Archive for minimalism

The Simple Dollar tackles privilege and advantage

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 07/24/2015 by Fox

Well, well, well. Looks like I haven’t been the only one told that my story is due to “privilege.”

“The other day, I received a note from a reader who informed me that the only reason that my story of financial recovery was even possible was due to my own ‘privileges.’

“In the end, life deals you a hand of cards. Sometimes that hand of cards is good and sometimes it isn’t, but the game isn’t over after the deal. You choose how to play your hand and make the most of it.”

This idea that Trent or I only did what we did because of our (unspecified) privileges is toxic. Yes, disadvantage is real. Privilege is real. But telling people that their success was possible only through privilege is just as oppressive as telling people that success is only for the privileged. I’m white, I pulled my ass out of debt. If I did so only because of my privilege, does that mean that someone who is Latino or physically handicapped or transgendered can’t pull themselves out? That their “disadvantage” makes it so that they can never hope to achieve what I have?

Last time I checked, that was called “racism.” See also: “offensive.”

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You don’t win even when you win OR I got called a “classist” for insisting that actually, most people could get rid of their debt

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 07/21/2015 by Fox

You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.
~Jim Rohn

Bulkiest post title in the history of the blog, guys.

So in a comment thread on another website, I mentioned that actually, I’d paid my loans off making about minimum wage and that most people could do it…if they really wanted to.

I got called “classist” and “class collaborator.” I got told that “not everyone has bootstraps.” I got told that it’s not possible “if you’ve ever had even one period of longer than a couple weeks on unemployment [and/or] had to pay all your own expenses.”

Nevermind that during the time I was in debt I spent two months unemployed and I received no substantial aid from any quarter.

Of course a lot of this is the Social Justice Warrior mindset. Gotta stick up for the little guys, even against other little guys. Oh, wait, I’m white, dammit, that means my opinion is invalid. Shit. But I digress. While it’s impossible to tell, given the following of this particular website, no doubt these are most likely youngish, affluent, white females. They probably have no idea what it’s like to not be able to afford a new bath towel set in the fabric and colorway they prefer, nevermind not being able to afford a bath towel, period.

But I’m the classist prick because I insist that yes, most people can pay off their debt and they don’t because they don’t want to. God forbid they give up their lattes and apparently buying a new shower curtain liner every month is mandatory for the rest of humanity. I did not realize this. I change mine when it’s gross. At no point during my comment did I say that everyone can do this. I know for a god damn fact that there are people who cannot, for various very good reasons. My comment was that most people can, and that a lot of the bitchers don’t want to give up the bitching. It’s fashionable to be in debt, and god damn there’s a post I’ve been meaning to write since the blog’s inception.

These people think they’re being socially conscious. They think they are sticking up for the little guy. They honestly feel that getting out of debt or making do is impossible. And they think this because they’ve never lived it. They’ve never been without that latte or that new shower curtain liner or the new bath towel set. They’ve never gone without and minimalism is this big crazy thing that’s completely new and fresh and it’s all about sticking it to The Man and saving the environment and looking good and organic bamboo free-range yoga pants and they forget that some of us have been practicing minimalism for completely different reasons and sometimes for a very long time. Only it’s not cool when we do it, because we look like hobo Goodwill shoplifters and not cool fashionable people who practice White Buddhism.

And if we make it, well, we’re just a fluke. It’s where you live. It’s your employment history. It’s where you went to college. It’s your parents or your significant other. If you didn’t have all that, where would you be then, so there.

No, the Social Justice Warrior has to swing down from the fucking heavens with manna and name-brand shoes. You can’t have your great American story about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The new great American story is the affluent taking pity on the lesser beings.

When do we encourage and inspire people to pull themselves up? Where do you draw the line between valid excuse and failure to take personal responsibility? When do affluent white people stop getting into other peoples’ business?

Less minimalist, but still pretty damn minimalist

Posted in simple living with tags , on 10/08/2014 by Fox

Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.
~Coco Chanel

Home ownership requires a certain amount of stuff. Especially when the home is a fixer-upper and calling an electrician to install lighting and new outlets is way out of the budget. I own all kinds of odd tools now, some of them purchased, some of them given, some of them on loan. Most fortunate for me, a friend of mine had a bunch of lawn tools, including a small lawnmower, in storage. I get to use them in exchange for storing them in my garage. He gets to clean out his storage unit (hopefully to one day not need it), and I get free access to stuff I need.

And of course, there’s the inevitable influx of furniture. There’s a little more room in the living and dining rooms (okay, a lot, but not enough to matter), and a lot more room in the bedroom, as well as an entire second bedroom. And everyone I know takes this to mean I want all of their unwanted furniture. Some of it is worthwhile, some of it I don’t need. This is where knowing how to say “no, thank you, though” to people is very helpful.

So I own a lot more than I did when I went on hiatus. But most of it is just furniture, instead of knick-knacks and assorted crap. All of it is second-hand (at best). As stated above, furniture is all too easy to get for free, and if you want to be picky, good things come cheap for the patient on Craigslist.

