Tip 6: Save rather than spend

There’s a lot of different minimalist philosophies out there, here’s my take on financial impact of a simplified lifestyle.

I always have a budget and I try to stick to it. My budget considers: 

  • the basics (rent, food, insurances, the cost of running my car etc) 
  • savings
  • clothing
  • electronics (including camera gear and accessories)
  • travel
  • gifts and donations
  • other

In my mind being a minimalist means thinking carefully about my purchases. Is this the camera I really want? How many tops do I really need for work? Should I pay more for accommodation this trip or continue looking for a cheaper alternative? Do I really need several bars of dark chocolate? (Silly question, I always need more dark chocolate!) By having a budget I find it easier to consider the pros and cons of my potential purpose in the context of the impact it will have on my finances.

I was recently exposed to an idea that has changed the way I view purchases. At a young age I had been told that saving 20% of your income, and investing it, would lead to financial security in retirement. I liked that sound of that so I usually ensured I saved that much. Recently it was bought to my attention that the natural extension of that idea is that by saving an even larger proportion of your income you could reach the point of financial independence ahead of retirement age (meaning you could retire early or be more selective about your work). 

To me minimalism is about aiming to live a simplified life, but one focussed on doing my favourite things. For me this has always meant there’s no point spending money on doing things I’m not that passionate about and being deliberate about the purchases I do make. But now I also consider if a purchase needs to be made at all and it’s surprising the number of little potential purchases that seem very pointless when considered in this light.

I think sometimes saving has been seen as the killer of all the fun, but my own experience suggests that it can be used as another tool to focus one’s time, energy and resources into the things that bring the most joy. For me some of the trade offs I make are, picking cheaper accommodation when traveling but being happy to splurge on activities I know I’ll enjoy like scenic flights; homemade lunches and dinners but occasionally dining out at a local restaurant and buying new camera but keeping it awhile. Each of these choices might be a tad different if money was no object at all, but in my current situation I’m happy accept the trade offs. 

Tip 5: Find cookbooks that are aligned to your tastes and skills

Eating. We all need to eat and as a dear friend once said to me “you spend a lot of your time eating so you might as well learn to enjoy cooking”. 

The three types of treat food I enjoy most are dark chocolate, ice-cream and hot chips. Unfortunately I can’t live on these three foods alone and nor can I indulge my sweet tooth from dawn to dusk. 

A couple of years ago I read the food guidelines from a number of different countries, and checked out a number of observational studies and the message seemed pretty clear, eat a lot of vegetables, some fruit and some carbs, dairy and meat (or plant based proteins). However, this leaves wide open the styles, flavours and complexity of the meals prepared. 

I tried a few tricks to encourage myself to have more vegetable & fruits and the one that has stuck is green smoothies. I know its a bit of a fad at the moment but I genuinely enjoy the taste of the smoothes I make. I choose to have my smoothies at breakfast and I have a mix of fruits (usually two of green apples, pears and grapes) and vegetables (usually two of kale, spinach and celery) as well as coconut water or aloe vera. Sometimes I add lime or mint for extra flavour.  

Looking back, when I first left home I knew how to bake and prepare very simple meals. One of the things I’ve learnt over the years is I like simple food, platters with cheeses, vegetables and dips, pasta dishes and stir fry dishes. 

One thing that I really found helpful in my culinary journey was finding a couple of cookbooks that use familiar ingredients and have many dishes I want to make. My two favourite books are Jamie Oliver with Anyone Can Learn to Cook in 24 Hours and Donna Hay’s Modern Classics 2 which cover off mains and desserts respectively. For both of these books I once set myself a challenge to make either 12 or 24 dishes that I’d not previously made in a year. In both cases I really enjoyed the experience and learnt a few things along the way. 

So my tastes may be simple, but I’m happy that way.

 

Note this is not intended as medical advice.

Tip 4: Figure out which items you need for your hobbies

So, earlier on I wrote a list of things that I love to do, essentially my hobbies. And having decided that I should engage in these activities as often as possible I need things to do them. So this article covers the items I have relating to my hobbies and the ideas behind my purchases.

Research and photography are two of the more expensive hobbies on my list. In order to research as well as take and edit photos I need:

  • a laptop
  • hard drives
  • a decent camera 
  • tripod
  • camera accessories (lenses, filters, spare batteries etc)
  • tablet (optional)

When I look back on my camera purchases I see several distinct phases, each following careful consideration of what I really wanted. The first was film. Then for my 21st I got my first digital point-and-shoot camera, which was fabulous for travel. My next phase was a mirrorless micro four-thirds camera (the Panasonic GF1). I made the purchase after six months of consideration, even though I was a student at the time the quality of the images was going to be so much better, and the camera was light. Most recently I upgraded to a full frame mirrorless camera (the Sony A7R) for the same reasons as my original upgrade to mirrorless camera, the quality of the images alongside the light weight nature of the camera. 

