Would you try a spending freeze?

spending freeze

spending freeze

Note: I’m doing a month of mini fresh starts, including trying a spending freeze. Here’s the whole list of mini fresh starts if you want to join in.

After fifteen-ish years of being an adult, I’ve come to a conclusion about myself: I’ll never be a good budgeter. I’ve tried several attempts at it over the years to no avail. Budgeting just doesn’t stick. My saving grace for this deficiency is that I like simple living, which means my spending rarely exceeds my means.

In other words, minimalism is a cheater’s way of getting out of budgeting.

In spite of my aversion to budgeting itself, I love reading stories about people who do crazy things with their budgets–like pay off a bunch of debt and go travel around the world on a barista’s salary. Recently I read this story about a young woman who got rid of 70% of her possessions and lived on 51% of her income. Her trick was a year-long spending freeze.

Oddly, budgeting and me don’t get along but a spending freeze…now that’s something I can do.

I’ve read about spending freezes before and have always been intrigued by the challenge of them. So–inspired by the story of the young woman–I sat down the other day and made a list of possible things to NOT buy in the coming year. I won’t bore you with the whole list, but here are some notable items:

Three things I’m thinking of NOT buying for a year

  1. No clothing or shoes. Could you go a whole year without buying any new clothing or shoes? After starting my capsule wardrobe two years ago, and then whittling down to an all-season minimal wardrobe from there, I think this goal could be a possibility for me. My biggest challenge? Not getting bored…
  2. No beauty products. I spent all of last year gradually acquiring the supplies to make a lot of my own natural beauty products at home, so with the exception of an SPF foundation (which is hard to make on your own), this challenge is less about spending and more about me using what I already have. The great thing about natural ingredients is that they last A LONG time, so a year with nothing new excluding SPF foundation seems feasible to me. I guess we’ll see…
  3. No books or magazines. I’m rather bookish so this one will be challenging. When I’m feeling an inspirational lull, my go-to pick-me-up is usually a new book. I also love new cookbooks, and owning copies of my favorite reads so that I can underline them and mark up the margins. That said, I’m intrigued by the idea of re-reading books I already own, and frequently patronizing my local library.

Other things on my spending freeze list include no new technology, no accessories, and no jewelry. All total, my list has fifteen “freeze” categories on it. My plan is to try to stick to the list for twelve weeks and then evaluate how it’s going, what’s working, and what’s not.

Also, I did make a short list of “Yes” categories that I do want to spend money on. They include food, nature (ex. national park passes), trips and travel, and home updates.

The long-term goal of this challenge is ultimately to pay down our mortgage debt and save for a few upcoming big expenses (ex. much needed new carpet). I’ll check back in next quarter with an update. Until then, what about you? What category would you freeze if you had to?

Related: a month of mini fresh starts

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A month of mini fresh starts

[NOTE: keep scrolling to see the full list of mini fresh start articles below]

I think it was the cadre of sketchy leftovers in my fridge, plus the sticky dark slurry pooling beneath the vegetable crisper, that officially triggered the “oh man, I’ve really got to get myself back together,” sentiments that I’m feeling today.

In other words, it’s time for a fresh start. Or, in my case, it’s time for a month of mini fresh starts. Here’s a list of 30 things I’d like to try in the next 30 days to give this upcoming new year a simple living, fresh-start feeling.

Join me! Follow along on Instagram as I share more details about these simple living fresh start ideas, plus share your own experiences with January, dealing with long winter days, and how you’re keeping things simple as you start off a new year.

a month of mini fresh starts

1. Clean the fridge
2. Give your skin a break and go bare-faced
3. Try hot salad
4. Find a south-facing window and soak up the sunshine
5. Get outside
6. Take a 60-second clutter-busting pass through the room
7. Try a convertible garment
8. Update a corner in your home
9. Replace a disposable with something reuseable
10. Clean an overlooked space
11. Light a candle
12. Eat a fancy dinner at home
13. Get a plant
14. Drink a new hot drink
15. Bake a cake
16. Try/learn something new
17. Unsweeten something you normally sweeten
18. Remove a chemical from your beauty or cleaning routine
19. Replace a synthetic with something natural
20. Play a game
21. Give a gift for no reason
22. Write a note to someone
23. Power down your screens
24. Take a spending break
25. Go to bed early
26. Make bedtime luxurious
27. Leave something undone
28. Leave something empty
29. Have a “nowhere to go” day
30. Make something smell good

