No TV Update: Three Years and Counting

Three years ago, my husband and I gave up our television when we moved overseas. At the time, I had no idea how we’d feel about its absence, or whether or not we’d replace it upon our return. Well, I’m happy to report that we love being TV-free, and have no intention of obtaining another.

In fact, we recently traveled to Texas for a family wedding, and during the five days in our hotel suite never once turned on the TV (we didn’t even notice its presence until the third or fourth day!).

Here’s a quick rundown on how tuning out the tube has enhanced our lives:

More silence. Without the TV as background noise, our home is incredibly peaceful. It’s much easier (and more pleasant) to hear the little coos of my baby girl without headlines blaring from CNN (I’d like her to grow up without having to talk over the TV).

More serenity. Reduced exposure to news (particularly that of a violent or worrisome nature) and political ads has led to less stress and anxiety in our household. We stay informed via the Internet, reading only the stories in which we have interest.

More satisfaction. Since our house is commercial and celebrity-free, we’re not exposed to aspirational goods or lifestyles. We’re perfectly happy with what we have, and how we live, and never want for bigger/better/different/more.

More space. It’s been wonderful to not plan a living room around a television, or devise a way to mount, contain, hold, or hide such an (in my opinion) unattractive device.

More focus. Without the distraction of a TV, we can pursue hobbies, conversation, and playtime with our daughter while being fully present in the moment.

More holiday spirit. Back when we had a TV, the onslaught of commercials—whether they be hawking cashmere sweaters for Christmas or jewelry for Valentine’s Day—would make me tired of the upcoming holiday before it even arrived. Now that such advertising no longer enters our lives, we enjoy the season and celebrations so much more.

More time. According to this New York Times article, the average American watches 34 hours of television per week. 34 hours! (I had to triple-check that to make sure I read it right.) So by not owning a TV, we gain more than a day’s worth of extra time every week. :)

I think our no-TV experiment will become even more interesting as our daughter grows up. How will she fare without Sesame Street, Saturday morning cartoons, or Disney princesses? (I’d like to think just fine.) I envision for her a childhood of playing outside, chasing butterflies, drawing, reading, and creating—even if it means not understanding every pop culture reference made by her peers. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children under 2, so I don’t think our lack of Baby Einstein videos is doing her any disservice.

Of course, and as always, I must add the disclaimer that this is what works for us. By no means am I suggesting that everyone should give up their TVs, or that you can’t be a minimalist if you own one. It’s just another thing that our household is better off without—and I’ll continue to provide updates on our decision as the years go by.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Lifestyle For Sale?

When I was a teenager, I was enamored with the J. Crew catalog—not so much for the trendy-preppy clothes, but the chic lifestyles depicted on its pages. I’d spend a lazy hour with each new issue, looking for inspiration as to what kind of glamorous life I might lead someday.

When the spring issued arrived, I’d daydream about cavorting in a meadow of wildflowers with ten of my closest friends (no matter that my friends were far more interested in going to the mall than a meadow).

The summer issue had me fantasizing about riding a perfectly-battered vintage bicycle, in my flipflops and sundress, through a quaint little beach town (no matter that the nearest beach towns were crammed with cheesy bars and sweaty tourists).

With the fall issue, I imagined myself strolling the leafy paths of an Ivy League campus, and cozying up in a grand old library filled with leather-bound tomes (ok, I actually lived this one).

And, oh, the winter issue! That’s when my imagination would really take flight. I pictured myself celebrating the holidays, with my extended family, on a fabulous New England estate–riding in our own sleigh (of course) to pick out a Christmas tree on the expansive, snow-covered grounds. (No matter that landing on such an estate would likely require marrying into a moneyed, Kennedy-like clan—and my teenage heart fell for artists and musicians rather than the sons of senators).

I consumed these lifestyles just as I would the flirty sundress, low-rise khakis, or roll-neck sweater that went along with them.

But after years of envisioning which “catalog life” I might lead, complete with its clothing and accessories, the one I fell into was so vastly different—and, I’m happy to say, required no purchases whatsoever.

When I became a minimalist, over a decade ago, there was nothing trendy or chic about it. In contrast, people considered my penchant for empty spaces and few possessions to be rather strange and eccentric.

