Category Archives: Buy (Almost) Nothing Year

Coming Clean: How We’ve Cheated on Our Buy (Almost) Nothing Year

We only have two months left in “Our Year of Living Minimally,” aka the Buy (Almost) Nothing Year, and it has been both harder and easier than I expected.  I’m sorry to have dropped the blogging ball as I just realized it’s been seven months since the last update … so much for my goal of monthly posts!  We’ll put that one in the harder than I expected category.

As we are fast approaching the end of this little experiment, I thought it might be a good time to come clean on how we’ve “cheated.”  If anything, this project has exposed and emphasized both the rebel and rule follower in me.  There are ways that we enforced the “letter of the law” but obviously broke the spirit, and there have been times we really felt in keeping with the spirit of our law while blatantly breaking the letter.  We haven’t followed our self-imposed guidelines perfectly, but I’m really proud of how well we’ve done on the whole, and our slip-ups have provided opportunity for reflection and growth.

So here’s where I share some (actually, all that I can remember) of those slip ups.

IMG_1566Clementine: This is very much so a spirit and not letter breaking.  I initially wrote out an exception to our shopping ban for clothes and toys for our daughter, which I would do again.  However, because I left a bit of latitude in that guideline, I honestly bought her more than she needed, especially with regard to clothes.  It’s really the first time that I’ve had to shop for her clothes as much of her wardrobe her first year consisted of hand-me-downs, so I’m still learning what all accouterments a two year old actually needs.  I was able shop economically, though, and found several cute dresses (more than she needed, I am learning) at a second hand shop while visiting friends in Austin.  Honestly, shopping for Clementine has often been guided by want instead of need, and this is an area in which I desire to exercise more discernment.

Pens & Notebooks: I bought some pens this summer.  Some pretty, pretty pens.  And a couple of notebooks.  Blatant rule breaking, but I don’t care.  These things keep my life together, and I’m 10x more likely to keep my life together when I’m using pens and notebooks I love.  Plus, I had some birthday money to spend …

Glass Food Storage Containers: I didn’t write out an exception for replacing broken items, but I should have.  This would count as a spirit keeping if not letter.  I dropped one of our lunch bags last spring and shattered the rectangle container I pack my lunch in every day.  We went ahead and sprung for a complete set with locking lids because eating at home practically every meal increases your food storage needs.

Shorts (for me & David): My only pair of khaki shorts developed a hole in them, and I found another pair for $14 at Sam’s.  I did get some new athletic socks and sports bras, but I knew that was a need and exempted that purchase from our ban ahead of time.  I should have investigated David’s wardrobe a bit more before making our exemptions, however, because he was in need of more athletic shorts.  I found a couple pair at TJ Maxx for around $10 each, and it was a good thing because he lost another pair to the wind while airing them out on our balcony a few weeks ago …

Digital Bible Resources: Each month Logos offers a free ebook and often a few super cheap ($1-$3 range) options as well.  David makes these purchases unabashedly because 1) they don’t take up physical space in our home and 2) they will serve him well in the future.

IMG_1692 copyA Basket: Last spring I found the. cutest. basket at a children’s shop near our school.  I wanted it for our living room to help corral Clementine’s toys, but I didn’t get it because I felt like it was veering too far from our established guidelines.  Over the summer, however, I talked myself into the purchase.  It was for Clementine!  I’ve already hashed out how purchases relating to my daughter are a weakness for me, so there’s that.  When we returned home to Jakarta in July, I was devastated to find the basket no longer for sale.  I really wished I had just made the purchase back in May.  For months I kept my eye out for that basket and finally found one very similar (although not as big, unfortunately) and sprang for the purchase.

A Wallet and Purse: After the basket debacle, I determined I would not become victim to a similar fate again.  Things change on the daily in Jakarta, so when I found the perfect leather purse that I’ve been dreaming of for years at a temporary pop-up shop in the mall, I bought it.  My current purse is developing holes, and while my crafty mother-in-law helped salvage it this summer, the purse is looking pretty pitiful.  No, I don’t actually need a new purse right now, but I will soon, and I knew that the shop wouldn’t be there in January.  So while I did break our rules to make the purchase, I am at least hiding it in the top of my closet where it will wait for me until January 1st.  🙂  I also bought a wallet from the same shop for David because we were in danger of losing debit and insurance cards due to its developing holes.