Read more mini fresh start articles:

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What are your screen time habits?

screen-time-self-assessment

You know those presidential fitness assessments you took as a kid? Well, this post is like that, only it’s not about fitness and you’ll be spared the humiliation of trying to touch your toes next to a bendy, double-jointed person (there’s always that one kid…).

Below is a different kind of assessment (no hoisting your body weight up to a bar required). It’s a list of common screen time behaviors that’ll help you gauge what your personal screen time habits are. Forewarning: this isn’t scientific, and many of the statements below ask you to make subjective value judgments. I’m confident you’ll be able to push through anyway, because you’re smart like that.

Here are the rules: Read the list and make a mental flag of all the statements that fit your habits. That’s it. Now GO.

Screen Time Self-Assessment

I’m on my phone checking updates before I even roll out of bed
Half or more of my work is done on a computer
I watch tv/media when I’m working out
I scroll through social media and texts when I’m waiting at stoplights
I pull out my phone when I’m standing in line at stores or waiting for appointments
I eat meals with my phone on the table
I always have my phone beside me
I attend meetings at work with my phone on the table
I browse the Internet during meetings
My media habits stay the same when I travel
I watch TV/videos to relax in the evenings
I watch TV/videos to help me fall asleep
I watch TV/videos when I’m getting ready in the morning
I have a TV/media screen in my kitchen
I watch TV/videos when I’m cooking/doing chores
I watch TV/videos when I’m eating
I scroll on my phone/tablet while watching TV
I read books on a screen
I get my news on a screen
Half or more of my shopping is done online
I play video games in my free time
I see a lot of movies at the theater
I refresh my social feeds to see what’s new

Done? See-that was easy.

Here’s how I answered the screen time questions

I’m on my phone checking updates before I even roll out of bed
Half or more of my work is done on a computer
I watch tv/media when I’m working out
I scroll through social media and texts when I’m waiting at stoplights
I pull out my phone when I’m standing in line at stores or waiting for appointments
I eat meals with my phone on the table
I always have my phone beside me
I attend meetings at work with my phone on the table
I browse the Internet during meetings
My media habits stay the same when I travel
I watch TV/videos to relax in the evenings
I watch TV/videos to help me fall asleep
I watch TV/videos when I’m getting ready in the morning
I have a TV/media screen in my kitchen
I watch TV/videos when I’m cooking/doing chores
I watch TV/videos when I’m eating
I scroll on my phone/tablet while watching TV
I read books on a screen
I get my news on a screen
Half or more of my shopping is done online
I play video games in my free time
I see a lot of movies at the theater
I refresh my social feeds to see what’s new

I consider myself to be pretty strict about screens, especially when and how I use my smartphone. But still—because I work full-time and also on this blog on the side, I spend 11-12 hours per weekday on a screen. That’s 84% of my day (excluding sleep) that I’m on a screen. I feel like that’s too much.

I’m curious: How’d your list compare to mine? Any thoughts on your habits based on your answers?

Related: Could you cancel your home Internet service?

Browse all posts in Media

Dude-approved minimalist hot lunch formula

minimalist hot lunch formula

minimalist hot lunch formula

Attention dudes of the world: here’s a simple minimalist hot lunch formula for eating hearty man food that also happens to be healthy. Women, this formula works for you, too. I’ve been using it to build my lunches for two years and get a ton of jealous stares and comments from envious coworkers. These meals will fill you up, keep you from carb crashes, and help you avoid 3PM vending machine snack binges. They’re also easy to make carb-free/Paleo if you’re into that kind of thing. Here’s what you do:

A minimalist hot lunch formula that passes the dude litmus test

Supplies: get 1 or 2 microwaveable containers, preferably with a lid if you’re taking it to work

Step 1: add a base of green. Choose the one you like best. If romaine or iceberg lettuce is your pick, you’re going to need your second container for everything else. If you like kale, spinach, or other greens that can stand up to a little heat, one container for everything is fine.

