Tag Archives: Anti-consumerism

Christmas Gifts – I saw this & thought of you / I thought of you… I saw nothing.

How do we get back to the true spirit of giving and receiving through this haze of Christmas shopping?

xmas-shop.pngAs an anti-consumerist, each year I freak out a little about the Christmas Season’s enforced gift giving. Gifts and generosity are beautiful things to behold, but the push – the pressure to give objects on a particular date, feels driven by commercial industries that want to sell. It’s lovely to be able to say to someone “I saw this and thought of you”, down right embarrassing to say “It’s the thought that counts, because I thought you’d like it but you clearly hate it” and totally taboo to say, no matter how true “I thought of you… but I saw nothing”.

I am notoriously difficult to buy non-edibles for, as a minimalist, traveller and anti-consumerist. If anything, I’m hoping to reduce the contents of my backpack, not increase it! I even looked through “ideal gifts for Digital Nomads” articles and couldn’t see anything I wanted, so goodness knows how anyone else is going to fare.

Having said this, almost paradoxically, as a traveller I’m incredibly sentimental. Many things I own/use/carry are from loved ones. This helps me feel connected to my friends and family wherever I am. Right I’m wearing, pocketing or using 12 things that were given to me. Not all were necessarily “presents” wrapped up for a birthday or Christmas. Some were also given as an alternative to donating, or bought for me onthe spot. It really doesn’t matter to me if it was expensive, wrapped, or presented on the “right” date. What matters is being given something I’ll use, by a loved one, so I can be reminded of them every time I use it.

There are certain ideas surrounding Christmas gifts, largely from advertising, which I’ve always found odd. At their worst, they can make gift exhange feel like a form of tax. As follows:

  • It’s not a proper gift if it’s used (especially if it’s been used by you).
  • Something bought is better than something home made (I’ve heard home made cards referred to as “cheapskate”).
  • Consumables are not gifts unless they are a special “gift box” of soaps, biscuits, chocolates which often are over-packaged and overpriced. Honestly, show me a chocolate lover who would rather receive 100gms in the shape of Santa rather than 200gms the same stuff in squares!
  • The “how did you know” factor, is all that matters. Yes, it’s lovely when it works, but there’s also an assumption that if you can’t get someone a surprise gift they’ll treasure, there’s no magic (possibly Santa’s to blame for this one – but seriously guys, he had a list!).
  • Presents must be un-wrappable (although digital gifts are getting more normal now).
  • Cost matters. Seen exactly what your Gran would love on sale for a fiver? Well, better hope she doesn’t find out it cost you so little.

It’s exactly these ideas that left my mother despairing and simply buying everyone a white bath towel one year. “Well, they can’t say it’s not useful” she said, “and if they don’t like the colour, they can dye it”.

Returning to my original question: How do we get back to the true spirit of giving and receiving through this haze of Christmas shopping? Many people just want to forget the whole thing, but my experience is that it’s a baby bathwater situation, in which loved ones are blocked from being generous. I would seriously recommend breaking the above taboos wherever needed, by having a talk with friends and family about reframing gift giving and receiving. Many people would be relieved by the suggestion of a “consumables only” rule, a spending limit, the “ok” to buy 2nd hand, or even guidance on what sort of gift you would like. Other ideas include agreeing to give handwritten personal vouchers such as “I’ll take you out for a curry”, “A massage from me”, “Breakfast in bed – redeemable Boxing Day”. Have whatever conversation it takes to take the stress out Christmas shopping/making, and free yourself from the pressure. After all, we all know the embarrassment of going to the shops, thinking of you, but seeing nothing!

Whilst this article is about attitudes, check out my next post on sustainable/anti-consumerist gift ideas at buymeonce.com, here: BuyMeOnce (stocks things that last a lifetime): Brilliant for Christmas Shopping!

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

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Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

facebook.com/kimweidotcom

Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

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Dawn of The Dead vs iPhone

dawn-of-the-dead-1978

The main characters in Dawn of the Dead, off on a shopping trip

How can we stop consumerism consuming our lives?

For those of you who’ve seen the classic zombie movie Dawn Of The Dead (spoiler alert), you’ll know it critically comments on consumerism and excess. Trapped conveniently in a deserted American mall during a zombie apocalypse, our heroes can essentially ‘buy’ anything they want. They’ve found a shopping heaven which can provide them with ‘everything they need’.