Fast forward to this NY Times article, “Selling the Pared-Down Life.” It’s about LifeEdited, the latest venture by Treehugger founder Graham Hill, and describes the aim of his fledgling company to sell “small-space, sustainable… high-end living” to the masses. (If you have any doubt that big profits are anticipated, consider that billionaire entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, is being wooed as an investor.)

I certainly appreciate the idealism behind it, and applaud any effort to champion a “right-sized” lifestyle to the public at large. But I can’t help but wonder (or should I say worry): has minimalism become another lifestyle to consume, along with the right convertible furniture, smart phone, and wardrobe of merino wool?

One might argue that I’ve contributed to the “packaging” of minimalism as a lifestyle; after all, I’ve been blogging for nearly three years and have a book for sale on the topic (with yes, a link at the bottom of this post—but you can borrow it from the library if you prefer). However, I’ve stopped short of peddling other products or selling advertising space on my website. In my opinion, minimalism isn’t conferred upon you when you purchase a snazzy set of nesting bowls; it’s a state of mind that’s cultivated slowly and deliberately, and ideally, will lead you to decide that you don’t need said bowls in the first place. ;-)

I’m all for quality over quantity, and being mindful about the products we buy—it’s a great strategy for avoiding the clutter that can accumulate otherwise. However, let’s not use minimalism as an excuse to consume more stuff (however high-end, beautifully-designed, or space-saving it may be). Let’s keep in mind that what we’re really striving for is less—and that remaking, reusing, and repurposing what we already own can be a far more effective way to achieve it.

Do you think minimalism has been co-opted by corporate America? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Less Consumption, Less Work

While clearing out some old bookmarks, I recently came across an oldie but goodie that I somehow neglected to share with you.

It’s an article by Jeffrey Kaplan in the May/June 2008 issue of Orion magazine, exploring the historical context behind corporate and government efforts to “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.” These efforts were in response to the fact that our industrial capacity in the 1920s was capable of producing far more goods than people felt they needed. Here’s an excerpt:

“By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption”—the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. […] They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

It includes a fascinating look behind the Kellogg Company’s 6-hour workday initiative (introduced in 1930)—which, although it meant lower overall pay, was enthusiastically embraced by its employees. Workers appreciated the extra time to spend with their families, in their gardens, and participating in their communities. Instead of feeling impoverished by their decrease in buying power, they felt enriched by the increase in their leisure time.

The article is a thought-provoking piece about the work-to-spend cycle, which posits the question: What if we used our industrial capacity to reduce our working hours instead of ramping up our consumption? Consider this:

“…we could work and spend a lot less and still live quite comfortably. By 1991 the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor was double what it had been in 1948. By 2006 that figure had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day—or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.”

Follow this link to read the full article…

On a personal level, I’ve thought about this issue a lot lately. My dilemma: do I put Plumblossom in daycare, and continue to work full-time? Or do I cut back on my income-producing activities in favor of spending my time with her? So far, I’ve opted for the latter, and I’m fortunate that I’m in the position to do so. Of course, minimalism helps a lot; my husband and I feel that as long as we can meet our basic needs (housing, food, healthcare), the extra income I’d bring in is not as valuable as the time I give our daughter.

Anyway, back to the article…The take-home message for us minimalists: when our wants are few, and we have little desire to acquire extraneous items, we can break free of the corporate message that what we have is “not enough”—thereby escaping the pressure to work more, simply so we can spend more.

Less consumption = less work = more time = happiness. :-)

What do you think? If your basic needs were covered, would you choose (or have you chosen) fewer working hours over extra income?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Holiday: White Friday

(Photo: Muffet)

As you might guess, I’m not a fan of Black Friday. I don’t like crowds, shopping, excess consumerism, or stores that make their employees work late night, early morning, or—worst of all—Thanksgiving hours in service to corporate profits.

That lovely little Friday, so wonderfully placed between a holiday and weekend, deserves better. And so, in the spirit of minsumerism and consumer disobedience, I propose we turn Black Friday on its head and embrace the opposite of everything it represents: please join me in celebrating White Friday instead.

Rather than a day of consumer frenzy, White Friday will be a day of clarity, peace, and reflection. (Think of the calm, contemplative effect of a white-walled room, versus one stacked top-to-bottom with shelves of mass-produced goods.) We’ll buy nothing, and continue our Thanksgiving gratitude for the abundance already in our lives.

