How I Aligned My Spending With My Values

Here are some things I believe about spending money:

  1. Saving money is important – at least until I can get my crystal ball to show the future accurately.
  2. Additional money should be given to effective charities to alleviate suffering and aid redistribution that states fail to do effectively.
  3. Local independent businesses should be supported.
  4. Artists should be supported.
  5. Physical things I buy should be produced ethically – minimizing harm to the environment, paying fair wages to all involved in the production process, made by companies that do not practice tax evasion, and made to last, preferably a lifetime, giving the environment another break.
  6. Sometimes I deserve a little treat.
  7. Gifts make people happy and I like that.
  8. Avoiding consumption is good for the environment.

The problem? B. to g. conflict with a., and a. plus c. to g. conflict with b.

The solution? A shopping ban.

no-more-things-jewelry

I have decided not to buy physical things for the time being. “The time being” is a terrible SMART-goal, but I want to carry on the ban as long as possible, ideally forever, making not buying things the new default. However, I may also be moving in with my boyfriend at the beginning of next year, which will lead to some purchases – neither of us owns a pot, for example, and we like home-cooked meals.

Not buying things saves money and the environment, which means it is in line with a. and h. It also means there is more money to allocate to b. thorough g., including e. as that will take effect if I have to replace a truly vital physical item, e.g. if someone steals my bike or all my underwear goes up in flames. Ideally, all extra money would go to b. (effective charities). But I’m not there yet, nor do I think I ever will be. I currently give 10% of my part-time income, which will increase as my income does. But I’ll probably never get to the point where I live as frugally as possible and truly give as much as I could. Firstly, I’m too risk-averse and need savings in order to sleep well, and secondly, the other things on the above list are important to me, too. I’m not a perfect effective altruist, but I do more than most people and plan to do more in the future. That has to be enough for now. If my expectations of myself are too high, I’ll end up giving nothing at all and going on a fast-fashion binge, which is not in line with anything on this list.

The shopping ban is a compromise that helps me allocate resources to all of the above. It started in August (minus a tiny slip-up of buying an ethically produced top that was not replacing anything and without which I would not have had to go naked) and I am already reaping the benefits. I started supporting more local businesses – the realization that there is only on non-chain grocery store in my neighborhood was eye-opening and I now no longer feel bad for going to cafés.

I have to replace my fall sneakers, but found an ethical company, meaning I can do so without guilt. Since not buying stuff has saved me money, I’m not too appalled by their price – having realized that I’m not paying the true labor costs for fast fashion items has explained the stark difference. Now I’d actually feel guilty about buying cheap shoes. Condition e. fully satisfied.

Saving money has also led to gifts-for-no-particular-reason for friends from local businesses – in line with c., d., and g. Before the shopping ban, I was far less generous. Now that my spending is aligned with my values, it seems that I actually want fewer treats (f) – my favorite treat now is going to the library and I’m happy to pay the small fees for reserving books. I consider them more like charitable donations to keep one of my favorite institutions alive, so the treat is basically free.

As a reminder, I have taped little messages into my wallet: “Support this business?” “Ethical?” and “Be generous.” They are the six-word summary of this post.

Feminist Wedding Congratulations – An Attempt

Are you sure you’ve thought this through? No, that sounds wrong. These are congratulations. Let me start over:

rose-petals-on-stairs_feminist-wedding

But we all know happiness isn’t enough. So let me be more specific:

I hope you laugh together every day.

I hope you found a name solution that both keepers and takers are happy with, no matter who they may be.

I hope you had a conversation about the extent to which you will merge your finances, if at all.

I hope you had a conversation about who will support whom when a career opportunity arises.

I hope your husband will man up and be uninfluenced by societal norms should you turn out to be the primary breadwinner.

I hope that you share household chores according to ability, not tradition.

I hope you come to a decision to have children (or not) and how many based on what you want, not because society tells you all women should reproduce.

I hope that, if you have children, both of you will take parental leave, either together or sequentially. That you will form a primary caretaking team, uninfluenced by the traditional division of labor.

I hope that, once your children are older, you will try to find a way for both of you to fulfill your professional dreams. Or, should one of you chose to stay home, that you make that choice based on inclination and opportunities, not tradition.

