Categories
Economy

Do What You Can, Where You Are, With What You Have

It is with a growing horror that I’ve realized over these past few days that my grandparents were right. My parents used to tease them for their decision to save most anything they came into possession of; even the tinest scraps of fabric were preserved to become quilts. Every winter, I would watch them sort through bags of old clothing and random fabric pieces, assembling those scraps into coverings that kept the family warm. I used the few quilts I had been given in my childhood until they fell apart, not because I understood their logic, but because I loved and missed them.

That memory has dominated my thoughts these past few days as I’ve kicked myself for some of the decisions I’ve made over the years.

Minimalism is the art of eliminating the excess in order to make room for the important. As practiced, it means that, when you no longer use an item you discard it in order to free up space and eliminate the need to care for it.

I experimented heavily with minimalism over the past 15 years or so. Due to that, when I moved here back in 2011 I eliminated a number of items that I never anticipated needing again.

I ran into problems almost immediately. Having left my stove, refrigerator, and other items behind, I found myself without a way to cook and store food when I moved to this house. I had to scramble in order to correct that mistake.

I made a note in my mind that, should I ever move again, I would make certain that I kept essential possessions. One doesn’t know what will happen in the future, and it is always best to be prepared. It is better to have a refrigerator one does not need than to do without when your current one dies, after all.

As the days ticked closer to marking a half-century of life, I realized that I made other mistakes while pursuing minimalism. Not only did I eliminate a number of books that would have been quite useful to have with recent events, I eliminated almost all of my sewing supplies. With the exception of a sewing kit that my daughters gifted me ages ago, every single piece of equipment I used to sew clothing and make quilts was given away – along with the massive supply of fabric that I had stockpiled over the years as I haunted yard sales and clearance aisles.

At the time, the decision made sense. Clothing and other fabric-made items were cheap and plentiful; it was easier to visit a thrift shop or a yard sale than it was to actually make things by hand.

But now things have changed. In some areas, one cannot even purchase seeds to grow a garden since they are not considered “essential.” Sewing supply stores have been forced to shutter because sewing is considered a hobby…far from “essential” in the minds of lawmakers.

Yet our medical and other essential workers need an item that we can no longer acquire easily on the open market. We all need one particular item that can no longer be easily acquired – a simple face mask.

I had more than enough tools and fabric to make a bunch of them. I even have the skills to assemble them fairly quickly in batches, but thanks to my belief that fabric would always be plentiful and that it would always be cheaper to purchase manufactured items, I eliminated every single tool I needed to construct them quickly. Even worse, I eliminated more than enough fabric to make a ton of them.

I felt horrible when my daughter asked me to make her some masks. While I knew that I had the skills to sew some by hand, I knew that it would take a lot longer than it would have if I had only kept my sewing machine and other tools. I hadn’t, so rather than continuing to curse myself I got started.

I got lucky. Come to find out, the kid had been given an old sewing machine several years ago. A friend donated some needles and oil, so I spent yesterday using a paper cutter to cut the pieces and started sewing. I watched a few videos on YouTube, combined that with my previous sewing experience, and made the first mask.

The kid wore it to work today, thankful that she now had a bit more protection as she works on the front lines.

I’ve began the process of stitching together an entire batch out of the fabric I had the kid grab for me at a local hardware store. They opened a fabric section several years back. The hardware store was allowed to remain open as an essential business; since the fabric section is in the same store, we can actually acquire a bit of fabric here.

After I ensure that my daughter has enough masks so that she doesn’t have to re-use them without washing, I intend to sew some masks for the local cashiers in the area. I’ll use what I can acquire to make that happen.

While our medical professionals desperately need masks, no one seems to be thinking about what will happen if our other essential personnel fall sick. I intend to do what I can to keep them safe.

This experience has taught me a valuable lesson. Never, ever eliminate something that has a practical use if it is still functional and you can afford to keep it. It may be considered clutter for a while, but in this world, we never know when something will happen that will cause those items to be essential again.

And as I watch the financial news with what knowledge I gleaned over those two years of researching the stock market and financial principle, I suspect that there are going to be a lot of things we need that might be a challenge to acquire for the foreseeable future.

In our current focus on medical personnel (which is completely justified), factories are switching over from making everyday clothing to medical garments. Clothing shops have been deemed non-essential, so they have been closed. I doubt that the factories assembling medical garments will be able to readily transition back to making clothes for the rest of us, so if you have it (and it fits) keep it. Even if it doesn’t fit, keep it. You can recycle the material for masks, towels, and even bedding in a pinch.

