I recently fell in love with A Cup of Jo’s Motherhood Around the World series. I’m not a mom, but these little snapshots of life in different corners of the Earth are so charming, funny, and interesting. This piece from the Swedish one made me so happy:
“Swedes even have a special word to describe curling up indoors on a Friday night: fredagsmys. You light candles, cuddle under a blanket on the sofa, eat candy and watch a movie.”
There’s no question that the idea of having “too much stuff” is a first world problem. We’re fortunate to have more than we could possibly use/want, so we endeavor to get rid of it. But reading this NYT op-ed reminded me how isolating the idea of minimalism as a luxury may be to those who have no choice but to “live with less”.
“But minimalism is a virtue only when it’s a choice, and it’s telling that its fan base is clustered in the well-off middle class. For people who are not so well off, the idea of opting to have even less is not really an option.”
I first started drafting this post as a rebuttal of sorts (…Minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of stuff! It’s about finding joy in what you have! And it ties in well with frugality too! Everyone can benefit!…). Many commenters on the article were quick to do the same. But as I was writing, I was reminded of one of my favorite recent sayings: “Check your privilege.”
So instead, I humbly submit that we all take a minute to do the following:
Acknowledge privilege (now, and always).
It’s important to remember that your perspective is not the only perspective. I did veer toward minimalism because of financial constraints. However, I was reasonably sure that those constraints would only be temporary, and I never had to choose between paying for food or paying my rent. Many don’t have that luxury. I was never in the position of having to support an entire family on a less-than-livable wage, so I’m definitely not in a place to dictate lifestyle choices of those who have been.
This ties in well with what I would consider to be a core tenet of minimalism: gratitude. I’m thankful for what I have and don’t take my situation for granted.
Hate the system of consumerism, not the consumer.
I am absolutely one of the people that has scoffed at lines of black friday shoppers. (“Why would you literally stampede stores in order to spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need?”). And to an extent, I still feel that way. But consider this perspective:
“Those aren’t wealthy people who have a house full of expensive items they don’t need. Those are people teetering on or even below the poverty level, desperate for comfort in their homes. To point to them as a reason to start an anti-consumerism movement is just another form of social shaming.”
There are so many things I loathe about Black Friday (to start, you’re probably not actually getting a good deal). But the real problem is the extensive system of consumerism that we’ve built. We need to find a way to combat this at a systemic level—not shame the individuals that follow along. It’s similar to blaming obesity on one individual’s food choices without taking a long hard look at the food system that got us here. How do we fix the system without the shaming?
I’d love to know your thoughts. Agree? Disagree? How do you feel about the “class politics” of decluttering? I welcome the discussion.
With the budget challenge underway, we’re looking for new ways to explore our city for less. To kick things off, we popped over to Sunset Park aka Brooklyn’s Chinatown (only 3 subway stops away!) for a cheap and delicious afternoon.
Stop 1: Fei Long Market. An impressive Chinese grocery and food court, it’s worth the trip just to see some of the foods and produce they offer. (But we also stocked up on as many sauces, noodles, and mushrooms as we could carry—I’m counting that as groceries). Total: $0 for the visit, plus $18.38 for groceries for the week.
Stop 2: ChaTime for a large Taro bubble tea. Total: $4.50 (the biggest splurge of the day)
Stop 3: Golden Steamer on 8th to split an incredible steamed pork bun. Total: $0.80
Stop 4: Kai Feng Fu dumplings, consistently rated some of the best dumplings in New York. Dumplings start at 4 for $1.00, and we saw more than a few people come in and sit down to a giant heap of the fried deliciousness. Total for 12 dumplings and an order of scallion pancakes: $4.75
Grand total: $10.05 for the afternoon adventure (plus a little extra for groceries). A++
And it’s only July! The last few months have included getting married (with a wedding that didn’t go quite as planned), an epic honeymoon, a new job, new friends, some tough family times, and a lot of surprises.
With all that tumult, we’ve gotten a bit… lax, shall we say, with our previous minimal(ish) tendencies. We haven’t become hoarders or anything, but we’ve definitely suffered from a bit of lifestyle inflation. Spending isn’t quite as tight as it once was, and our previously empty shelves have started to take on some clutter. Last week, we went to IKEA for ONE thing, and came back with….. this. (But seriously, is it possible to leave IKEA with only one thing?)
