Posts in Minimalism
How to Change the World by Changing How You Give

With the holidays rapidly approaching, I found this topic inspiring. In this post I am going to address not only what you can give people that will make you feel good about yourself, but also why you need to first change your mindset and view of how you're currently giving.

Giving shouldn't be about you

We've all seen the Grinch, right? Well I'm not going to rant about the meaning of Christmas to you, but this is the season for gift giving, although these methods should be applied to birthdays and anniversaries as well. If we really get down to the bottom of it the 2 main reasons you are giving gifts is out of social obligation and guilt. Society has told you giving is just what you do on these holidays so you must. Or you give to make yourself feel better about the lack of time you spend with someone, or to feel like a good person, or even because you would feel guilty not giving after receiving a gift. This is all wrong and I'm asking you to open your mind to the idea that gift giving should not be about you, it is always about the receiver.

The problems

Giving to make yourself feel better is like therapy shopping. It's super unhealthy, expensive, wasteful, and to be quite frank, it's pointless. Do you really think all of those hot pink (when anyone who really knows me knows I hate pink) socks I got for Christmas from extended family that I always ended up donating were given with me in mind? No. They wanted to feel better about the fact that they don't spend time with me, while also checking me off of their list of people society said they had to buy a gift for. Don't be this person. Don't buy into materialistic happiness, it's false and empty and there are much better things to spend your money on that I'll get to at the end.

I would also like to point out that I am a minimalist (you can read why here). Therefore I fundamentally believe that buying stuff is one of the quickest ways to make this world a worse place. If you want to make this world a better place you need to be mindful of every purchase because with your dollar you're voting for a cause you believe in.

Also, consumerism is just so bad for the environment that you're destroying the world by buying, and especially by buying new. Every single thing you buy had to be made with materials that were likely made in a way that hurts the environment, then are probably put together with slave labor, then shipped to the U.S. which uses fossil fuels and adds to the already immense pollution problem. Plus it has to be packaged, most likely with plastic, which adds even more pollution. Plus it all ends up in a landfill eventually. The point of me telling you this isn't to depress you, but rather to help put it in perspective that if you want to spend money to buy happiness for another person there are much more long lasting, more fulfilling ways to do so that can also help to change the world.

What to give instead of stuff

Experiences

I always try to give experiences instead of stuff for any gift-giving occasion. For example, for my sister's 16th birthday I got her concert tickets to see our favorite band together. Not only was this not a gift out of guilt for not spending time with her, I instead used it as an opportunity TO spend time with her. Another example would be a few years ago I got my family tickets to ride The Polar Express. We were living in Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon Railway turns into the Polar Express for the holidays. It was so much fun and memories are really the gifts that keep on giving.

Donations

This one is huge if you actually want to make the world a better place instead of just not making it worse like the examples above did. You can give donations to charities in the name of someone else. Personally, if for Christmas my family decided to donate to any of these charities that are helping Syrian refugees instead of giving me a present I would be so thrilled. I have more than I need to survive and there are so many in this world who don't. Also, another tip would be to make donations for your super-stubborn hateful family members and they'll get a thank you card in the mail from the charity. I for one am planning to donate to the Natural Resources Defense Council for my extended family that doesn't believe climate change is real.

Charity Navigation is a great site to help you decide which one you chose to donate to. They have lists for every charity on how they spend their donations and which ones are in the most financial need. They're also trying to start #DonationTuesday as the counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Your time

I can already feel a lot of you thinking "well I give socks because I don't have a lot of money and they're inexpensive so you should be grateful I gave you anything". I understand this concept, I really do. If money is tight, or heck even if it's not but you're so busy out there making money that you're never really present with your loved ones, then give your time. Just spend time with the people who love you. If they're expecting a gift then remind them it's time to watch the Grinch and It's A Wonderful Life and probably a documentary about the current crisis in Syria. You also can and should volunteer to make the world a better place. Have a soup-kitchen Christmas where you all donate your time and serve meals to those who need it most. For everyone who is so scared for the future of this country right now, this is how you'll change what course it's on. Again this goes for other holidays, too. I'm trying to plan for my birthday next year for my circle and I to participate in Habitat for Humanity.

