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?

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Empty Storage Unit

June 30, 2010

Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet, but this monumental day is finally here.  Last weekend I moved the last few boxes out of my rented storage unit and handed in the key.  My key ring now has 3 keys instead of 4, and I notice it every time I pick them up.  May not fully realize it until after July 1st when I don’t send in the monthly rent check.

The storage unit was originally rented in August 1998 when I was forced by economics to leave my last apartment.  It was just supposed to be for a few months while I got established in a new place.  That was during my “down and out” period and it was the beginning of being semi-homeless.  At the time I believed that “my life” was packed away in storage, and that my “life” would be on hold until I put all that stuff into another apartment.  That’s bullshit of course, but ten years ago it seemed very real.  It was a dark time, and since I have climbed up out of that darkness the storage unit has been a connection to my past, a reminder of how I’m not really free.

After the great purge of 2008, the space was being used primarily to store boxes for a friend.  One idea to clear the storage space was to buy a vinyl garden shed and erect it inside the barn here at the house where I’m staying.  I didn’t do that because they are expensive and I couldn’t find one the right size.  So I kept sending those rent checks every month, not knowing what to do.

A few weeks ago I got fed up with the situation and decided to move the stuff into the barn without a vinyl container.  I was going to build a platform out of 2x4s and plywood sheets and stack the boxes on top.  Before I bought the wood for the platform, I was in a hardware store just to get some window screen patches.  Outside the store was a stack of wood pallets, free for the taking.  I took two and put them in my car.  I then organized the stuff in the barn to make space on the floor and put the pallets down.

I knew that some of the boxes had mold growing in them.  If I started sorting through the boxes, trying to decide what to keep, I’d get caught in the same trap as last time – not knowing which objects were more important than other objects.  So my approach this time was to open each box and look.  If there was mold inside, the whole box got thrown away.  If it was just musty smelling, it passed.  Decide on a per-box level based only on condition, not importance.  I did this at the unit and tossed the bad boxes in the dumpster at the storage facility.  Five boxes were tossed, about 10% of the total.

Over the next two weeks I made many trips hauling stuff back to the house.  A staging area was set up in the garage.  There each box was wrapped in a new plastic garbage bag and then carried back to the barn to be stacked on a pallet.  The last boxes were moved out last weekend.

It is crazy that I’m still holding onto stuff for my friend while he wanders out in the desert. But at least now I’m not paying extra money each month to do it.  And more importantly, now I am free of the connection to that unfortunate time in my past.

Coins

June 17, 2010

Back when I was down and out, trying to sell stuff to fund my semi-homeless lifestyle, I was a scavenger of coins.  I would look for and collect coins from wherever possible.  Phone booths, vending machines, coins received in change, loose change in my storage boxes or lying in the street.  Any coin money I found would be collected together.  Then I’d go out and spend them on food.  I remember many times I’d go to the local Burger King, to get whatever $2.00 meal special they had for lunch, paid for in quarters and dimes.  Sometimes this coin gathering behavior made the difference between eating and skipping meals.

When I started working full-time in 2003 and no longer had to watch every nickel, this behavior continued.  At first I just collected the quarters that I received in change, and spent the nickels and dimes in vending machines for snacks.  I saved pennies too for a while but at one point they were taken to a grocery store coin-counting machine and converted to store credit (minus 10% fee).  After that I started saving pennies too.  Now I have plenty of quarters (more than a full cigar box), so when I have some from my change they get spent in the coffee machine at work.  Over the last year or so I’ve been keeping all of the dimes and nickels I get.  And dollar coins of course, there is quite a collection of the presidential golden dollar coins here.

If I had to estimate the value of all these coins — maybe a few hundred dollars?  Really hard to tell without getting out all my little boxes, jars, bags and counting them.

Even though I have more money saved in the bank, that is just a number printed on a monthly statement.  The coins give me a sense of security because they are physical objects that I keep with me.  Also because of my history with relying on pocket change for food, there is a feeling that as long as I have a box of quarters, I’ll be okay.

One day I may just take them to a bank and cash them in, but I’m not there yet.  I tell myself that hoarding money is healthier than hoarding other small things that don’t have real value. Do you agree?

This past winter the focus of my reduction project was to tackle my recorded media stored here at the house.  Here’s what I got done.

I think I wrote before about my audio cassettes, how I sorted them down to one carrying case plus a bag of extras to listen to before I decided if they would stay.  They never were listened to, so I recently resorted what I had left and now all my audio tapes fit inside that one carrying case.  My large heavy boom-box stereo was donated to a local church.  It was hard to let that stereo go, but I really don’t use it anymore or have space for it.  All my music is digital now on my computer and iPod.

At some point in my reshuffling and organizing history I had collected all of my VHS video tapes in one place, and they fit into one bankers box plus a handful of extra tapes on top.  Rough estimate of time in storage – 12 years?

Mostly recordings of old TV shows that were saved to watch again “someday”.  In this case someday was in January 2010!  Some favorite shows were saved to “preserve” them.  I liked them so much that I wanted to make sure they did not disappear from the world, and future generations could enjoy them.  I now know this was rather stupid – I had incomplete seasons and lousy video quality.  All of those old shows are available on DVD, full seasons recorded in digital quality.  They certainly don’t need me to archive their shows.