Allow me to address the elephant in the room: divorce. Of course that is not part of my good wishes for you. But should that be in the cards, I hope you will figure out an amicable, as-painless-as-possible way. Maybe you even have a non-gender-discriminating prenup – good for you! Divorce is actually a freeing concept – think about how old you’ll probably get. There is no reason for spending five decades with someone who was only “The One” for the first two. There might be Another for the other three. I hope you divide assets and responsibilities according to abilities and inclination, not tradition. Personally, I like the idea of the kids staying where they are and the parents taking turns coming to live with them.

I hope you’ll organize elderly care as you did childcare – as a team, according to availability and inclination, not tradition, outsourcing certain aspects to keep your sanity and your self.

I hope he never makes you feel inadequate or not enough simply due to the natural process of aging.

I hope you’ll enjoy old age together as much as you did courtship – with more aches and prescription medications, but just as much humor and love.

I hope you enjoy widowhood, should you not have strategically married someone younger so you’d have the same life expectancy.

I wish you all the happiness in the world.

Inspired by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family.

Nothing is Productive for Eight Hours a Day

Or fun, for that matter. Sleep is the sole exception I will allow for. A necessity, actually, so not comparable to what I discuss here.

Turmuhr Riva

Take my hobbies – the things I do even though nobody pays me to do them – intrinsic motivation par excellence:

  • Reading. Best thing to happen to us since sleep, but 8h a day five days a week would eradicate all the fun. No time to reflect and process, and a very sore butt. Sure, larger piles of books read, but my overtasked brain would jumble them and probably miss many valuable life lessons. Not quite the point of a once pleasurable activity.
  • Writing. Makes me feel incredibly accomplished, but my brain is drained after much less than 8h. It’s a complex activity – imagination, vocabulary, structure, research, editing. Of course I can’t do all that effectively for eight hours.
  • Running. Great way of connecting with my body, but if I tried it for 8h a day, I’d collapse long before the end of day one. Even a one-hour “lunch break” would contribute little to reaching that arbitrary goal. It would be the antithesis of sustainability, too, because as my running history predicts, I’d be out for months due to injuries. Probably starting on day two.
  • Coffee and chatting with a friend. Best thing to happen to us since books, but if I tried that for 8h, I’d be left with nothing to say, a stomach ulcer, and an introvert hangover. That is the best-case scenario.

Now think about your more externally motivated tasks, such as what your employer pays you to do – how much of your workday is spent doing these productively – in the sense that they lead to the results your boss wants? How much of your workday is lost in endless email threads, pointless meetings, procrastination, mindless organizational tasks, never-ending distractions?

Having more than one task makes things no more fun, either – I used to have a job where I researched scientific literature, organized a database, coordinated email communication, plus miscellanea. But boy was I glad that that was not full-time. Sure, the tasks differed, but all required brain capacity and focus of an intensity that I believe to be unsustainable if required for 8h+ every day.

Obviously, there are many things we could try to do for eight hours a day – most people with jobs do that every day. But that doesn’t mean we actually do them – how often does the internet distract you from a work task? Nor does it mean we should. If I knew I could work fewer hours, the work-procrastination ratio would improve significantly, possibly even making up for the “lost” hours. I’d probably be sick less, making up for more “lost” hours.

Working 8h+ days is not making us more productive, it’s draining us. It keeps us in a web of obligations with little room for creativity. It keeps us unhappy. So we seek instant gratification as soon as we finally get to leave – and the marketers of conspicuous consumption rejoice.

If we had more free time, we’d know how to handle it: how to spend it productively in the sense of fulfillment. Imagine you had two extra hours Every. Single. Day. – you could exercise regularly, nap, read, go for a walk with a loved one, repair something broken, volunteer, evaluate your life…

Minimalism is a tool to achieve not having to participate in the 8h+ rat race – you need less, so you work less. Less money means less stuff, but more time adds more to your life: fun, friends, love, exercise, creativity, learning, growth, sleep, more of whatever it is that you could almost do for 8h a day.

And if we radiate enough happy minimalist leisure, maybe, just maybe, the world will follow suit…

PS: The Environmental and Financial Benefits of Using Something a Year Longer + How to Unplug + 33 Things to do Other Than Shopping.

What an Imperfect Dressing Gown Taught Me

I’ve long wanted a perfect dressing gown – the kind of silky but casual sexiness they wear in old movies I never watch, or lingerie commercials I avoid for fear turning the want into a purchase. But then again, the kind I wanted was too expensive for me to seriously consider buying one. Large amounts of silk do not come cheap. Shocker, I know.