Step 2: add a layer of veggies (or start a new container with the veggies). Again, choose your favorites (or, if you’re not a veggie fan, choose the ones you don’t hate). My time-saving hack is to make a big batch of chopped veggie slaw, a pan of roasted veggies, or a stir-fry and then store it in the fridge for the week.

Step 3: add a layer of meat or leftovers. This is always repurposed from dinner, like quiche, casserole, stew, brats, grilled meat, baked potato. Meatloaf is killer. Pizza works, too. Basically whatever you have, just dump it on top. Tips: if you eat out for dinner a lot, order extra to bring home.

Optional Step 4: add a dressing/condiment. Mustard, soy sauce, vinegar/oil, pesto, hot wing sauce (my personal favorite), or whatever you like. Keep in mind that some condiments (ex. anything mayo-based) will need refrigeration if it’s at room temperature too long. Don’t poison yourself.

Optional Step 5: finally, for flavor or crunch, you could add some cheese or nuts. Totally up to you.

Then when lunch rolls around, heat your veggies and leftovers (and greens if they’re sturdy—refer to #1) and eat. Minimalist. Easy. Quick. Healthy. Done.

Related: Minimalist cooking as demonstrated by dudes

Browse all posts in Food.

Could you cancel your home Internet service?

canceling-home-internet

Twenty. That’s how many hours the average adult spends online every week. Twenty hours surfing YouTube, answering emails, googling obscure answers to random questions, and refreshing social media feeds. Based on my calculations about how much time I spend staring a screen weekly, I’d say that this little factoid hits pretty close to home.

In other words, I’m on the Internet a lot. (Something I’m trying to work on.) Apparently so are you.

Perhaps it’s because of this fact that when I encountered the following headline a year ago, it caught my attention. The headline read Killing home internet is the most productive thing I’ve ever done, and it was written by Joshua Fields Milburn of The Minimalists. One year later, I still think about it often.

In the article Joshua said that he felt like the Internet was stealing his time (yes—tell me more), and that he was discontent with the way he was using it (again, yes—go on). He claimed that he wanted to be more deliberate with his Internet use so he cancelled his home Internet service and hasn’t looked back.

What??? You can do that?

The Internet has crept it’s way into my life and taken over

I had mixed feelings about Joshua’s proposal to opt-out of Internet service at home. Since the late 1990’s the Internet has crept it’s way into more and more pockets of my life. (Literally, it’s now in my pocket.) When Joshua wrote about his discontentment with how the Internet was monopolizing his time, it resonated with me. I frequently feel like I’m not in control when it comes to the Internet—like it’s driving my behavior rather than the other way around. I love how accessible information is on it, but honestly it feels like the Internet consumes more of my life than I want it to. His example of cutting way down was provocative and enticing.

Another part of me (the part that still has Internet service at home a year later) feels like canceling my service is impractical. Firstly, I’m not the only one who uses Internet at home, and I know my husband well enough to know that he wouldn’t be on board going cold turkey. Secondly, I use the Internet at home for personal work (like this site) and don’t have the flexibility that Joshua has to hit up cafes and public wifi sites for Internet use. Thirdly, I’m just not ready to take a plunge like that (though I really admire him for doing it).

3 ideas for downsizing your Internet use

Fortunately there are some additional suggestions that Joshua mentioned in his article that I could implement, and they have the potential to make a significant impact on my life. For instance, per his ideas, I can:

  1. check email once per day (Okay, maybe twice is more reasonable. I do work in an office and my coworkers are crazy email fiends.)
  2. designate Internet goof-off time, and then keep the rest Internet-free
  3. keep a running list of things to check/research online and then do it all at once

Each of these suggestions invites the kind of discipline I’m looking for when it comes to my Internet use. By setting firmer boundaries around how much time and how I use the Internet, I feel like I’ll be gaining back some of the control that I’ve lost. Ultimately I’m looking for less complexity, less screen time, and habits that look more like 1996 than 2016.