Delivery Pizza: As I have written before, breaking our eating out habit was by far the hardest change initially.  It soon became the new normal, however, and we both found ourselves enjoying eating at home at lot more than we expected.  We did eat out over the summer, but again, that was pre-planned.  Outside of book dates, our birthdays, friend/group gatherings uninitiated by us, and our trip home over the summer, we have eaten out/ordered in exactly twice.  Once was a 3:00 AM McDonald’s run the night we got in from the States (still on Central Standard Time …), and the other was a Domino’s delivery order after the gas ran out on our stove as I was getting ready to make dinner.  We weren’t able to order more gas until the next morning, so we opted for pizza over eating the leftover beans we’d had for lunch that day.

Hmm, I just remembered two more … I did get new tennis shoes this summer after using my (three year) old ones on a family whitewater rafting trip, and we did eat out on our actual anniversary in addition to our pre-planned summer celebration.  I may even remember a few more before I finish typing this post, but the point for me is not how much or little we have strayed from our initial guidelines.  The point is how far we’ve come.  I appreciate things like eating out so much more now that it’s the exception and not the rule.  I’m truly grateful for everything we have and am more and more cognizant of all the things we don’t really need.  I don’t expect next year to look a whole lot different from this one, surprisingly, and that feels amazing.  I thought this year would be this huge sacrifice, but it’s just become our life.  A very joyful one at that.

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Minimalism & Love Languages – OYoLM March Update

One day in college during an RA staff meeting, my boss informed us that we would be discovering our “love language” together that afternoon.  Doubtful and apprehensive at first, I didn’t see how this cutesy little system could help me understand myself better or even peg me accurately.  Especially with the phrase “love tank” being bandied about, there was some definite eye rolling.

However, upon exposure to the descriptions of said “languages,” I was surprised at how much they made sense.  I didn’t think I would fit into a love language mold, but I absolutely did (the Quality Time and Words of Affirmation molds, in fact).  I later read the book for myself (and years later walked my own RA staff through the quiz), and if you allow yourself to look past the cheese, there’s a lot of wisdom to be found.

For the uninitiated, Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages explains how people tend to give and receive love in different ways and how by knowing your own love language(s) and those of others, we are in a better place both to demonstrate our love and truly feel loved.  He proposes that most people fall into one of five love language camps (or at least value some camps more than others): Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  This was such a revelation to me at 19.  I finally understood why unloading the dishwasher meant so much more to my mom than just “hanging out.”  Or why I could remember in detail both the best and worst things people said about me.

So what does this have to do with “Our Year of Living Minimally”?  Well, March is a big celebratory month for us with my birthday and our anniversary falling two days apart (Beware the Ides of March & Happy St. Paddy’s!), and special occasions like these tend to mean stuff, at least in greater consumer culture.  When we put our shopping ban in place, we decided not to get each other presents for our birthdays, anniversary, or Christmas.  We still very much celebrate these occasions, just without the stuff.  In fact, this year David got up early to make me a delicious black bean tostada birthday breakfast and shared a list of his favorite memories of our relationship, complete with a song for each category of memories.

He also tried his hand at a chocolate cake (from SCRATCH!) and officially redeemed himself from the flour/powdered sugar confusion incident of 2011 … 😉  We celebrated our anniversary with dinner and plan to celebrate more fully this summer with a night away.

Now, in full disclosure, “Receiving Gifts” happens to be the lowest ranked love language for both of us.  That’s not to say that we haven’t given and received thoughtful gifts over the course of our relationship, but certainly our most memorable gifts have been experiences together.  To celebrate our first year of marriage (and our birthdays as justification for the trip), we got to go skiing.  Our first year in Indonesia we celebrated our second anniversary with a hiking/beach vacation in Lombok.  We took a babymoon/anniversary/birthday trip to the Philippines for year #3.

Now that Clementine’s here, our trips consist of walking 50 meters to the local Mexican food joint, but we’re still happy to be spending time together.