When it's okay to give stuff instead

If a person has what they need to survive, they don't qualify in needing materialistic things. However, there are lots of people who do need things. If you, for example, love extreme couponing for the holidays and door buster sales, etc, then great! Donate what you're buying to a shelter, or ship it to disaster relief programs, or to our soldiers over seas. Where I work there is a very large homeless population so I keep goody bags in my car to give out with items like protein bars or whatever snacks I can get super cheap, tampons, thermal blankets (you can buy these in bulk for less than $1 each), and a printed card with the number and information for NAMI, a charity that offers mental illness treatment to vulnerable communities.

And if you simply MUST give, like say for a White Elephant or something similar then give something they can use. Get some coffee from a local roaster, or a bottle of wine, or something similar. Give them something they need or something they can use that would replace something they would buy themselves. If I got a bottle of Pino Nior for Christmas in a White Elephant I'd be stoked, but if I got a reindeer gag gift that poops chocolate sprinkles... not so much.

Make traditions more important than the gifts

So my family is a good example of this I think. We still gave more presents than I would have liked, we were fortunate in that way, but when I look back on all of the Christmas holidays I've spent with them it's the traditions that stand out the most. These are how you build your community. Every year we dedicate a whole entire day just to baking Christmas cookies (my fav desserts in the world). We invite our friends over and everyone makes triple batches of their favorite cookie and everyone leaves with a sampler of all of the different cookies, with usually enough to bring to neighbors, coworkers, etc. This brings the most cheer to a community because if there's one thing we all have in common, it's a love for food. Other traditions my family participates in is driving through neighborhoods on Christmas Eve looking at the Christmas lights, there's a community that has a contest every year for best display and they offer hayrides through it so we do that, and we binge watch Christmas movies and decorate the tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I'm sure you have your own traditions you do with your family, but these are what Christmas is about. These are my favorite memories and the only things I look forward to during the holidays.

Santa PSA

I rant about this every single year during the holidays. I understand that Santa is an important tradition for many families and I'm not asking you to give that up. I AM however asking you to ONLY give ONE present to each child from Santa. There are so many children who do not live in a family as privileged as yours. It is not fair and not right for a child to think they were a bad kid because they got one sweater for Christmas while their friend at school got an XBox and 30 other toys. GIVING ISN'T ABOUT JUST YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. If you want to give a bunch of gifts, even though I've explained that they'd rather have an experience, then make them from you and just one from Santa. Okay, rant over.

How to break the news

So if this post has been at all convincing then you're going to need to tell those in your circle why they're not getting a physical, material gift this year. There are a few ways you can break it to them. First, you could simply send them this post so they, too understand what you now know. Second, you calmly explain to them that they already have everything they need and your love for them cannot possibly be explained in a gift, but rather your experiences, your time, and your gratitude. This is also a good time to bring up that love and support is not synonymous with consumption. Thirdly, if they're kicking and screaming you can still buy them an experience. As a child I would have loved to go on the Polar Express instead of getting the presents much like the socks I mentioned earlier. If my circle would have decided that they were all going to pitch in for tickets instead of buying socks, that would have been much more meaningful because quite frankly I could not tell you more than maybe 5 Christmas presents I received as a kid, but I can explain to you all of the experiences I got instead.

I know traditions are hard to break and I'm not saying throw all of your traditions away. I'm simply saying that if you replace some of your traditions with new ones that make memories you'll notice an improvement in your family dynamic. I'm constantly hearing how this country "just doesn't have any good, old-fashioned family values" and how that's what's wrong with it. If you truly believe that, or at least believe it's important, then changing how you give really could change the world.

 

Minimizing Your Life - Not Just Your Closet
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But start with your closet...

