On Taking Better Care of Our Stuff

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Much of minimalism revolves around detaching yourself emotionally from your things. Declutter this, throw away that, donate what you don’t love, and so on. But what it does not preach so much is how to take care of or maintaining what you do have.

I learned a very expensive lesson when I dropped my camera on a recent trip to London. I was changing the lenses and forgot to wear the strap when it slipped out of my hands and onto the concrete ground. The impact ended up damaging the sensor and causing an ugly black mark to appear on all my subsequent photos , and for my readers who aren’t also photographers, sensors are extremely costly to replace. That incident reminded me of how I really need to take better care of what I do have – things do have a lifespan, but they can be increased with proper care and lovin’.

I’ve talked about the maintenance of things and how they can be burdensome. Things that require a disproportionate amount of care (such as luxury handbags) tend to not provide worthwhile returns. As I’ve settled into my new normal as far as quantity of belongings goes, I’ve been noticing the wear and tear on my things more as I mostly keep what I use every day or at least on a regular basis. I stopped using the dryer for anything other than bedsheets (which I only dry because I only have one set) and began hanging my clothes instead of using the dryer,  just like how I no longer dry my hair with a hair dryer. After all, it seems silly that we need to have these machines that cost  a few hundred dollars spin our clothes around and blow hot air on them – clothes are advertised to last x number of washes but who knows about the dry cycles. I hand wash all my knives, pots, and pans. I make sure that I don’t keep any messy piles around where things can damage each other from just bumping into other things (jewelry is a good example of this). I clean my bike regularly. I keep tabs on what I have in my refrigerator so I don’t waste food. The same can be said about our bodies. Our bodies are designed for movement, and I take great care to ensure that I am active every day. Long flights and train rides make me jittery (I have urges to do pull-ups on the safety bars). Exercise is a celebration of what our bodies are capable of, and it pains me to think that so many people never realize their bodily potential. The less time we take to take of our bodies, the more quickly our bodies will deteriorate over time. And we must use our bodies every day.

Things are responsibilities and I feel that I have a responsibility to take care of things that serve me. The fewer things that I own, the more attention I can devote to taking care of them. Chances are, some amount of the earth has been destroyed to create the things you own. We won’t be able to be perfect about it, but let’s take a little time to take care of what we do have, if at least not to need to buy replacements and require more resources from the planet than we’re already consuming.

Breaking My Shopping Habit

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As a former shopping addict, I can tell you that it took a a lot longer to break the habit than I am willing to admit. The Chicago area is flat and rather uninteresting from a geological perspective. Sure, you’ve got plains, grasslands, forests, and man-made Lake Michigan beach – all of which is gorgeous in the summer and crystalline in the winter. But as far as “things to do,” urbanites and surburbanites often end up running off to shopping malls. Chicago suburbanites are spoiled by fabulous venues like Woodfield Mall, Old Orchard Mall, Northbrook Court, Chicago Premium Outlets, Mag Mile, and so on. Naturally, the sprawling nature of the area is conducive to valuable retail real estate, and spending a day shopping at the mall ogling over shoes happens to be a popular weekend activity around here.

I spent my childhood around relatively rich kids who got more or less what they wanted – birthday parties at outside venues, brand new toys from Toys ‘R Us, and custom-made cakes. It was a wasteful, indulgent environment of plenty, and that was the only reality I knew. The kids on the school bus showed off their toys and playthings all the time. I was never taught the dangers of materialism or the shallowness of judging others by what they had and flaunted. I was never told to find friends based on their personalities and not based on their level of privilege. Even as adults, we are encouraged to befriend powerful people to boost our chances of making it professionally or befriend rich people so that we can take advantage of their wealth. Unfortunately, there is truth behind that advice, but in the end, the presence of an ulterior motive brands these kinds of relationships as superficial.

On the bright side, the reason I can review products and provide my opinion to you free of affiliate ties is due to my shamefully extensive experience shopping and hours spent researching and testing products. Not in quite as an organized way as some sites, and my opinion is just one opinion, but after years of weekly Amazon packages, day trips to outlet malls, hours spent meandering around indoor malls and browsing shopping sites, I figure I’ll use my knowledge to help educate you, my reader.

