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.}

One Less Thing: Drama

(Photo: Siti Saad)

Minimalism isn’t just about eliminating the physical clutter from our lives; it’s about purging the mental clutter as well. We want to achieve not only a serene space, but also a serene mind.

Of course, mental clutter is a whole different beast—it’s certainly not as easy as boxing it up and putting it on the curb. Nonetheless, I thought it’d be interesting to take a “One Less Thing” approach to it, and see if we can sweep it away like those dusty old tchotchkes.

To that end, I’ll try to identify our mental clutter in terms of categories. So what’s on the chopping block today? Drama.

Oh yes, drama. The stuff of soap operas and reality TV shows. Sure, it may have entertainment value, but it can cause some major complications when it seeps into our own lives. If you’ve ever overreacted to a colleague’s criticism, burst into tears at an  offhand comment, or otherwise made a mountain out of a molehill, you know what I’m talking about.

Some may argue that drama adds some spice to the daily grind; however, when it comes to your psychological well-being, I think there’s much to be said for keeping things even-keel. Personally, I’ve found that banishing excess drama from my life has done wonders to simplify it.

Would you like to eliminate the needless worries, wasted tears, pointless arguments, confrontations, and bad blood from your own life? Here’s some tips on how to leave the drama where it belongs—on Big Brother and Jersey Shore:

1. Choose your battles. Not everything is worth fighting for; save your energy, and your emotions, for what’s really important.

2. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes a snippy remark is just the result of a bad day; remember that others are struggling with their own problems, and give them a little leeway.

3. Don’t be overly sensitive. If you take everything personally, it can be very draining; let things bounce off you, and move on with your life.

4. Don’t hold grudges. Negative emotions impact you more than the object of your grudge. Forgive and forget.

5. Mind your own business. We all have enough of our own issues to worry about; refrain from meddling in someone else’s.

6. Think before you speak. Don’t let an ill-considered remark start a cascade of trouble; once those words are out of your mouth, you can’t put them back.

7. Take a time out. Step back, and view a situation objectively before reacting. A few minutes, or a few deep breaths, can avert a potential meltdown.

8. Keep things in perspective. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s not the end of the world. Consider if you’ll even remember the “crisis” du jour next week, next month, or next year.

9. Don’t wear your negative emotions. A bad mood can be contagious; if you resist the urge to broadcast your misery, you’ll likely start to feel better yourself.

10. Always act with kindness. A gentle word or helpful act can turn almost any situation into a positive one. Compassion over confrontation!

Minimizing drama isn’t about being an ice queen or bottling your emotions. Rather, it’s about identifying the negative emotions that clutter our lives, and giving them the heave-ho. It’s about clearing our mental space, the same way we do our living space—and thereby making more room for peace, happiness, and the important things in life.

{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: Fashion Trends

(Photo: Amazon.com)

The fashion industry is the prime example of an activity dedicated to using up resources, not to create satisfactions, but to create dissatisfactions with what people possess—in effect to create obsolescence in otherwise perfectly satisfactory goods.
–E. J. Mishan, 1967 (as quoted in Less is More by Goldian VandenBroeck)

It’s hard to believe now, but back in my early twenties, I was something of a fashionista. I had two closets full of clothes, and regularly browsed a number of fashion magazines (each fall, I eagerly awaited Vogue’s phonebook-size September issue). I spent far too much time, money, and effort dressing for some imaginary spotlight—embarrassing to admit, but true.

Fortunately, somewhere along the line I tired of the excess—the stuffed closets, the barely-worn clothes, the pieces that were “out” just months after I bought them. The whole endeavor seemed an exercise in futility and waste. So I called it quits on my fashion habit, and unloaded the vast majority of my wardrobe in a no-holds-barred eBay extravaganza.

It wasn’t easy emptying my closet of the designer pieces and vintage “finds” I’d so delighted in acquiring. I sold pieces I’d worn just once or twice for a fraction of what I’d paid for them. As I shipped out each item, I felt an incredible amount of guilt and anguish over the money I’d wasted; yet at the same time, I felt a flood of relief over ridding myself of the evidence.

Around the same time, I also became aware of the environmental impacts and human rights violations of the fashion industry—which effectively put the brakes on new purchases, particularly those of the trendy variety. To be honest, it was a relief to step off the fashion treadmill: I no longer knew, or cared, whether chunky knits were “in” for fall or peasant skirts were de rigeur for spring. Instead, I became interested in building a small wardrobe of quality, classic pieces that would stay in style and last as long as possible.

Want to join me in eliminating fashion trends from your minimalist life? Here’s what works for me:

1. Develop your personal style. Despite my lack of interest in fashion trends, I’m still too girly for jeans and a sweatshirt. My wardrobe consists mainly of dresses—I love the idea of a one-piece outfit, and can dress them up with hose and heels, or down with tights or leggings. In the summer, I live in simple shift dresses and ballet flats; in the winter, sweater dresses and boots. Season to season, I have no idea what’s in or out; I simply wear what flatters me and fits my lifestyle.

