Minimalist Bloggers

December 7, 2010

There seems to be so many new minimalist themed blogs starting up.  I joined the one-week trial period for the recent A-List Blogging Bootcamp to check it out, and spent most my time browsing the forums.  Lots of people want to follow in Leo Babauta’s footsteps!  There were so many minimalist blogs linked to the forum avatars, all with 2-3 posts.  I wonder how many of them will stick with it.

You can also find plenty of new blogs by looking at the Daily Brainstorm meta site. Seems like every couple days I read about another blogger who has downsized to less than 100 things and is travelling the world.  And of course has an e-book for sale.

On twitter I said something like: “Am I the only minimalist who doesn’t blog about it?”  Then I remembered that I kinda do on this blog.  This blog is really about the process of getting rid of stuff, not a minimal lifestyle – although that is the goal.

This minimalist desire has been with me for a long time, probably starting around 1993.  At that time I was living in a small apartment (small on purpose) and began to realize other people were interested in this topic.  At the time it was called the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement.  Now it’s fashionable to be a minimalist.  Fashions come and go, but I am dedicated to living a simple life for the rest of my days.  Should I blog about it?  Add yet another voice to the choir?  First I need to get started on my e-book! 🙂

Update:

There was a pile building up here of things I wanted to auction off on eBay.  A couple weeks ago I finally got started listing them and had about 20 auctions going at once.  Now that’s done and most of them have already been shipped out.  Including both of my video encoder boxes, so if I want to watch TV now it has to be on Hulu or a network website.  My new rule for eBay is that I won’t bother listing it unless the estimated value is at least $15.  Cheaper garage-sale type items just aren’t worth the hassle in my opinion.

Because I do not have a place of my own to live in, these two options have been given a lot of thought this past year.  I have read many “Rent vs. Own” articles and run some numbers, and have come to the conclusion that renting or owning your home is really a lifestyle choice.  It is NOT a financial investment. Why do I say that?  Because in the end, housing is an expense.  It is something you have to pay for.  Either way you go, it comes out approximately the same.

Let’s look at some real world numbers.  Now, as a single person and a minimalist, I do not need much space.  The smallest house available locally is a 2 bedroom, 1 bath bungalow.  There are some efficiency apartments here and there, but I’ll compare to the basic one-bedroom apartment.  For this example, let’s assume I’ll be staying in one area for five years.  Also assume I have 100K saved in the bank and will not be using a mortgage.

Renting a one bedroom apartment in my area costs about $650/month.  Add $150 for utilities, $200 for food, and $100 for internet/phone.  Round up to $1200/month or $14,400 per year.

There is a small house for sale today, close by in a good neighborhood, closer to work, for an asking price of about $90,000.  If I keep the 90K in the bank and earned an average of 1.5% interest over five years this would give me $7000.  Subtract this from apartment expenses (14400 x 5 – 7000) would be net total $65,000 spent over five years for the apartment option.

There are two big variables in the house option that I can’t predict.  One is the market value of the house.  Because housing prices have dropped over the last two years, and some experts are saying prices are not likely to rebound quickly, for our example I’ll assume that the house value stays at 90K.  This may be unlikely, but I have to pick a number so that’s what I’ll use for now.  The other variable is renovation cost.  What if the roof needs to be repaired?  The plumbing?  The driveway resurfaced?  Again, I have to choose a number so I’ll say 10K for repairs over 5 years.

So I buy the house for 90K cash.  Annual taxes are about 4K.  Monthly costs 250 utilities, 200 food, 100 internet/phone.  That’s 10600 per year for 5 years is 53K.  Add the renovation cost of 10K and we’re up to 63K.  I’d probably get insurance for a house, so that’s $3000 over 5 years.  When I sell at the end of 5 years there’s a real estate commission of 6%, or $5400.  So I pay 90K and get about 90K back, therefore value of the house comes out even.  But over the five years I paid a total of $71,400 to live there.

Granted this is a simplified/approximated example, but it shows that owning a house without a mortgage is not necessarily less expensive than renting.  In fact it could even cost more.

As a minimaist lifestyle choice, apartments are better because it’s much simpler.  No dealing with contractors or repairmen, insurance agents, real estate agents, tax collectors, etc.  You just pay your rent on time and the landlord does all that for you.  Plus you have the flexibility of moving when your annual lease is up if you want to.  Less money, more freedom.

