22 Stupid Reasons to Buy Clothes

Stupid = any reason other than: I love this, this fits perfectly, looks amazing and I actually need it.cowboy-boots-and-jeans_stupid-reasons-to-buy-clothes

All these have happened, so I invite you to join me in learning from my mistakes:

  1. I was cold. And yes, of course I had plenty of warm clothes at home. In fact, most of these purchases happened on the way home.
  2. I was in New York.
  3. I was in San Francisco.
  4. I was in Paris.
  5. I was stressed out.
  6. I was bored.
  7. I was tired.
  8. I was too lazy to return something I ordered online, telling myself it would be ok because it checked almost all boxes.
  9. I received an (unexpected) monetary gift.
  10. I happened to pass by the store.
  11. I spent a day shopping and hadn’t found anything yet.
  12. I wanted to own a pair of flats for every day of the week.
  13. I liked the color.
  14. It was on sale.
  15. It was something my fantasy self would wear.
  16. It was used. Great start, but if I don’t actually need it, that’s not enough reason to buy it.
  17. It was silk.
  18. It was cashmere.
  19. It was a specific brand I really wanted to own. This has happened way too many times.
  20. It was a brand people I considered “cool” wore. I barely wore the item because visible logos embarrass me. If only I had had this kind of self-knowledge before the purchase…
  21. It glittered.
  22. Mom offered to pay.

And that is probably not the full extent – many clothes I have gotten rid of years ago may have been bought for even worse reasons. Unfortunately, I have forgotten about them, so let’s hope I’ve internalized those lessons, otherwise I’ll have to re-make those mistakes to learn them once and for all… Here’s to mending my ways!

What are your not-so-stellar reasons for buying clothes?

PS: 33 Things to do Other Than Shopping and Four Ways to Declutter Clothes.

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.

How To Stop Buying Books

Books2_nobuying

Do you love reading but love buying books even more? Is your to-read pile bigger than the read pile? Do you have unread books older than your children?

Fear not. I can help. It will be difficult, because walking into a bookstore to buy yourself a little gift is the best treat ever. But buying a book can take as little as a minute, whereas reading it will take several hours. Wonderful hours, but it’s not instant gratification. Which explains that pesky discrepancy between the to-read and read piles.

Remember how I said I didn’t remember my New Years Resolution for 2015? Despite that, I didn’t break, but internalized it: NO BOOK BUYING (borrowing, gifts, and using store credit at the used book store was allowed). I figured that my to-read pile of 50+ books would outlast the year despite this resolution. And I stuck to it. I did not spend money on books in 2015.

Initially, self-control and avoiding temptation were crucial– no more hanging out in bookstores. I started reading books that I had had forever – some I bought as early as 2008, when I was 17. Sadly, I realized that I would have enjoyed them much more at 17. I had to force myself to finish some. I disliked second books by authors whose first I had loved, only to discover that I had already bought a third book written by them. Oops.

With these experiences, the urge to buy books vanished (mostly). Not buying made so much sense. I knew: the longer I waited to start those books, the less I’d enjoy them. I was so convinced that even the intense enjoyment of books I read right after receiving them did not have me running for the bookstores. Finally visibly decreasing the to-read pile taught me to appreciate slow-and-steady gratification.

And I actually read more than during book buying years – 2015 saw me plow through almost 60 books. The to-read pile is not gone due to gifts and borrowing, but much diminished. I will always have unread books, the resolution was not about having absolutely none – what if I get snowed in? It was about not having enough unread books for the next ice age.

My second secret weapon is the rediscovery of the library. As a kid, I went all the time, but once I started reading my parents’ books and had enough money to buy some of my own, it fell by the wayside. But while studying abroad in France, I did not want to accumulate six months worth of books – my suitcase is heavy enough, thankyouverymuch. I wanted to read in French and discover authors I hadn’t heard of. The low risk of making choices at the library is perfect – if I dislike the book or realize that it’s too difficult, I just return it. I find myself making much more adventurous choices than in the bookstore, since I’m not spending 10€ on every choice. Now my repertoire is much broader – how often have you bought a book by an author you had never heard of? I’m a risk-averse person. I need the library to unlock the reading adventure.

Another advantage of libraries: loan periods force me to read books promptly, increasing the likelihood of enjoying them. Having a deadline makes me read more (the fact that I’m incapable of going to the library and getting just one book helps) – thus I upped my Goodreads reading challenge to 100. Which is realistic at my current rate.

And 2016? I did not “formally” renew the resolution. If I see a book I’m sure I’ll love, I let myself buy it. I did buy books here in France. Five. Two I’ve finished, one I’m in the middle of, and the other two are being saved up for a 12h train ride next week. So my to-read pile consists of library books and the positive effects of last year’s resolution are ongoing.

Back home, I’ll definitely go back to my childhood ways and renew my library card. Which may well turn out to be the best thing about coming home.

PS: How to Conquer Intimidating Books and 33 Things to Do Other Than Shopping

I Aspire to Own Only Old Things

But NOT by purchasing them! No antique stores for me! No, this aspiration is purely passive – I want watch the things I own age, and only remove them as they become truly unusable. However, this does not mean I aspire to be a hoarder – I call myself a minimalist, after all. The superfluous is continuously removed to make space for the important (nonmaterial) things in life.

Some things age faster than others – my smartphone is celebrating its third birthday in December and still going somewhat strong, so I intend to keep it at least until it turns four, hopefully five*. (Clearly, I’m a sustainability loving optimist.)

Things that don’t have an on-off switch generally last much longer: the sheets I sleep in were part of my grandmother’s dowry (time has made them wonderfully soft), some of my towels are much older than I am, and I very much intend to keep the bookshelf my boyfriend built me for at least the rest of my life.