I’m sure 1000 analyses of the film have been done, commenting on the draw of shopping, even when society has broken down and money is irrelevant. They may be another 1000 covering the contrast between the seeming decadence of the characters lifestyles against the hollowness of their mundane and existence (being a metaphor for our modern isolated way of life). However, the one thing I’d like to focus in on is time – Time spent consuming.

In Dawn Of The Dead, even though they don’t spend money, the characters spend literally all their time ‘shopping’. Everything is free, but they take way more than they need and continually upgrade when they find better stuff in another part of the multi-storey complex.

But how are we similar to those trapped in a mall by the undead? Well, even though the apocalypse is nigh, and lifespans short, these characters choose to devote what time they have left to constant acquisition. On a longer timeline, we do the same thing when we buy things we don’t need. Our time is eaten up by it. Life is short, and each unnecessary purchase robs us of hours spent doing the following:

  • earning the money for the purchase
  • considering a purchase
  • shopping
  • dealing with the thing we’ve bought but don’t need – storing it, maintaining it or getting rid of it (which may also eat up more money).

But what about the time spent buying things we do need? I still spend a lot of time on consuming, even as a minimalist. How is this possible?

Three main reasons:

  1. Planned obsolesce
  2. There’s too much choice
  3. Quality doesn’t necessarily scale with price

Since watching Dawn of the Dead, I’ve been horrified to realise how much time I spend researching and carefully considering even necessary purchases. There’s a minefield of information, reviews, specs etc. Yet can I avoid it?

No, not really.

Let’s look at this through the lens of the iPhone. Mine is 4years old and it’s not broken, but for some functions needed to support my work and travel, I’m now forced to upgrade. This effect is known as planned obsolesce – the art of making a product no longer fit for purpose to force the buying of the next model.

But there’s so much choice! Should I just get another iPhone, or have Apple’s competitors got something better to offer? Even within the realms of the iPhone itself, there are currently 5 models, so that’s a pain too.

There’s no point just buying the most expensive thing on the market, because quality doesn’t necessarily scale with price. As a result, we’re all looking for that golden thing which was dirt cheap but flukily good quality. We’re also worried about buying something top of the range, only to find out we just paid for the logo. Shopping assistants are not experts anymore and can’t usually tell what’s suitable for us.

Basically, we can’t risk skipping the research. Buying the wrong thing could mean having to buy twice. This is worse with electronics, where we can’t judge the quality of the materials on sight. Since we don’t know how long each device will last, price-tags become a red herring.

Spending time, thought or any form of life energy on this problem, makes me feel worse. Why? To explain, I’ll draw on the Buddhist principle of practicing contentment. This concept teaches that seeking more and better material stuff beyond what you need, leads to distraction, dissatisfaction and of course discontent. Therefore, whenever I research phones, I’m essentially practicing discontentment! Not only that, but I’m exposing myself to countless hits of advertising, each strategically designed to activate discontent as their method of selling.

Bill Bailey has a joke about his tough job selling doors, door-to-door (“Bing bong. Can I interest you in a… Oh shit you’ve got one.”), making the point that nobody wants to buy something they already have, so adverts have to counteract this natural sensible human tendency in order to sell to us.

So, what can we do? Seeing Dawn of the Dead clarified to me that, given the chance, consumerism will absorb all of your time. Is it better to spend less time considering a purchase, even if you spend more, since it saves on much needed brain space and time? *Danny Dover might subscribe to this one, but for me the juries out. I don’t know what the solution is. One strategy I’m still employing is to lessen the problem by buying less stuff. Another idea is to make rather than buy, where possible, even if it takes a similar amount of time and money. This is because making is a valuable creative process, including learning new skills and problem solving. It’s a connecting process, where shopping disconnects.

Your opinions please? Do you shop around meticulously to save a fiver? Do you know your brands and just stick to those? Do you have some other rule of thumb? Look forward to your responses in comments.

Kimwei

*https://www.lifelisted.com/blog/8-habits-can-break-improve-life/ – Danny Dover of lifelisted.com often comments “I am a firm believer that humans have a finite amount of decision making energy on any given day”, and advocates minimising that for a more productive and peaceful life. However, it’s not clear whether he applies this to purchases, or mostly to decisions based around daily routines.