Here’s some other ways to turn a Black day of consumerism into a White day of serenity:

Clear the clutter. Instead of bringing more stuff into your home, clear stuff out. Take the day to tackle a decluttering project, like your closet, basement, or attic. It feels a lot better to send a carload to charity, than stash away a carload of shopping.

Clear the dirt. Do a deep house-cleaning in preparation for the holidays. Get into those dusty corners you ignore during the year, and scrub them spotless. Such a top-to-bottom cleansing is an important purification rite in many cultures, and is good for the spirit as well as the home.

Clear your schedule. Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to jostle crowds for bargains, sleep in, slow down, and spend the day with loved ones. Alternatively, free up your day to volunteer for a good cause.

Clear your debts. Rather than increase your credit card balance, take steps to pay it off. Review your finances, and plan how you can start the new year on more fiscally-sound footing. Propose a no-gift holiday to your friends and family, and emphasize spending time together over spending money.

Clear your mind. Instead of stressing about the upcoming holiday season, take a long bath or leisurely walk to clear your mind. Turn off the TV, skip the newspaper, don’t go online—anything to avoid being bombarded with advertisements and marketing.

Clear your soul. Reconnect with your spiritual side: meditate, attend a religious service, enjoy the gifts of nature. Spend the day not in pursuit of discounts, but in pursuit of truth, beauty, and meaning.

This Friday, let’s forget about keeping corporations in the black. Rather than go down the dark road of debt, delusion, and environmental destruction that goes hand-in-hand with consumerism, let’s do the opposite. Let’s make it a day to live lightly, act serenely, and make the world a little brighter for ourselves and others.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Wanting to Want

In my younger, more acquisitive years, I had a problem with “wanting to want.”

I subscribed to several magazines, and would page through them for ideas on new clothes to wear, new beauty treatments to try, and new things to decorate my home.

I received a mountain of catalogs each month, and would scour them for products I never knew I needed.

I would stop by the mall on my lunch hour and browse the racks, waiting for something to catch my eye.

The cycle went something like this: a particular gadget/outfit/book/decorative item/piece of jewelry would capture my imagination; I’d spend a few days or weeks wanting it; I’d acquire it; and then I’d look for something else to want.

Where did that leave me? With too much stuff and too little money. Not to mention a lot of time wasted that could have been spent on much more productive pursuits.

When I embraced a minimalist lifestyle, wanting to want was one of the first bad habits to go. I attribute this change in attitude to the decluttering process—after spending countless hours and much energy undoing my consumer decisions, I had no desire to start the cycle again. I canceled my magazine subscriptions, removed my name from all catalog mailing lists, and never set foot in a mall unless I absolutely had to.

When I stopped wanting to want, I experienced a wonderful feeling of lightness and freedom. The pressure to look for, research, desire, save for, and shop for new things was suddenly removed from my life. My stress decreased, my free time increased, and I became a happier person as a result.

In fact, after some time, I could once again look at magazines, catalogs, and stores—but with a completely different perspective:

“How many things are there which I do not want.” ~Socrates

I no longer saw a stuff-packed store as a treasure trove or minefield, but rather an unappealing (and sometimes overwhelming) place of excess and waste.

Such a change in thinking, of course, is easier said than done. Unfortunately, in our consumer-driven society, wanting to want is almost ingrained into our psyche—and reinforced every day by the countless ads, commercials, and marketing messages we see. It seems like everyone wants us to want something, and will go to great lengths to spark that desire.

How do you resist it?

Ignore it. In the beginning, it’s easiest to simply tune out the ads, commercials, and other temptations—which may mean turning off your TV, giving up magazines, avoiding retail websites, and not shopping for entertainment.

Analyze it. Recognize the techniques that marketers use to get you to buy—like making you feel inadequate or insecure, and positioning their product as the cure-all for your problems. Once you understand their tactics, you’re much less likely to fall victim to them.

Subvert it. Here’s where my love of consumer disobedience comes in! Do like Socrates, and take pleasure in discovering all those things you don’t want. Stick it to the man, and keep your hard-earned dollars out of the hands of big corporations.

If you’d like to reduce your clutter, save more money, and gain the time and energy to pursue your dreams, the solution is simple: stop wanting to want. It’s a tiny piece of advice that’ll transform your life!