I’ll be honest and say that most of it is there to be seen. I have a chair in my bedroom, and I’ve sat in it once. The cats enjoy the new stuff far more than I ever will, but my bedroom was a bit…barren. Searching for “Help, my bedroom is too big” on Google doesn’t get you very many good tips for how to deal with what most people would consider a decent size. (How many people actually use the “reading nooks” they create in their homes? I read on the couch.) I’d curtain off half the room, but what would I do with the new space? I guess I could hide the cat tower there, but then I’d have to listen to them climb it at night.

That’s not to say I’ve fallen completely off the minimalist wagon. A funny moment this morning was when I realized that the reason my countertops seemed absurdly deep to me was because they were made for “normal” people…the people who keep appliances and canisters and spice racks out and visible. Deep cabinets and larger countertops allow people to prepare food while still having the coffee maker, knife block, and flour canister present. When even your used-daily toaster lives in a cabinet, the countertops seem a third too large to be useful.

Does owning two chairs I don’t regularly use make me not a minimalist? Decide that for yourself. I don’t give a damn. I try my best to own the least amount of stuff possible, and to consider each object brought inside my home carefully. In short, I feel that minimalism is a state of mind, rather than a hard and fast number. And sometimes, you own more than you’d really like to. But maybe you just end up with 600 extra square feet you didn’t particularly want (although the larger bathroom and kitchen are nice). C’est la vie.

How minimalism is occasionally very useful

Posted in simple living with tags , on 12/29/2011 by Fox

Two-legged creatures we are supposed to love as we love ourselves. The four-legged, also, can come to seem pretty important. But six legs are too many from the human standpoint.
~Joseph W. Krutch

Or, A Tale of Two Roommates.

My roommate and I could hardly be more different. I’m a moderate minimalist, she’s…not. I’ve got very little and almost nothing sitting about, she’s got a lot and most of it sitting about.

Enter the bedbugs.

I blame her for them, since she started getting bitten first, but who knows, maybe someone else in the building has them and gave them to us. The point is moot since they’re here regardless.

And guess which one of the two of us will have the worse time getting rid of them? Bedbugs love nooks and crannies and places to hide. The bedbugs in my bedroom have just the three bushes. There’s no end to the places where they can not be seen in my roommate’s bedroom.

Of course, while I’ll put up a much stronger fight against our anthropoid foes, I’ll also be continually reinfested from my roommate’s population until she either rids herself of them, too, or we part ways. At this juncture, the latter seems more likely. From what I’ve heard, heat treatment is at least two thousand dollars. For that price, I could toss all of my furniture and replace it. Our only other option is to do an Integrated Pest Management type approach and utilize pesticides, steamer treatments, and plastic bug-proof covers for the mattresses and boxsprings. And lots and lots of time. Especially for her. I can take care of the rest of the apartment in the time it takes her to do her bedroom.

All I can say right now, though, is that for your own sake, don’t get bedbugs. Unless you own only a bowl and a sleeping mat or something.

I’m off to the magical land of Oz to find the covers. Little bastards can starve and die in their little bubble.

Minimalism and gift-giving

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 07/11/2011 by Fox

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.
~Pierre Corneille

But first, a word from my cat Zoe: “;l” She must be feeling very concise today.

Anyway. As I’ve mentioned before, I like to avoid foisting my lifestyle upon others. But in the area of gift-giving, it can be a little trying. One person thinks “Oh, I need this and this and that and those and…” and I think “Wow, you’ve got a lot of crap…there is not a damn thing I could get you that I’d feel good about purchasing.” Gift-giving can be a drag, sometimes.

My biggest problem with gift-giving isn’t the fact that everyone I know has plenty of stuff and doesn’t really need anymore, it’s the fact that it’s often a social obligation that must be fulfilled by a certain date. I hate feeling under pressure. I’d much rather just randomly gift someone something because I saw it and thought they’d like it. Feeling that I need to get everyone a gift by Christmas is a downer. Of course, I could get around this by Christmas shopping all year, but that never seems to work out for me.

I’ve learned, though, that the people around me are often just fine with my showing up, gift or not. If I can’t find anything, don’t think they need anything, or can’t afford anything, I don’t worry about it. Slap a bow on my head and I’m a present. I’ve never had anyone get offended by my appearing sans gift.

Giving food or booze is always a good idea. I gave my niece a cookie the size of her head for her first birthday. Truffles make for very popular Christmas gifts, and if you know what kind of alcohol a person likes, that’s always appreciated.

I’ve been to a couple weddings where I was able to help pay for the honeymoon instead of giving a typical gift. I prefer that to any number of registries, practical or no. For Christmas last year my two friends got a day trip to a local brewery and the movies and general running around. I had fun, too, so it was a present for all of us.