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Infectious Minimalism (Guest Post)

My Minimalism has somehow become infectious. It inspired my best friend to have a major clearout, and then write this article. Thanks Katie!

“Minimalism seems to have made it into the mainstream, in parts thanks to the New York Times No. 1 best selling books by Marie Kondo. Their success comes from understanding that our relationships with our possessions are not just practical but emotional too; and although I began my journey towards minimalism because I just want to be able to keep track of what I had, it quickly became a way of an emotional decluttering too.

belongings as art

Here are my beautiful bags, all lovingly altered/made for me by my friends and family.

Less Choice is More Freedom

 We spend our day making constant choices about small or unimportant things – what to choose from the menu, or in the supermarket, what clothes to wear in the morning, which books we read. When I began getting rid of stuff this was something that concerned me – what if I want to read that book again? Or wear this skirt ? What if at some point I desperately need this automatic avocado peeler and slicer? (Okay, I made the last one up….).

emotional things packed away

Box-love. Finally, I can actually find things in their rightful places, and even the boxes they are stored in are things of beauty.

 

But although there have undoubtedly been times I have felt a pang of absence for something I no longer have, there is a bigger payoff: an absence of what I call ‘mind-clutter’. To chose between 6 pairs of trousers and 10 tops creates needless choice. As Neil Gaiman says “the main reason I’ve been wearing more or less the same thing for about 20 years is so that I don’t have to think about what I’ll wear”.

Removing these constant tiny choices has stilled my mind and allowed me to chose what I focus on, like my underlying thoughts and feelings, or the world around me. And having less choice makes me appreciate the smaller choices I do make – which cup of these two to use, which of my two scarves to wear, where to sit to be in the sunlight. Consumerism teaches us that constant choice gives us freedom, but it often just shackles the mind. There is a joy that comes from these small choices and even a joy from having no choice at all.

The Spark of Joy

And joy is what Kondo’s second book is all about. Every time we see something we react to it – often on a deeply subconscious level. For me a large part of choosing what to keep was bringing these reactions into the conscious level. Kondo has a simple but effective way of determining what to keep – if it doesn’t bring a ‘spark of joy’, ditch it.

For example, I had a big stash of clothes I couldn’t wear anymore because I’d put on too much weight. I kept hanging onto them because I did not want to let go of the thought that I am not that person anymore, and did not want to think I might not be her again. But the truth became that every time I saw them I felt sad, and guilty and bad about myself. When I gave them away I also gave away these feelings.

Sometimes the emotional reaction to things is not that simple, for example, there were some things from my ex that stirred fond memories in me when I saw them. But at the same time it was bitter sweet because we’re are no longer in contact and I am sad to have lost him. Some things I got from him I gave away, some I kept but put in storage. It’s important to remember the past, even the sad bits, but to be constantly be reminded of it by your possessions can encroaches upon the present.

Be Friends With Your Pen

stationary sparks joy

I actually can barely physically write because of problems with my hands and use a dictation program most of the time. So on the rare occasion that I am able to, it feels good to have a special pen.

The anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that humans can only really have strong connections to about 150 people in their lives. I think that this is also true of our belongings. Every time you see or use something your own it is an interaction, like a human one, it demands our attention, even if it is only to pick up a pen and paper to write a letter. My possessions are now like friends – each one needed and wanted.

I started my minimalist journey because I had 4 rulers but everything was so cluttered I couldn’t find anything. I now have one ruler and can find it most of the time! But it has also been a surprisingly spiritual journey. I understand more now why nuns and monks give up their possessions on entering the religious life. I thought it was all about self denial, but it is as much about freeing your mind from negative relationships with the world around you and there by giving you the space to be more aware of your inner self.

  • Katie Moudry

http://lookingthroughcracks.blogspot.com ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make Your Dreams Reality (By Playing Yellow Car) Part 1

I’m writing this post from a beautiful 4 bedroom wooden house in rural France. It was lovingly built by its owner and I’ll be here until spring. This marks my first outing as a digital nomad. I’ll be mentoring on a Music BA over Skype through the blended learning project AMBA. It’s a dream come true and I’m very grateful to everyone who helped it to happen!