Of course purging all of your crap is important and in fact you should start with your closet. You should donate everything you do not absolutely need for survival or for inspiration. My best friend pointed out to me that your closet represents your life, and she's right. If you want a life that is filled with only your priorities and no excess that will waste your time then you need to make sure your closet represents that. Mine is a little extreme and represents my perfectionist personality since all of my clothes are color coordinated, and then further coordinated by style of clothing. This is not difficult for me to organize though, because I only have the clothes that I wear every day in my closet. My friend's closet on the other hand is the exact opposite where clothes are just lucky to be hung up in the first place and it is full of things she never wears, but won't donate. If you start your minimalist experiment with your closet then you can set up the rest of your life to follow suit.

Organized clutter is still clutter, so get rid of it.

Now move onto the important things...

Most likely once you have started with your closet you have probably found that now your whole house has been purged because it's so addicting to watch negative space in your house emerge. I do not want this entire post to revolve around how to minimize your stuff. Like I said, if you do not find inspiration or need it to survive, donate it. Use this as your first step to taking control of your life and being a badass. With that out of the way we can move onto the important things... minimizing your life.

Minimalism is not about having less, it's about making room for more of what matters

Start with your email...

This is a giant task for many people, especially those who constantly have 1,000 unread messages. This might take you an entire day, and that's totally fine, I promise you it will be worth it. You need to move every single email that is junk into your junk folder so you stop getting emails from them. This will cut the amount of emails you get by at least half.

Next you need to make folders to organize your email. Again, organizing clutter still means you have clutter in your life, so junk as much as you can. My labels are receipts, subscriptions, student loans, other bills, and graduate school. If I get an email that does not fit my 5 labels then I have to deal with it as soon as it comes into my inbox. To create a label simply click on your labels tab - and create new. P.S. If you already have a bunch out out dated labels, delete them and all the emails they have in them!

Next, create filters for your labels. Every single receipt I get goes directly into my receipt folder and is there for when I need it and when I'm ready to look at it. Same for all of the other emails that have a label assigned. To create a filter select the mail from your inbox that you want filtered to that label and go to More - Filter messages like these - and it will prompt you through the set up.

Move onto your social media...

Unfollow and unfriend everyone you don't know or are sick of in each of your social media outlets. The less people you follow or friend the less noisy your social media will be and the happier you will become. This does not include linkedin, you need as big of a network there as possible. This can also be a daunting task, but if you take it one outlet at a time I promise it isn't that crazy and quite frankly it feels good to prioritize people. AND TURN OFF YOUR NOTIFICATIONS! You do not need to look at Facebook every time someone likes your post. I do not even have Facebook as an app on my phone because it's a waste of precious time. I also do not have twitter for the same reason.

Also go through your Facebook posts, twitter posts, etc, and rid yourself of anything you have said that does not aid you in the creation of the image you want to be attached to you. You have to always be thinking about your brand and each and every social media post is apart of that brand so go through them with that in mind. One of my vices was Pintrest, I pinned anything I found remotely useful and it was getting out of control, I went and deleted all of my boards and recreated ones that fit my brand. This is super important!

Your computer...

This actually took me a long time. I had to go through old assignments from school and see what papers I wanted to keep or get rid of. Going through pictures took me almost a whole day in itself. Everything I absolutely felt I needed I put in Google Drive so I can never lose it even if something happens to my computer. There is virtually nothing on my computer now and it feels so great! This is an important feat once you complete it. Plus your computer will run so much faster because of all of the new added memory.

The hard part - your schedule...

My motto works for your schedule too. If it isn't going to provide you with inspiration or aid in your survival (such as your job that is paying for your food), or make you a better person then stop allowing it to use precious time. For example, once I cut out watching competitive cooking shows out of my life I suddenly had time to meal prep. Obviously this does not mean cut out all TV, but you definitely need to prioritize your life this way. Say no to people who are asking too much of you and begin to live mindfully.

Make a daily routine to start. Once you have it down you can stray from it, but start out planning your whole day down to the hour. Budgeting your time is extremely important and will help you to be more productive so long as you only spend time on the important things.

Spring clean your schedule, not your stuff.

The happy part - your budget

I'm not a psychopath I understand that budgets aren't usually happy. This one will be different however, I can promise you that. Guess what is about to happen with your budget? It's about to get BIGGER. Want to know why? Because you're about to stop buying crap! Yay! More money in your savings! You just purged your whole house, why would you go out and start buying more stuff to fill it with? That's regression. You're only buying survival items or items you absolutely love and will inspire you.