I have been thinking about this question lately.  My goal with the reduction project was to increase my personal freedom.  I started this because of a feeling of being trapped by all the stuff weighing me down.  The idea was that by getting rid of most of my stuff I would no longer have this anchor that prevented me from doing whatever I want.  Now that I’m getting closer to this goal I am sensing a conflict between minimalism and what I thought it would bring to me.

The thing about minimalism is that it adds limitations to your life.  Limitations that force you to make choices that otherwise would not be necessary.  These choices lead to owning things that are truly valuable to you, and doing things that have real meaning.  Without minimalism one is more likely to make a decision based on convenience.

For example, the MacBook Air is a minimalist computer with only one USB port.  With one port you cannot connect a mouse, keyboard, flash drive, external hard drive, external DVD drive, and iPod all at the same time.  Only the one device that is most important in the moment can be plugged in.

Another example – let’s say you have not worn formal clothing for years so you got rid of the suits/gowns in your wardrobe.  Then you are invited to an event with a strictly fancy dress code.  Keeping the extra clothes that are hardly ever worn would make it convenient to dress up for the event.  Having a giant wardrobe with outfits for any occasion gives one the freedom to meet any dress code at a moment’s notice.  A minimalist is less free in this situation because they must make a choice, to rent/buy new clothing or simply not go to the event.

The choices forced on a minimalist cause them to reexamine many things that otherwise may be taken for granted.   This is what fascinates me, looking at stuff and actions in a new light.  But I wonder if freedom is what I was really looking for?

I have a bad habit of browsing eBay to look at gadgets that I’m kind of interested in but really do not need to own.  Then I put in a low bid, much lower than what it’s worth according to completed auctions for similar stuff.  Once in a while I win them because no-one else bids!   My rationale is that I can try out the gadget for a while, then re-sell it with a better auction description and make a little money.  But it turns out that buying stuff on eBay is a lot easier than writing and posting auctions, so I tend to have a growing pile of things to list on eBay.

Unfortunately I’ve accumulated some extra body weight as well, gained back about 15 pounds.  I lost 90 pounds a couple years ago and since then have managed to keep my weight steady.  Lately though the old habits have started to come back.  Probably due to stress and a feeling of losing control over other areas of my life.

At my job I’ve taken on some new responsibilities, in addition to all the old ones.  The company is asking people to do more instead of hiring additional people.  The good part of that is I can be promoted and earn a bit more money.  But I’ll be busy and more tired every day.

So in general my life has been about gaining “more” so far this year.  As a minimalist I feel in my gut that this is not the right direction.  How should I reverse this trend?  One small step at a time, but which step?

Minimalism in a Nutshell

April 26, 2010

1. Stop acquiring new things.

2. Get rid of things you have.

3. Find new ways to live that don’t require keeping stuff.

Insurance

April 19, 2010

One thing I can do without is insurance.  The concept of insuring your possessions in flawed because it’s based on the idea that you should have lots of things that you think are valuable, and that your life would be devastated if they were lost.  The insurance is sold as a means to protect you from this devastation.  Also the idea that you do not have enough money to replace that which could be lost.

I prefer to save up money so that I can replace things if they are lost, a situation that very rarely happens anyway.  Keep fewer things around, so that replacing lost items is easier.  Keep only what you use, and what you love (which cannot be replaced at any price).

Insurance makes sense for health, and also for real estate.  But not for things like TV, car, and other consumer items that can be repurchased from savings if the need arises.

One reason a hoarder keeps everything at home is that it makes them feel safe.  All objects are kept because you might need them someday.  It’s reassuring to know that if you need a tool or a part of something you can pull it out of your piles of stuff, instead of having to deal with the uncertainty of trying to get it from somewhere outside your control.

I believe that being a minimalist – choosing not to keep any extra things – improves the quality of a person’s life.

An example:  Someone visits me after shopping and has a bag of loose leaf tea they want to try.  She asks me if I have a tea strainer to borrow.  If my minimalized kitchen has no tea strainer, this forces a decision.  We can go out together to shop for a tea strainer, or we can go without tea and drink something else.  Either choice is more interesting than just pulling one out of a drawer.

It may make a person feel more powerful or secure to be prepared for any possible situation.  (You need a strainer? BAM! THERE IT IS!)  But it also makes that person’s life boring.

If you can think of a better example of this idea, please comment.