March Update

Three months in!  That’s 1/4 of the way through the challenge.  Things I bought this month:

  • a pack of 36 birthday cards — I think greeting cards are kind of stupid, but my family does send them.  I was scrambling to find a card to send to my aunt for her 70th birthday.  I wound up using a blank notecard, which was fine, but I thought it would be nice to have a pack on hand for future situations like this.  I spent $10 for the cards and they are not that great, but it’s the thought that counts here I think.  I’m considering making a birthday calendar for my family and actually sending out cards to everyone this year, not just big birthdays that my mom reminds me about.  I’ve already used two.
  • a book of stamps — to send above cards.
  • a record — my dad turned 70 this month.  He is a gifts person, so I decided to bend my rules to buy him a 45 record he had been wanting.  I also went home for a visit and made him a cake, but I don’t think he’d have felt like it was his birthday if there hadn’t been some physical gift.

My husband is not participating in the challenge with me.  He doesn’t normally spend a lot of time or money shopping, so he wouldn’t benefit from the challenge much anyway.  However, I thought that I should report some of his purchases that directly benefited me, though I in no way encouraged him to make them.

  • a new cutting board — we had two cutting boards, a wood one that has pieces falling off and a plastic one that was partially melted and cracked from being left on the oven.  My husband bought a nice new plastic one to replace the old one.  We also kept the wood one.
  • a dog bed — we had a couple of people stay overnight this month.  We keep our extra bedding in our suitcases, and when one of our guests was here and I was making up the futon for her to sleep on, I found my dog like curled up in the suitcase with the pillow in it.  My husband bought her a dog bed and she has been using it a lot.
  • a travel pillow, some seeds, and a bike bell — it was also my birthday this month and my husband got me these things as a gift.  All useful things I appreciate having, couldn’t buy myself, and did not ask for.

Things I seriously thought about buying, but did not buy:

  • sweaters that were on sale from Uniqlo
  • a birthday gift for my husband — I wound up giving him some cookies, a cake I made, and a cookbook I had gotten as a gift that I thought he’d like.  I also sewed new buttons on three pairs of his pants.
  • sunglasses and a hat for our vacation — I decided to borrow my mom’s hat and use my old, rather scratched sunglasses.  I ended up losing the hat while we were there, so I’m seeing a replacement hat purchase in my future.
  • Souvenirs from our vacation.  I was tempted, but didn’t buy anything!

On how being dressed professionally doesn’t make you smarter

I went to a presentation held at a nearby university last week.  It’s a working group in which people present the projects they are doing and ask for feedback/advice.  Two women presented this time around.  I’ve met one previously and had seen the other at this group.  I already had good impressions of them both and their presentations last week reinforced this.  This was the case even though they were both early in the research process and neither has much clarity on where she is going.  It is good to see smart people doing the kind of work I hope to do and realize they go through the same struggles to pin down ideas and figure out how to handle data problems.  They are definitely more adept at this than me, but I think I’ll get somewhere near their levels with more practice.

I’m writing about these women because one of the thoughts running through my head as I was listening to them speak was this: I should get some new clothes.  One of the women in particular was dressed nicely, in a loose blouse, a necklace, blazer, and dark jeans with boots.  She looked so put together and professional.  The other was wearing a simpler outfit — a sweater and slacks with a necklace.  I don’t have very much professional clothing that I actually like and think is stylish/flattering, so my impulse to go out and buy things to be more like these women may actually coincide with a wardrobe gap, but it certainly isn’t something I need to remedy right now.  I do not need to be dressed professionally to go to class.  I need to be presentable, but I would look and feel out of place if I wore a blazer to school each day.  And buying clothes similar to the ones these women wore will not actually make me more like them in ways that matter.  I want to have good ideas, speak about these ideas in an informed way, and be able to ask and answer interesting questions like them.  Buying a blazer will not make me any better at these things.  I think my desire to buy clothes often comes from a feeling of inadequacy, or a striving to be better than I am if I try to frame it more positively.  I spent a few guilty minutes looking at clothes online before I successfully redirected myself.  No purchases were made this time.

Final Update: January Minimalism Challenge

As I mentioned at the end of January, my mom and I put this challenge (get rid of 1 item on January 1, two on January 2, etc.) on hold because her dog had a serious health issue.  Ace is doing well so we tried to pick the challenge back up February, but my mom had lost steam.  I still kept going for a while on my own.  I made it through day 17 during January, and in February I made it through day 23.  That’s 123 more items out (176 total), including a toolbox, lots of clothes, and more than half of my nail polish — which I haven’t worn in over a year so I probably should just let it all go.  January has 31 days though, so I still had another week before I finished the challenge.  I was spending too much time looking for things to get rid of, so I stopped.  I do feel the challenge helped me to clear out quite a bit and have more space in my apartment, mind, and day.  I didn’t finish, but I still am counting it as a success.

