Two steps back, two steps forward…

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful. ~John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life

I bought my mom a pair of Toms for her birthday, right after Christmas. I had sent an email out to the family before the holidays, saying that I would be donating to charity in lieu of gifts (except for the kids…I am not yet willing to be the evil aunt just to maintain my minimalist “cred”). But these were perfect for her – fuzzy, soft, and red, with small white polka-dots. They were fun, just like she is, and too perfect to pass up.

Naturally, I’ve been admiring them every time I see her. I would never buy anything for my mom that I wouldn’t wear myself, and I remembered how comfy they were when I tried them on in the store. I began to have the familiar feeling of rationalizing the purchase of a pair for myself.

My office is in Boston’s Financial District, just steps away from Downtown Crossing – a shopper’s paradise. On my lunch break, I escaped to one of my favorite stores, City Sports. They have a good selection of Toms, and I found a nice Army-green pair that I knew I could wear with almost everything in my closet. I tried them on, and they were exactly as cozy as I had remembered. Toms donates a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair they sell, which further justified my purchase.

I walked toward the register with my Toms, and ran right into a display of Reef shoes. Hanging next to the flip-flops were a gorgeous pair of flats, covered in a beautiful, rainbow-striped cotton canvas. I stopped to inspect the tag attached to the heel, and was intrigued by what I read. The shoes were made through a collaboration with Nest, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to work with master artisans around the globe, “alleviating poverty, empowering women, and promoting peace.” The fabric was woven by a women’s cooperative in Guatemala that was formed as a result of the civil war in the 1980s, when many of the men were killed, and their widows had to find a way to earn a living.

Long story short, I now have two new pairs of shoes. One might call this a “relapse”, and I do feel a significant amount of guilt for having spent money that I had intended to use for other purposes. But I am determined to continue decreasing my total number of possessions, and so I immediately parted with two pairs of shoes to make up the difference. I also filled a large box with decor and other items that will be heading to our nearby charity thrift shop.

This has made me think a bit more about being a “conscious consumer”…if I do feel the need to go out and buy something, I should at least be seeking out sustainable, earth-friendly, and charitable options like these. Being a bit of a compulsive shopper, I know that I am going to have setbacks like this occasionally, but at least I can be more mindful about where my money is going.

Bumps in the road.

The intention of voluntary simplicity is not to dogmatically live with less. It’s a more demanding intention of living with balance. This is a middle way that moves between the extremes of poverty and indulgence. ~Duane Elgin

I’ve only just begun this minimalist journey, but have already encountered a number of roadblocks. It’s a bit discouraging, but I’m doing my best to get past these and forge ahead, since I’m sure my situation is not that unique. Judging by my last couple of posts, it’s obvious that I have been focusing largely on my wardrobe as a starting place to eliminate excess belongings. This just made sense, since clothes have been a major issue for me for as long as I can recall. Unfortunately, as cathartic as it has been to get rid of ill-fitting, unflattering, worn-out clothes, I am also coming to the realization that I have very few items that fit me well.

I started doing CrossFit late last summer. CrossFit is an exercise program focused on strength and conditioning, and their prescription for fitness is  “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement”. On their Getting Started page, they state: “We are a ‘minimalist program’ and this is reflected by the functionality and limited number of our exercises and the simplicity of the equipment we use compared to most commercial gyms.” How ironic that I would have chosen this particular program over all others, just months before having a minimalist epiphany.

Since I started CrossFit, I have noticed some changes in how my clothes fit. What were once tiny chicken legs can now barely squeeze into my skinny jeans, since my thighs have grown in size from so many squats. I have yet other pairs that used to be snug, but are now sagging due to sitting much lower on my shrinking waist. Sweaters and other long-sleeved shirts are becoming increasingly tight around my upper arms. While I welcome these changes, for someone who is trying to avoid purchasing new things, they are making this minimalist lifestyle a bit difficult. I have one pair of jeans that fit relatively well, though only when fresh out of the dryer. I live in jeans on the weekends (don’t we all?), so this is a sad state of affairs. I fear that I may have to give in and purchase a new pair.

Moving into a new apartment necessitated picking up a couple of items. Our dilapidated TV stand, which we were only able to use for the past two years thanks to some reinforcement from my handyman father-in-law, did not survive the journey and so a more robust one was purchased from IKEA. Our couch (also from IKEA) was torn to shreds by our mischievous furball, Seamus, so I purchased a new set of covers for it. The new TV stand is solid wood, and I know we will use it for many years to come. The new couch cover, while certainly not cheap, was a far better deal than replacing the couch altogether, and since one of our main wishes was to have an apartment large enough to have company, I wanted the living room to be somewhat presentable.

Sleepy Pixie

Pixie approves of the new cover.

Naughty boy

Seamus isn’t sold on his new “scratch lounge”…

I feel that these purchases fall under the umbrella of “minsumerism”…don’t mindlessly consume; buy only what you need. “Need” is certainly a subjective term, and I think each individual needs to determine for themselves what is necessary, and what is excessive. This paring-down of possessions is an ongoing process for me, and I think that as time goes on, I will be able to part with more items and learn to live more simply in many other areas of life.