What about you? Could you cancel your home Internet service?

Related: Do you spend as much time looking at screens as I do?

Related: browse all posts in Media

Why cheap clothing has a hidden cost (and what to do about it)

undressed-book-review

I was driving down the road listening to NPR when I heard her for the first time. She was talking about fashion, but not in the usual way–commenting on styles or reporting on which celebrity was wearing which label at the latest Hollywood gala. The speaker’s name was Elizabeth Cline, and she was talking about her new book, Overdressed, and what she’d learned about something called “fast fashion.”

Curious by this phrase, “fast fashion,” I turned the volume dial up (yes—my car still has dials instead of buttons, which tells you a little something about how old it is). As she described what fast fashion was, I realized that though I’d never heard the phrase before, I certainly knew what it described. Until fairly recently I was a fast fashion participant and didn’t even know it.

Fast fashion is a term used to describe our modern clothing industry.

This adjective “fast” is coined because up until very recently, clothing was S-L-O-W. Most garments were handmade or at least hand-finished, which made clothing expensive. Consequently, people didn’t own a lot of garments and they shopped seasonally—maybe twice a year.

It’s not hard for us to imagine that making clothing sped up. Everything has sped up—why should clothes be any different? Now stores like Kohls, Target, Old Navy, Zara (and just about everywhere else) churn out new designs every day. The result is that we have an endless stream of new clothing to choose from, and they’re sold at super cheap prices so that people like me can hit Target on the weekend and grab something new to wear for Monday (something I used to do all the time). We’ve dropped seasonality in our shopping entirely. Because there’s always something new, people are shopping all year.

However, there are consequences to this behavior. Overdressed primarily names three:

3 hidden consequences of fast fashion

  1. a lot of clothing waste. Americans throw away about 12.8 million tons of textiles each year, which is 80 pounds for each person, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. And much of this clothing waste is made of plastic so it doesn’t decompose. (Yes–that’s right. The clothes you’re wearing are most likely plastic.)
  2. pollution
  3. low wages and poor working conditions in factories in places like China, Bangladesh and Mexico.

It’s easy to distance ourselves from these consequences—literally we are separated by distance from them. The clothes we donate get dropped off at Goodwill never to be seen again. The people who make our garments live far away. The pollution clogs the skies of distant places. The plastic from our clothes gets buried in landfills. We don’t see the consequences, and so we don’t think about them.

Cheap seems responsible…but it’s more complicated than that

Even more, the price is so appealing that it seems responsible to buy fast fashion clothing. I hear my budget-oriented friends talking about it all the time. Getting a good deal is important when you’re trying to make ends meet, and when you’re trying to clothe growing kids (who have brand tastes, by the way).

And yet there are real consequences to fast fashion. Elizabeth talked about the families of garment workers she met. They live in hovels with lots of family members stacked on top of each other. These workers shoulder the same weight we do to make ends meet. Only they consistently come up short because fast fashion pays workers poorly. And those who aren’t living in hovels with their families spend months—even years—living far away from the people they love, staying in factory dormitories and sending money home. Yes, you could argue that their income is improved by this work. But at what cost?

7 ways to transition out of buying fast fashion

So here’s my petition: for us to transition out of the “cheap is best mindset,” because the deals we’re scoring have a cost for other families. We can start stepping out of the fast fashion stream by:

  1. going back to buying seasonally
  2. buying less
  3. buying quality from companies that pay fair wages (buying less and choosing quality are heavily preached by capsule wearers)
  4. buying secondhand
  5. buying handmade
  6. making your own
  7. going without

Stepping out of the stream doesn’t have to happen overnight. I’ve been slowly transitioning out of it for several years by doing a combination of a lot of these things, like keeping a minimal wardrobe, buying secondhand, and making some of my own clothes. I’ve also tried to adopt my husband’s discipline of wearing his clothes until they fall apart (something that’s nearly impossible to do when you have a large wardrobe).  Occasionally I’ll still buy a fast fashion garment, but I’m making strides toward foregoing them for good. They may be cheap, but they’re ultimately too costly for me.