Well I had all these tapes but no VCR.  After Christmas last year I borrowed a VCR tape deck for a month so I could go through all the tapes at my leisure.  The VCR was connected to my video encoder box, and that was plugged into my MacBook’s USB port.  With the EyeTV software I could play a tape and watch it in a window on the computer screen.  Also the software could record anything in that window and save as a video file on the hard disk.

The plan was to see what was on the tapes, and record anything that I wanted to keep.  One or two tapes were scanned through every evening, and more on the weekends.  The recordings I kept are stored only as digital files on a computer disk, so they don’t take up much physical space.  I ended up saving 9 movies and around 6 shorter video clips.  There were some funny videos I had made with a camcorder 20 years ago, so I saved those.  Also a video made at my late grandparents house – that was a keeper.

Now here is something that bothers me.  One reason I wanted to scan through every part of every tape was that I remember having a specific video recording that I wanted to find.  It was important to me so I could not imagine not keeping it.  All those years I knew it was in the storage unit somewhere but I didn’t know where.  I went through all my boxes in 2008 when the storage unit was emptied, so I knew for a fact that all my VHS tapes were together in that box.  I was excited to be finally going through my videos, partly because I wanted to see this recording again.  The strange thing is that I did not find it.  A few times I started thinking maybe it’s in a box at another storage location, but it can’t be because I have everything here now.  Don’t understand how something I was so sure I had could have been permanently lost in the clutter.  Do you own something you never got rid of but you don’t know where it is?

Video tapes that had anything personal on them were erased.  I gave away the whole box of used tapes on Freecycle.  Right now I own zero VHS tapes.

Television

May 6, 2010

There aren’t many TV shows that I watch, but there are still a few that I follow.  Part of my reduction project has been to try living without television.  It’s difficult because I grew up watching hours of TV every day.  To be knowledgable about entertainment was part of my “identity”.

To this day my mother still keeps her TV on 24 hours a day.  She says that the background noise helps keep her company when she’s alone.  Personally I don’t get it.  I can’t tolerate the cacophony of the noise and flashing light, the cheering/screaming crowd sounds, the rapid-fire staccato of the sales pitches.  Right now I only watch TV to see a story that I’m interested in, and I try to skip over the commericals.

When my storage unit was packed full of junk from my former life in an apartment, I had a small TV with a 10″ screen stored in a box.  It was an old one bought in 1985, so it was analog and not cable-ready.  Before that my TV set had a 13″ screen.  I always wanted the smallest TV screen that I could get because I didn’t like the influence that TV had on me and wanted to minimize it.  Those TV’s are long gone now.  When I moved into this shared house, I’d try to coordinate schedules so I could watch my shows on someone else’s TV when they were watching the same show.

That was okay for a while, but I wanted to get my own TV to increase my own personal freedom to see what I want when I want.  Now I live in a rented bedroom, so space is very limited.  The TV set would have to fit on my desk next to my stereo and computer.  I looked for a tiny TV that could be put on the corner of the desk and connect to the cable.  There were some “DVD player” gadgets with small screens, but I could play DVDs on my computer so I didn’t need that function in my TV.

What I purchased instead was a TV tuner gadget from Elgato, which worked with EyeTV software on my MacBook.  The TV cable plugged into the back of the tuner, and then connected to the MacBook with a USB wire.  With this setup I could watch cable TV channels on my computer, either in a window or full-screen.  It could also record and play back shows.  This tuner box combined with my computer removed the need to have a television or VCR on my desk – that was a huge space-saver!

Last year I upgraded my main computer from the MacBook to a PC laptop running Linux.  To make a long story short, I could not get the tuner to work with the new computer.  It still actually may be possible, but after working on it for more than six months with little success, I decided instead to change my approach.

The plan up to that point was to watch cable TV shows on my new computer like I used to on the Mac.  Instead, I could use this problem as an opportunity to reduce my TV viewing, which really was my long term goal.  I made a list of the shows I currently watch, and discovered that all but one were available online.  Either through Hulu or by streaming them on the network’s own website.  The one other show can be downloaded from a torrent site.  So I can still watch shows on my computer without a TV or VCR, and now also without the Elgato tuner.  Having no cable TV means I spend less time idly flipping through channels looking for something to watch.  This has been my entertainment system for about four months and is working well.

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.

Eyeglasses

April 26, 2010

Looked at my collection of glasses today.  I have worn glasses since I was five years old.  While I don’t still have any of those early frames I do have the glasses I wore in 6th grade at age eleven, and every pair since.

Now, I was just about to write up a nice blog post here about keeping old eyeglasses, but it started to sound familiar.  Did a search and found out that I already blogged about this last November!  Ugh, almost forgot about that.  Months pass but little changes.

Still have all the glasses here.  They really are not needed for anything.  I’m never going to wear them in public, and I have the prescriptions written down.  It could finally be time to donate them.