DSC01595So how did I get here? Many people make the transition by going independent in the same job they’ve had for years, such as photography or journalism. Others simply ask their employer if they can work remotely. Since my income came from music performing, teaching and lecturing, as far as I knew, there weren’t any options for working from home.

I brainstormed lots of ideas, including becoming a busking minstrel, running a mobile recording studio (which I still do, and am currently making albums with 2 clients) and working as an illustrator.

Then, quite out of the blue, a company I used to teach with called me up and asked if I would be the main Skype Mentor on a blended learning Music BA they was setting up as a new venture. I was in the middle of the £0 Challenge at the time and was therefore totally unemployed and free to take up the offer. I’ve now been working with that project for a full year and have never enjoyed a teaching role more! Lucky? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.

There are many “how to” guides out there on how to become a digital nomad, and lots of advice on how to “make it happen”. This may just be my personality, but trying to make things happen doesn’t work for me. The way I see it, everything exists somewhere on the planet, so if we tune our minds to it, we start to spot it. The path of my life has come to me by focusing on what I want, then allowing it to happen by saying yes when opportunities come up.

Yellow Car.png

By co-incidence I do actually have a yellow car, which came to me when I was housesitting in rural Devon and noticed a neighbour washing it in his driveway. He said he was preparing it for a Gumtree ad, so I bought it on the spot.

It’s like the game Yellow Car. I’m sure you’ve played it – spotting this rare car colour on a long drive. Although yellow cars are unusual, it’s amazing how many you see when you’re looking out for them. Someone might ask “How many yellow cars did you see today?” and you’d be able to tell them easily. But, if asked “How many red cars did you see?” I doubt you’d have a clue.

I believe the same can be true with opportunities. We can set our yellow-car-lense to “digital nomad” or “free firewood” or “size 14 denim jacket”. It doesn’t necessarily mean these things will immediately appear, but once we are tuned up to look out for something, we can’t miss it when it comes along. On the other hand, if we’re not focused on what we want, those opportunities could whizz by like red cars without us even noticing.

That’s the overview, but there are other stages to this process too (there are even more stages/aspects than list here so I might do a follow up article).

Really figure out what you want.

It’s important to boil your dream down its key components. When I was a kid, my dream was to earn a living backpacking through the lake-district as a watercolor painter, selling my work to local galleries. As an adult, I’ve boiled that dream down to a few key things – freedom, creativity, needs met, sense of adventure, and gravitated towards opportunities that offer me that.

BUT many times I’ve had to let go of a dream because it no longer brought me those things. Two years ago I planned to busk around Europe in a van, but so many restrictions appeared that I abandoned it. I widened my dream to “I want to have new experiences whilst enjoying earning my living”, which has led me to where I am now.

DSC01525.JPG

My space in the wooden house, mezzanine level.

If your dream is to own an expensive sports car, boil it down to what you want. You can do this by asking yourself what you would experience if that dream became reality. It might be simple: “I’d enjoy driving a fast car. I’d feel exhilarated.” Fine – save up and buy the car, or if your priority is purely driving, you could hire one. If you can afford neither, you might have to give up your attachment to the racing car but might find exactly what you need by seeking other experiences that you find exhilarating.

But if your immediate answer is “I’d be accepted by my peers” or “I’d feel successful”, some further digging could lead you towards a deeper dream. You might be lacking a circle of close friends who don’t judge you on your income, and could re-orientate yourself towards cultivating that. Then you could buy the car anyway if you still want to.

Our true dreams are usually fearless and naturally draw us to be giving towards others.

If it’s not working, do something different.

There’s no point looking at the world through your “yellow car” lens if you’re not even near a road. Sometimes it’s not obvious whether we’re in the right place for an opportunity to come to us. My approach is: if in doubt, do something different.

A new experience or approach has merit simply because you’ve not done it before. You could meet someone new, gain a new skill, see a new place and this could be the key to getting you onto the road and finding your “yellow car”.

