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.

Adventures on eBay

In the last month, one thing in particular has helped me to take minimalism to a new level: eBay.com. I have sold purses, old perfume, old jewelry, and even old books on eBay. Setting up an account is really simple.

Find Stuff

Look through your closet, bathroom, dresser or wherever else you keep stuff. Look to see if there’s anything there that you don’t use. Clothes, shoes, beauty products, anything. And don’t rule something out just because it is used. I have sold five bottles of used perfume on eBay. My aunt has sold used shoes. If you are looking to sell, chances are that there’s someone looking to buy. If you don’t want it, put it on eBay and get some cash for it. And a little extra cash is always good.

Set Up Your Account and Set up Your Auction

It is really easy to become a seller on eBay. Within a few minutes, I had registered myself as a seller. It took a bit longer to set up my first auction. There are a few steps involved. The loading of the pictures took the longest. You’ll also want to write an interesting description for your item. Set a price, specify shipping, and publish your post. Simple. And it is even easier with the mobile app. I only use the mobile app now because it is so much faster and easier.

Get Paid

Make sure your PayPal account is linked to your eBay account. You can go in and transfer the money to your checking account. There is an initial probation period. During this time, eBay and PayPal are checking you out, making sure you’re not defrauding people. During this period, it takes about three weeks for funds to clear. Funds clear faster after probation.

As you sell, eBay and PayPal get paid, too. They each charge a small fee for their services.

The Downsides

While eBay has helped me to simplify and make some extra cash (enough to pay student loans last month!), there are some downsides. The first is the constant running to the post office. I actually went to the post office twice today. It takes time out of your day to drive to the post office, stand in line, buy postage, and drive back home. This is time that could be spent writing, doing yoga, or doing laundry.

Another downside is that listing things on eBay can take time. Depending on how much you want to list, you could spend hours putting stuff on eBay. I have gotten faster, but it still takes about 7-10 minutes per item.

There is also packaging to consider. I am constantly going to buy bubble envelopes, boxes, and bubble wrap. I am always scouring the house for a box or newspaper to ship things in. Shipping supplies also cost money. This has to be figured into the cost of the item and whatever you charge for shipping.

Overall, selling on eBay has been a very good thing for me. There are some drawbacks, but I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives. If you have things you don’t need and wouldn’t mind having a little extra cash, consider using eBay to help you simplify.

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?

People. Not Things.

As of late, this phrase has really been on my mind. Simply put: people are more important than things. People should occupy more space in our lives than things. Yet, how many of our lives reflect this?

Yes, I am about living simply, but that is only half of the story. I am also about social justice and helping people. I can help more people when I’m not out chasing stuff.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Luke 19:10

Jesus’ priority was not the accumulation of stuff. He was more concerned with people than with stuff. In Luke 19, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who had become rich by overcharging the people. Zacchaeus hides in a tree to hear Jesus’ teachings. Jesus offers to come to his house. Zacchaeus is so moved that he declares that he will give half of his possessions to the poor, and that he will repay four times all those he defrauded. Interestingly, it is after Zacchaeus shifts his thinking from wealth and stuff to people, that Jesus declares that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house.

People were Jesus’ priority. Not things. He came to seek and save the lost — and he was not talking about lost stuff! The Son of Man came after people. That’s where his focus was.

That’s were our focus should be as well. As followers of Christ, we should have the same priorities that he had (and still has). We should be thinking more about people than we are about accumulating more money and more stuff.

Shifting our priorities is never an easy process. It takes time, and usually requires a change in behavior. How can we begin to shift our thinking?

Perhaps one way that we can begin to shift our thinking is to reflect on Jesus and his teachings. Jesus’ teachings indicate his priorities: the will of God, the Kingdom of God, the love of God, and the love of people.

Making the decision to live simply is another way to shift your thinking. Intentionally refusing to pursue more and more and more stuff frees up more time and money to help others.

When I’m out chasing stuff, or lusting after that cute little bag in the Brighton window, I am not thinking about Jesus at all. I am too busy daydreaming about how that bag would really set off my summer look. All this stuff is a distraction. It’s a distraction that we cannot afford if we are to live like Jesus.

Day 3

Three days ago my family and I decided to go on a juice fast. After fasting for three days, we evaluated, and my aunt and I decided to extend our fast.  Every day, I juice fruits and vegetables to create the gorgeous green elixir that we drink several times a day.

Well, it’s Day 3 and aside from the intense craving for french fries (with extra salt!), I seem to be doing ok. I started out thinking that this would be the jumpstart of a radically changed lifestyle. Sadly, I don’t think this is going to be the case. This craving for french fries is so strong that I’m pretty sure I’ll cave in a few days. That is because even though my behavior has changed, my mind has not.

Similarly, when I was working the job from hell, I went shopping on several weekends. Generally, I did well purchasing only what I needed. I bought consumables (tea, groceries, hair products) and things that I genuinely needed (new bras!). But I spent time shopping when I could have been writing. It is what I have always done. It is almost as if I gave myself permission to fall back into that habit because I made more money.  The result? I got things I needed, and a few things I didn’t. While I did manage to limit my spending, the fact that I shopped recreationally is evidence that my mindset still needs some work.

I’ve heard it before, but over the last three days I have come to understand this truth: in order to achieve lasting change, you must replace old habits with new ones. Willpower isn’t enough. Sure, it will work for a while, but when you’re in a pinch, or a crisis, or even when you’re bored, you will go back to old habits. There has to be something to take the place of the old, destructive habits in order for a change to stick.

So my goal for the remainder of this juice fast is to look for ways to replace old habits. I have joined a 30 Day Vegan Challenge to help me find some healthy recipes and to replace bad habits with healthy ones. I have a new writing project that I will begin very soon. Over the next few days I will explore more ways to replace bad habits with good ones. And after the fast is done, I will begin installing those new habits so that the changes are permanent. I’ll keep you posted.