Friday, April 17, 2020

Discarding and Regrets

As someone who strives to make minimalism accessible to everyone regardless of financial standing, living arrangement, or socioeconomic class, I feel the genuine need to be honest about the impacts of minimalism.

I want to discuss regrets (and/or lack thereof) as they relate to the discarding process. In particular, I want to answer one question:

Have you had any regrets about discarding a particular item?

Yes and no, for one item. I have been getting back into a few hobbies lately because I have been stuck at home due to Minnesota's Stay At Home order. The item I have thought about the most since discarding and donating it is a book about one of my hobbies.

I want to discuss first why I said "yes" in addition to no. Yes, I regret discarding the book because it was aesthetically pleasing. It was fun to flip through for ideas. It had some interesting recipes and projects in it that I wanted to adopt and adapt for my craft. And what made me regret discarding it the most was that it had a recipe I could have shared with a likewise crafty friend. I felt bad when I searched high and low for the book for a few minutes before realizing I had discarded it one of the last times I went through my craft book library. I was sad that I couldn't share the recipe inside with my friend. But that last bit brings me to why I also don't regret discarding it.

I answered "no" as well as yes because since I had last read the book, I'd come up with my own recipe that I could share with my friend. I remembered why I discarded the book--as much as I liked to flip through it, not much was valuable to me other than the pictures. The recipes were not particularly original, and they weren't quite "from scratch" enough for me. I remembered how much I liked the book when I first got it, but as I became more advanced and adept with my craft, it became less and less useful to me. I remember putting it in a donate box hoping that it would bring joy to someone whose interests were similar to my own. When I shared my own original recipe with my friend, she thanked me for it, and I realized then that her gratitude was proof that I really did not need to regret giving the book away.

Regret is a natural feeling that I'm sure every minimalist, experienced and new, has felt at some point. It's okay to regret giving an item away or donating it. Items are just things; they're replaceable. If there's a lesson that I would say I learned, though, it's that sometimes I can be overzealous with my discards. If I had kept the particular book I'd donated, I'd probably have spent time reading it on and off this week for more ideas... but I know I also would have gotten a little bored with it because many of its recipes were similar to those in another book I decided to keep. It's the balance of yes and no that can be difficult to find. But talking through the regret of discarding an item is helpful for confirming the choice to discard as the right decision to have made.

Tips for dealing with the regret of discarding an item:

  • Ask yourself: Did the item fulfill its original intended purpose?
    If yes, it's fine that it was discarded because it was well-used.
    If no, it's also fine that it was discarded because it could not fulfill its purpose.
  • For donated items, think about how happy they could be making another person right now.
  • Remember that items like books, trinkets, and anything purchased in a store can be replaced if your regret is so strong that you want to have an item back.
  • Think about why you discarded an item. Ask yourself why it was not bringing you joy when you discarded it.
  • Never, ever beat yourself up over discarding an item, even a sentimental one. We're all human. Sometimes we make mistakes and the best we can do is learn from them.
  • Things we discard are just that--things. Sometimes it's stuff. Sometimes it's junk. And honestly, sometimes it's junk/stuff/things we wish we'd kept. (But it's ultimately okay in the end that we didn't.)
I hope my honesty about my own regret helps others puzzle through their own. Not every item is meant to be discarded... but sometimes when we let an item go and think about it for a while, we realize we might want it back. In my case, I realize that I am content with the other books I have on the subject. What I have done to explore my regret is shared it, sort-of meditated on the item, and remembered why I discarded it in the first place. I will not be beating myself up about the decision to discard it any time soon. It was just a thing, and an easily-replaceable one at that should I ever decide I want it back. If it had been a sentimental item? Well, the memory of it would always be with me, and I could preserve the memory further by writing a journal entry about it or drawing a picture of it. I think it's important to remember: not all is lost when items are gone. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Last Few Days of My No-Spend Month

I chose March for a no-spend month simply because it seemed like the right time for me. It ties into minimalism because during a no-spend month, the focus is on bringing in only essential items. By cutting out nonessential items, I could focus on what I already had on-hand for fun and entertainment. One of my overarching goals is to make minimalism (and other habits that tie into it) more accessible. Here's how the last few days have gone.