Love Imperfection Dressing GownSo my friend and I decided to sew our own. I bought beautiful blue fabric – not silk, see above, but fancy-enough looking jersey. Plus, have you m
et my sewing skills? Not something you’d want to let loose on expensive materials. That shopping excursion happened a year ago.
A month later, we met to cut the fabric for the pattern. My friend finished hers soon after. I, however, told myself that I’d get to it “next week” and then went abroad for five months, sans sewing machine. After my return, it was at the top of my to-do list. Promise. Three weeks after coming home, I did two seams and was fed up (they were the shoulder seams, thus the shortest of the entire garment). My sewing machine blocked valuable desk real estate for another three weeks until I finally finished the thing in a single day.

You may rightfully ask what caused that surge of productivity. Well. I had decided that sewing was not an actual hobby, but a fantasy-self hobby. Finishing the gown was going to be a goodbye ritual. I also decided that since sewing was not really my hobby, I was no expert and would therefore not be able to sew a perfect garment – the kind about which no one would think to ask “Did you make it yourself?” because it looks so professional. Finally, I remembered that dressing gowns are generally not worn in public. Ergo, I did not need a perfect dressing gown. That was not in the realm of possibilities anyways. I was either going to have an imperfect dressing gown or a few cut-out pieces of fabric that would not sufficiently cover my body if I were to try to wear them. I preferred the imperfect dressing gown.

Without the specter of perfection looming, the sewing was almost fun. Knowing that after this, I would never pressure myself into sewing something again made it even more so.

I don’t know why I have held on to this hobby for so long. I practice it infrequently and have long known that I was unwilling to put in the necessary time, effort, and money to get good, or even just decent at it. I also still feel that I have too many clothes whenever I open my closet, despite constant minimizing – why on earth would I spend time producing more? That I would be embarrassed to wear, as they would absolutely advertise my lack of sewing skills? Talk about inefficient resource allocation.

Knowing that I would make enough money to buy a book or two from the sewing machine sale helped, too. I set the price too low, but I sold that thing the same day and freed up a lot of closet space. I also got rid of all fabric and abandoned any residual sewing projects I had conceived years ago and forgotten about. Obviously nothing I needed in my life. Minimalism win.

But that is life: sometimes, perfect is not an option. If I wanted my blog to be perfect, chances are, you wouldn’t be hearing from me at all. I wasn’t going to spend 100+€ on a perfect dressing gown, and I was unable to sew one. So I sewed an imperfect one that turned out better than expected (just don’t look to closely at the inside seams) and that absolutely does the job of making me feel sexy and sophisticated when I throw it on after rolling out of bed.

PS: 33 things to do other than shoppingIn Defense of the Default

Using Something Longer – Environmental and Financial Benefits

It’s simple, but at the same time a big shift in consumption habits. More importantly, the environmental impact is huge.

Use the things you have to buy more than once a little longer. A year. Two. Make it a game and see how long you can go before replacing.

Take my phone. I got it in December 2012, which makes it 3.5 years old. Since age three, the battery was bad enough to give me grounds for replacement, but I chose to keep it at least a year longer, tiding myself over with a portable charger. Imagine I kept all my phones an extra year.

iphone save_use longer

Let’s do the calculations for my lifetime: when I got the phone, I was 21.5 years old; my life expectancy is 79.01 years. This means 57,51 years of phones left in 2012. Assuming each phone lasts three years that makes 19.17 phones until the statistical end of my life. But if I keep each phone one year past its prime, it will only be 14.3775 phones, saving 4.7925 phones. Keeping it two years longer: 11.502, AKA 7.668 phones saved. Imagine that pile of discarded phones shrinking. Imagine everyone did that. Imagine how much the environment would rejoice, if it were anthropomorphizable.

Not convinced? Let’s talk money. An iPhone SE – the phone I’ll be replacing my 4S with, eventually – costs 589€. 4.7925 SEs cost 2822.78€, 7.668 4516.45€. That is a very long vacation, retiring a few months earlier, sending a kid to college for a few months. That’s almost 22 months rent for my current room. If I redid these calculations regarding my laptop, I’d save even more. If I had a TV, a car, or expensive furniture, my unborn children would be set for college with those savings.

You can do this with every physical item as long as it’s safe to use – obviously avoid driving cars that are falling apart. For less expensive things, the benefits are more environmental than financial: shoes, bags, clothes (especially large items like coats), yoga mats, kitchen utensils, tools, anything you can think of, really.

Just think about the dwindling landfill.

