A Year of Simple – Part 2

Sorry, another long post – but I need to get it out of my head and off of my chest.
__________

When you take the time to slow down and stop for a moment, you create the space you need to actually see yourself and to clearly assess your life and priorities.

For the past month, I’ve had no choice but to stop and have some down time and I am so grateful that I got the opportunity to do that. At first, I sat around not really knowing what to do, but as time went by my focus turned inwardly and I started to see myself for the first time in many, many years. Along with that my mind became more open – open to new ideas and possibilities – things I had previously not paid attention to or had dismissed as not being relevant to me.

During this time I’ve given myself the opportunity and the courtesy to be still and to really identify and understand what it is that I want and most importantly, who it is that I want to be.

What has changed?

For those familiar with the Myer Briggs personality types, I am an ENTP (click here for more info). I know some people may be skeptical about stuff like this, but the only reason I believe in it is because the personality description is so scarily accurate.

One of the most discernible traits of an ENTP is the ability to have ideas, to have a lot of them and then to explore every single one of them. For the past half a decade, that is exactly how I operated my life. The criteria against which I evaluated whether something or someone was part of my life was:

  1. Is it new?
  2. Is it interesting?
  3. Do I like it?

If the answer was ‘yes’ then it made it into my life – which basically meant a lot of crap (people and things) ended up in my life.

My latest revelation is that if I want to stop wasting my energy, time, resources and money, then I need to have a much more detailed criteria that needs to be met.

  1. Does it/this person add to my happiness, now and into the future?
  2. Does this resonate with the person I am or the person I want to become?
  3. Does this add value to my life?
  4. Is this in anyway detrimental to my life – mentally, emotionally, financially, health wise?
  5. Does this align with my goals and my values?

In effect, I am minimalising my whole life. I am casting a critical eye over everything in it and decluttering everything that doesn’t add value or bring me joy.

I understand now that in order to find happiness, I need to critique and curate what I let into my life. It can’t continue to be a free-for-all where anything remotely interesting gets added simply to alleviate boredom or to provide momentary entertainment because that’s the life equivalent of impulse shopping. And I do recognise that it will be hard to change those habits. I know there will be times where it’ll be much easier to give into what’s easy and “fun” and in those moments I know I’ll have some hard choices to make.

Another piece of inspiration I found a little over a year ago was a TED talk by Ruth Chang on how to make hard choices and it’s my second favourite TED talk. The last bit especially really struck a cord with me and it goes something like this:

“It’s here in the space of hard choices that we get to exercise our normative power – the power to create reasons for yourself, to make yourself the kind of person you want to be. ….When we choose between options that are on a par… we can put our very selves behind an option. ‘Here is where I stand, here’s who I am’. It is not dictated by reasons given to us, rather it is supported by reasons created by us… you might say we become the authors of our own lives.”

I have decided to take an active decision making role in my life from now onwards, instead of sitting back and just going with the flow. I will make the hard choices when necessary and I will be the author of my life. I know who I want to be and I am putting myself 100% behind that choice.

A Year of Simple – Part 1

This is the (LONG) story of how I got to this point.

There are moments in your life when you have a new realisation. Sometimes its a lightbulb suddenly switching on in your brain, other times it slowly creeps up on you. For me in this instance, its the latter.

I’ve been trying for a while to “get my life together”. In truth, I guess I’ve been trying since I graduated high school, but I didn’t really know then that that was what I was doing.

I’ve always felt the urge to improve myself in one way or another, but I never really had an end goal in mind and I didn’t really have a role model to emulate. So for the last decade or so I’ve just been blindly trying out new things and sometimes these things kind of took me off track a little (or a lot) in terms of the self-development goals I had…but I guess that’s just life.

In 2012 I got out of a long term relationship, one that I had been in since university. From that point until now, I’ve changed a lot as a person. I’ve tried a lot of things, discovered a lot of things and learned a lot of things which has been great. BUT as part of that change process and period of discovery, it has also felt like its just been one thing after another, non-stop for 6 years straight and now I am exhausted.