So, it’s time for a reset. To start things off, we’re going back to the budget—the same budget we used when we were two people living on one modest income in a shared apartment in Harlem.
The challenge: $150/week for two people in NYC.
This breaks down roughly as:
$80/week for groceries
$50/week for weekend fun
$20/week for date night
A couple things to note:
This may seem like a lot to some, and barely anything to others. For us, it’s a sizable decrease from our recent spending patterns. New York City is expensive, and we don’t pay to live here just to stay inside all the time (though I am a big fan of good old fashioned Netflix marathons). We still want to enjoy New York, spend time with friends, and generally just live and eat well. The goal is to continue to experience the best New York has to offer, while spending a lot less.
What’s lingering in the back of your closet that you’ve never worn? Or what about the kitchen tool that you never quite figured out how to use? Or a decorative item that keeps getting moved from room to room but never feels quite right. Just rip off the band-aid and get rid of it.
This isn’t the time to say goodbye to your cherished childhood toy, or to edit down a collection of your most beloved souvenirs (we’ll get to that later). For now, just get rid of one thing that never really lived up to expectations.
Notice how it feels to donate/recycle/regift that thing. Notice the space you’ve freed up in your home. And most importantly, notice how much you don’t miss it.
This is how it all starts. One small change that opens the floodgates for thousands of tiny changes to come. You don’t need to give up all your worldly possessions tomorrow (but you can, if you want!).
Minimalism is about editing. Usually it’s editing physical clutter around your home, or even time clutter in your daily schedule. But there’s another, less tangible aspect of minimalism that I personally find to be the most valuable.
The past few weeks have been rough. Between a crazy work schedule, wedding planning, family issues, and out of town visitors, it feels like there’s barely been time to breathe, let alone keep up with a normal routine. As a result, I let some things slide. I didn’t stick to my meal planning (I didn’t even buy groceries!); I let some clutter pile up around the apartment; I bought a few things that I normally wouldn’t have; I took some frustration out on a few people that didn’t deserve it.
My tendency in situations like this is to beat myself up. My brain cycles through a variety of chastisements: I’m not pushing myself enough. I’m letting the stress get to me too much. It’s not going to get easier anytime soon; I’ll never catch up at this point. I’m not as nice a person as I thought I was. I’m not as motivated as I thought I was. My life is simple now; how will I ever handle kids or a house? I’m letting people down.
This is what I call brain clutter. Unproductive thoughts that bring me down rather than help me move forward. Daniel has an even better way of describing it: “the shame spiral”. It’s that feeling when you’re ashamed of your behavior or performance, which paralyzes you and prevents better performance, which leads to even more poor performance, and more shame. Vicious cycle.
Though this is clutter of a very different nature, you can tackle it with some of the same techniques that you would use on clutter in your home. Here are a few tricks for conquering “brain clutter” when it’s holding you back:
Cut yourself some slack
You don’t stand in front of your closet mentally beating yourself up for buying clothes you no longer like (or at least I hope you don’t). Treat brain clutter the same way. Everyone has moments of self-doubt or frustration. Acknowledge that it happens, and give yourself a break. Think back on a few things you’ve accomplished to remind yourself that it hasn’t been all bad. Sometimes even just managing to take a shower and brush your teeth is an accomplishment when things get really crazy.
Figure out the immediate next step
What’s the next thing you can do to get back on track? For physical clutter, it might be taking a giveaway bag to a donation center, or sorting through a stack of papers. Figure out what the immediate next step is in this situation and do it. Do you need to catch up on a project? Return someone’s call? Shop for groceries? Doing something productive feels one trillion times better than dwelling on the past.
Learn something from it
Often, I’m so relieved to emerge from a situation unscathed that I try to just block it out of my memory. Don’t do that! Take some time to reflect on how you got to that point, and how you can make it easier for yourself next time. I now know that rompers will never look good on me (after getting rid of several that still had the tags on). And I know that I need to allow some extra time for myself during extremely busy periods.
Is the shame spiral, or “brain clutter”, something you’ve experienced? How did you handle it?