The Congruence of My Values

Does it depress anybody else to think about the fact there is no way to completely stop supporting end-stage capitalism/corporatism? That often your values contradict each other, creating a catch-22 situation? Take floss as an example. I’m picking floss because it’s a basic need that can’t easily be substituted. If I buy it locally and inexpensively, it most likely will be from a big corporation like Walmart, who receives corporate welfare from tax payers and sells cheap and low-quality items made by people working in horrible conditions. If I buy it locally from a small-scale seller, it will most likely be overpriced, and unfortunately, I’m not in the place financially where money isn’t an issue. If I buy it from a small-scale seller online, it might be cheaper, but also leave a much bigger footprint, packaged in cardboard and plastic, shipped to me via dirty fuel sources such as a plane, truck, or train. I could buy a bunch of floss at one time so less packaging is used for shipping, but then I’d be cluttering my home with excess items, belying my desire for clean, minimalistic spaces. So how do I faithfully adhere to fighting corporate greed, not overspending, and being eco-conscious? It feels impossible. I don’t know what the answer is. And now I’m realizing I’m writing this post using a smart phone which was probably made using resources pillaged from developing countries and perhaps even using child labor. And “do my best” just feels hollow. It makes me feel weak, unintelligent, and unresourceful. I end up quickly becoming discouraged and saying, “You know what, screw it. I’ll do what’s easiest.” Does anybody else feel the same way, and how do you find peace with the decisions you make and the ways you order your priorities?

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Wrapping Paper

December 14 is World Energy Conservation Day. Wrapping paper (depending on the type) can’t always be recycled, and recycling uses resources and energy better spent elsewhere. Here are seven alternatives to traditional wrapping paper.

1. Newspaper (For those of us who still have access to newspapers!)

2. Gift bag (Many of us receive gifts in these, and they are easily reusable!)

3. Plastic bag (Many of us still have these floating around the house, even if we’ve already switched to reusable tote bags. This is a great use for them!)

4. Shoe box (You can even decorate them!)

5. Fabric scraps (These are a personalized, shabby-chic, kitschy alternative to wrapping paper!)

6. Make part of the gift the holder, as well (for example, a pretty basket, bowl, reusable tote, or flower pot) or wrap with part of the gift (for example, a blanket, pillowcase, scarf, or beach towel). This is a super fun, resourceful, and non-wasteful alternative to wrapping paper!

7. Hide presents around the house instead of wrapping them or cover them with a sheet, towel, or blanket. Such an obvious alternative to wrapping paper, yet it’s easy to forget about it!

What creative ways have you come up with to wrap gifts and participate in the magic and mystery of the season while committing to sustainable habits?

Thoughtful, Minimalistic Holiday Gift Ideas

Even as a minimalist, it’s hard not to get caught up in the spirit of gift-giving that permeates the Holiday season. But what do you do when you don’t want to spend money on meaningless stuff as a way to show somebody you care? Fortunately, there are a lot of thoughtful, minimalistic gifts you can give to friends and family.

Experiences are great gifts to give. These include gift certificates for salon or massage therapy services, tickets to a concert or a theme park, or a day filled with hiking, skydiving, rock climbing, etc. Whenever they think about the fun day they had, they will remember you. And they won’t have to store, clean, or take the gift with them when they move.

You can offer to perform a certain service for them, such as babysitting for a day or cleaning their house. You’re offering your labor and time instead of money you would have spent on a physical gift. This is an incredibly thoughtful gift because they know you can always make more money but will never get that time back.

You can make them a gift, such as a craft, recipe, letter, poem, photo collage, scrapbook, or homemade video. This is a very thoughtful gift because it takes creativity, time, and a personal touch to come together. These gifts tend to elicit warm feelings towards the giver and create cherished memories.

You can find them the perfect gift on a freebie site. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and the internet allows people to advertise the possessions they don’t want anymore. You might find just what they need/want, perhaps something that is not being carried by stores any longer.

You can donate to a charity in their name. This is a very thoughtful gift that allows you to spend on a worthwhile cause while honoring their passions and principles, allowing everybody involved to benefit.

Some of the most memorable gifts I have ever received have been non-monetary and had a personal touch involved. Instead of simply aiming to cross your loved ones’ names off a list by buying them something generic from a department store, experiment this season with giving thoughtful, creative, personal gifts. It will be easier on your wallet, get your creative juices flowing, and prove far more fulfilling.

