Sunday, October 31, 2010

Scrooge - the ultimate minimalist?

Happy Halloween!  

Sort of.

In New Zealand, it is October 31st already.  So it is Halloween.  Except that in the Southern Hemisphere, we're heading into summer, not winter.

Dusk arrives after 8:30pm, especially on a perfect sunny day like today, and it isn't even slightly spooky until well after most little goblins should be tucked up into their beds.

This year, our only trick-or-treaters were my own children and one invited guest.  As an expatriate from the USA with fond memories of ghosts of Halloweens past, I made them change into different costumes from the dress-up box and knock on the door again for their meagre handsful of treats.  I had fun, and they got candy - fair trade.

But no other door-knockers.  In fact, Halloween goes in and out of fashion here, and it's hotly debated.  Clearly it's the wrong season, and it feels like it.  Apparently on talkback radio, the grumpers were grumping "It's American" or "it's so commercial!"

As American as...
It's Celtic, OK? The Halloween traditions date back from before America existed.  Ancient Britons, Scotland, Old English era...

I'm totally anti-commercial - you may have noticed.  But this argument gets trotted out at Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Christmas:  you name a holiday and yes, it has been commercialised by those people who hope you will buy more stuff
Someone please explain to me why this means we should stop celebrating?  Who has too much fun in their lives?  You can celebrate and have fun without spending much at all - at any holiday you choose...
Dressing up can be just plain fun, if you like it.  Having cute kids in costumes arriving in droves on your doorstep can be charming when it doesn't happen every day.
And I wish had a jellybean (coconut Jelly Belly please) for every time I've heard "But we tell our children never to take sweets from strangers so why do we send them around to strangers' houses on Halloween?"  Let me see - for the same reason that we don't slap sweets out of their hands when they catch one thrown from a parade?  Because it's different than having some random shuffler in a long coat offer a sweet and a ride to their house?

Good old non-commercial British celebrations only please!
For those anti-American traditionalists who would like to protect New Zealanders from having to shell out $10 for some Pascal family packs to soothe rampant hordes of greedy children, never fear!  A few days later, you will be celebrating Guy Fawkes Day, the great British tradition in remembrance of the man who...failed to blow up Parliament.

The main salute to Guy Fawkes (apart from burning him in effigy) is in the language of fireworks - that $10 doesn't go very far at the local "made in China" fireworks stands...

Keep the cats and the children indoors.  Brush up on your first aid and volunteer at your local Fire Department.  And have a happy holiday!
And now for something really scary...

We put DD down to bed with no nappy or pullup or anything tonight.  That's scary!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What do you think is going to happen in there?

Too many of us spend too much time staring into a screen as if it meant more than the world around us.

Clicking, as if that next click would make us happy.

Never Never
In this game, you have to drink if you have done any of these things...
  1. Checked Facebook, Twitter, or emails more than once an hour to see if anything exciting has happened to someone else in that last hour that you can read about
  2. Delayed family time ("come and play please Mummy!") to continue a stinging online debate with a stranger
  3. Read the comments on a deliberately controversial topic just to watch the same old vicious arguments
  4. Commented with esoteric knowledge on a lightweight article in the mainstream media
  5. Checked back repeatedly on your own comments to see if anybody else liked them, or replied
  6. Interrupted important work to see if your favourite comic or funny blog has a new post
  7. Developed passionate interests in causes - but only read about them online
  8. Kept on clicking way past your bedtime to make a bad start to the next day...
Anyone drunk yet?  Guilty as charged.  There's something so compelling about "reality Internet".  There's no end to the show - willing volunteers doing weird and wonderful things, or being outrageously rude to total strangers.  And yet the real world is going on around you, without you.  Is that what you want for your day?