In those 6 years I did/discovered/tried/learned the following:

  • Ended a 7 year relationship
  • Managed to navigate a way to maintain a strong friendship with my 7yr ex
  • Move out of home for the first time
  • Lived in a share house for the first time
  • Fell for an older man
  • Got my heart broken by said older man
  • Dated casually for the first time
  • Went out by myself and made new friends for the first time since university
  • Travelled overseas by myself to India, Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka, Maldives
  • Had a brief overseas travel romance for the first time
  • Got a new job during that time
  • Travelled for work for the first time (domestic and internationally)
  • Started my own freelance business for the first time
  • Stopped my own freelance business when I realised how much I hated admin
  • Invested time to try new hobbies for the first time
  • Hooked up with random people
  • Learned a lot about dating, people, and open relationships
  • Dated someone who had been to jail for the first time
  • Lived on my own for the first time
  • Rented an apartment on my own
  • Moved house on my own
  • Assembled a crapload of Ikea furniture on my own
  • Cooked for myself
  • Did all chores for myself
  • Paid all the bills by myself
  • Moved in and lived with a boyfriend for the first time
  • Dated someone with children for the first time
  • Got my own pet that was solely my responsibility for the first time

During all of that I also had stints of trying to:

  • Eat healthier
  • Exercise more
  • Get fitter, lose weight
  • Cook more
  • Manage my finances
  • Save more money
  • Learn new skills
  • Start new hobbies
  • Make new friends
  • Sleep better
  • Have a cleaner home
  • Be more organised
  • Be more fashionable
  • Become a better person, nicer, more patient
  • Contribute more to the community, get involved, volunteer

Between all of that, it never felt like I had a moment to really focus on myself – not in a proper, full focus, dedicated kind of way. It was always a haphazard attempt here and there, focused on one area or another, in between everything else that was going on in my life.

I knew all the individual areas I wanted to improve on. It was like a checklist in my head, but it was never the big picture – never the whole picture. It was like I had all the pieces of the puzzle, but never in my hands at the same time and never put together.

To be honest, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I didn’t have a proper direction to head in or a road to follow. Even after I discovered minimalism, I’ve just realised that all I’ve been focused on is decluttering my stuff and making my apartment look more ‘minimalistic’. I’ve completely missed the point and the actual reason behind minimalism which is making space for the things you love and by things I mean the people and experiences.

And I’ve also realised now that even minimalism (done right) isn’t the whole picture, it’s only one facet of who I want to be. And that’s how I came to my slow epiphany over the last week. Even as I type this, the idea is still a little fuzzy around the edges and not 100% clear – but the shape is there and getting clearer by the minute.

I need to simplify my life, not just one aspect, not just my possessions, but my whole life. I want a simple life and I only want to focus on the things that will enrich my life. No more dating random people for the hell of it, no more hooking up with people for the hell of it, no more moving apartments for the hell of it, no more getting bored with a job and hating it, no more half-arsed attempts at eating healthier, getting fitter and saving money.

For the last 6 years, every time I got a little bored, I’d instigate a change e.g. meet someone new, try something new, travel to a new country, move to a new apartment, etc. While I recognise some of those changes were necessary, I know for sure that some of them were just for novelty value – just to see what it would be like because I was basically using them as a substitute to actually changing myself. Instead of changing my mentality and perspective, I was changing my situation.

And I guess it’s a bit of a catch 22 – because my situation was always in flux, I never felt like I had the time or energy to really focus on myself. Now with 20/20 hindsight I can see that I just didn’t know how to change myself and if I’m honest, probably didn’t actually want to put the work and effort in to actually do it – which is why I spent so much time making my life so complicated and used that as a distraction.

Having figured out the above, I am now making the commitment to myself to solidly dedicate the next 12 months to simplifying my life. No more unnecessary changes. No more distractions. Everything I choose to do I will do with intention and purpose and I will dedicate 100% to. No more half-arsing life.

No Spend: The Land of Temptation

Today I went to Chatswood, which is a area of Sydney with a sizeable shopping district. There are 3 shopping complexes within a block of each other. I had to go to two of these shopping centres to return stuff I’d previously bought (prior to my no spend month). I knew this would be a test of my willpower and I was right.

Here is the list of things I wanted to buy (but didn’t) during the short 2 block journey from the carpark, to store 1, then the walk to store 2 and then back to the car.

  1. Bonsai tree
  2. Mug
  3. Waffles
  4. Spanish paella
  5. Chorizo, prawns and garlic mushrooms
  6. Boost smoothie
  7. 2 x floor cushions
  8. Fur rug
  9. Another mug
  10. Himalayan salt lamp
  11. Sausage bread roll

I am so thankful I had planned ahead and ate a homemade lunch before I went to the shops, otherwise I definitely would’ve definitely got the chorizo and prawns and the smoothie.