Perhaps pursuing minimalism is easier for us in some ways due to our love language bent, but this year has pinched at us a bit namely because of our primary love languages.  While we may not be as tempted to go out and buy a lot of things, going out to eat (sometimes multiple times a week) was a significant way we spent quality time together before this year.  However, in limiting those experiences, two things have happened.  1) We work together more in prepping meals to eat at home, which allows for more quality time and 2) We really cherish those rare occasions (book dates & birthdays) where we do get to spend time together over a meal we didn’t prepare.

So what about you?  Do you know your love language(s)?  How does it impact your experience with minimalism?

OYoLM February Edition – The Why

While I (Sarah) do most of the writing for this blog, my husband (David) is chiming in this month to share the “why” of not only our decision to buy (almost) nothing for a year, but also the general motivations for our pursuing minimalism.

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The formation of new habits is largely a matter of forming new loves, new orientations of the heart that recalibrate the course of our lives towards our deepest longings. Put more simply: new habits begin when we answer the question “why?” in a new way and then act on that new answer. When we provide a new, clear, definite, desirable answer to the question “why,” we often find the motivation that had been lacking to undertake new ventures, explore new places, or make lasting changes to our lives. Why run? Why diet? Why read? Why travel? Why own less? Answer these questions in a new way and you will be forced to explore new ways of living, and these new ways of living are the beginning of new habits.

Joshua Becker assigns some simple homework to participants in the first week of his Uncluttered course: know your why. Beginning a journey of minimalism demands establishing true north, identifying Polaris so that travellers can stay on course. During the first week of the course, Sarah and I dutifully sat down to finish our homework. We agreed to work individually first, and then come back together to share what came to mind in answering the “why” of our pursuing minimalism. After our conversation we then condensed and consolidated our reasons and posted them on our bathroom mirror where they still hang, an ever-present reminder at the start and close of each day for why we are choosing to live in a new way.

I want to share our why on this blog, or at least a part of it. For some of you our why may be so predictable and well worn that that it hardly seems worth repeating, but I hope that for others our why provides new questions or new motivations for your own lives.

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Everyone should read this book!

The reality is our minimalism journey was a long time coming. Sarah and I would both list Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline as one of our favorite and most impactful books. What Foster sets out to do in Celebration of Discipline is to reintroduce time honored spiritual disciplines, one of which being simplicity. Foster calls our materialism “the modern psychosis that defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn” (Foster, 101). He goes on to state:

This psychosis permeates even our mythology. The modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl could do either!) Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry (Foster, 101).

While minimalism may be a new movement garnering a lot of attention over the past few years, its criticisms of a materialistic culture are nothing new; Celebration of Discipline was originally published in 1978.

For Sarah and I, minimalism is deeply connected to our faith in Jesus Christ, because we believe that God cares about how we relate to possessions. For us seeking to live minimally is part and parcel of learning to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt 6:33). Foster states, “The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first and then everything necessary will come in its proper order” (Foster, 106). For the Christian “the inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions” (Foster, 106).

There are two dangers to minimalism and minimalism-type lifestyles. One can be found in Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (another motivating force in moving us towards minimalism). While there are some great practical tips in her book, the Konmari method does not involve shifting the location of our joy or meaning; it merely attempts to refine it. For Kondo joy is still found in possessions; indeed her whole approach is essentially stripping away the non-joyful possessions so that those material things that are joy inducing can shine all the brighter. One danger in minimalism is that we still seek joy materialistically. We just seek to do so qualitatively instead of quantitatively.

The other slightly more insidious danger is for minimalism to become a badge of honor marking the one who lives most minimally as the winner in a lifestyle of game of limbo. The bar is continually lowered, and participants own less and less proving just “how low they can go.” But this can easily become an exhausting, legalistic, joy-sucking game of judgment (and indeed five minutes poking around Amazon or the blogosphere will take you to some of these stories).

But for Foster and for the Christian, the point isn’t in what you own, rather a lot or a little. The point is the pursuit of the kingdom of God, for “simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom” (Foster 107). This in no way invalidates the very good reasons for living minimally because “when the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, ecological concerns, the poor, the equitable distribution of wealth, and many other things will be given their proper attention” (Foster 107).