Where's YOUR impact?
I highly recommend this very timely free ebook by Leo Babauta which runs along very similar lines to my own musings these days in a much more thorough and helpful treatment.  Leo discusses freeing yourself from distractions (often online distractions) so you can focus on creation.  He mentions the small ego boost available each time you get a response to your thoughts online.  I would go further:
The internet encourages you to become a passive perpetual consumer who never creates anything. 
The internet never runs dry of interesting looking connections - and you can effortlessly, brainlessly, spend all the spare time you have, plus some that wasn't so spare, following these leads and then looping back to check your social networks.  What difference are you making?  We all have our own road to creativity but we have to get our own feet moving on it.

Constant consumption replacing intentional creation is as bad as always eating and never exercising.

Finding the energy
I once commented online that if someone was making no progress with decluttering, perhaps they needed to stop using their precious spare time to read about it (and write why they couldn't do it) and start doing it.  The response was both aggressive and defensive - clearly a nerve had been touched.

We can all come up with excuses for why we don't do what needs doing.  The internet makes it so easy to ignore your problems - you don't have to look at anything but the screen! 
There's nothing in here to beat the thrill of something you accomplished yourself.  There's nothing in here as satisfying as reaching the end of the day knowing you spent hours making your life better.   Accomplishments are as energising as exercise, and just as necessary.
You could visit Facebook once a day just to post your own exciting news...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

For you! Absolutely free!

It's the #1 word for getting attention. 
There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Or, if you say it a lot and want to sound geeky, TANSTAAFL
I would go further and say TANSTAFFA - there is no such thing as a free anything.

I didn't pay for it, so it's free!
Not quite.  If it costs you nothing, then it's free.

I am a major fan of freecycle and I've used it both as a giver and a receiver.  Use it wisely!

When someone offers you something for free - an object or a service - resist that first natural "ooh, gimmee" response and think seriously to yourself about what it will cost you.  I challenge you to tell me a story about something that cost you absolutely nothing.
Do look that gift horse in the mouth, and carefully.  Who's sharing the bedroom with the horse?  Will the neighbours complain?  I lived without it before - was I really looking for one of these?
Hidden costs of free things
  1. All too often, free really means selling your contact information for the goodie.  Once you have provided that information, it stays on that company's database for an unknown time, even if you later request not to be contacted.
  2. Reputable companies will swear up and down that they do not sell on your details.  Many of them are telling the truth.  But none of them have perfect security systems (mainly because they don't exist) so each time you transmit your details you are risking having them in unintended hands.
  1. There are entire Web networks dedicated to sharing information on free stuff - I've had a play myself.  You can spend hours trying to find something cool and free.  You have nothing better to do?
  2. Free stuff is sometimes almost good enough to use - and then you spend a bunch of time, energy, and sometimes money on it.  And sometimes then you still don't like it!
  3. When you have scored a free thing, you have to figure out how to use it and where to put it.
  1. That free thing takes up space, whether you manage to put it out of sight or let it become visual clutter.
  2. Without a conscious effort to release old things when you acquire new, we all know what happens to our living space!  And is the new thing really better than the old?  (More on this later...)
  1. A free sample in the supermarket means you will feel increased pressure to buy a product not on your shopping list. If you have children with you, you may hear that pressure very loudly!  Roleplay the possible outcomes of having the free sample - how often is your life better afterward?
  2. Free samples in the post will usually be followed up by some other commercial contact requiring attention.
  3. A free service ("one room cleaned for free") never is.    
It oughta be illegal to use the magic word free when it is actually just a discount.  If you must pay money to get something free, it's not free.  It is cheaper.  Maybe.

New lamps for old....
Or in this case, mobiles.

I couldn't resist it when my sister generously offered her older mobile to me - it's so much cooler than mine, whose bells and whistles end pretty much at the predictive text...

I passed my old one on to Mom and she now even uses it!   So it's a win-win scenario.  Until...

The more bells and whistles, the more things to go wrong..
The touchscreen on the groovy mobile suddenly broke.  (I did type "stopped working" but honestly some impact may have been involved.)

