Minimalism: When the heart is onto it but life is a little behind

Baby GoatsOpening day at a local farm venue–the activity was free and the weather almost balmy for the beginning of April.  My sweet sister and I took our children to gawk at the chicks, feed the baby goats, and learn about Native American culture.  The rest of the families in the city had the same notion, and we were met with crowds.  The day didn’t turn out quite as blissful as planned, but the kids had fun–success.

Caleb and Adi 2


Days later, I am still pondering the life of Native Americans.  The guide for the Native American lodge was very knowledgeable about her people’s traditions and tales. She offered a glimpse into a culture that survived communally and washed in a belief that the natural world should be respected and cherished.  Each plant, animal and season had a purpose, a message, a cause to exist, and therefore was worthwhile.  But I digress.

The housing–I can’t stop thinking about their houses.  You see right now as I type this, it is late Sunday night and I’ve crossed over back to my home state line with a trailer full of stuff– small tools, boxes of garage items that haven’t been opened in three years, golf clubs that I haven’t used since before my first child was born, and a few lonesome house plants.  Yes I declare myself a minimalist, and my extended family laughs at my paltry pieces of housewares that I make do with because I want to live with less and a kitchen knife is my type of food processor (I’m good with having just enough…I thought).  But right now I’m cleaning out what remains in my former home, and it is too much.  Too much of my weekend has gone to digging through stuff.  Too much money has been wasted on buying this forgotten stuff.  Too many earth’s resources eradicated and redirected to creating this stuff.  Too many people injured by the unethical work conditions or pollution created so I can have more stuff.  And my children spent their weekend mostly absent from me and their dad because we had to deal with the stuff.  How ridiculous it all sounds when I write it out, but here I am in a truck with trailer attached trucking past America’s Main Street in middle states hauling stuff…junk…and then I think about the cool walls of the lodge, the dirt floors, the multiple families that would have lived, loved, and survived under its thatched skyline and I envy them.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

When I was 16, I stayed on the Navajo reservation working and worshipping with this tribe.  They were then and are now few in number.  Separated, desolate, and  living in poverty under horribly harsh and unfair conditions.  These are not the Natives I envy–this scenario makes me angry, sad (but again I digress).  My admiration is for the ancestors of a people who took from the earth only what they needed, who worked as it was needed, who lived in a time of kinship and community ( and no I’m not completely deluded–it was far from perfect).  Life was real and imperfect, but it was not a residence like this Skype-d up alter-egoed FaceBook fairyland where modern man resides.  They were flesh who lived in the flesh.  I envy that while some groups did travel with their houses tied to dog or horse, they carried only what they needed.  They did not travel carrying a trailer full of junk wondering where to store it in an overburdened garage.  I envy that they some tribes thought beyond to the seventh-generation, and well I’m just praying we don’t pop a tire on this burgeoning trailer tonight…  Yes, I’m a minimalist–unfortunately my life hasn’t completely caught up with my heart…

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The Legacy of Owning Stuff: Be careful what you don’t purchase

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I will call her Mrs. Denial. This hardworking American mother never bought herself a beautiful dress.  She made do with what she had, what was passed-down to her, or what she found on clearance.  The kids are grown and she can afford more, but still she does not buy the dress that makes her feel the loveliest.  The reason she states are plentiful,”The grandkids may need something, the kids inheritance….”  She sacrificed and continues to sacrifice because that is what moms do.

But is it right?

Sadly something happened in Mrs. Denial’s methodology, her children didn’t witness this as selflessness.  Instead these actions made them see mom as not valuing herself.  The message got mixed up, “If Mom can’t have what she needs or dreams–neither can we.”  Today, her adult children all struggle with valuing themselves, and there may be a myriad of reasons why. Mostly, children emulate what they see and not necessarily what they hear…

I talk and write a lot about simplifying and minimizing what we own.  I think that message is important–we can’t continue to consume at the level we are in our nation and in the world and possibly sustain it.  I’ve wanted to live what I preach and I make do with what I have a lot.  It is a game to me, “How long can I go without, how can I use what I have to get the job done, can I borrow it, can I buy it used….”  I call it being resourceful and my children participate in the “game” with me and often it is very fun for all of us.