2. Don’t chase trends. Chasing trends does little more than part you from your money. In just a few months, that of-the-moment item will be yesterday’s news (and clutter in your closet). Even when such “fast fashion” is low-priced (a la H&M), it often comes with a high cost—namely, environmental degradation and sweatshop labor.

3. Don’t read fashion magazines. In this case, ignorance is bliss. Ads and fashion spreads are meant to make us feel deprived of the latest and greatest, and instill in us a fear we’ll be “left behind.” But when you have no clue what the “it” bag or shoe is this season, you feel no compulsion to acquire it. And guess what? The world doesn’t stop turning, and hardly anyone blinks an eye.

4. Realize you’re not in the spotlight. Unless you’re a celebrity or media figure, it’s doubtful anyone cares whether you’re wearing the latest designer outfit. And for those who have nothing better to do than judge you on your apparel—well, they’re probably not worth impressing.

5. Be aware of the impact. For me, guilt is an incredibly effective way to curb consumption. If buying a new outfit (that I don’t need) causes environmental harm, or involves someone suffering workplace abuse or dangerous conditions, I’d much rather go without. To the best of your ability, educate yourself on which brands use sweatshop labor or questionable ecological practices.

6. Think timeless. Stick to simple, classic pieces that always stay in style: a shift dress, black skirt, khaki trouser, white shirt, or wool coat can serve as a wardrobe staple for years (I’ve had some in my closet for a decade!). You’ll save cash, streamline your wardrobe, and never look dated.

7. Shop your closet. Despite your decluttering, your closet probably still holds some relics from years past. The bright side? When long skirts or animal prints come back into fashion, you may very well have an old favorite to pull out and wear.

I’m not against looking nice, and I certainly understand the desire to express one’s personality and creativity with clothing. However, I think that building a small collection of well-edited apparel is far more stylish than running out each season to purchase the pieces du jour.

What do you think? Do you have a passion for fashion, or are you blissfully unaware of the latest trends?

{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.}

One Less Thing: Perfume

perfume3-150An important part of being a minimalist is realizing what you can do without. It’s a continual process of discovering One Less Thing that—despite what peers, advertisements, or societal norms tell you—you just don’t need.

Several years ago, I discovered One Less Thing I could do without: perfume.

As a young girl, I associated those fancy glass bottles of fragrance with glamour, sophistication, and femininity—and was thrilled to receive my first one (the lemon-y Jean Naté—oh, the nostalgia!) as a birthday gift in junior high. I graduated onto the hipper Calvin Klein Eternity in high school, had a brief fling with Le De Givenchy during an Audrey Hepburn phase, and spritzed daily with Chanel Allure as an adult. (Yes, I’m girly like that.)

A perfume bottle was a standard fixture on my bathroom counter—that is, until I started learning more about what was inside.

You see, I’d always assumed perfumes were made of pretty things like flowers, sunshine, and rainbows. ;-) I’d never stopped to question exactly what was in the stuff I was spraying on my body. As naïve as it sounds, it came as a surprise to me that I was dousing myself with synthetic chemicals on a daily basis.

As it turns out, perfumes are full of potential hazards—and current laws don’t require companies to disclose them. Neurotoxins, hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates, and harmful synthetic musks are common ingredients. But because companies can claim fragrance as trade secrets, you won’t find them listed on the label. Worse yet, very few of the thousands of ingredients used in perfumes have been tested for human safety; their effects on the skin, the brain, the respiratory system, and other organs are simply unknown. (To learn more, visit The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.)

Well, that knowledge was enough to make me drop perfume (and other fragranced products, from shower gel to body lotion) from my beauty routine. To me, smelling like a rose was hardly worth the health risks.

Furthermore, I became concerned about the environmental impacts of perfume production and distribution. Ninety-five percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are petroleum-based compounds, and the manufacture of both the perfumes and their bottles consume a great deal of energy. Not to mention shipping them to shops and department stores around the globe!

It may seem a trivial topic, but fragrance is a multi-billion dollar industry. Walk down any high street in Europe, or into any mall in America, and you’ll see shelves piled high with designer potions; open up any magazine, or turn on any TV channel, and you’ll likely see an ad for the latest celebrity-endorsed scent. And it’s not just a female thing; men’s cologne commands a significant share of the market.

Yet, ironically enough, although such perfumes promise to make us more attractive to the opposite sex, research shows that our natural scents are more appealing.

So as a minsumer, I have to question: do we really want to waste our precious resources, our precious dollars—and possibly our precious health—on something we really don’t need?

For me, giving up perfume is a joyful act of consumer disobedience. It’s also an opportunity to have One Less Thing to purchase, to own, to clutter up my countertop, to affect my health, and to poison our environment. I now get my fragrance fix the old-fashioned way: enjoying the smell of rain, grass, fruit, flowers, and freshly-baked sweets, among other (natural) things.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the topic, and plan to share more of my One Less Things with you in the future.