So why do we week to live minimally? We seek to live minimally because “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). We seek to live minimally because we have been given the kingdom (Luke 12:32). We seek to live minimally so that we can “learn the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:12). Most of all we seek to live minimally as a way of seeking God’s kingdom, being transformed, asking that God “turn our taking into giving…giving as he gave himself up for us all” (from Walter Brueggemann’s prayer, “We are takers,” in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth).

Our Year of Living Minimally – January Update

Well, we survived the first month of our “Buy (Almost) Nothing Year,” and it wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated!  All of the decluttering and simplifying we did over the Christmas holiday really paved the way for initial success with our audacious goal.  In the past, I would get overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in our kitchen, both random utensils and a decent amount of non-perishable food, so much so that I was discouraged from cooking.  However, by ridding ourselves of the excess, cooking is a much more pleasant endeavor … and it doesn’t hurt that David doesn’t mind doing the dishes.  🙂

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Friday Night Fettuccine

As I mentioned before, my biggest apprehension going into this year was our no eating out rule (excepting book dates and travel).  That first Friday night at home it was a little sad not to head out together for our weekly Amigos date, but it’s since become the new normal.  We’ve decided to make Fridays “Italian Night” complete with either homemade pizza or a pasta creation.  It’s also been great having leftovers to carry us through the weekend.

Since we’re a bit behind in our reading, going into the month it looked as though we might not eat out at all the entire month of January.  However, the school needed to send us to Singapore for a visa run, which meant we had no choice but to eat away from home.  🙂  We thoroughly enjoyed our rogan josh and chicken tikka masala in Little India.  And Clementine is a huge fan of the mango lassi!  We were thankful for the little “splurge” and I am newly motivated to try out some Indian recipes in the not so distant future.

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Enjoying our Little India “splurge”

We did do a little Orchard Road shopping for Clementine while in Singapore, although all under our “approved” guidelines.  Her grandparents gave her some money for Christmas we had yet to spend, so we got her a Grimm rainbow, which she’s loved.  Since potty training is in our imminent future, we also got her a potty seat … (pray for us now).

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Loving her Christmas present

One thing I did notice on our trip was the lure of Starbucks.  At the airport I mentioned to David how on any other trip we’d be grabbing our triple caramel macchiatos (easy on the syrup) before boarding the plane.  I was proud of us for drinking homemade coffee in the car on the way there.  I hadn’t missed it much, but walking around Singapore where there was a Starbucks every few meters it seemed, I was suddenly very aware that I hadn’t had a takeout coffee in awhile and how nice it would be to get one.  It’s crazy how much our surroundings influence us!  I am so thankful that I don’t see a Starbucks on a daily basis or really any other “tempting” shops.  (See photo above for the “We Miss You!” email I received from them the other day …)

While we didn’t finish Anna Karenina (our December book) this month, we went ahead and read January’s The Underground Railroad since a digital copy recently became available from the library (and was going away at the end of the month).   Even though we live overseas, we still have access to three Dallas area libraries, and more often than not we are able to find the books we’re wanting to read.  There’s even an option to “recommend” the library purchase certain digital titles, and a few times they’ve actually stocked David’s requests.  All that to say, if you haven’t looked into your local library’s digital titles, you are potentially missing out on a goldmine of convenient and free reading.

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January #DaSHbookdate

In addition to our unforeseen Singapore trip, we actually got a book date in this month as well.  Because eating out has become a treat and not the norm, we have appreciated it so much more.**  We really savored each meal, taking no bite for granted.  However, now that eating at home is the norm, we appreciate those meals more as well.  We’re eating more healthily both in content and quantity, and we’re spending less money.  It’s still very early in our year long experiment, but we are happy to see some rhythms emerge and notice positive change.

So that’s the update at one month in.  I realized after the last post that I hadn’t gotten much into the “why” of our decision and had planned to use this month to cover that more fully.  However, I’m going to leave that one to David.  This year is the culmination of ideas and promptings spread over the course of several years, so much so that “the why” deserves its own post.  Plus, David spoke in chapel this month over the spiritual discipline of simplicity, and I know he’ll express our heart much better than I could.  So … stay tuned.  🙂

** I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a fantastic resource we stumbled upon this month that has further shaped our thinking about consumerism and its pitfalls.  The whole blog is worth checking out, but this post in particular really helped put our eating out habits into perspective.