How to Decorate for the Holidays as a Minimalist

It’s easy to see a minimalistic lifestyle as limiting instead of freeing. It can be difficult to figure out how to participate in the festivities of the Holidays without accumulating and owning a lot of things. So how can you celebrate and enjoy the magic of this Holiday season while sticking to your principles, avoiding unnecessary spending, and keeping your physical and mental spaces clear?

red pillar candle on white table cloth

Instead of buying items that are specifically made to be used as decoration, find decorative ways to use items you already have. For example, pretty candles can be used not only as decoration, but as light sources and to make your home smell pleasant. Placemats, tablecloths, bedding, and couch throws all can be used for both their original purpose as well as decoration. Photos, postcards, and greeting cards can also be displayed and used as decoration. White lights can both be used to decorate spaces during the Holiday season as well as other times of the year. Many people use them around their bed, photo collages, plants, and other areas around their homes to add a little extra charm year-round.

leafless tree on white wall

Another tip is to keep your home clean and uncluttered. That way, even if you have only one candle decorating a room, it will stand out and make the whole room look and feel festive. This can seem a lot more special and definitely more aesthetically-pleasing than a mantel full of knick-knacks. Natural materials like branches, burlap, pine cones, and twine give your home a comfy, not overly-done-up vibe.

shallow focus photo of red holiday tree ornament

You can also make your own decorations, which is more economical and eco-friendly than purchasing materials. It’s also a fun activity to do with family or friends. For example, I am planning on making a gingerbread house with my 3-year-old niece, as well as making ornaments for the tree.

hanging snowflakes paper decor

Choose decorations that can be used all season long, if not all year long, instead of for one specific holiday. For example, choose snowmen, which can be used all winter instead of Santa Claus, which doesn’t apply after December 25.

closed blue wooden door

Only have a certain amount of decorations. I know one person who has so many Christmas decorations, she is never able to use all of them and often forgets what she has. Keep a small collection of your favorites and focus on quality over quantity. Even a simple wreath hanging on the front door can transform the looks of a house.

Please let me know any tips you have for making your home reflect the beauty and cheer of the season while keeping your minimalistic principles in mind.

We Have Too Many Choices

We have too many choices. In most of the world, where scarcity is the norm, this concept would not be easily understood. However, in the West, we have become spoiled in our relatively lavish lives with seemingly endless possibilities.

For example, we now have multiple streaming services where before we only had cable as an option and maybe the sports package as an optional add-on for an additional cost. Before that, tv offered only a few channels and if you didn’t like what was on, you’d be required to fall back on the couple radio stations coming in clearly enough to understand.

In the “old days”, when folks sewed their own clothes, even before the invention of sewing machines, they had enough clothing for a few days before they’d need to wash and rewear. They were careful to ensure they were sturdy and made with quality because they had to depend on them and could not wear them for a season before throwing them out and buying the next big fad. Nowadays, fast fashion and cheaply-made clothing have resulted in huge wardrobes with most people only wearing half (if that) of what they have in their closets.

You ate what you could grow yourself or swap with your neighbors. Now we have fast food and casual dining restaurants galore. Grocery stores have a greatly-expanded inventory even compared to what they had half a century ago. Not to mention the amount of apps and delivery services that have been created to ensure you can have any food you want at any time delivered to your doorstep. But when you’re really hungry, don’t you find even usually unappetizing food tastes like the nectar of the gods? How many people ask each other “I don’t know what I want to eat. What do you want to eat?” back and forth when trying to decide on an option?

It seems quality has greatly decreased even as options have increased. For instance, most of the movies on the streaming services to which I’ve subscribed have been rated very low by viewers and seem to be thrown together quickly on a low budget and use rehashed plot lines and tropes. The cheap food you can get through any drive-thru is typically packed with high calories and “filler”, while being low in nutrition and long- lasting satiety. The clothes, as mentioned, are typically fragile and thin. Photography does not require skill anymore, as digital cameras and built-in phone cameras allow several pictures to be taken while only the few deemed good enough are kept. No longer are we required to buy more film and pay for it to be processed after taking the time and effort to drive somewhere. No longer do we have to eat healthfully and exercise to look good — we can simply photoshop or use a filter. If we want a more permanent change, we can save up for plastic surgery.

The sheer amount of options has resulted in a populace that is rife with dissatisfaction and whose attention spans have been shortened without their explicit permission. Ever had the experience I often have where I’ll be watching a YouTube video only to stop it in the middle and click on a different one that catches my attention from the side bar? Or that yucky feeling when you can’t pick a movie on Netflix to commit 1.5-2.5 hours to because of the nagging feeling that there might be another one available that you’d enjoy more? That you’re not choosing the best and settling only for the good?

Everybody knows it’s easier to clean a room that is a bit messy instead of one that resembles the path of a tornado. If there is too much to do, one often does not know where to start cleaning and organizing. It’s tempting to throw up your hands and walk away, feeling defeated, than to steel yourself for the monumental task.