Have you ever found yourself “wanting to want”? Do you consider retail environments a temptation or a turn-off? Please share your thoughts in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Inspiration from Millionaires

A few days ago, a reader sent me a wonderful article from The Seattle Times: Young tech millionaires keeping 1-bedroom lifestyle. It focuses on some of Silicon Valley’s most successful young entrepreneurs, and how they’re rejecting traditional status symbols like mansions and luxury cars. Why? They find more value in funding startup ventures and social causes than engaging in conspicuous consumption.

For example: Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint.com, who sold his company in 2009 for $170 million. He lives in a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, and recently replaced his 1996 Ford Contour (with 150,000 miles) with a $29K Subaru Outback.

Another one: Joe Greenstein, cofounder of Flixster, which was purchased by Time Warner for $80 million. He’s happy living a “modest life” in his studio apartment.

The two founders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, are also featured. According to his Facebook profile, Zuckerberg’s interests include “minimalism” and “eliminating desire.” Moskovitz has a similar philosophy:

“Things can’t bring you happiness,” Moskovitz said. “I have pictured myself owning expensive things and easily came to the conclusion that I would not have a materially more meaningful life because of them.”

What a refreshing alternative to the typical lifestyles of the rich and famous! I love the message these guys are sending: that wealth can be put to better use than big houses and fancy cars. And that just because you’re wealthy, doesn’t mean you must have those things.

When I first started this blog, I occasionally received emails and comments to the effect of, “I’m sorry, you must live that way because you’re really poor” or “I lived like that when I had no money, too”—as if someone with suitable finances would never choose to live without rooms full of furniture and giant screen TVs.

Similarly, when my husband and I first started living minimally, acquaintances didn’t know what to make of our lifestyle. While peers in our income bracket were buying McMansions, we bought a small, fixer-upper bungalow. While they were leasing luxury cars, we drove our old, high-mileage cars into the ground. While they were shopping for home theater systems, we chose to give up our cable.

Why didn’t we indulge in such things if we could afford them? We simply had different priorities. It’s not that we didn’t spend money—it’s just that we spent it on experiences (like travel) rather than stuff, or saved it for things that really mattered to us.

Which led to an interesting dichotomy: while some people were concerned about our financial well-being (“you’re welcome to the couch in our basement”), others suspected we’d had some sort of financial windfall. We’d hear, “Oh, it must be nice to be able to jet off to Europe!” or “I wish I could afford to quit my job and write all day.” Well, yes, you can do those things when you don’t have a $400K mortgage, a $50K car payment, and tens of thousands in credit card debt. ;-)

I’m certainly not saying that our choices are better than anyone else’s—they’re simply different. They’re what’s right for us, and what makes us happy.

And that’s why I love this article. These young millionaires are completely uprooting the notion of keeping up with the Joneses. They’re subverting the message that Madison Avenue has been sending us for decades: that success equates to status symbols and conspicuous consumption. They’re setting an example that you can want less, no matter what your net worth, and use your money in ways that are important to you (rather than as society expects).

So what does that mean to those of us many rungs below on the economic ladder? Use your resources in the ways you find fulfilling, no matter what anyone else thinks. Don’t hesitate to keep driving your old junker, and spend your paycheck on art classes instead. Feel free to put money into your kid’s college fund, rather than upgrade your living room furniture. Live your dream of travel, instead of taking on a big mortgage. Donate to your favorite charity, instead of splurging on the designer handbag all your friends have.

Bottom line: whether you have $10 or $10 million, there’s much more to life than things.

[Note: the one issue I have with this article is the quoted assertion that "being concerned with appearance, shopping for clothes and decorating your house are feminine values." I think that's an unfortunate stereotype we can do without.]

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

One Less Thing: Microbeads

I love a good exfoliating scrub as much as the next gal—but did you know that every time you wash your face, you may be pouring plastic down the drain?

Yes, that innocent-looking cleanser may be hiding an environmental hazard—usually touted on the label as “microbeads” or “microspheres” or “microcrystals.” Whatever fancy name they’re given, they’re nothing more than tiny globules of plastic (polyethylene) that give an abrasive texture to soap. And once they’re done polishing our skin, they go right down the drain and into our waterways.