For editing photo and my research I currently I have the 13” MacBook Pro with a retina screen and a couple of hard drives (one for photos, one for backing up the laptop). I feel that a laptop is the best solution for me because it’s portable and the screen has a high enough resolution for me to edit my photos. 

One of the things about electronics is that there are new models being released all the time and being marketed as bigger/smaller, lighter, more efficient and better in many ways. My philosophy is to buy to replace a worn out item or when there is a major change the technology. On that note my iPhone 4 is still going strong. I know it is not the latest model of phone but it does everything I want a phone to do and I’m planning to upgrade once phones have great cameras and can go underwater. 

The other expensive hobby is travel. Aside from needing a suitcase and those cute little bottles for toiletries, one also needs tickets to somewhere, accommodation and money to do some sightseeing and eat when you reach your destination. Typically when I think of things I need for travel it’s basically money and time. Travelling isn’t cheap but it is so rewarding so I always budget for it. 

One of my other major hobbies is reading and in order to read one must have books. I used to buy books but I bought them at a faster rate than I was reading them. Then one day I made a decision, I wouldn’t buy another book until Ifinished reading all the books I already owned. And truth be told I had a couple to go before I caved and bought a book. That being said recently I’ve mostly borrowed books from friends or the library and any I’ve bought I’ve bought second hand. 

For many of the other activities I enjoy such as going to the beach, walking in nature and playing board games I don’t need much ‘stuff’, just some good shoes, games and a wetsuit. I just need to be diligent about making the time to engage in these activities. And for both rollerblading and biking I did spend some time deciding if I really needed my own blades and a bike and in the end I bought those two items. 

So what do I have? I have a laptop, a camera (and things to go with it), a tablet, a phone, books, travel gear, a bike, rollerblades and a body board, wetsuits and snorkel. That’s actually pretty much it. All the things I need to have fun and do the things I love.

Tip 3: Have a plan for your wardrobe

Getting dressed is one of those things, you have to do it everyday. You can easily spend a lot of time and energy making decisions about what to wear or at the other extreme you can wear the same thing everyday (for example the late Steve Jobs was known for his black turtleneck and jeans combination). 

Decision fatigue can arise from making a lot of decisions and it can lead to make poorer decisions, especially later in the day. So, if you make a lot of decisions early on in the day it might compromise the choices you make later on and that’s where having a wardrobe plans comes in.

These days I do two things that really help me a lot

  • Hide things that are out of season
  • Maintain a capsule wardrobe

Some people when they hear the word minimalism imagine white walls and very few items. To be honest, my home doesn’t quite look like that but I do find it helpful to keep things I don’t need out of sight. So my clothes that are out of season are kept under the bed in drawers, my bags (and electronics) are in boxes and necklaces are in a jewellery box. 

There’s plenty of ideas about how to form a capsule wardrobe. I personally aim for 30+ pieces of clothing and try not to have too many shoes, bags, scarfs and necklaces (with limited success!). In later posts I’ll share the actual items in my capsule. 

Each season I think about what I’m likely to do in the next 3 months (work, family time, hobby time etc) and gather some ideas about what sort of clothes I’ll need for these activities. I also like to browse blogs and Pinterest for ideas. For me, the next step is to pull out all of my clothes on the bed and find items which are appropriate for the upcoming season. 

From there I choose just over 30 items to wear for the upcoming season. Typically I pick about 20 items for work first. These include:

  • basic pants (4-6 depending on the season)
  • pencil skirts (2 or 3)
  • tops (about 10, which by-and-large go with all of the pants and skirts)
  • dresses (up to 4, typically only in spring and summer)

Next up is weekend and hobby wear. This varies a lot by season, with shorts and tops in summer and woollen tops, jeans and jackets in the winter. I usually aim for 10 pieces here, but in the summer I make a separate capsule for casual wear as there’s no overlap with my work clothes, our summers are so long, and I often take a summer vacation. Regardless of the season I have a couple of nicer tops for wearing to coffees/brunches/movie night etc.

The last group is outside of the 30+ pieces and it covers active wear for walks and bike rides. I usually aim for a few pairs of pants and 5 tops so that I can go for a walk each day after work as well as head out on the weekend.