If I have to give a “regular” gift, I try for something practical. My family does a white elephant gift exchange, and a number of the gifts are tools, kitchen implements, or other nifty things (along with more booze). Useful things tend to stick around more often than kitschy home decor or novelty items. I’ve still got the car air compressor I got last year…I would have gotten a multi-purpose wrench, but my cousin claimed that one from me.

Children are a special case. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to deal with my niece once she gets old enough to want stuff. Right now she’s happy with anything you give her, head-sized cookies included. Her last gift, a big tin of Lincoln Logs, went over extremely well until my sister took it away from her since she was making enough noise to wake the neighbors. But too soon she’ll be old enough to want iPods and Tamagochis or whatever other gizmo is in that year. Who knows what I’ll do then. I’ll figure something out. Until then she can keep banging on that Lincoln Log tin.

Simple living is not fashionable

Posted in simple living with tags , on 07/09/2011 by Fox

The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.
~Ray Bradbury, “The Golden Apples of the Sun”

While reading my used copy of The Simple Living Guide, I stumbled upon a newspaper clipping about minimalism. “Room for Thought,” in the Saturday, August 22, 1998 edition of the Washington Post.

“Paring down to the essentials has become the mantra of the moment,” it declares. “All but the most traditional shelter magazines have swept bric-a-brac from their pages. Downshifting is raised up as a new ideal to soothe our lives. Yet even as devotees of the new order unload excess possessions at the nearest yard sale, few are taking minimalism seriously at home.”

And that was what? Thirteen years ago? Granted, the internet has become more the norm now than it was then (and I found out about simple living thanks to the internet), but ultimately, even if 1998 was the start of the minimalism craze, it’s hardly taken off. Duane Elgin’s pioneer book “Voluntary Simplicity” was written in 1981, and I’m sure the movement probably goes back to the 60s.

Simplicity and minimalism, in my opinion, are only mainstream on the internet. And believe me, there are plenty of people out there who don’t get online. I know some of them. Almost all the people I know are not simple livers nor minimalists. Most of them are “regular” folk, possibly in debt, with so much excess bullshit it makes me shudder.

To believe that simple living and minimalism are mainstream, or are becoming mainstream, or will become mainstream, is to believe that American society is something that it’s not. These movements will not reach full acceptance (or if they do, it will be in some bastardized and commercialized form) simply because of the average American’s training as a consumer.

Advertisers know how to push all our buttons. The only good way to outwit them is to remove them from your life. Even I don’t believe that I’m able to completely outwit advertising…there are too many minds working on exactly how to appeal to our basest natures. They’re good at it. Advertising is meant to get us to buy, and it does a damn fine job.

Not to mention television’s focus on the lifestyles of the rich and famous. People are bombarded not just by advertising, but by images of people who seem to have it all. Everything from the commercials themselves to complete shows, such as MTV’s “Cribs.” It’s a one-two punch of Consumerism 101 meant to get you to think that you need and/or deserve that item or that life, no matter the cost.

And these forces are stronger than people think. With them in the driver’s seat, minimalism and simple living can kiss becoming mainstream goodbye.

On a slightly related note to this post, check out The Limits of Fashion (part 1) at Contrasposition.

The cell phone: to ditch or not to ditch?

Posted in simple living with tags , on 06/06/2011 by Fox

Cell phones are the latest invention in rudeness.
~Terri Guillemets

So my prediction was wrong. Tammy Strobel of RowdyKittens is getting rid of her cell phone next.

Truthfully, I can’t fault her this one. I’ve often considered getting rid of my own. Why? Well, they tend to be expensive, annoying, and short-lived. An “old-fashioned” home phone can last a decade or more of use, compared to a cell phone’s lifespan of “about two years” (as told to me by a cell phone rep). I’ve seen cell phones that have lasted longer, I’ve seen some that haven’t. But none of them have even come close to a regular house phone. Not to mention the fact that my provider, T-Mobile, recently got bought out by AT&T…a company with a habit of sending their customers spam texts.

That being said, the reason I haven’t ditched mine is because it’s cheaper than a house phone. I pay about ten dollars a month for phone service. Skype is cheaper, but as Tammy pointed out, it does not do emergency calls. And I do like the ability to just call someone or receive a call while I’m on the go. I never know when someone’s going to be doing something and is inviting me along. If I don’t feel like talking, I don’t answer. Since I get maybe a call a week on average, you can imagine my phone pretty much gets used as a clock. :P

Another reason Tammy mentioned for getting rid of hers is pretty “meh” in my opinion. That is, text messaging, internet, Facebook…the usual smart phone garbage. You’d think it would be better to just downgrade to a stupid phone like mine, just a simple flip phone. No internet, no Facebook, no Twitter, text messaging turned off. No garbage.

And really, that’s pretty much my advice for people who are sick of the cell phone. Get a stupid phone, and if you don’t want to talk, turn it off or don’t carry it. There are simpler ways to manage one’s phone use without ditching it altogether unless you really want to.