February Confessions

Two months down!  This month was not any harder than January, so pretty easy so far.  I did buy a few things that I’ll own up to:

  1. electrical tape — I changed the wrappings on my bike handlebars because they were falling apart and I was gripping metal.  I already had wrappings to use, but I had no way to secure them to the handlebars.  I bought electrical tape to do so.  I also used the tape to fix our pair of scissors, which broke earlier this month.  At the end of the month I discovered approximately four rolls of old electrical tape in my husband’s toolbox, which he inherited from his grandfather.  It’s full of treasures, but was totally disorganized.  We organized it, and also stumbled upon some screws and anchors we wound up using to put up our curtains.  The set of screws and anchors I bought last month were too big.  So my lesson here is: know what you have, or at least check, before running out and buying stuff.
  2. car tire slime — I bought this to use in two of my tires on the recommendation of my dad.  I was having to fill up my tires twice a month when the low air pressure tire light came on, so hopefully this stuff will buy me some time before I have to replace all my tires.  So far, so good.
  3. buttons — My husband is missing buttons on an alarming number of his work pants.  I’m going to replace them as part of his birthday present.

That’s it!  We did buy lots of groceries and some household stuff like dish soap, but I’m not going to list those purchases since they are allowed under my rules.

Spending Time

One of my three main motivations for buying nothing this year is to save time.  I would say that is really the most important of the three to me (the other two are saving money and owning less stuff).  I realize I have a finite amount of time on this earth, and I don’t think shopping on eBay (or anywhere else) is a great way to use much of it.  But the resolution to stop spending that time on eBay is a negative one: don’t do it.  So what should I be doing instead?  I don’t feel I am neglecting anything in my life in order to shop, but rather filling my free time with meaningless activities like shopping.

Maybe a better resolution would be not to spend less time shopping, but to spend more time doing other things.  Just what other things are worthwhile is the question, and it’s a very subjective one.  I could be doing practically productive things, like earning money through some type of work.  I could be improving my environment by cleaning.  I could be doing things to improve myself, like exercising, cooking healthier meals, or learning/practicing a skill.  I could be doing things just for fun, like a hobby.  I could be doing things to help others, like volunteering.  It seems like leisure time can be divided up into these four categories:

  • practically productive (cleaning, work)
  • self improvement
  • fun
  • other focused

There can obviously be a lot of overlap between these categories.  I might have fun while I’m volunteering, and I might learn a new skill at the same time.  I might find the work I do fun, and it might be focused on helping others.

I feel OK about how I’m spending my time in the first category.  I eat relatively well, exercise, and our apartment is clean (enough).  I do think I could spend more time in the second category.  I would like to learn to play the piano and to speak another language fluently.  I should also really be spending more time reading research for my PhD.  I was initially unsure if that would fall into category 1 or 2, but decided on 2 because right now there are not many tangible payoffs to reading more papers and coming up with research ideas, even though there will be payoff in the future.

The last two categories are the ones I  think I am missing the most.  I want to have more fun, and I want to help others more.  I do find online shopping mildly fun and it’s easy to do.  The same is true of Facebook.  I think that is why I spend so much time doing these things, but I also think I could have a lot more fun doing other things.  But what?  I enjoy reading, I think, but I seem to pick wasting time on the internet over that often (in the past anyway), so I guess I don’t enjoy it that much.  What would I enjoy doing more?

I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project and she also struggled with finding fun.  One of her recommendations (which I think she got from someone else) was to think about what you did for fun as a child as a guide for what you might find fun now.  As a kid, I did read a good amount.  I also spent a lot of time outdoors in the woods, primarily hoisting myself up into trees with ropes.  I liked doing active things, including sports, though I often got frustrated with team sports.  I spent lots of time with friends, playing imaginary games probably past the age when that was normal.   I sang a lot, in choirs, in shows, to annoy my brother.

How can the things I did for fun as a kid inform what I might find fun now?  Well, I do think I could do more active things outdoors.  Maybe I would enjoy learning to rock climb.  I could join a sports team of some kind.  I can’t think of a way to engage in imaginative play that I am interested in trying, but perhaps I am being to judgmental.  I have played D&D as an adult a few times and found it mostly fun.  I am already in a choir, which I think I find fun.  I often do not want to go to rehearsal though, but I am glad I am doing it anyway.  I think I would enjoy it more if I was better friends with some of the other singers.  It’s a bit strange because the choir is primarily undergraduate students, who seem very young to me now.  There are also some older people, much older than me.  Not many people seem to be close to my age.  I do think I need to work on spending more time with friends and making new friends.  Fun often happens with others.

The other category I need to work on is finding a way to help others.  My goal in my PhD program is to train myself to do research that will improve the lives of others, but that is a long term commitment and I often don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything helpful (or anything at all really) on a day-to-day basis.  I would like a to do some regular volunteering to fill this gap.  I used to volunteer at a thrift store that was attached to and supported a women’s shelter when I lived in another state, and I loved that.  However, my commitment to buy nothing means I should avoid thrift store volunteering for the time being.  I recently decided to apply to be a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer in DC.  I have completed two of the four training sessions and am a bit overwhelmed by it, so I haven’t decided if it’s for me yet.