Finally those work and casual items are placed in the wardrobe, on display and ready to be worn. The aim is to be able to see my whole wardrobe at a glance, making those early morning decisions easy. 

In the first few weeks if I find I need a couple of extra pieces then I just grab them out and add them, like this year when we had a warm autumn I added a pair of shorts and maxi dress to my wardrobe in the first few weeks. 

The advantage of having just 30+ pieces is that come time to get ready in the morning you have a small handful of items to pick from. Say it’s a work day, then my decisions usually go something like this:

  • Am I ok with wearing the top that’s on the top of the pile? (Note: I put my clean laundry on the bottom of the pile). If not, find a suitable top
  • Which pants or skirt should I wear with this top
  • Put on shoes (all my outfits go with black shoes so I simply rotate through my options)
  • Consider other things (jacket, bag or scarf etc) if I have the time or the weather demands it

On the weekend I usually reach for jeans or denim shorts and a t-shirt. Simple clothes that mean I’m ready to run errands, go out taking photos or do some baking. If I’m meeting friends I’ll opt for one of the nicer tops and if I’m going for a bike ride or walk I’ll wear for my exercise clothes.  

In the event I have a special occasion (say a wedding) I head to my special occasion wardrobe which has a full length dress, two cocktails dresses, a black jacket and a pair of black heels. I find this handful of items gets me through the few special occasions I am invited to each year. 

These aren’t ideas I’ve come up with on my own, and I would recommend reading the tips on into-mind, project 333 and un-fancy if these are concepts that interest you. And happy planning!

Tip 2: Grow something edible

I'm the first to admit that I am not a green thumb. But at this stage in my life I start to see some of the things from my childhood in a new light and one of those things is growing something edible. 

Our delicious home grown basil

Our delicious home grown basil

See, as a kid I liked my food in silos, peas on one part of the plate, carrots another etc and the worst thing that could happen was they might touch each other. And I remember some days sitting down to a tiny plate with a bit of meat on it (or if I had opted to bail on the meat, cheese) not because I didn't want the veggies but rather because I'd eaten all my veggies while mum was preparing the meal. If it was the season for runner beans, the beans wouldn't even make it into the house to be prepared, I'd eat them straight from the vine.

Looking back we had so many things, some of them great (strawberries, peaches, grapes, beans, radishes, corn), some good (lemons and zucchinis) and some of them gross (pumpkin and asparagus). Our peach tree was so prolific that for many years the fruit stewed and stored in the autumn lasted the family through until the end of spring if not beyond. 

So why did I go from buying everything I eat to starting on a journey to learn how to grow some things? Well, a few reasons. 

Environment: When I grow it I know where it comes from. And being conscious of the fact that some of my carbon footprint comes from transporting my food (especially as I live in Perth which is one of the most isolated cities in the world) I know that growing some of my food means that it hasn't had to travel far or be placed in cool stores to preserve it. 

Taste: I've heard people comment about how much better home grown fruit and veg is, and I'm looking forward to experiencing more of that for myself. 

Self-sufficiency: One day I realised that while I might dream of being much more self-sufficient than I am now, it will only ever be a dream if I don't start building up the skills I need to become that person.  

So where did I start? Thanks to the wisdom of the internet I started with herbs. Herbs make food taste great, and a little bit makes a difference. I've tried to grow basil, mint, oregano, parsley, chives, rocket, coriander, and dill. The coriander, dill and oregano didn't survive but the others are still growing. Furthermore, herbs can be grown in pots so we can take them with us should we decide to move. I've used the mint in smoothies and chocolate brownie, parsley and chives with eggs or with hummus on toast and the basil is really good in savoury muffins and on pizzas.

Where to from here? I picked two spots in the garden that are now veggies patches. One has potatoes (the plants are really going to town so I hope that means there's potatoes growing in the ground) and other has tomatoes and basil. I'm still waiting for my tomato plants to grow and hopefully produce a tomato.

In the long term I would like to have about 40 square meters for veggies. That's supposed to be enough room to keep two adults in a decent amount of veggies for much of the year. I love my veg so I expect we would still be buying some but it would be great to make meals from our own garden. 

How does this relate to my concept of minimalism? For me it's about enjoying the simple life. Food is such a big part of our daily lives and what could be better than a home cooked meal topped with fresh herbs? Also, I'm looking for ways to live in better harmony with the seasons and to be friendlier to the environment. My ideal backyard would have only plants that produce something edible and native trees with the hope of providing shelter and food not just for myself but local fauna too.