It took me getting fed up with cleaning up my room all the time and having no time for anything else. It took an honest look at my credit card statements and shuddering at the numbers. It took many frustrating shopping trips, realizing that my insatiable desire for the Perfect Everything was just that. Insatiable. And that insatiability had to change. Even though I was a minimalist, I still felt a desire to replace or renew all of the things I already owned, which in itself is not minimalist behavior. My mind was still consumed by Stuff – albeit, less the accumulation of, and more the optimization of. For a few years, I upgraded everything from my shoes to my backpack to my gloves to things as mundane as my keyboard. I would have different “phases” every month, and I would look at the money I had in my account as a way of seeing how much I could afford rather than how much I could sock away in an investment account. It took several years of decluttering, relapsing, slowly adopting minimalist habits, and, quite frankly – getting older – which, by constantly reminding us of our limited time on earth and fleeting youthful bodies, has a way of gradually revealing what we should care about.

You can upgrade anything, really. I could upgrade to the next generation laptop, set of headphones, or keyboard. I could upgrade to a nicer car, a nicer house, a nicer couch, a nicer mattress. I could always add to my shoe collection, sweater collection, and so on. There is always more that can be desired. Until something limits you. For many people, it’s the money. Thankfully, I hit a Stuff Tolerance limit so that I could intentionally stop rather than forcibly stop. I couldn’t stand the maintenance of all the stuff I owned and how much time and energy it was eating out of my schedule. I wanted to spend less time getting ready in the morning, so I nixed the makeup collection and the stuffed wardrobe. I wanted to spend less time packing for trips, so I got rid of travel-unfriendly clothing. I wanted to spend less time cleaning up after myself, so I got rid of as many decorative items and unnecessary furniture as I could. And I relapsed. I relapsed over and over again for a while, trading in old versions for better versions in a never-ending cycle of upgrade-ism.

I’ve somehow stopped my upgrade-ism for a couple months now, only buying things when things break or wear beyond repair, and only recently started to appreciate what has managed to survive the purging of belongings. The gifts I did receive for my birthday this year were either extremely practical or extremely meaningful, and I’ve started to taste the wonderful feeling of gratitude for what I have. I hope that the upgrade-ism habit has stopped – not because I’ve already upgraded everything – but because I am getting wiser about what really needs to be upgraded or replaced.

How to Stop Being Lazy, Stay Motivated, and Achieve your Long Term Goals

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Ahh, motivation. Motivation is the best. It’s that high we get when we lace up our running shoes, beat our chests, and declare, “I’m so pumped! Today is going to be awesome. I’m going to give it my all and I will stop at nothing.” Throw on a huge smile. Cue upbeat, happy music, sunshine, and blooming flowers. Don’t forget about the picturesque scene.

Motivation is trendy, sexy, and for some, dishing it out is even a career. Motivational speakers give talks about their life experiences to inspire students, employees, and other groups to make a career-defining leap, a life-changing decision, or behavioral shift towards success or happiness. Motivational speakers will tell you things like, “Everything is possible! Every day can be awesome – all you have to do is make a simple paradigm shift. Just will yourself to be this way by repeating to yourself [insert motivational phrase here]. There is no point in being hard on yourself. Make it a daily habit to always be positive!” You see motivation all over social media in the form of Instagram pictures, inspirational quotes in pretty lettering or flanked by an idol, and links to TED talks. They all claim that they have “THE” simple trick or technique that will “transform” the way you work and bring you closer to your dreams.

I am not going to deny that all the positive imagery does feel pretty good, and some of them can even be effective. After all, a world without any motivational propaganda would be pretty bleak. Yet, even after all the pretty photos and feel-good giddiness, I’m not convinced that we should simply aim to “stay motivated” if we want to reach our goals. I believe there is something we can pursue that is more reliable and dependable.

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