If there is only one lesson that minimalism has taught me, it’s that happiness does not come from things. I wish they would teach us this in school. After all, who uses calculus? When I was little, adults would tell me never to get a credit card but I never learned why until I was deep in debt. I went many years before I realized that I had a problem and needed to stop spending.
I may have mentioned in a previous post that I grew up in a house with a lot of stuff. We weren’t hoarders. I guess you could say it was a house full of clutter. My mother was always one to collect trinkets like water globes, music boxes, and all sorts of home decor. To this day she puts up four Christmas trees every year. Talk about excessive. In reading this some of you may realize one of the reasons why I became a minimalist.
Minimalism Changed How I Thought About Spending
I used to go to Michael’s Arts and Crafts and easily drop $200+ on supplies for art projects that I never completed. It was almost like I had a need to be creative but for some reason did not want to focus on my writing. Instead I wanted to pursue every other creative endeavor on the planet. If any other writers are reading this, I’m sure they understand the feeling. It’s amazing how much time writers spend trying not to write.
I’ve been a minimalist now for almost 3 years. Within this year I had my partner drop me off at Michael’s Arts and Crafts for a few minutes while he went to run an errand. As I was walking through the store, I realized how much my state of mind had changed since I started down the minimalist journey. I walked up and down almost every aisle. I used to want to purchase every single item I laid my eyes on. Now, all I see is junk. I didn’t want to buy a single thing and I was so impressed and amazed with how much I had changed in such a short amount of time.
Three years may seem like a long time some of you but in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t.
Do I still struggle with spending?
There are times. However, for the most part my spending is mostly done on food. I’m still very bad at gauging how much is eaten in a week. We often over purchase groceries only to end up throwing them away later.
Things like clothing and non-consumable items like home decor have been really easy to stay away from but I also adhere to a certain set of rules and ask myself certain questions before I make a purchase. This really helps me out when it comes to spending and I would like to share those tips with you.
Questions to Help You Stop Spending
Do I really need this? Or do I just want it?
So often we forget the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need.’ Take a look around you and you might discover that you already have everything you need. Food, water, shelter and a few sets of clothing is ‘need.’ Twenty pairs of shoes (I’m talking to women AND men here), twenty Phillip’s head screwdrivers, and twenty 12 liters of soda are ‘want.’ Sticking to water is better for your health anyway.
Where will I put this? How will it fit into my life and in my home?
I can say that I’ve purchased exercise equipment and furniture that had no place in my home. We have a two-bedroom apartment. Regardless of how big your home is, do you ever find yourself buying things just to ‘fill a void’ or because a magazine told you a console table or an accent chair was needed? Or would look good with a new shag rug? What purpose is that item serving other than taking up space?
Seriously, there is nothing wrong with a little empty space. If anything, it’s refreshing to come home to less stuff. It’s less to clean, less to pack up and move, less to deal with all together. Think about that.
What will I use this for? Am I just buying this one item for this one tiny purpose or will it serve other purposes as well?
Every purchased a funky kitchen utensil because that one recipe that you fixed once said it was required? How about that special saw because that one DIY project that you didn’t complete said it was required to perform the task? Or that huge bottle of oyster sauce for a recipe that only called for a teaspoon of it… If you’re going to purchase something, the more uses it has, the better.
How to Stop Spending on Clothing
Clothing has it’s own separate category. There are so many questions that apply to them alone. Here are the questions I would ask myself if I were tempted to buy a piece of clothing.
Does this fit me? Is this comfortable?
Fit and comfort are HUGE when it comes to your clothing. Who wants to be uncomfortable all day? Who wants to not look and feel their best? Clothing with the proper fit can make all the difference in appeal. This, in return, can affect your confidence and the way you present yourself. Be comfortable, be confident.
Can I afford this? Am I only purchasing this because of the brand-name? Is this a trend item will go out of style?
Please, please don’t buy something you can’t afford just because it’s a brand name and you have to have it. In fact, don’t ever buy anything you can’t afford. More importantly, brand names can be trendy. I can honestly say I’ve never judged a person based on whether or not they had a certain brand of jeans, shoes or polo.
Do I already have something else like this?
Unless you’re like Steve Jobs and you wear the exact same thing every day, you don’t need fifteen of the same turtleneck. A little variety didn’t hurt anyone.
On Spending in General
It’s not that minimalists don’t purchase things. We definitely do. However, as Joshua Fields-Milburn says in his documentary with Ryan Nicodemus, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, “the danger is not consumption but compulsory consumption.”
I have been guilty of buying clothing on a whim only to throw it out a week later. Yes, a week. Either it didn’t fit, I didn’t like the way it looked on me, or it wasn’t comfortable. I am so guilty of this. But the important lesson here is that I realized my mistake and I learned from it.
Avoid the Store, If You Can
If you know that a certain store is too tempting for you, I strongly urge you to avoid it. I used to be in Target twice a week. I was there for groceries, clothing, makeup, hair products, and athletic equipment. Now I never go there. I was able to pay off my Target card last year and close the account.
When I do opt to spend money, I usually pay a little extra for a higher quality product. And if it’s clothing, I always try it on first to make sure that I’m comfortable and I like the fit. Something I never did before.
Don’t Throw Your Money Away
We all work hard for our money. Most of us work jobs that we don’t particularly care for. Don’t throw your hard earned money away. I spent years doing it and now I’m going to take a few years to recover from it. Now, I spend my money on wisely. I stopped purchasing books until I read the ones I already have. When spending money on films, I make sure it’s something I really want to see and enjoy.
But You’re a Writer? Don’t You Want People to Spend Money on Your Writing?
On every corner there are people trying to get you to spend. As a writer, I’m one of them. Of course I want you to purchase and read my stuff but I don’t write to make money. Any smart person knows not to write for money. Would I like to make a living off of it? Of course, but that’s not the drive behind any artistic craft. I write to provide a temporary escape from reality, for passion, for thrill and entertainment. I write for the same reason that people read, sing, compose, dance, and design.
So when making decisions on any kind of entertainment, whether it’s a book, film or album, I can’t say, “make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy and get value from” because you won’t know that until you’ve experienced it. What I am saying is not to go drop $500 on books in a day. Instead, read one, then buy another once you’ve finished.
I hope these questions and tips help next time you go shopping. Starting small and starting to question every purchase you make me be surprised how much money you will save.
Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.