I often hear people say “then I was sat next to this guy on a train, and it turned out he had a flat to rent/cocoa farm for sale/kitten who needed a home, and it was just what I was looking for!” Sounds like a co-incidence, but in a way it’s not that far fetched. When we focus our yellow-car-lens, we think about our yellow car all the time. When we talk, we can’t stop talking about our yellow car. Soon, all our friends know we’re looking for a yellow car, and they might mention it to their friends, one of whom might just have a yellow car. But if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. We just keep on talking about that yellow car to every new person we meet, until eventually someone says “hey, I’ve got a yellow car – do you want it?”

-Kimwei

Follow up article: Make Your Dreams Reality Part 2

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Design 2 – My Dream Small Van (Part Time)

The 2nd in my series of Dream Tiny Home designs – A small van for part-time living.

This is what I’ve chosen for my current lifestyle – a vehicle I can sleep in at a moment’s notice and live in comfortably for a few days at a stretch without any planning, but that isn’t suitable for full time living.

A bigger fully self-sufficient van is useful for weeks on end in nature or an urban life in which the van essentially acts as a full time home. You can stand up in it and it has enough room for a wood burner.

View From Rear Seat

Interior of my last big van, with mini woodburner.

Unfortunately it’s also easy to spot and invite hassle, on account of the chimney, long and difficult to park. Having such a low MPG, it could be prohibitively expensive to drive.

Alternatively, a moderate sized van can sleep two, may not have enough room for standing or for a burner, but will be as economical to run as a large car. It’s a better choice for a lifestyle in which long distances are covered, and cooking/sleeping in the vehicle fill the gaps between using indoor spaces. The money saved on fuel can be spent on the occasional cheap accommodation, or using coffee shops for office space.

The nightmare comes when you need a live-in vehicle that you can also drive long distances…I haven’t found a solution for that problem yet.

IMG_3519 Yellow Van

My current setup – quite similar to my ideal design but with less storage space

 

So, I’m currently running: a short wheelbase VW Transporter. It’s a squeeze. I’m continually pairing down my possessions. My pet gripes with this lifestyle are that it’s not possible to set up my studio speakers in a van so small, and I have to store most of my instruments in a friend’s cupboard. It’s too cramped a space to act as a useful practice room, so I’m sad to say I’ve practiced less since having a small van.

My dream small van represents how I’d upgrade my current van. To summarise, I’d double the cupboard space and buy more sports bags and packing cubes.

Van Top viewOver time I’ve come to love the simplicity of my current van furniture – one bed and one kitchen cupboard set. I wouldn’t do much to change it. At first I was frustrated with a few things but soon discovered they were symptoms of having a small van not design flaws in the furniture

  • IMG_2569The bed is too low to fit boxes underneath, but if it were higher I couldn’t sit up in bed.
  • The bed is too short (5ft), but I’ve got used to it now and lengthening it would only eat into the living space.
  • There’s no bike rack, so I have to take my bike out of the van and lock to a lamppost literally every time I want to use the back space. But actually, a rack would cost £200 and then it would keep costing by decreasing the van’s MPG, so I won’t bother.

Other things that you may have to deal with in a small-van:

  • No heating: The gas stove can be used in short bursts but that’s it really. Fortunately such a small space warms quickly, but having no wood burner can result in damp just from breathing – air your van regularly.
  • Limited kitchen: I currently have no running water and no fridge, but re-fill water bottles whenever docking. If I started spending more days in my van I’d upgrade, but currently it’s better to have more cupboard space than to have a fridge sitting empty half the time. Most foods except meat keep ok in the kitchen cupboard and I don’t mind eating tinned food for when needed.
  • No toilet: This hasn’t been a problem so far. In urban areas toilets are often available, especially when docking in a driveway. I’ve also a funnel and some piss-bottles (emptied when facilities appear). In nature, a trowel enables bears to shit in the woods.
  • Low headroom: Bad weather during a trip can mean being shut in a tight space with no room even to stand up for days on end. Solutions are to buy a bigger van, just deal with it, or go to cafes. In an ideal world I’d get a pop-top – currently out of my budget at £3.5k

Having accepted all this, until recently I still found my van too small for all the stuff I needed to carry to make my life function. I pared down hugely, but was still stuck. Then I discovered the key – It’s not about how many cupboards you’ve got, but about what’s going on IN the cupboards.