I may have the best intentions of spending my time better, but I need to put something in place to make it happen and I haven’t found that yet.  I no longer waste vast amounts of time on eBay, but I have found other online activities to fill that gap.  It’s like wack-a-mole.  eBay is out of the picture, but I can endlessly look up flights online instead.  Unfortunately, I don’t think my use of time has improved much in the last two months.

Love Where You Live

I recently read This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick.  The first few pages of this book were like reading my own thoughts.  Warnick is a few years older than me and has moved to six different cities as an adult.  Each move started out as a hopeful, exciting change, but each new place disappointed her somehow, leading her to start dreaming about the next move, when she would finally find the place that felt like home.

I too have moved around a lot as an adult.  I’ve lived in five different cities in two countries.  Unlike Warnick, I never thought about any of these moves as permanent, but as a good next step.  After a year or two in one place I start to get antsy, having lived with the frustrations of that current city, and I move.  These moves are also usually motivated by a growing aversion to whatever job I have and the desire to move on.  I have not lived in the same city or had the same job for more than 2.5 years, and my 10 year college reunion is coming up relatively soon.  My current city is my longest stint so far, at years (though I only had the same job for two of those).  I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either.

This may not seem all that related to my buy nothing project, but I think my move impulse comes from the same place as my buy impulse.  Both impulses are driven by thinking that what I have now is not good enough and that changing my situation will make me happier.  The results are also somewhat similar.  Buying something typically does not change my base level of happiness for long, and neither does moving.  Buying things often results in guilt, stress, and regret and moving is usually initially exciting, but little truly changes.  Moving also comes with a host of challenges, like finding my way in a new city and trying to make friends.  I have put a lot less effort into friend-making the last few places because I tell myself that I’ll be moving anyway, so why bother with all the effort?  I am lucky to have two existing strong friendships in my current city, but it would be good to expand that.  I definitely think I’m making progress towards some lasting friendships in my PhD program.

Anyhow, even though I don’t think this current city is my final home (and neither does my husband) we will be here for at least another two years, and probably another four.  It’s worth my time and effort to learn to love it here.  Warnick is in the same boat, since the closing of her book reveals that she too might move from Blacksburg, VA, which she grew to really love over the course of the book, due to her husband’s job.  I’ve started to employ some of the “love where you live experiments” Warnick recommends to develop place attachment.  Here are a few:

  1. walk/bike more
  2. volunteer
  3. buy/eat local
  4. do fun things where you live
  5. enjoy nature where you live
  6. get political
  7. get to know your neighbors

I already do #1 a good amount, but am working on the rest.  I recently started training as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) volunteer, where I’ll be matched up with a foster child in my city.  And even though am not buying things this year, I continue to buy food and go out to eat.  I am going to make a concerted effort to choose local restaurants and local food.  I have also been making an effort to do number 4 and 5 more.  There is lots to do in my city and I should take advantage of that more.  I also live right next to a park and have been taking my dog on more walks back there.  I am unsure about 6 and 7.  I live in a very political city and don’t think it would be easy to get elected to the school board or something like that, but I can pay more attention to local political issues.  I also wish I knew my neighbors.  Maybe I will have a party for the people who live in the four other apartments in our building once it is nice out.

January Confessions

Well, here we are just out of the month of January, 1/12 into this challenge.  This first month was relatively easy for me.  I briefly wanted to buy a few things I definitely did not need (like a T-shirt at the Women’s March), but I resisted… with the exception of two items that fall outside my rules.  I bought some screws/anchors and a non-school book.

The screws came in a set with some anchors.  We’ve lived in our new apartment for four months without putting up our blackout curtains.  We tried to put them up and realized we were missing the anchors and a couple of screws we needed to do so, so we bought a set on Amazon for this purpose.  Perhaps I could say that my husband bought this, or that technically it is home maintenance and so does not count, but I thought I should own up to it anyway.

I also bought the book for my cousin, who I forgot to give a book at Christmas this year.  I give all my cousins used books for Christmas and have for the past few years.  I used to pick out books for them individually, but I haven’t been keeping track of which books I’ve given to whom, and I also don’t really know what they enjoy reading.  So this year I just bought a bunch of books that I think are good and let them each pick one.  Most of my cousins are college-aged.  There is one high school sophomore, who took The Other Boleyn Girl and was covered.  But there is also a 6th (7th?) grade boy — and none of the books I picked out were appropriate for him, so I promised to get him a different book.  I forgot until last night, and ordered him The Golden Compass on Amazon.

So, there are my two slip-ups for your scrutiny.  I have continued to buy food and toiletries, but will not document those purchases since they are within the rules of my challenge.  We’ve also gone out to eat about once a week, which is also within the rules of the challenge.

A final confession: I’ve still spent a fair amount of time shopping online this month, but only because we have started to have our groceries delivered.  I am not sure if I am spending less or more time by grocery shopping this way, but grocery shopping with a glass of wine on my couch is so easy and pleasant.  And because I’ve found some great coupons for first time customers at Peapod, Safeway, and FreshDirect, I actually think we saved money while stocking up on pantry essentials and fresh produce.