However, something has changed in the past few years and I’ve stopped consuming to the point that buying the shoes I badly need has become unbearably hard.  I have the money and yet I haven’t purchased them…do I deserve new shoes when others have so little and think of the resources, the questionable labor…?  Seems crazy doesn’t it–this self-created martyrism?  But there it is in my head this very instant…and the thing is I think others who journey through voluntary simplicity or minimalism struggle as well. It is a tricky business owning and consuming things.  The wants and the needs get confused, the voices of humanity and fairness echo in your head, and with so much vying for our money and time it is almost easier to completely deny ourselves than have to deal with figuring out what has true value or what is truly fair.

But shouldn’t we value ourselves?

If we cannot value ourselves then how can we value others in this world around us?  Maybe it’s about making ethical choices in our purchases and finding quality and not succumbing to the quantity.  It is the quantity that is the problem–we as a world own too much stuff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own anything?  (And yes I know the idea of “owning” can be philosophized to death–so let’s skip that part.)

If Mrs. Denial had bought a beautiful, solidly made dress that made her feel lovely…maybe she would have smiled more…her children would have echoed that smile…maybe their stories would be different…a different legacy.  Perhaps, some will think how stupid a dress is a thing and it can’t bring joy–no, it can’t…but sometimes our minds can be altered because of the way we perceive a thing…

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

It is a tricky business owning and consuming things, but I can’t talk about it anymore…I’ve got to buy some solidly made, lasting shoes…and I might just smile about it.

A Discussion With My Daughter (about owning quality stuff)

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I want a Hudson Bay point blanket.  Some individuals may be disheartened to know that this simplicity blogger longs for a blanket derived from wool (and I do apologize for offending), but I am human and to err is my way.  Both sets of my grandparents owned Hudson Bay point blankets–moths had eaten them in spots but I didn’t mind.  To crawl under their heaviness was warm, comforting and to me felt like love.  During a winter spent in Canada I admired and desired a Hudson Bay point blanket even more–North American winters can be cruel and again these blankets spelled love.  I promised myself despite the blanket’s expense, I would buy one with the knowledge that it would be owned for a lifetime.  My grandparents’ household economies often meant quality over quantity–this was the norm for their generation–a Hudson Bay point blanket was a common item in many households as a result.

Today, I own a synthetic blanket–it has lasted over ten-years, but it is thin in spots and falling apart at the edges.  I told my young daughter about my desire and plan to save for a new or used Hudson Bay point blanket.  She knows that we are a household that has a “stuff rule”–one comes in only when one goes out.  This keeps things balanced (most of the time).  So she understood a need for a new blanket and the future exchange, but when I explained to her that I will never likely buy another blanket this baffled her.  For my child’s generation products don’t last.  Very often superfluous stuff (and even the necessary) is made with planned or built-in obsolescence–a product is designed to have a limited use or life.  Nothing lasts.  This statement is the opening to many philosophical conversations, but as a consumer it is just depressing.  If you live a life as a minimalist, seeker of simplicity, or even as a smart consumer you can suit up and battle this “nothing lasts” ideology to a degree–buy better.  It may cost more up front but there is lasting value in these type of purchases.  The Amish know this secret and often upgrade on important items used for working and living. Their culture treasures antiques for their beauty, quality, and their future monetary value.  For our current consumer culture this idea is not evident–we spend our dollars buying more and more until our homes bulge and our savings dwindle, but we often do not open our wallets and look clearly for any type of lasting value.

I did some morbid math, and since I plan on living to nearly 100 I’ve got 60 good years in front of me.  The cheap synthetic blanket was still a “quality” blanket and costs around a hundred dollars today.  If the inflation rate for the next 60 years remained at around 3%, and I bought a similar blanket to the one I have now every 10 years during these next six decades–I would spend about $1,800 on blankets and use up six blankets worth of the earth’s resources.  The Hudson Bay point blanket is looking like a good investment at around $500 to $600.  What is more these blankets maintain some of their value, and can become family heirlooms.

Stuff is never going to be my cup of tea, but I do need a cup and tea on occasion.  When I do shop I plan to buy with quality and beauty in mind.

Have you made any “lasting” purchases?