Catch up here:
Week One of My No-Spend Month
Week Two of My No-Spend Month
Week Three of My No-Spend Month
Week Four of My No-Spend Month

March 29-31

I was determined to end the no-spend month strong. I think I did okay!

Day 29: It was a lazy day mostly spent playing Stardew Valley and watching some TV. I didn't have a whole lot going on during the day, save for working on a character for an online Dungeons & Dragons group that my best friend is leading. I spent a little bit of time on a sketch for my character's portrait, which was a fun creative pursuit. I cooked a big, healthy dinner in the evening and wound down for the night with tea.

Day 30: Time after work was spent playing a bit more Stardew Valley, but after that I worked on my D&D character sheet. Once I had the sheet mostly done, I spent a large chunk of the night working on my character sketch more. Getting artistic definitely made me feel good about the day. I had planned to walk with my best friend but it was too rainy for him; so we chatted while I sketched instead. I got to bed at a decent hour with tea and a book to read.

Day 31: I didn't play much Stardew Valley after work. I got about a day done in the game and then decided to go for a longer walk. Partway through the walk my best friend joined me (over the phone, of course) and we strolled and played Pokemon Go on and off for about an hour. Once I got back home from the walk, I got dinner going, filled out the census online, and then put together an IT community article. I ended the night with tea and another chapter in the book I'd recently started reading.

No-Spend Month Summary 

Spending Overview: Outside of regular bills, one of my financial goals was to keep the grocery spend down. In the end I was well under the usual monthly grocery spend of $320 for the "big haul" at the start of each month with about $100 for supplemental trips throughout the rest of the month. This month's grocery spend came to $236 for food and $93 for household supplies. Part of the savings came from yet another Imperfect Foods box failing to be delivered--this time it was FedEx damaging the box--so I just didn't have as much food as I expected to. But even if that box had arrived, I still would have been about $40-50 under the usual spend just from cutting out junk items like chips, sparkling water, and pop.

I had also set aside $60 for spending on band merch at concerts. With so many concerts cancelled due to the spread of coronavirus and various states' and countries' lockdowns, I purchased merch online to support the bands I loved the most and had to miss out on seeing in person. On this category, I overspent by $24... but it was money well over-spent.

I paid off my credit cards, and plan now to use them only for groceries and safer online shopping--expenses that are easy to pay off immediately. I also boosted my emergency fund to a comfortable $2,000 mark. Overall, I put 41% of my take-home pay into savings over the course of the month.

Unforeseen Benefits: Eating healthier from cutting out convenience foods helped me end a weight loss plateau and lose just over seven pounds over the course of the month. Without the convenience foods, I was consuming less in refined sugars and noticed less bloating and clearer skin. Playing more video games kept me mentally engaged so I didn't eat out of boredom. Taking the time to cook my own food and bake my own bread helped me to start fixing my relationship with food. The more time I spent in the kitchen chopping veggies and prepping meals, the less I felt compelled to overeat--I slowed down and started to appreciate the results of my efforts. I saved a lot more for leftovers so I could enjoy a particularly good meal more than once.

I also gained a better understanding of what I do and don't need to be happy, which I think will help with my spending habits moving forward. Of course, a few things did come up that we actually need now that the no-spend month is over, but we had a month to decide just how necessary they were.

I look forward to doing no-spend months in the future. There were definitely some tough days but overall it felt worth it to cut out all the junk expenditures for a month. And on the minimalist side of things, since I had a smaller, predetermined budget for "fun" expenses, I didn't bring anything new into the house that I didn't absolutely want to have. I didn't manage to get everything on my to-do list done, but I also didn't add any clutter to my home. I'm willing to call my No-Spend Month of March a success.