A few things I realised on my trip:

  1. I have never had to say no to myself so many times in such a short period
  2. The shopping culture/habit was developed when I was very young. It’s currently school holidays now, so there were many groups of kids just hanging around shopping centres today and that reminded me of how I used to do that when I was young. I mean if you spend your free time as a kid hanging out at shopping centres with friends then of course you’re going to develop a shopping habit.
  3. How much money I would’ve usually wasted on small things (e.g. smoothie, food, a mug, etc), which I never realised before.

Even though I am still in the very early stages of the no spend challenge, I can feel my thought patterns beginning to change slowly and it’s like I’m learning from scratch how to differentiate a ‘need’ from a ‘want’.

It has also highlighted how mindlessly I used to buy things, it was like I was on autopilot handing out money to whichever store wanted it. Now I feel like I have to go to the other end of the spectrum and be extremely conscious and deliberate with every decision, no matter how small. I basically need to learn to say no to absolutely everything so that I can recalibrate my decision making process when it comes to purchasing and maybe in future I can find some middle ground.

Lastly, I did get a few things, however I am still counting it as no spend because it was an exchange for some of the items I returned at the first store, so technically I didn’t have to spend any money on it AND I still ended up getting a refund of $64. The three items I got were:

  • Striped button-up shirt – I’ve been looking for one like this for the last 4 months so I definitely been wanting this for a long time
  • Knit top – I have no reason for wanting this aside from it looks good on me
  • Sling bag – I’ve been using the one I have basically every day for the last year and it’s looking a little worn, so I wanted a replacement

Just in case I change my mind, I’m leaving the tags on these items for a few days and I’ll see how I feel about them by next week. If I still love them then I’ll keep them, if not I’ll return them.

*UPDATE* – I just tried on the knit top again. I like it but I don’t love it, so it’s going back.

No Spend Month: Staying Strong

Bought: Groceries

Did not buy:

  • $32 cigarettes
  • $13.95 eco produce bags
  • $160 worth of soapnut shampoo bars from the UK, even though I really, really wanted to
  • $239 new handbag for work
  • $23 new bigger Keepcup in grey like a true minimalist *joking (not really)*
  • $137 worth of dress jewellery, rose gold rings to be specific

Total saved by staying strong: $604.95

Each one of these had its own set of temptations that I had to resist and one thing I noticed is just how easily I’m influenced, especially by marketing. And that’s pretty sad, considering I work in marketing and I know exactly how brands create this false sense of “need” and urgency, when in actual fact all of the things I wanted to buy are squarely in the “want” category and will probably still be there later, be the same price later and I’ll most likely find something I want more, later.

Temptations:

  • Cigarettes – this one is obviously a set of self created temptations, namely that I’m addicted to cigarettes
  • Eco produce bags – I’ve been watching more zero waste videos on Youtube and a lot of them mention using produce bags as a way of minimising the use of plastic bags when buying fruits and vegetables. This is probably my biggest weakness – when I’m really interested in something, I truly believe that in order to be good at whatever it is, I need to buy everything associated with it, immediately.
  • Soapnut shampoo bars – the above weakness can also be applied to these bars. I saw a few of my favourite minimalist/zero waste Youtubers recommend these and they became a ‘must-have’. Then once I added items to my cart on the website and didn’t complete the purchase, I got a voucher for 10% off, which nearly pushed me over the line – but no, I stood my ground. I know one day I will purchase them, but I have convinced myself that day won’t be today…in fact it will most likely be the day when I’m nearly out of shampoo and the British Pound is weaker against the Australian Dollar.
  • New handbag – again, I’m starting a new job and I feel like in order to put my best foot forward I need perfect work outfits, accessorised by the perfect larger work bag. I had to tell myself repeatedly that what’s more important to the job is actually being able to do the job and getting along with people. However, it was still a difficult decision to turn away from buying the bag, especially since it was at 25% discount (for a limited time only of course) which meant a saving of over $80.
  • Keepcup – I already have 3, but again it was on sale (29% off) and this one is bigger, made out of glass and in a minimalist grey – but I shouted to myself: “You already have THREE! Who cares if its in minimalist grey if you fail at being a minimalist?”
  • Rings – I’ve been wanting these for a long time and they’re currently 20% off storewide. I talked myself out of buying these because I had to recognise the fact that I don’t actually wear rings, and when I do, I usually lose them.

Anyway, I’m finding it very tiring having these silent, mental arguments with myself, in my head, all day long. I am really hoping that once I get better at not spending money, that this tedious back and forth will stop or at least significantly lessen. Either that or I’m going to go crazy and then I’m going to have to spend all my hard earned savings on a psychiatrist.