Van Side ViewCupboards with stuff chucked straight in don’t work – once filled to only ½ their capacity, everything starts to fall out whenever you open a cupboard after a rocky drive. Boxes are better, but you lose a lot of space around the box since it needs to be smaller than the cupboard opening in order to get it in and out. Stuffing cloth bags in can provide more space, but it’s hard to see what’s in them.

Recently I’ve solved these problems using packing cubes – mini nylon suitcases with transparent tops so you can see what’s in them. Sounds pretty basic, but moving over to using a combination of sports bags and packing cubes has doubled the storage capacity of my van – yes that means I can keep twice as much stuff in the same space! To give you an idea, the majority of my clothes fit into 3 medium sized packing cubes, but I estimate that at least 50 cubes of the same size would fit under the bed.

When I first got my van, I started collecting rectangular nylon sports bags because plastic boxes were too tall to fit under the bed. I’d previously thought that boxes were best, but sports bags showed distinct superiority: they could be folded away if empty or squashed into a smaller space if only half full.

Whenever I stay somewhere even for just a night, it’s easy to take most of my possessions inside since all the bags have convenient handles and shoulder straps. Valuables come inside even if I only stay somewhere for an evening, but I never pack and I never unpack.

The main improvement I could make on my current van is to add another set of cupboards to the right of the bed that reach up to the ceiling, and a small set of cupboards to the left of the bed, high up (as shown in both drawings). With my new packing cube system, I don’t even need that extra space  – it would just be for “visitor” luggage.

masse_kurz

The Dream Yurt was 113 sqft (10.5 sq metere) and was about the right size for a modest living space. Designing a a small van will ultimately be a compromise – trading off features against each other because with less than 4 sq meters (43 sq ft) of floorspace, there simply isn’t enough room for everything. Rather have a short bed or a folding bed? Rather have a full kitchen or more cupboards for luggage?  I’d rather be able to ride my bike than give it up for the sake of more space, so I’ve gone for packing my van to the brim and packing smart. This system really shines when I’m working. It’s wonderful being able to pull my portable amp out, strap it to my bike and go for a day’s busking, or to go to a country house with one bag and set up to shoot a https://www.youtube.com/embed/b07rbdJ-UpA” target=”_blank”>music video like this one.

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Interesting Parenting Idea To Teach Kids About Money / My non-mis-spent youth

Pocket_money_640x360-600x360My parents did a very unusual thing when I was 12. They decided they were going to give me an allowance, but it was a different kind of allowance. Instead of giving me a certain amount of money to buy what I liked with, they sat down and worked out exactly how much money they were currently spending on me, and then gave me that money on the first of each month. This didn’t include groceries or family meals out, school clothes or textbooks, but it did include other clothing, recreational books, magazines, movies, art materials, school lunch money and school bus fare.

Amazingly, as a 12 year old I took to this idea straightaway and began to budget. I never had a month in which I ran out of money, probably because I took my parents totally at face value. It was implied that the allowance would be taken from me if I failed to buy the essentials with it. I didn’t want that to happen, because I knew that if I could get that stuff cheaper than my parents could, I would have more money to spend on what I really wanted.

One reason this worked so well was that my parents were quite inefficient with money. Before they gave me an allowance they used to buy my non-school clothes quickly on a busy Saturday, without shopping around. They were also hooked consumerists, and insisted on replacing things more often than I thought necessary. With a bit of thought, it would be easy to get things cheaper, and spend the extra money on sweets.

The first thing I did was shop around for clothes. I was amazed to find that a t-shirt in M&S cost the same as a Red Dwarf T-shirt mail ordered from leaflet in the back of the video. No contest! I bought a few of those (too big so I wouldn’t grow out of them) and wore them to death. I refused to replace them when they got holey from tree climbing. This bothered my mother but she kept quiet. I used the cash saved to buy books, magazines and art materials. An instant winner – now I had clothes I really loved, and money left over for entertainment!

Soon it became like a game – the more aspects of my spending I could cut down on, the more I’d have left for what was important to me. False economy quickly showed itself too. My first t-shirt purchase had taught me that buying something that lasted two years instead of one, meant I could spend twice as much on pens. It also meant I took really good care of my stuff to make it last longer.

A few years later I had discovered charity shops, and was making my own clothes with my mother’s sewing machine. I suspected that my parents would cut the allowance if they noticed me skipping lunch to save money, so I never tried that. Instead I started secretly cycling an old beat-up bike to school, leaving the house after my parents so they wouldn’t notice. Yet I was still being given bus fare!