What’s so bad about that? Plenty, according to this article on Slate.com:

1. They’re so tiny, they slip through most sewage treatment systems.

2. They don’t break down. Most plastics don’t biodegrade—so when we use this stuff, we clutter our oceans with plastic that isn’t going away.

3. They attract other chemicals to their surface, thereby concentrating and transporting a variety of toxins.

4. They’re easily ingested by marine animals, harming sealife and potentially working their way up the food chain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t relish the thought of eating a fish that’s been feasting on microbeads.

I first read about this issue a few years ago, and thought for sure these products would soon be banned. To the contrary (and to my great dismay), I’ve seen more on the market than ever. The problem is that the plastic bits are so small, it’s hard for scientists to measure their effects—and therefore hard to persuade legislators to take action. I expected at least to see some public outrage; but given that they’re nearly invisible, I guess they don’t have the shock value of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Nevertheless, what we can’t see can certainly hurt us (as well as a plethora of other organisms). And environmental issues aside, rubbing plastic on my skin is just not altogether appealing. Therefore, microbeads are One Less Thing in my bathroom cabinet. There are plenty of alternative exfoliators on the market, using ground walnuts, seeds, salt, and other natural materials. Back in the day, I used to love The Body Shop’s Japanese Washing Grains (now discontinued); as soon as I’m settled, and own a coffee grinder, I intend to make my own from ground adzuki beans.

Being a minsumer means not only keeping clutter out of your home, but keeping junk out of the environment. So if you’re using any cleansers to slough away dead skin, peruse the ingredients list for polyethylene—maybe you too will decide it’s something you can do without. The best way to send a message to the manufacturers of these products: don’t buy them.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

The Year of the Butterfly

bluebutterfly-m125

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The small butterfly
moves as though unburdened by
the world of desire

-Haiku by Kobayashi Issa


Today marks the first day of the Chinese New Year, which according to their lunar calendar is the Year of the Rabbit.

Well, I’d like to propose a special New Year for us minimalists: let’s make this the Year of the Butterfly.

Why? Let me explain with an excerpt from my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide:

When we overconsume, we’re like bulls running through a china shop—leaving a destructive path of downed forests, dirty waterways, and overflowing landfills in our wake. In our quest for more goods and unfettered growth, we break the Earth’s fragile ecosystems, shatter the lives of indigenous peoples, and leave future generations to clean up the mess.

As minsumers, we want to do the opposite. Instead of being bulls, we strive to be butterflies—living as lightly, gracefully, and beautifully as possible. We want to flit through life with little baggage, unencumbered by excess stuff. We want to leave the Earth and its resources whole and intact, as if we alighted just for a moment and barely touched them.

The Earth has a finite number of resources for a growing number of people; and as more countries become industrialized, the greater the pressure on the system. When we act like bulls, we grab more than our fair share. We feel entitled to support our consumptive lifestyles at any cost, and worry little about the effects on the environment. We don’t give a second thought to what’s left over for others, or whether we’ll have enough land, food, water, and energy to go around. What’s worse: in a “growth at all costs” economy, such behavior becomes the norm. Imagine hundreds, thousands, even millions of bulls stomping through the world and stripping it bare of its bounty.

When we act like butterflies, on the other hand, we’re satisfied with the barest of essentials. We consume as little as possible, conscious of the fact that resources are limited. We celebrate the gifts of nature—a spring breeze, a clear stream, a fragrant flower—rather than trampling them. We’re aware that we’re stewards of the Earth, and have a responsibility to nourish and nurture it for future generations. We exist harmoniously with each other, and within the ecosystem.

With that in mind, here’s 10 ways we can live more like butterflies this year:

1. Buy less. Resolve to purchase only the essentials, and refrain from acquiring new clothes, décor, electronics, and other unnecessary items.

2. Be content with what you have. To a butterfly, more is only a burden.

3. Act gracefully. Do what you do, and say what you say, with poise and elegance. Brash language and aggressive attitudes just aren’t cool (or particularly pleasant).

4. Appreciate nature. Seek entertainment in parks and forests, instead of movie theaters and malls. Enjoy the latest blooms instead of the latest releases.

5. Eat fresh and light. Like a butterfly, get your nourishment from the natural world—chemical-, preservative-, and hormone-free. Consume only what’s enough, instead of indulging in excess.