Old thingsThis process requires patience and self-control. I’m literally watching my stuff age, which is – unlike shopping used to be – not an afternoon-filling or even slightly entertaining activity. In fact, a coffee cup does not age at all in one afternoon. If it looks different, that is because the light changed or I drank all the coffee. Both, most likely.

I have righteousness and my moral standards on my side, but when faced with genius marketing**, I sometimes wish for a more tangible defense. This post will add accountability, so thank you for reading.

Reminding myself of the numerous benefits helps resist the siren call of Madison Avenue (as does removing ads from my life):

  • Time and money saved by not shopping.
  • Ingenuity practiced by mending where I can – this still needs to be improved, I’ve historically been too quick to use the one-in-one-out method yielding a high turnover and seemingly minimalist lifestyle, but not much sustainability.
  • Over time, I will get even better at not caring what other people think, which means buying fewer things, because I will impress people with who I am, not what I own.
  • Buying less = fewer things to clean = more time saved (my favorite equation).
  • I’ll be kind to our planet. When I do need something new, I’ll be able to buy ethically produced high quality that will age well and slowly.

In twenty years, someone will say “Oh, cool, did you get a vintage XYZ?” To which I’ll reply: “No. I mean, yes. I mean, maybe? I’ve had this for twenty years, does that make it vintage? Or is it only vintage if someone else owned it first? I’m confused?”

Either they’ll explain, or they’ll walk away disappointedly, as they were looking to get an antique store recommendation…

What is the oldest thing you own?

*side note: does anyone know of a company that produces phones and other electronics that are intended to last longer than that? It would be a great way of marketing to minimalist and sustainability conscious people: “This phone will last you at least 7 years.” Not sure if that is compatible with capitalism, though.

**like the people who managed to make Oktoberfest an international thing. How is beyond me.

Frugality: Greed vs. Generosity

The internet introduced me to über-frugality a few months ago. Not that I had never heard of being frugal – my mother is from a region that is stereotyped for precisely that trait. She taught me to live below my means and save the excess. But the Frugalwoods, Cait Flanders, and Sam Lustgarten have deepened my scope: I realized that by living way below my means, I could spend more time doing the things I love. By getting used to wanting less while I’m still in school, never having had a “real” income (my parents generously support me, I have a part-time job, and there is no tuition in Germany), I’m giving myself more options after graduation. My job choice won’t be tethered to salaries, but to what adds value to my life.

It was an exciting discovery. But now that the novelty is starting to wear off, difficult questions are creeping in. I’m starting to wonder: Is being frugal making me greedier? Can I be frugal and generous?

Since adopting a more frugal lifestyle, I feel less generous, but mostly less generous to myself. I have not skimped on gifts for others yet, but Christmas is coming. I’m buying the cheapest vegetables, I don’t always buy organic milk, I welcome free food more than I used to. These restrictions sound small, and maybe they are. But watching where every cent goes creates a sense of greed and stinginess. A feeling of constraint, even if I were not actually spending less. Justifying purchases takes more mental space now that the default is “money stays in my bank account, where it belongs.”

Was I spending unnecessary amounts of money on myself before? Was my lifestyle inflated, with brownies here, dinners there, and some delicious cheese thrown in? Was I spoiling myself, making “normal” feel greedy now? I’ve only been tracking my spending for a few months, which means I’ve only been conscious of where my money goes for that long. Before, all I knew was that I was living below my means and saving about 20% of my “income”. I actually started tracking because I felt like there was too much money left at the end of the month. I wanted data to wave at my boyfriend: “Look, let me pay! I only spent 100€ on food this month!” I realize that this is a good problem to have.

My lifestyle was probably inflated, and compared to others it still is, but I can’t say by how much – I believe that as soon as I started tracking my spending in fancy spreadsheets, it changed. The Hawthorne effect, predictably. Typical things financial websites recommend cutting out were not a problem: I always made coffee at home and packed my lunch, I didn’t go out for many dinners (but more than I would have estimated!), I have stuck to my New Year’s Resolution of not buying any books (too many I own are still unread). I know I bought new clothes more often than I thought and would like to admit – after all, I’m referring to myself as a minimalist now. (I’m on a clothes shopping ban until at least Christmas; it started in September)

Perhaps cultural stereotypes are the true problem. Wealth is valued, but in our capitalist culture, it seems that the only truly accepted way of attaining it is by making a shitload of money, not by living well below our means. We’re expected to live just below them. Or maybe just above, so we can pay back our credit card debt plus interest? Thus, we spend to appear generous. We call others generous when they spend money on us. When we obsessively track our spending, we feel stingy. When we question every purchase, we worry that we have become greedy. Advertisements tell us not to feel bad, to spend more, but rationally, we know the clamoring voices are wrong. We know we’re better off saving and deflating our lifestyle.

Sometimes, frugality encapsulates generosity: if I invite a friend to have dinner at my place, that is more generous than going to a restaurant where we will each pay for our own meal. If I knit socks for someone’s birthday, a substantial part of the gift is time.

There is generosity in saving money. I’m generous towards myself by filling my emergency fund – knowing that I could easily deal with stolen bikes, broken computers, or lost phones gives me peace of mind. I’m generous towards my unborn children – a saving habit is beneficial both role-model and college-fund wise. Plus, imagine your parents died while still in debt. Here, you can reject an inheritance in that case, but I’d rather my children would not have to research that any further. I’m generous towards people I will never meet but who I support by donating to Doctors without Borders. While working on this post, I doubled my monthly donation, because even my small private attempts at redistribution matter.

How do you reconcile frugality and generosity?

In other news: my About Me page now actually contains information about me.