Really though, you need to sit down and see what you can cut out of your budget. If you're not prioritizing TV then you probably don't need that Hulu subscription and you definitely do not need cable television (although I keep Netflix for sick days when I want to binge watch shows and they have great documentaries). You will listen to more podcasts (that are free) instead of music because that's less time you will have to spend reading about that topic, so you probably don't need Spotify either. Once you realize you do not need so many luxuries you're going to have more money to spend on important things and it'll make you happier!

Other ways to save money and have less stuff: get a library card and check out books (since you should be reading every single day) or movies, they're free and you give them back when you're done, meal prep so you're not eating out and wasting food you let go bad because you didn't prepare it, start a worm composting bin so you don't have to buy fertilizer or waste uneaten food, switch all of your accounts to paperless to save trees and have less mail and while you're doing this you'll see what accounts you can close, and stop going to sale sections of the store unless it's on something you absolutely need to survive (like food).

Side note: Excel has budget templates, you just fill in your amounts and labels and it'll calculate your spending for you!

He who buys what he does not need steals from himself - Swedish Proverb

Tend to your mind like you tend to a garden

Push out the negative vibes from your life like weeds. Are there negative people in your life? Quiet them or push them out. Practice mindfulness. Keep your mind clear of distraction and free from anxiety. If you only allow the good in and push out the bad your mind will be as beautiful as a manicured garden (and I promise you'll sleep more efficiently as well). Read books that will fill you with inspiration and positivity. Practice the art of being content. Yes, our aim is to be happy, but that's not stable and it fluctuates too much to rely on it. Be content with having less stuff and your life in general and it'll keep you from worrying, which means more positivity.

Now bring in the positive vibes

When your house is only full of things you absolutely love, and you're only spending time on things that bring you inspiration, and your not stressed out about money, and your social media life becomes quieter, I promise you the good vibes are going to flow. Your priorities are going to become clear to you because your mind is going to have room to think, plan, and categorize what is important and what is not.

To close...

Minimalism is a lifestyle so you need to make sure you're ready for it before you begin this challenge. It will be very overwhelming for you if you keep buying stuff and you keep purging, plus it's a waste of your time. If you're sentimental to your stuff then you need to seek therapy and see why that is because it has been proven to be unhealthy and a side effect of serious trauma. Minimalism is a lifestyle shared by those who have their priorities in check and are usually more successful and happier than their peers living in giant houses full of stuff.

 

 

Why I Chose To Be A Minimalist

I decided about 4 years ago to be a minimalist, and here’s why. 

To Save Money

This one is obvious, the less stuff you buy, the more money you have. For me, I decided the money that I traded for each hour of my life was better spent on good food, good views, and good times.

To Heal My Soul

I was really struggling with the fact that I was calling myself a good person, while I was buying clothes and electronics made in sweat shops. In case you were wondering what you learn as a Political Science major, it is basically just class after class about how greedy companies are destroying the world. The less stuff I bought, the better I could feel about myself because I wasn’t supporting an industry I didn’t believe in.

To De-clutter

One of my favorite quotes is “I spring clean my schedule, not my house”. I grew up with a Type-A mom who kept a very clean, organized house. What this taught me was that organized clutter is still clutter. My brain works like my space, and if my space looks like it’s suffocating from all the clutter, then my brain feels the same way. Minimizing my space was key to reducing my anxiety.

To Be Mobile

I move a lot, or at least I moved a lot in college. In case you’re all wondering, I hate moving. The less stuff I own, the easier it is to move and the less stressed out I feel about having a mobile lifestyle. This last move I made would have made the moving angels weep with joy. It took me about 2 hours to pack and 2 hours to unpack, clean, and decorate my new place. That peace of mind is priceless.

To Have Focused Priorities

It was important for me to minimalize my life as well as my things. Ridding my life of drama, excess stress and responsibilities, and distractions made me so much more productive. I can focus on what I’ve made a priority in my life now and have a life with quality, valuable experiences.