6. Preserve the Earth’s resources. Be a minsumer, and consider the effect of every purchase on the environment. Buy used, buy local, and recycle whenever possible.

7. Inspire others with your actions. Instead of preaching, let the beauty of your ways be an example to others.

8. Lighten your burden. Donate your excess to others: Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and local thrift shops can help distribute your castoffs to those who need them most.

9. Live in the moment. A butterfly doesn’t pine for the past, or fret about the future; rather, every moment is its eternity.

10. Love unconditionally. Understand that you’re connected to every person, plant, and animal on this planet, and treat them all with love, kindness, and respect.

I’d love to hear your ideas for living lightly, gracefully, and beautifully this year. How will you make this the Year of the Butterfly?

The small butterfly

moves as though unburdened by

the world of desire

A Short Guide to Consumer Disobedience

a(Photo: MarkWallace)

I live a minimalist lifestyle for many reasons: for example, I love the freedom, the flexibility, and the financial benefits of not owning a lot of stuff.

But I must admit, it’s also a chance to indulge my inner rebel. I’ve been a straight-A student, model employee, and overall law-abiding citizen; yet when it comes to consumerism, I can’t resist my desire to stick it to the man. ;-)

When I see ads for luxury cars, designer handbags, trendy clothing, and electronic gadgets, I become more determined not to buy them. When I see promotions for loans, mortgages, and credit cards, I become more convinced to stay out of debt.

When politicians implore me to go shopping to “improve the economy,” I’m inspired to swap, borrow, and make do with what I have. When I hear that more stuff means more happiness, I become that much more passionate about living with less.

In short: the more I’m told to consume, the more enthusiastic I become not to.

I don’t know if my contrarian response is a minimalist thing, a frugality thing, or an environmental thing, but I do know this: the purchase of all this stuff is benefiting someone, but it’s certainly not us. And the last thing I’m going to do is trade my financial security, my precious space, and the planet’s resources for a pile of unnecessary material goods.

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience. The premise: people shouldn’t allow government to overrule their consciences. In our modern world, I think we can use a little consumer disobedience—to make sure banks, corporations, and other profiteering interests don’t do the same.

Are you with me? If so, here’s 14 acts of consumer disobedience for you to consider:

1. Pay with cash. Don’t give credit card companies another penny in finance charges – they grow richer at your expense. Save up for stuff instead of charging it; by the time you have the money, you may not even want it anymore!

2. Say no to logos. If a company wants you to be a walking advertisement, they should be paying you.

3. Be brand disloyal. Check out generic alternatives to name-brand goods; the products are often nearly identical.

4. Ignore trends. They’re just a clever ruse to get you to part with your hard-earned money. Don’t buy stuff that’ll be obsolete, outdated, or out-of-style in the blink of an eye.

5. Be a borrower. Whether it’s a book, a ladder, or a dress to wear to a special event, explore borrowing options before you buy. Check out the library, tool shares, car shares, toy shares, and other programs in your area.

6. Swap. Trading your old stuff with others is a great way to save space (one in, one out!) and money. If you can’t make a swap among friends and family, go online: sites like Swap.com, Paperbackswap, SwapStyle, and Zwaggle help you trade books, CDs, DVDs, video games, clothing, accessories, toys, and more.

7. Go on a spending fast. Select a specific time period—like a day, week, or month—and during this time, don’t buy anything but necessities (like basic food and toiletries). Find creative ways to meet your needs, and make do with the things you already have.

8. Have a gift-free holiday. Instead of exchanging store-bought goods, celebrate the holiday with gifts of service (like babysitting, tax help, or a massage), gifts of charity, or by simply spending time with loved ones.

9. Tune out the ads. The easiest way to stick it to the ad man is to stop listening to him. Cancel magazine subscriptions, turn off commercials (or ditch the TV altogether), and install an ad blocker in your browser.

10. Go car-free. If you can walk, bike, or take public transit where you need to go, consider going car-free. Then you can avoid the expense of gas, maintenance, parking, and insurance as well as a car payment.

11. Right-size your space. Live in the smallest space you need, not the largest you can afford. Not only will you save money on your rent or mortgage; you’ll have less incentive to buy stuff to fill it up!

12. Fix your stuff. Try to repair items before replacing them with something new. Darn your socks, mend your clothes, and take your lawnmower to the repair shop instead of running out for a replacement.

