Living More with Less in 2015

I’ve been preparing for 2015 for some time now. Three months to be exact. Not because of January 1st resolutions, but because I seem to focus on a few overarching themes each calendar year. It’s a habit I’ve had for years and it’s been working for me.

Here’s a sample of the last few years:

  • 2011 - Finish a second major for my undergrad
  • 2012 - Leave my corporate job and reboot
  • 2013 - Start this blog & catch up on my reading big time
  • 2014 - Get serious about writing and go to Africa

So what’s up for 2015? 

Two themes predominate:

  1. Live a simpler and richer life by having and buying less stuff and doing more of what matters.

  2. Finish my first book (Note: I’ll skip the book stuff for now because it’s likely not that relevant to you at this point.)

I’ve been thinking about disconnecting myself from the need for stuff for some time*. One could argue that I’ve made some major shifts in my thinking over the last few years, especially in 2014 thanks to an increased focus on our million-dollar to do list, which included some savings goals we wanted to hit.

So far, I’ve been spending less on stuff, but I don’t think I'm anywhere near where I want to be when it comes to how much stuff I own, what role(s) stuff plays in my life and how to optimize my spending patterns to maximize happiness. And I’ve arrived at this conclusion thanks to the following books (shown in order of impact from top to bottom and left to right):

Great book if you are in need of a kick in the rear to get rid of stuff. It inspired me to get rid of a lot of stuff last year.

Serves as a good reminder that less stuff, fewer commitments and greater focus on what really matters makes you better. Period.

A great resource to get a handle on the happiness ROI of dollars spent. I highly recommend it and wrote about it here.

J. Schor does a great job of explaining how society predisposes us to want to shop and its effect on our happiness.

This book offers compelling "whys" for filling our living space with less.

The ultimate in downsizing and living a richer life. It's not about her tiny home so much as how rich her life became in other ways.

One woman's struggles with consumption in general in an effort to save and live a better life at the same time.  

A compilation of blog posts from Zen Habits. Good reminders of ways to simplify life in small but meaningful ways.

Here are some examples of recent purchases or current habits that make me go “hmmmm”:

Shoppers bought roughly the same amount of food each time they went shopping, even if they had pledged to cut back. ‘Consumers sometimes act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behaviour with little regard to current goals.’
— p. 187, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

1. Buying bulk…a lot: I don’t think two adults need to have 44 XL rolls of toilet paper, 20 boxes  of tissue paper, a dozen large bottles of shampoo/conditioner and 5 large containers of laundry detergent. And that’s the current tally after abstaining from purchasing these products for about 2+ months now. Yikes!

2. Stocking a pantry and freezers that are now bursting at the seams: We have enough dry and canned goods to get us through months of eating and two freezers that are nice and full with all sorts of meats, veggies, fruit, soups, etc. I’ll admit that we’ve started to work through these over the last few months, but we have a lot to go through…many months’ worth by my estimation.

Our very full pantry and freezer. And this is after two months of slowly reducing our stash. Still quite a way for us to go.

3. Having way more shoes and clothes than I can possibly reasonably cycle through in any given year:

  • 45 pairs of shoes (including a ton of useless but beautiful high heels)
  • 20 jackets of various types (sure, I live in Canada, but really?!)
  • Over a dozen handbags
  • Heaps of t-shirts, shirts and other clothing that I could easily forget I have.

Note: Luckily, I have not added much to this horrendous collection this past year—workout clothes and jeans mostly—but I’ve not purged enough either. The picture on the right is one of 3 closets, let's call it the tip of the iceberg...

4. Collecting candles because I find them inexpensive and beautiful. I have 30+ candles currently, not including votives. I wish I could say that I’ve not purchased any this year, but I’d be lying…big time.

5. Owning hundreds of books and magazines that we either haven’t read or referenced in a long time or that have been on our “to read” list for a year, or two, or five, or more! Truth be told, we read far more books from the public library than from our “private collection”.

6. Purchasing clearance items just in case: one example is whole bean seasonal coffee as just-in-case Christmas offerings when invited somewhere for dinner and the hosts did not drink/enjoy wine, which is our usual offering. Now I have a heck of a lot of coffee to get through.

7. Ordering a cord of wood and not using nearly enough of it so far this winter. Why are we not burning what we’ve purchased and spending on hydroelectricity instead?! Laziness is all I can think of.

Note: As soon as I thought of this point, I sheepishly made a fire before starting to write again. I guess that’s a good thing.

