This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A return to minimalism: one in, one out

Posted by Matt

I think most people in America would tell you that they probably have too much stuff. I've always felt that way, and in fact, used to almost make a hobby of getting rid of things I didn't need. In my twenties, I lived in tiny apartments with very few pieces of furniture and almost zero decoration, and still, nearly every weekend I seemed to go through my things and look for unnecessary extras. In college, I owned one pair of shoes at a time. When I first moved to Portland in the late 90's, everything I owned came with me in the back of a Subaru wagon.

It was easier when I couldn't afford to buy new things, but once I started to make more money, I had the opportunity to explore new hobbies (each of which seemed to require new equipment.) The footwear alone (hiking boots, rock climbing shoes, soccer cleats, roller blades, etc.) started to really eat up closet space. AND, I had realized that I just couldn't wear my white sneakers everywhere (office jobs, weddings), so I had to buy even more shoes. At one point, I think I was up to about 15 pairs of footwear. I've narrowed my hobbies down significantly, but I still have 9 or 10 pairs of footwear, and I think this is too many. I'm going to cut down, so let me outline my plan for you. I'm focusing on shoes right now, but I'd like to apply these rules to all categories of things I own.
  1. I'm not going to toss perfectly good items just for the sake of minimalism. I'll keep most of what I have until it wears out.
  2. If I determine that I don't need something that is still in good shape, I'll sell or donate it. I don't want to turn my unnecessary purchases directly into landfill.
  3. I'm going to determine what I NEED and stick to only that when purchasing (more on this below).
  4. Last, but definitely not least, I'm adopting a "net zero" policy. Every time I bring a new personal belonging into my house, something old has to go out.
I probably have a few pairs of shoes that can be donated or passed on to my nephew right away. Here's the "need" list that I'm hoping to end up with eventually:
  1. One pair of comfortable sneakers (haven't decided what color yet; might not really matter)

  2. One pair of nice, black, dress shoes for work and upscale social events (ECCO makes GREAT shoes that are comfortable and really last)

  3. One pair of casual, versatile, waterproof black boots (good for rainy Portland winters; I'm partial to Timberland).

  4. Soccer shoes

  5. One pair of sandals for the beach

  6. One pair of yard shoes (usually the retired sneakers)
Noticeably absent are all of my brown shoes. They don't go well with everything the way that black does, and not having brown shoes means I don't have to buy brown belts anymore either. I actually got started on this whole line of thinking because I was shopping for new belts this weekend. I bought a new black belt, so that means my nephew may be inheriting my old one. I'd love to get down to a single black belt someday.

I'm hoping to make a similar list for my whole wardrobe and gradually get to the point where I wear everything in my closet regularly. This brings me to the point of why I'm discussing this in a frugality blog (finally). I go clothes/shoes shopping because I just feel like I don't wear what I have or I don't have clothes that I need for specific events. Without a specific, all-encompassing list, I'm tempted to buy things that catch my eye, but that maybe aren't versatile or that I won't wear regularly.

Also, I think the fourth rule is going to be a great way to limit spending. I'm going to try to apply it to all of my durable goods purchases (not groceries, for example), but not necessarily require that I have to exchange goods in similar categories. For example, I can buy a new shirt and donate a book to the library. Also, if I find something to donate when cleaning out the garage, I'm not going to use that as an excuse to go buy something new, or save that item until I find something I need to buy. I expect that I will eventually get to the point where it will be really difficult to find something that I want badly enough to get rid of one of my remaining possessions, and that will be a good sign that the things I do have are really necessary to me.

I'll try to remember to post my progress, as I think it will be interesting to see how my priorities change around the things I own.

Is anyone else up to this challenge?


Mandy said...

I think you are right, we definitely need to get rid of stuff. It's a constant effort for me to purge the unnecessary, and I am still working on it! :)

Meredith said...

Great strategy!

We don't approach this in such a systematic way, but I do try to let the old stuff go with as much ease as I bring the new stuff in.

For me, it's more practical to take a bundle of children's clothing to another mom all at once than it is to do it item by item.

I'm with you on the shoes, though.

Matt said...

We do the same kind of batching with children's stuff (and actually with adult stuff, too). Whenever we cycle something out, it goes temporarily onto a shelf in our utility room. When the shelf gets full, we usually sort it and end up taking most of it in loads to friends and family houses and then the rest gets donated.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth... the last time my husband bought tennis shoes (on sale, of course!), the only color available was gray. This turned out to be a great purchase because they're more versatile than standard white tennis shoes. He can wear them with jeans or khakis or black pants and it all looks fine!