The groovy mobile is now frustratingly disabled.  The only key which works for screen selection is the centre one.  No keys are programmed to choose options displayed on the left or right.  But that only affects unimportant tasks like Answer Phone...Yes
But did I really want to talk to that person anyway?  Hmmmm....
And I can't delete any text messages.  And it's stuck somehow out of predictive text mode and I can't change it.  Oh, I can trawl through 10 menus and find the option to change the mode, but the Save Changes button is displayed on the left.

I could go on, but I can't really go on with this phone.  Some dogged research later, a few hundred dollars, and a couple of weeks' wait and I have another nice new cellphone.  You may be unsurprised to hear that I chose one with no touchscreen.

What If?
If I had not fallen for the temptation to upgrade for free, would I still be happily using a simpler cellphone and not needing to buy new?  I really don't know.  Anything could happen - if I had my old cellphone I'd be much more likely to break it than Mom is!  But I can't help wondering...

What's the point?
It is admirable to be generous with the things you don't need, and there are many great reasons to accept things you do need.

But it pays to ask yourself the same smart question with free items that you do with purchases:
Will the benefit outweigh the cost?
 Have you been bitten by the lure of a free item?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today's gifts

Some days you get extra opportunities to practice the crucial skill of acceptance!

You might have been expecting to have a relaxing childfree morning.  Instead, due to agents too small to see with the naked eye, have a tired mopey child resident on your La Z Boy - plus the job of dripfeeding him fluids by the teaspoon in the hope that there will be no more dirty laundry.
Hypothetically, of course.
There is a positive side to almost any change in circumstance - the hard part is overcoming natural emotional responses in order to seek it.  The negative side is usually the first thing that jumps up and down, screaming for attention.

Being content with what you already have is key to minimalism.  So is being content with what you get and making the most of it.

So, hypothetically, I could:
  • Let the child get his much needed rest watching his favourite shows and napping when needed.
  • Get some rest myself
  • Get some more organising done in the house
  • Let the two children keep each other company instead of having full entertainment duty
  • Enjoy the break from pickup duty and afternoon activities
I think I'm ready to enjoy what today brings.  How about you?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You've got to be in to win... your odds in life's lottery

Be in to win - those are wise words to guide your life to true success.

But this is also a slogan to sell lottery tickets in New Zealand (and probably elsewhere).

And lotteries do not make winners.  They encourage and feed off the same commercial fantasies that drive people to consume beyond their means.

Looking at the Lottery
Just a bit of fun, right?  And who knows, it could be you!  So where's the harm?

The lottery is gambling, as much as the slot machines and the roulette table - all luck, no skill.

Like all other gambling:
  1. The hook is the dream of being a big winner, but the odds are impossibly stacked against you.  It's not easy to get hold of actual figures, but average lottery gamblers will invest far more in tickets than they will ever win.
  2. Any money you do win is from other people just like you - the losers
  3. Most of the gamblers are spending money that isn't really spare.  They have mortgages, and credit card debt, and car payments...and usually, limited incomes. 
 Unlike other gambling:
  1. Lottery outlets get prime space in supermarket entryways and shopping malls, normalising them for the young.  
  2. They have flashy TV shows bringing the "fun" into your home.
  3. Their reputation is cleaner, because from the fact that a portion of the money gets donated to organisations chosen by the government (i.e., a levy or voluntary tax).
But some money goes to help people
Let's be honest, if you want to help an organisation, you donate money directly.  Buying a lottery ticket is not about charity, it's about the dream of changing your life by winning lots of money.  And it makes sense that people with less money are more susceptible to buying what seems like a cheap chance into the big time. That's how all good scams work.

When a small organisation fundraises with a raffle, which is basically the same but with a small prize, everyone understands they are unlikely to win and that their money is meant to help fill a need.  But in a lottery, the prize is big and the donation aspect smaller, and the fantasy and greed dominates - even though the odds are far less.

Like all large pools of money, lottery money is from many people losing a small amount - and a lottery is unproductive.  Every time the lottery rolls around, there's a huge sucking sound in the economy as the masses open their bank accounts into a black hole.