8. Owning tons of Christmas cards and wrapping paper, despite not using much or any of it over the past few years…and it gets better! I bought a $12 bulk roll of paper thinking I might need it this year. Not sure what I was thinking…call it temporary insanity.

The above list is enough to show that there are definite improvements I can make and that it shouldn’t be that much effort to clean up our act, in more ways than one.

Here's what I'm going to do.

So how do I plan to simplify and refocus my relationship with stuff? Like any good plan, there are three main themes:

  1. Don’t buy anything unless it’s urgent - yes, it’s a flexible definition but I’ll update the blog with a tally of purchases made.
  2. Use (and enjoy) what I have.
  3. Focus on spending time with and giving to others.

Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these.

1. Don’t buy anything unless it’s urgent.

I won’t be buying anything that doesn’t need to be replaced immediately. I’ve been scaling back purchases significantly over the last few months and this doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. I’ll only buy what we will use up regularly, such as fresh foods and other necessities.

Of note is that the focus of this point is material goods. Experiential purchases, such as travel, education, health, leisure activities, getting together with friends over coffee, drinks, meals, are still fair game. We’re not trying to get ourselves out of debt here, but maximize how we spend & save our dollars instead. 

2. Use & enjoy what I have.

I intend to use a lot of the things that I have and have had for a long time that I know I’ve wanted to use or do. Three examples include:

  • Enjoying my candle collection as is or reusing the wax to make a variety I will use.
  • Read books I already own that I’m not planning to discard.
  • Start craft projects already own and that I’m excited about working on.
  • Sell or give away some of what I have that will make more room for living and for the things we enjoy.

There are many more examples of things I can enjoy more as opposed to seeking out new/different things. But at least the list above clarifies a bit what my intention is. I’ve used these examples because I’ve recently started to do these things already and it’s been rewarding to say the least.

3. Focus on spending time with and giving to others.

This point is likely the most important. I want to refocus my spending patterns and a big part of that is by thinking of others. I want to spend more time:

  • Getting together with friends.
  • Giving of my time and money.
  • Giving away some of what I/we own to friends & family and to people in need who could use or enjoy what we have more than we do.

I’ve armed myself with many coffee, brunch, lunch dates this January as a starting point to ensure I refocus my attention away from the house and away from any sort of wish list for stuff. If anything, a wish list is often more about a feeling of emptiness I have than a need for something that will truly add to my quality of life.

Across the 136 countries studied in the Gallup World Poll, donating to charity had a similar relationship to happiness as doubling household income.
— p. 113 of Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

My husband and I made a shift in 2014 to give more of our time and money and it’s been a welcome change to how we spend our resources. I know that I’ve enjoyed how fulfilling it is and I intend to do more of it this year. It’s far more rewarding to give to others than it is to give to ourselves. I know it in principle, but to have ramped up this aspect of our lives and to already be reaping some of the benefits really hits home.

Through the years, I have found it wonderful to acquire, but it is also wonderful to divest. It is rather like exhaling.
— Helen Hayes

I guess you could call the last bullet above “purging” but I want to ensure it’s understood to be more intentional than that. I want to give in a way that doesn’t just “move our junk” on to someone else because that just perpetuates the problem. I want to give in a way that seeks out a true need or wish for the item(s) in question. One recent example is that we gave away some oversized wine glasses during the Holidays. We've since heard how much enjoyment our friends have had using them. Now of course, they could easily have purchased them, but why do so if we have a pristine set that we weren’t making good use of anyway. That’s what I call a win/win!

It’s not sexy, but that’s why it’ll stick.

One could argue this theme for 2015 is more of an evolution than a revolution. Though it’s not as sexy as some big change on a given date, I think it’s more likely to endure than any radical change. I look forward to working through a continued and deeper focus on stuff and the tiny part it plays in leading a meaningful life. 

I can't wait to report back triumphs, inevitable slip ups and the overall experience along the way.

***UPDATE: Here's how it's going so far***

What about you? Do you have an evolving relationship with stuff? I’d love to hear it.

*I say “I” because this challenge is mostly my thing this year. I’ve not imposed these thoughts on my hubby for two reasons: I don’t see why I would dictate how he spends money on stuff given the fact that he’s not a spendthrift and I do most of the shopping/acquiring of things for the two of us anyway—80%+ of the spending is done by yours truly. It’s not that he’s not involved in this process to some extent but I won’t be signing him up by default.

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