Is charity really the best option?

I’ve been on this Minimalism journey for about a year and a half now and I’ve gotten rid of a ton of stuff, however I still have more to go. Below are some photos of all the things I’ve gotten rid of. This is only a portion of it and includes the bigger items, items I could sell and items which I didn’t want to donate to a charity shop.

Sometimes I’m reluctant to donate certain things to charity stores because I’m not 100% sure that they would want or could sell all the items I wanted to donate (e.g. 4 sample pots of teal coloured wall paint, makeup which had been opened, etc). I feel like one aspect of the Minimalist trend that is often ignored or glazed over is the donation of the massive amounts of items decluttered.

A lot of people feel they are doing a good thing by donating the items and not just throwing it out into landfill. And while I agree with that, I also believe a significant proportion of people don’t critically analyse what it is they’re donating – they’re just eager to get it out of their homes and for it to be someone else’s problem.

By donating things without really assessing their condition or the likelihood that someone else would want it, it then places the burden on the charity to dispose of the items that they can’t sell or use. I didn’t want to be one of those people who feels good about themselves because they’ve just donated their stuff when in actual fact its just an easier way of getting rid of things, without the guilt of putting it in the garbage.

For this reason, all the items below are things I advertised on Gumtree (online marketplace in Australia). 90% of these things I gave away for free. One of the main reasons I decided to use Gumtree rather than donating it to St Vincents or the Smith Family, is because I wanted to give these things to people who would actually want them, who would use them and who would appreciate them. I didn’t want to just dump it in a charity bin and hope that the charity would be able to get rid of it somehow.

I am currently still advertising more items on Gumtree for free because I’m determined to find these items a good home, without it being a burden on anyone else.

No Spend Month: Cigarettes

Depending on how you look at it, this was either a great idea or the dumbest idea ever. I decided to quit smoking the same time I decided to start my no spend month.

Considering one packet of cigarettes (Winfield Gold Optimum Crush 30s) costs around $34-$37 now in Sydney, not smoking will do wonders for my savings account. It also helps with the quitting (in a way) because every time I think about going out and buying cigarettes, I also think “It’s no spend month and ciggies aren’t necessities, so don’t buy them”.

On the other hand, I am literally going crazy. Quitting shopping and smoking at the same time feels like the equivalent of chopping off one of my hands. Because the quitting and the no spend challenge is a “thing” that I’m so conscious of now, I can’t help but think about it. If it wasn’t a “thing”, I think I would’ve actually thought about both shopping and smoking a lot less than I have over the last couple of days. In that way it’s actually making it harder. I know this because I have quit smoking multiple times, so I have previous experience to compare to and usually I’ve quit for at least 3 months and often for 6+ months at a time without too much difficulty. Not only that, but I normally don’t find it difficult for the first month to 6 weeks. It’s always around the 2 months mark that I get cravings and once I get over that point, I’m good until the 6-7 months mark.

Right now I’m at the 2 day mark and I think about it every 10 minutes or so. It is driving me up the wall. I really hope that I can persist with the no smoking and no spend, but at the moment it is very hard to do.

I’ve thought about buying cigarettes at least 12 times while writing this post.

 

No Spend Month

So I start my new job in 2 weeks. Until then I’m living off my own money, which is why I think it’s a good time to try the no spend challenge.

I’ve been trying to cut down my spending over the last 6-9months with slow progress. I have cut down my spending a little and I have improved in that the things I buy are not completely useless. Even with clothes I only keep the items I really love and return everything else.

The rules I’ve set up for myself during this challenge are:

  • No frivolous spending e.g. unnecessary things – mainly clothes, bags, shoes, homewares, decor, kitchenware, gadgets, etc
  • No spending on takeaway food
  • No spending on desserts when eating out
  • No coffees, smoothies, juices, etc

What I can spend on:

  • Necessities e.g. rent, bills, groceries, transport, petrol, medication, etc
  • Experiences e.g. going out with friends, dinners out, brunch, museums, outdoor activities, etc

I know a lot of people who have done the no spend challenge also included going out as part of the challenge, but that’s just not something I wanted to include in mine. This is mostly because I think experiences are worth spending money, time and effort on. These are the things that I’ll remember when I’m old and these are the things that help me spend more time with people that I love.

Also, I don’t go out that often and when I go out I never drink, which means I don’t spend much money anyway.

I’ll make weekly updates on my progress. Hopefully I’ll manage to save some money.