How about you? Would you consider transitioning away from fast fashion garments?

Related: my experiences with a capsule wardrobe

Related: all articles on minimalist clothing

[video] 5 things we made instead of bought this past month

I shared recently that a family mission in my home is to learn how to make things instead of buying them, so I thought I’d do a quick show-and-tell of five household things my husband and I have made in the past month. See the full list above.

Thanks for watching!

Related: Just because we don’t have to make things doesn’t mean we shouldn’t

Related: all articles in the Makers category

Just because we don’t have to make things doesn’t mean we shouldn’t

making-stuff-instead-of-buying-it1

I could hear the lids making a pronounced popping sound as the pressure sealed them shut. In front of me were a dozen gleaming jars full of jam, and I had just canned them. Like generations of people before me, I’d completed the final stage of something quite banal: I’d grown food and preserved it by hand.

The fact that this was my first experience canning is extraordinary—an unprecedented phenomenon in history. I didn’t need to make my own jam (I can buy it with a tap on my phone and have it delivered to my doorway in 48 hours), but unlike generations before me, I have the luxury of making into hobby what used to be necessity.

In the rapid bloom of progress, we’ve become a people who buy things.

Growing, preserving, hunting, sewing, knitting, building—these activities once required for living have been replaced. Now we have only one necessity—shopping—and the rest is optional.

Reader, the rest—making, building, preserving, etc.—shouldn’t be optional. Though we can buy everything we need, I argue that it’s prudent not to.

I bake sourdough bread every weekend for pleasure. A fresh loaf out of the oven is the essence of comfort itself. I do it because I want to, but also because if I had to, I could. Likewise, if I had to knit or sew or preserve food or repair something, I take comfort knowing that I can.

Knowing how to do stuff has become a family mission

This prudence of knowing how to do stuff is something my husband and I have adopted as a family mission. We manage many of our own repairs. He knows the basics of outdoor survival, how to grow food, how to hunt. I’m handy on a sewing machine, and pretty damn good at troubleshooting a clogged garbage disposal. Even my modest advances with zero waste practices is partly fueled by my desire to remember something modern sanitation makes easy to forget, which is that trash is a liability and genuine threat to safety. I want to know the skills of reducing and managing waste because someday it may not be an option.

Sure my husband and I buy stuff—most stuff. But we’ve cultivated a level of skill, and set of tools, that gives us the confidence to make, fix and dispose things if we needed to. And we’re still learning.

It’s time to trade vulnerability for scrappy sufficiency

This is partly why I love the maker movement, and the return to craftsmanship that’s popping up in the US. Not only are high-quality products entering the market, but they bring with them a renaissance of skill and an ethic of work that strengthens us as a country. This is an invaluable gift because it trades vulnerability for resourceful, scrappy sufficiency. Filson, for instance, is a company I featured recently that continues to invest in the art of repair, reminding us about the virtue of mending and making instead of tossing and replacing. We need more Filsons. Happily, we’re starting to see them.

The goal I’m proposing is not to make everything. That would be foolish and impractical. Rather, the goal is to know that you could make some things if you had to, and to learn and practice skills that were required not very long ago. Get started by identifying one thing you buy that you think you could make instead. Then start the process of learning how to make it. Ready? Go.

Related: Cheers to Filson

Related: all articles in the Makers category

Screens are taming us when we should be taking risks

screen-time-is-stealing-our-lives

I’m sitting the sofa, staring down absentmindedly at the spotted pattern of the cowhide rug beneath my feet. It’s Sunday, my newly instituted screen free day and I’m…

…bored.

The thing is—I shouldn’t be bored. I can rattle off a list of eight things I like doing that have nothing to do with digital technology: hike, workout, cook, make something, play horseshoes, garden, declutter, write. Part of the reason I’m pushing myself away from screens is so that I can do more of these things.

So why is it so hard to get started? Why am I sitting on my sofa wishing I could flip on a sitcom instead of diving into any one of these eight things?

This got me thinking about how screens—phones, computers, TVs, tablets—lull us into watching and thus pull us away from the stuff we’d rather be doing.