These are only a few examples of the amount of choice we have available to us today. I believe one big reason behind the popularity of minimalism, natural food, and off-grid living nowadays is that people are feeling overwhelmed and actually yearning for less choice. They are tired of working ridiculous hours to buy things they don’t even want, but feel they need, because everybody else is working just as hard to have those things, themselves. I encourage everybody to think about what you’re giving up by accepting overload in your life. By doing so, you run the risk of living a life that feels dull and unfulfilling, with the haunting feeling of not being or having enough.

Why I Love Reading But Don’t Own Books

Some people might think it’s odd that I love reading but don’t own any books. Some might ask, “Why don’t you at least own your favorites?” Eight years ago, I donated all my books to the library and started using the library exclusively for my reading material. I had amassed so many books that they took up tons of room to store, and moving with them was a real chore. The great majority of my books I didn’t read twice, and some of them I had never read at all (the ones I got as gifts that didn’t interest me). I figured it made more sense to donate them to the library so everybody could get use of them and so I could be freed of dozens of possessions I really didn’t need or get any value out of owning. Nowadays, if I can’t find something at the library, I will request it through an interlibrary loan. If I’m unable to get it that way, I will buy it at a discount, read it, and then donate it to the library. A few weeks ago, my mother and I went to a used book store and bought several books. We have no intentions of keeping them. We will either donate them to the library or sell them back to the used book store. I feel like the library is a great, often untapped resource for community members that many people forget about once their school days are over. Are there any other lovers of books out there who feel the same way about owning books?

Starting a Postcard Collection

Deltiology is the study and collection of postcards. I have been playing with the idea of starting a collection, myself, although I’ve considered myself a minimalist for eight years now. As a child, I collected stickers, stationery, beanie babies, troll dolls, and My Little Ponies. However, I haven’t been a collector of anything in several years, especially anything non-consumable (for example, I have several bottles of different nail polish colors).

Some people collect postcards that have been sent to them by others. Some collect antique postcards they happen to find while browsing antique shops or specifically set out to find by browsing eBay or other online sites. Others enjoy collecting postcards from a specific niche or subject area, such as funny postcards or postcards that showcase teddy bears.

Still others enjoy collecting postcards from their own travels as mementos from the trips. It is a goal of mine to travel more frequently (I know I am hardly alone in this), and I think it would be a neat idea to write travel memories on the back of postcards I find during those travels. Although postcards aren’t the most unique travel souvenir, it’s not surprising why so many people collect them. They are easy to find, cheap, light, compact, and can be easily stored or displayed. They could also act as an homage to my love of writing.

Do you have any collections that are special to you? Why did you decide to collect what you collect?

“Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!”

No wiser words were ever spoken than these from the author, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Several years back, I began feeling a strong desire to simplify my life. At the time, I had been using retail therapy to help fill the void in my life while simultaneously feeling emptier and emptier. I realize now that the more stressful moments of my life are also the times when my life is artificially full with activities, people, and things that don’t add meaningfulness or value. It is when my life is going well that I also am practicing simplicity. This is not to say that my life needs to be uneventful, boring, or lacking in order for me to be happy, but rather that I fill it with the right kind of activities, priorities, and goals.

For example, many people feel pressure to get married and have children because that is often the message sent out by society, in the forms of television shows, advertisements, job benefits, tax credits, would-be grandparents, etc. Children can be a blessing, but they also require a lot of time, money, and exasperation. Thus, the decision to procreate should not be taken lightly. Likewise, some feel the need to amass certain items or reach certain goals they feel they need in order to “make it”. These could be a new car, home-ownership, or a certain amount of savings in the bank by 30 years old. The problem isn’t the things themselves or having goals. It’s the fact that they come from an inner uncertainty about ourselves and whether we are good enough, in-and-of ourselves.

A simple life isn’t about lack. Instead, it’s about removing the undesirable noise and chaos, regardless if others tolerate the noise and chaos in their own lives. It’s about realizing how precious time and options are and putting thought into decisions (especially large ones like parenthood) before making a decision based on societal expectations. It’s about understanding that every decision for something is by default a decision against something else.

I think about my own problems and those of people in my life, and I can’t help but find most of them are self-inflicted. Many are as a result of not just one bad decision, but a sequence of them. With exceptions such as a debilitating genetic disease or being born in a war-torn country, we have a lot of power over the way our lives will go. And slowing down and figuring out what is vitally important to us will also make crystal clear what doesn’t actually matter at all. I am still figuring out what is important to me and what is not. I have a lot of it figured out already, but still struggle to hear my own voice over those of others telling me what I should do, believe, think, buy, and spend my time on. I just know for most of us life doesn’t have to be hard if we don’t make it hard. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”