do with the items you are parting with. Thankfully, we have options. And with a little patience and creativity, you may even be able to get something in exchange for the things you don’t need. See? Purging is good for everyone.

 

Five Ways to Simplify Your Life Today

Sometimes the process of simplifying can be overwhelming. There are dressers to go through, closets to clean, and changes to be made. Just thinking about all that needs to be done is enough to make you want to give up on minimalism.

Don’t despair, dear one. Minimalism is a journey. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. It might not even be realistic to try to simplify everything right away. It is probably best to do it a little at a time.

In our society, though, even one step can be a major undertaking. It can take hours to clean out a closet. It could take days to clean out a garage. What if you don’t have the time or energy to complete a major project?

Fear not. There are ways to simplify your life without committing hours and hours of time. These are things you can do even with a hectic schedule. Here are five things you can do today to simplify your life:

  • Unsubscribe from store emails. Clearing clutter is central to the minimalist lifestyle.  The clutter on the bookshelf is easily seen. Electronic clutter may not be as obvious. While it is mostly invisible, electronic clutter is a problem because it consumes your time and attention. Do you have emails from retailers?  Hit “Unsubscribe.” Fewer store emails means less time cleaning out your inbox. It will also cut you off from the store’s advertisements, decreasing the chance that you’ll purchase from them.
  • Clean out your wallet. It’s a small project, but one that will benefit just about everybody. Are you storing receipts in your wallet? Go through them. Discard the ones you no longer need. Accumulating business cards? Enter meaningful contacts into your phone. Throw out the rest. And of course, dump out all your change. Your wallet will be lighter and thinner.
  • Do a mini-purge. Choose one surface (kitchen counter, dresser, vanity) and focus on cleaning that just surface. You don’t have to go through the whole dresser, just clear off the top. Clearing even a small surface is a step in the right direction.
  • Throw out 5 things. Look through your purse, backpack, briefcase, bathroom, refrigerator or another area. Look through your old mail. Look in the trunk of your car. Find five things and throw them out. Not a big step, but small steps repeated over time can have a big impact.
  • Unplug. We spend so much time connected to our devices. There is no shortage of sites to look at, statuses to update, and profiles to manage. These things take time and energy. One way to simplify is simply to unplug; to step away from our devices and do something relaxing. You can read, go out for a walk, or take a nap. The main thing is that you clear some space in your mind and in your schedule.

Minimalism takes time, but it can be done little by little. You may not be able to do a full purge by tomorrow but you can do something small. There are small things you can do today, usually in a few minutes, that will make your life simpler. What can you do today?