Studies and reports
Just a couple here...
(US) National Gambling Impact Study Commission Commissioner Richard C. Leone stated in June 2001:
“In my view, state lotteries have paved the way for great increases in legalized gambling. They have promoted the notion of beating the odds, they have been able to advertise while others have not, and they have propagated the myth that gambling is good for society in general and the government in particular. Lotteries are perhaps the hardest form of gambling to justify in terms of their costs and benefits. The best studies all point in the same direction: Lotteries prey on the poor and the undereducated.”
A study examining the Georgia state lottery revealed households with an income of less than $20,000 spent $250 a year on lottery tickets, while households with an income greater than $40,000 spent only $97 a year.
I could easily go on.  Whenever anyone looks deeply into lottery patterns, they turn over the same ugly facts - those who can least afford it spend the most - in absolute terms and percentage of income.

Yes, but I could be a big winner? How cool is that?
You'd think. But the majority of big winners blow the lot within a few years.

Why?  The average person doesn't know what to do with lots of money.  The big players are generally even less savvy than average (they're gambling on the lottery).  Often, prizes are in the form of expensive consumer goods like cars and houses that require upkeep to maintain their value.  Generally, again, these people are more likely to have friends and family also in need of money.  And money disagreements are the #1 cause of relationship breakups.

The lucky big winner is instead an accident waiting to happen, and you are welcome to Google for the innumerable references to the horror stories, not only involving money but the tragic breakdown of families. 

Why doesn't winning make them happy?
For minimalists, this information will not be a surprise.  Above the amount needed for comfortable living, it's been consistently shown that money does not buy happiness and brings its own problems.

And your money used to belong to a lot of people with not enough - who have been conned through ads to buy into the dream.  You have benefited from an organised scam.  Is that OK?  Most of these people have already lost several rolls in life's lottery compared to you.

Of course, if you won, perhaps you would be different.  Perhaps you think you wouldn't change really, and that your friends and family would simply wish you joy in your new lifestyle, no strings attached.  Perhaps you can beat the odds again, if you've done it once.

But a ticket doesn't cost much!  Chill...
The economy is not treating many of us very well right now.  Even $10 each week gambling on the thrill of a lottery could instead be:
  • organic produce instead of the usual
  • about 5 kgs of flour, rice, or oats for your pantry
  • craft supplies for the kids
  • rented movie for a date night
  • donation each week to a charity you choose as a family
  • $520 lump sum payment toward debt
Inspire me!  Tell me what you can do with a small amount of money that would bring extra joy to your world...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Yo-yo day success!

I've been quiet for longer than I meant to.  Sometimes life just gets so darned exciting that it's hard to sit down and write it all down.  But along with
  1. surviving school holidays
  2. editing the next issue of La Leche League New Zealand's magazine
  3. attending the La Leche League New Zealand Conference (and hopefully getting the T-shirt)
  4. organising the La Leche League New Zealand photo competition
 ...I have kept on minimising my life's burdens. 

Now you see it....
Today I got rid of a yo-yo before even posting about it - how good am I?

This little bouquet was a gift from DH's work when DS Alex was born.  
Hmmmm, I must have decluttered the photo, too.  Onward and upward!
It was a cunning blue arrangement of fabric flowers and rolled up baby washcloths and onesies.  I obviously  valued it because it was a true yo-yo - I can't count how many times I looked at it and then put it down again.  Until recently, I hadn't even removed all the baby items from the arrangement, and that meant that instead of using some of the onesies (like, 5 years ago when they would have fit), they are now in my gifting box!

But I have today passed the remains along to my favourite charity shop, and hopefully some crafty soul will breathe new life into it.

But wait, there's more!
I also donated the crossbars of a baby gym  - because I've lost faith that we are ever going to find the fabric part of it.  I mean, we lost a digital camera in that move, so I'm sure we could have lost a piece of fabric not much bigger than a pillowcase.   And those crossbars got used as weapons just once too often.