Screens have tamed us, turning us into passive observers in our own lives.

For instance, I bet you can name at least one or two things you’re putting off right now. Hobbies you’d like to practice, skills you’d like to learn, places you’d like to visit. Why aren’t you doing them? Why are you watching a little blue screen instead, fully knowing that it’s less satisfying and leads to nothing?

Even more, what are you avoiding? What issues are you running from, and what new thing are you afraid to start? Because I bet you have a couple of those, two. I know I do.

I use screens to distract me from these things, to help me procrastinate, to help me run from problems. My heart wants adventure, risk, nature, growth. I want to build things and make things and explore things and fight for a good thing.

Instead, I’m choosing a screen.

Giving up what we really want to do shouldn’t be so easy…and yet it is

This choice is unsettling. It shouldn’t be SO EASY to put away the things in our hearts and minds, and yet screens have made it so. Power on, zone out. One press of a button and we’re stepping right out of the life we could be living and into a cage of our own making. And like animals in captivity, we begin to forget what life could be like on the outside.

By taking a day off from screens, I’m stepping outside of the cage, if even for a few hours. I’ll be honest—I don’t feel freedom. Instead, I feel the pressure of actually having to fill my newly screen-free time with real things. And…well…I’d rather not. It’s harder to do the things on my list, and I’m hooked on easy. But I don’t care—I’m committed to the harder thing anyway. The reward, which is actually living my life, is worth it.

Try it. Join me in a screen-free day. It’s a small commitment and could be the start of a new chapter of your life. Your actual life.

Related: Do you spend as much time looking at screens as I do?

Let’s put conservation back into conservative

Here’s something that might surprise you: I’m a conservative.

In many ways I don’t fit the stereotype. Specifically I’m a little too “hippie,” and would probably stick out like a sore thumb if I went to a conservative gathering right now (perhaps especially right now with our pending presidential election).

#awkward

Nevertheless, in my heart I’m a conservative because I believe in conserving what’s wholesome and good. The root of conservatism is conservation, after all. What are we trying to conserve? Freedom and family, yes. But also the natural world. Also equity, justice, generosity and compassion.

I’m totally disillusioned by today’s political culture

Sadly, like a majority of young people today, I’m totally disillusioned by our current political culture. One of my heartiest complaints is that we’ve become overly partisan, and this partisanship has made us—made me—lazy. It’s herding our conversations into media-friendly channels, only exposing us to sound-bite worthy headlines from people we already agree with. The result is that we don’t take the time to learn about the true complexity of issues, and we don’t get to talk about them outside of the liberal/conservative boilerplate platforms.

Issues that shouldn’t be partisan (but sadly are)

When we make issues that shouldn’t be partisan partisan we’re doing a disservice to ourselves, to the poor all over the world, and to liberty. For example, here’s a list of issues (from the book, Living More with Less) that shouldn’t be partisan, and yet many of them are:
•    Import-export agreements/trade policy
•    The structure and oversight of international economic organizations (ex. IMF, UN)
•    National farm policy
•    International corporate farming
•    Global unemployment, including fair labor and wages
•    Development assistance for poor countries
•    Arms dealing and military defense
•    Energy
•    Environmental conservation

A lot of these issues aren’t sexy. In truth, most of them are a snooze fest that have me snoring in minutes. ALL of them are universally complex. Because of these reasons, they don’t make headlines, and when they do, they’re grossly oversimplified.

I’ll make a confession: I don’t pay attention to hardly any of them. This makes me susceptible to partisanship myself. That’s going to change. Because “The two realms—conserving resources at home and taking on economic and political issues—are as inseparable as the yolk and white of a scrambled egg.” In other words, every time I fill up with gas or buy food or upgrade my phone, I’m participating in REALLY BIG issues. And my choices matter.

So do yours.

I don’t want career politicians who are trapped (willingly or otherwise) in today’s current inflammatory partisan muck to define what conservatism is. I’m going to invest myself in the discipline of learning about these big issues. And I’m going to talk about them. Warning—it might get #awkward, but that’s okay. I’d like to see conservation put back into conservative, starting now.