13. DIY. Grow your own veggies, make your own furniture, sew your own clothes, bake your own bread. Use your particular skills and talents to avoid buying mass-produced stuff.

14. Want less. Advertisers, marketers, and corporations will do everything in their power to make you want more. But to be richer, happier, and freer, all you need to do is want less.

If you’re tired of the clutter in your home, the finance charges on your credit card, the commercialization of your holidays, or the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, you don’t have to accept the status quo. Channel your inner rebel, and fight back.

Practice your own version of consumer disobedience, and let your conscience, compassion, and creativity—not corporations—shape your world.

Minimalist Living: Movement or Fad?

minimalistsearch

I was recently asked by a reporter whether I thought the current popularity of minimalist living was a passing fad, or a bona fide movement.

First of all, I’m thrilled that minimalist living is on the radar of mainstream media. I’ve been a minimalist for a long time, and I remember when my Google searches on the term turned up little more than references to modern architecture, John Cage’s music, and 1960s art. Today, the same search returns a treasure trove of websites, blogs, and discussions – and yes, some actual newspaper articles – on how to live a simpler life.

Years ago, when I told people I was a minimalist, they looked at me like I had two heads. Today, they invite me over to declutter their closets and basements.

My answer: I believe that minimalist living is an important new movement that will transform our lives, our society, and our planet.

As I see it, a movement involves the convergence of three factors: a precipitator, an enabler, and a means of communication. Here’s how they’re contributing to the rise of minimalist living:

Precipitator: the Recession. When the economy was booming, few stopped to question the status quo. Money was flowing, credit was easy, and we all went shopping. But when things turned south, all bets were off: many of us looked around at the stuff we’d bought, and realized what a deep hole we’d dug. We realized that trading our time, energy, and financial stability for a pile of possessions just wasn’t worth it. Plus, many of us had run out of space to put it all! And so began a massive re-evaluation of our consumption habits.

Now, I know a lot of minimalists (myself included) whose lifestyle choice had nothing to do with the recession. However, I do think the economic downturn gave minimalism more widespread appeal; when money is tight and jobs are scarce, living with less is a fantastic alternative to digging deeper into debt. Furthermore, staying in the job market often requires much more mobility these days, and it’s no picnic dragging around a lot of stuff.

Enabler: Technology. At the same time, digital technology has enabled us to turn more and more of our physical stuff into intangible bits and bytes. We no longer need to be saddled with CDs (or DVDs) and their cases, boxes of paperwork, or heavy loads of books. We can scan (or digitally save) our documents, and store scores of books, songs, and movies on our Kindles, iPods, and iPads. Of course, that also means less need for furnishings like bookshelves, file cabinets, and CD racks.

Means of Communication: the Internet. Corporations and big media have long dominated mass communication – and they used it to spread the message that more is better, and material accumulation is the measure of success. Now, with the proliferation of tweets, blogs, and discussion forums, we’re exposed to a lot more messages from “tiny” media – and a lot of these messages are saying “hey, ‘more is better’ didn’t work for me, but ‘less is more’ does!” Minimalism has gained a voice (make that thousands of voices), and we’ve only just begun discovering its joys and singing its praises.

So does the idea of minimalist living have staying power? I think it does. We’ll likely become more mobile as a society, and location-independent as a workforce (google “digital nomads”), and technology will only progress in reducing our dependence on physical stuff.

Will some people return to their old levels of consumption when the recession ends? Sure. But I think enough of us have discovered that we prefer living with less, and will continue to live a pared-down lifestyle by choice. Whatever our reasons for adopting a minimalist lifestyle in the first place, we’ve likely discovered some of its myriad benefits – like less stress, more freedom, and more time to spend with friends and family rather than fussing over stuff. Not to mention, it’s nice to know we’re contributing to a healthier planet; because the less we buy, the cleaner our air, the fuller our forests, and the emptier our landfills.

It’s pretty amazing, actually: if minimalist living is a movement, we have a unique opportunity to change the current paradigm – from one of overconsumption, to one of conservation and sustainability. We can be pioneers of social and economic change simply by consuming less.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you think minimalism is a temporary trend, or here to stay? Is it a short-term or long-term lifestyle choice for you? Let me know in the Comments!