5 Questions: Q&A with an “Expert” Minimalist

A high school speech kid reached out to me yesterday; she’s writing an informative speech on minimalism and wanted to speak with “an expert.” If only she knew how little I know!

But seriously, she asked some really thoughtful questions about my minimalist journey—questions I get all the time. I know she’s not alone in wanting to know more about this kind of life, so here’s a snapshot of what we discussed.

1. When were you interested in living this lifestyle?

Minimalism first piqued my interest in 2012. I was living in a small apartment in a big city, with lots of stuff and not much space. At the time I was teaching in Montessori environment; in the Montessori classroom there is a designated spot for each and every thing, and the space is beautifully free of clutter. (Montessori itself isn’t “minimalism” per se, but they have a lot in common.) Letting things breathe, making room for my head and heart, made a lot of sense that dreary, cramped winter—I’d seen that even toddlers could learn how to do it! Since then I’ve started to think about minimalism as more of a worldview (although it certainly still does play a major role in my physical space). But now it plays a part in what I eat, how I conduct business, what I say, and what I commit to, too.

2. By living a minimalist way, have you saved money?

Yes and no. Every time I don’t buy something I want and would have just gone ahead and gotten before I started thinking and living this way, I save money. But in some ways, minimalism costs more: you buy less, but better, which can be expensive up front. And if you purge things you don’t use, or want, or need—or things that don’t “bring you joy”—you sort of feel like you’re throwing money out the window. And if you end up replacing those things because you actually do need them, that’s exactly what you’re doing!

3. How did you start minimizing items, clothes, etc?

Reading blogs like Miss Minimalist and The Daily Connoisseur helped me design my first capsule closet, which is where I began. I started by asking, “What can I live without? What am I willing to get rid of?” As I gained confidence, I moved from my closet to the rest of the house. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Joy of Less, and L’art de la Simplicité, which are more about keeping only the things you can’t do without.

In terms of logistics, I just started dropping clothes off at consignment stores and recycling centers; household items went mostly to thrift stores or loved ones. I’ve sold some things, but that takes time and energy I don’t always have to give. A lot of minimalists recommend moving quickly so you’re not tempted to keep things you’ve decided to let go. You get less of your money back, but that money is already gone.

4. Do you think living this lifestyle has made you feel better about the clutter in your household?

Yes and no. My personal things have a place, and that gives me a sense of calm and balance. But minimalism is easy to do on your own. It’s harder to implement in a shared household, especially if you don’t discover the philosophy together. Navigating the “stuff” conversations and decluttering with your partner or children can be tricky. Sometimes I have to stop myself from throwing away stuff that’s not mine, and we as a group have more stuff than I’d like, but I’m not the only one who has to live comfortably in our home. We have to find our “right amount” together.

5. How was your family when you transitioned to living this lifestyle?

You’d have to ask my husband! 🙂 Our son was born into minimalism, so he doesn’t really know the difference. But he does love going to daycare and friends’ homes to play with what must feel like mountains of toys!

My extended family members and work wives, for the most part, think I’m ridiculous, but maybe they’ll come around some day. I like to remind them that there’s a “right amount” for everyone. For some it’s more, and others less. All that matters is that we honor the amount that’s right for us.

So that’s what the Minnesota speech community can look forward to learning this season. Let’s wish our student-friend luck as she shares our story all around the state!


What about you, friends? What questions do you still have? What would you like to see in a future post? Comment below to let me know!

Advertisements

Christmas Wish, 2017

May you be blessed with the gift of time, with presence,

May you be wrapped up in a warm embrace,

And may the wonder of the season surround you each and every day.

From my family to yours,

Merry Christmas!

–j

PC: Peter Ray and Kari Adams

4 Personal Finance Rules We All Know (But Rarely Follow)

2016-08-27_01-10-07

Money terrifies me. It really does. I don’t like it, and I don’t understand it, and I fear what I don’t know. (Seriously, when I work on budgeting, I often ask my husband to hold my hand.)

But I also know I need to face that fear and take control of my finances in order to live the life I want. So I’m working on it. And it’s a painfully slow process, but I’m trying.

I took a webinar yesterday on personal finance, and afterward, was feeling great about where we’re at. I felt so good, in fact, I decided to go through our spending report (which I do monthly) to identify small money leaks before they become floods (Day 9 of No Sidebar’s 30 Days to a Simpler Life course, which I highly recommend).

Now, I knew we had gone a little overboard this month with some anticipated extra spending and minor emergencies, things like work on our basement, ER bills from our two-month sick spell, a family wedding, etc. Would you like to guess how much we went over our monthly budget?

In the last 30 days we have spent $2,000 outside of our regular budget. You read that correctly: $2,000! We’re not rich people by any stretch of the imagination, and that for us is a lot of money.

I should clarify: most of that spending fell in the “anticipated extras and minor emergencies” category, but there was a fair amount of trivial stuff, too. Coffee-shop stops and a Target run. That’s where my money went last month—instead of building our wealth, saving for our family’s future, we bought coffee and crap we didn’t need. I’m so disappointed in myself.

But everyone slips from time to time, which is why we have an emergency fund. Fortunately, we’re going to be just fine, but this seems like a good time to remind ourselves of some personal finance rules we all know but rarely follow:

1. Pay cash.

I’m 99.9% sure this never would have happened if I had paid for these purchases with cash. Because the sacrifice of the transactions register differently in our minds, we spend, on average, 12–15% more when we use credit cards than we do with cash, so making the switch should be a no brainer.

We’ve also been practicing the skill since childhood. The lucky ones among us were given a cash allowance, which we’d spend until it ran out, and then we’d be done until we earned more. After years of practice, we should be pros.

But finances get complicated as we get older: we’re encouraged to open credit lines to boost our credit scores, and we take on debts that aren’t always easy to pay with cash, things like student, car, and home loans. My hope, though, is that using cash is like riding a bike: easy to pick up after a while, if inconvenient.

2. Make a budget or spending plan.

If you can’t control your spending today, it will control you tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. Make a budget or a plan for how you want to use your hard-earned cash. Allocate it while you can.

Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist has a really interesting suggestion for monthly money management: a spending plan as opposed to a budget. Because, let’s face it, life isn’t the same from month to month. I’m really intrigued by this idea. Has anyone tried it?

3. Pay yourself first.

I’ve never successfully done this, but paying yourself first—setting aside money for savings before it gets eaten up by discretionary spending—is a great way to build wealth while reigning in a tendency toward unnecessary spending. If you don’t have it, you can’t spend it, but wait: you do have it. It’s just already been used for something more. And if an emergency arises, you’re covered!

4. Stop digging.

This is obvious, and we all know it, but if you’re in debt, or you want to increase your savings/decrease your spending, stop overspending! We all have our hangups; ours is emotional spending and a penchant for convenience, but now is the time to resist. Like any habit, it simply takes practice. Our society will tell you, and the commercial interests of the big-banking industry will tell you, that you can have whatever you want when you want it. But if you’re like me, you likely can’t, or shouldn’t.

I never want to be in the same position I was yesterday, so starting today, we’re following these rules. Stay tuned to see how it goes.

There was good news yesterday: I was fortunate enough to have a piece published on No Sidebar, “4 Ways Having a Baby Made Me a Better Minimalist.” I have so much respect for the community being built there, and I’m honored to be a part of it.


What personal finance tips and tricks, simple or complex, help you stay on track with your financial goals?