With this approach, you have to learn to live with small imperfections. Because before things are truly broken, they can be sort of broken for a very long time. Or maybe they’re just no longer new – the consumer part of my brain sometimes confuses the two. Sure, my phone has little battery life and sometimes the camera crashes. My yoga mat sheds little blue bits. My bike is heavy and anything but sleek. Some of my clothes have holes in well-hidden places. But nobody who matters cares and I feel better for living according to my values – owning less, spending less, polluting less. I for one certainly don’t care what consumer culture expects of me.

PS: Frugality: Greed vs. Generosity

25 Things: A More Conventional List

I turned 25 last month, and while I have learned countless things in this quarter century, here are another 25 worth sharing:

Juli

  1. Save some money to throw at problems. More often than not, sadly, money helps. If nothing else, your emergency fund will help you sleep more soundly.
  2. Automating your savings will help tremendously with this.
  3. Diets don’t work. If they did, that industry wouldn’t exist. See The Fuck It Diet and Isabel Foxen Duke for more expert advice on this.
  4. You outgrow fashion magazines faster than you’d think.
  5. Minimalism is the shit.
  6. But getting used to not getting gifts is still hard, despite the time you spent convincing your loved ones that no gift can also be a gift. But you’ll feel better for it.
  7. It’s ok to quit something that is not “your thing.” For me it was playing the oboe – time is just too limited a resource. It is also ok to take it up again and then re-quit.
  8. It’s ok not to finish a book. Again, time being valuable.
  9. But you’ll never regret time spent reading a good book.
  10. In the same vein: libraries are truly god-sent. My book-buying is way down.
  11. Just because everyone acts like it’s fun doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it. Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for this one.
  12. People don’t treat you differently for wearing makeup or not.
  13. Or for losing or gaining 20 pounds, for that matter.*
  14. Don’t comment on other people’s bodies, ever. Or the food they choose to eat.
  15. Eating or not eating certain things does not make you a good person. There is no moral aspect to food.
  16. Don’t buy expensive sunscreen. You’ll use it too sparingly and burn.
  17. Shaving your legs just for yourself can be an act of self care.
  18. Sometimes you need to leave to truly appreciate home.
  19. Get enough sleep. Really. Everything is better on enough sleep.
  20. It feels good not to need coffee first thing in the morning just to be able to function.
  21. You might need more time for yourself than you think you do.
  22. It’s absolutely ok to say no to something you have no desire to do.
  23. Figure out how you like to spend time with your friends: one-on-one coffee? Large groups out on the town? Planning activities together? Taking a vacation? A social life that matches your nature is much more rewarding than doing what everyone else thinks friends “should” be doing.
  24. Not being able to run due to an injury will certainly teach you patience. You learn to accept the hand you’ve been dealt.
  25. Old things, e.g. phones or bikes, can give you peace of mind: Neither my 3.5 year-old iPhone, nor my 14 year-old bike are very likely to get stolen, even in a big city.
  26. If you want a serious relationship, admit it to yourself.

*My experience is limited to “normal” or only slightly “overweight” weights, so I obviously I cannot speak for people at further extremes of the weight spectrum.

PS: In Defense of the Default and how to unplug for what remains of summer.

25 Lessons in 25 Years

I turned 25 last month, so I wanted to share the wealth of things I’ve learned – one for every year:25 Bday_Fotor

  1. Crying will lead to food. Unfortunately, this no longer works.
  2. Walking and talking.
  3. I assume I was potty-trained then. Very valuable life skill indeed.
  4. Speaking English.
  5. I suddenly have a sister. Interesting.
  6. They want me to speak German in Kindergarten in Germany.
  7. Riding a bike.
  8. Reading and writing.
  9. Swimming.
  10. Going to the library by myself.
  11. Inline skating.
  12. Latin.
  13. Biking to school by myself.
  14. Not all friendships are forever. Sometimes people suddenly annoy you.
  15. Puberty is even worse when it’s your sister.
  16. Picking a country I might like to spend a year in.
  17. Travelling with friends instead of parents.
  18. Rules for PDA in German and American High School are exact opposites.
  19. There is less sugar in German food, compared to American food.
  20. The Dutch are simultaneously laid-back and efficient.
  21. Nuance.
  22. Navigating a complex subway system as part of daily life.
  23. Knitting socks.
  24. Putting in an IV.
  25. Speaking French somewhat properly.

A more figurative version will follow soon!