I used some of the extra money to maintain the bike, but now I was saving up for musical instruments. In retrospect, I my parents must have realised I was ripping them off at this point, but kept quiet. Why? Because it was a win-win situation. They were giving me bus fare even though I cycled to school, but at least I wasn’t pestering them to buy me musical instruments, or in fact, to buy me anything at all. Overall, they were still making a saving, whilst teaching me important lessons about budgeting. My parents showed restraint by never making a judgement on what I bought, even when at times, I wasted money on tat. They just let me learn the lessons.

I still got Christmas and birthday presents of course, but because of this scheme, for my entire teenage-hood, my parents and I didn’t argue about money. Not only that – my allowance never raised and I never asked for it to be. By the time I finished school it was the same as it had been when I was 12, even though by that time I was also using it to buy school clothes, and for days out to Oxford and London.

Over the years I have hugely underestimated the value of this leap of faith my parents took, letting a 12year old handle money in this way. By the time I left home I was excellent with money. During university I watched my friends splurge on nights out and then struggle to pay bills. But I’d having already had 6 years of practice taking care of the essentials before buying the fun stuff.

I’ve often wondered what made me conceive of the £0 Challenge which I took in 2014, and hugely added value to my life. In a sense, I was refreshing and deepening the ideas that I learned about as a teenager. My parents hadn’t needed to be good with money to teach me about it – their allowance idea was all the teaching I’d needed. I’m not saying every parent should try this – maybe I was an unusual kid… but it’s worth a thought…

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Trapped By An Obsession With Freedom?

What I take on short trips where I'd need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn't it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

What I take on short trips where I’d need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn’t it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

For the past year I’ve been obsessively paring down my stuff, and eliminating consumerist spending habits from my life. Essentially, I’ve become a minimalist. It’s freed me in all sorts of ways; given me more time for music and for the sweet and simple things…yet I’m still not satisfied. Recently I’ve been considered the 100 thing challenge, the project 333 or 10 item wardrobe etc etc…but then I realised something about minimalism – it’s about freedom from stuff. What good is becoming minimalist, if I spend so much time obsessing about being minimalist? Isn’t that simply being trapped by stuff in a different way?

The weird thing is that since the criteria for these challenges is quite wide, I already qualify for all of them. I thought people felt free after completing these processes, yet I still feel trapped! Why? Well, partly because I hate dealing with stuff. I suppose I could cut down to owning only what I can carry? Wouldn’t that be ultimate freedom?

No, in my case it would just be silly. I’d have to give up the things I use to do what makes me happiest; my recording studio and musical instruments, The other reason I feel trapped must be in my head. When I set myself a goal I put all my efforts into fulfilling it, even when that defeats the object of the exercise. This in itself is what makes me feel trapped. I feel enslaved by the target, without even knowing why anymore. But life is simple when you can pretend that it’s about reaching an arbitrary target. It’s a way of holding onto something solid in the world. So many of us fall into that trap. This isn’t to say that aims and goals are a bad thing.

It’s said that people are happiest when they are doing something that they find difficult, but that’s important to them. We can challenge and express ourselves by doing something that we believe in. We are happy when our goals reflect what we believe in, but unhappy when we’re asked to meet targets that mean nothing to us personally (“I want that report on my desk first thing tomorrow!”)

“Having minimal stuff” has been a good target for me. It allows me physical freedoms (travel, less tidying up, being able to afford experiences), but it’s important not to confuse that with my own inner sense of personal freedom.

It’s also important not to think “I will be happy when my next goal is completed”, because that’s like saying “I’ll never be hungry again after my next meal”. It doesn’t matter whether you think “I will feel free when I have a paid off my mortgage in full” or “I will feel free when I own less than 100 things”… it’s time to give it up!

Freedom or happiness are not defined by these arbitrary goals, but are fluid and reside within us. Targets are measurable and external. We cling to them because we are terrified by the idea that happiness is not a solid object: we can’t build, buy or define it. Over and over again we strive to achieve targets, only to find that all we achieved was the target, not the ultimate happiness we imagined would come along with it. It’s time to get re-alligned.

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