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.

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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.

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

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

To Give or Not to Give? Minimalism and Gifts

Christmas berries_FotorNow that I’m a minimalist, the best part of childhood Christmases has become a balancing act: the giving and receiving of gifts. It is a way we express our affections –I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of human nature, not just how we are socialized in a world of conspicuous consumption. Giving something we treasure means “I treasure you, too.” But this act has been greatly exaggerated as holiday traditions evolved. It seems we hardly know how to express love using currencies other than those available at the bank.

It has become less about “treasure” and more about “something.” I need to find something for Uncle Bob. Anything. Even though I only see him once a year, I need a gift, taking a wild guess at what he might like, to show him I care. Otherwise, how would he know? I forgot to call him on his birthday, after all.

Now add the negativity caused by comparison: Why did Uncle Bob give Cousin Sue a bigger gift than me? Did she call him on his birthday? How can Cousin Sue afford such expensive gifts? We’re the same age – do I need to find a new job to keep up? Why is my pile of gifts smaller than last year? Does my family finally understand minimalism or do they love me less?

I still like to receive gifts, but now it can be bittersweet. My new default is “I don’t need this.” But that is not the reaction givers are looking for. My solution is asking for specific things I actually need. It takes away the surprise, but with my default, surprises are usually of the bad variety. But since I don’t casually talk about the exact shirt I want (or my measurements), the odds of someone else finding the perfect fit are slim. Hence, the Christmas list.

There are so many things I only kept because they were gifts. They are weighing me down and I have the hardest time removing them. Despite knowing that the giver probably no longer remembers the gift and that passing it along does not mean that I don’t love and cherish whoever gave it to me. Whenever I do part with a gift, I feel lighter, and able to give better love. A win-win – but one I can’t share with the other winning party. However, it’s a long struggle for every gift, and while in the midst of it, I wish I had never received it – also not what the giver was going for.

Experiences or giving to charities are great and often suggested substitutes, since you still spend money, but add value without adding stuff. Unfortunately, not everyone can be convinced that physical items are not necessary: My mom needs the floor under the tree to be covered with gifts to feel like she is giving her (grown) children a proper Christmas (yes, we’re spoiled). She realizes that that is not how we measure her capabilities as a mother, but somehow she can’t help herself. She has given me experiences, but only in addition to things. Maybe there will be more gaps under the tree this year. Here’s hoping.

If someone asks you not to give them a gift, listen. Not using money to express love may feel insufficient at first. But respect their wishes, let them explain their version of minimalism – Minimalists love preaching talking about why we should all declutter stat. That is the best gift you can give to someone who knows they have more than they need.

A Question to Help You Unplug

unplug_question

When was the last time you checked your phone while talking to a loved one? That you went to bed hours later than you should because you were trying to get to inbox zero? That you didn’t do something you said you would because you spent all your time on social media? All three happened to me during the last weeks. Multiple times, if I’m honest. Despite knowing I shouldn’t, despite knowing that it will make me feel bad about myself.

But I’ve found a solution. I now ask myself: Am I really that important? And the answer is no.

Are people really contacting me so frequently that I can’t ignore my phone for half an hour? No. Even if they were: are their requests and problems more important than the person I am talking to? No.

Are the emails I receive so urgent that I need to sacrifice my sleep? Can’t they wait a day or two? Even if the sender says they need an answer ASAP, shouldn’t they be sleeping, too? No, yes, and yes.

Is everything on social media a message for me personally that I need to see and acknowledge? No.

At first, it is odd to say to oneself “I am not important.” But it is easier than saying “This text/email/post is not important.” Because usually I know that I don’t need to reply right away/tonight/ever. But that doesn’t stop me from catching up on everything that happened on Facebook in the last 24 hours when I was meant to be doing yoga. I’d also claim that yoga is more important to me than Facebook, but on some days, you’d conclude the reverse from looking at my time management. Asking “Is this important?” obviously didn’t work.

“Am I that important?” is akin to asking “Is my contribution to this absolutely crucial? Does it have to be instantaneous for the world to keep spinning?” It helps me see the ridiculousness of inbox zero – sure, I’d feel accomplished. But who emails me is not in my control. What if I get an email the second I open the last unread one? And another a second after I’ve dealt with the newest arrival? It’s a potential hamster wheel.

The key is being honest with myself. While I am very important to my family and close friends, I’m not that important to every single person who emails or texts me – think about how many emails you get from people you don’t even know. Not everyone can care deeply about what I think or do. It’s a fact of life. Thus, I can let some time pass until I hit reply.

I’m going to take some time today and over the holidays to let email be email and life be life. Meanwhile, I’m going to have coffee with friends, read books, cuddle with my boyfriend, write, and do yoga. Savoring the holiday season while connecting in the old-fashioned sense. I hope you’ll join me. Because seriously: what is the worst that can happen while we unplug? Chances are, if there’s a true emergency, we’re not going to be able to help via email. That’s what 911 is for.