A friend of mine gifted me with a plastic tote. It has a few holes along the sides, but it will still hold dirt. I intend to use that to grow food. I’m also going to take the shovel I acquired when I buried my daughter’s cat and dig up a place in my back yard. I don’t have enough containers (or even sufficent access or money for potting soil) for dirt, so I am in hopes that I can grow a few vegetables in the back. Unlike my front yard, I doubt it has ever been graveled over and packed down for parking so it should grow food decently. I hope.

I am dreading that. I’m out of practice when it comes to growing food. That makes me nervous. However, with the shortages I am hearing about in the stores and my concern about what will happen as our essential workers fall prey to this illness, I am planning ahead. I refuse to go hungry when I know I can prevent that with a bit of manual labor.

Folks, some financial experts are already whispering the “D” word. When combined with the fact that it could take quite a while before they come up with a vaccine for coronavirus, the lockdowns might last for quite some time. In my lifetime, businesses were discouraged from keeping cash on hand to carry them through extended shutdowns. If they weren’t financed to the hilt, using “other people’s money” to expand, they were wrong. I only know of one major corporation who keeps a cash reserve, and that’s Apple. The others used their surplus over these past few years to buy back stock (the value of which has tanked and will likely go even lower). As their stock prices have tanked, highly leveraged businesses have already began to fail. One company I invested in went bankrupt so quickly when this started that I didn’t even have a chance to sell out.

And I suspect that will continue as this pandemic continues to sweep the world. The United States government can’t afford to save them all. At some point, they will have to allow Capitalism to properly rein by allowing those who do not have the resources to survive this to fail. As that happens, many businesses that we take for granted will go under. It is already starting to happen in the restaurant, hospitality and transportation industries. Airlines and bus companies are struggling alongside hotels, restaurants, and bars as well.

As people have less and less money to live on, items like computers will become unaffordable along with subscription services for software and entertainment. To me, it looks like a chain of dominoes, with the first one teetering. We can’t spend what we don’t have, after all.

So keep your stuff. Hold on to it until we get through this, at least. If I’m right, you may need those items in the future.

As for me, I have learned an invaluable lesson. This time, whenever I acquire something that is useful, I intend to hold onto it regardless if the world believes it is clutter. I intend to recycle what I can moving forward, and I don’t care what it looks like. Like my grandparents before me, I will wear the badge of conservation with pride.

I need to close for now. I have some masks to assemble.

Categories
Minimalism Simplicity

How to Find Out What’s Essential to You

Beep! Beep! Beep! The alarm from the water treatment plant nearby alerted me that the river was up again.

I know my days are numbered here. While flood waters have only entered this house once in the past, eventually it will happen again. I have already seen them lick the bottom of my floor joices. I would be foolish if I believed the waters will never go higher.

When I first moved here I dealt with the inevitable future by playing the scenario out in my head: if I ever had to wade out, what is the absolute minimum I would want to save? I’ve grown lax in that practice so it is time to start again.

I believe that all of us should keep that scenario in our head. It allows us to focus in a time of crisis. No matter how safe we believe that we are, things can happen that are beyond our control. It always pays to be prepared.

As I lay in bed I asked myself that question. I wouldn’t leave until I absolutely had to but when that time comes, I will only have one chance, one load that I can haul out of here. What would I choose among the things I’ve collected over the years?

To my surprise, the answer was easy. I’d grab my laptops, my backup discs, my birth certificate, essential other identification papers, and a change of clothing. The pets would wade out with me so I would not have to carry them. The kid is old enough and wise enough to make her own selections. One large duffel, if that, would be sufficient to hold the bare essentials.

All of the rest I could let go.

I wouldn’t worry about saving the photos of my parents. I’ve scanned them into my computer over the years so I have digital copies. The books can be replaced. Clothes can be replaced even easier; as long as I’m covered I don’t really care about what I wear anyway. I’ve even got scanned copies of my essential paperwork–though I wouldn’t want to trust my future on scanned copies.

As long as I had my digital files (and a computer to access them), I know I would be okay. I may miss the individual physical items like the pictures but the loss wouldn’t be complete. And of all the things I possess, my computers would be the most difficult to replace–especially if I were flat broke. The files would be almost impossible.

Now that I know what is essential to me I can arrange things in advance. The older computers and backups can be stored in a bag for a quick getaway. As for the rest, I know that I can pare it down or not depending upon my mood.

As we march along this new year with talk of World War III on the news, it pays to know the absolute minimum you would need to take with you if you ever had to start over. One never knows when a war or a natural disaster will force you to abandon everything.

Today I urge you to ask yourself: if you had to abandon your home right now, what would you take with you not including your pets or your family? If you had time to carry out a single bag, what would that bag contain?

Please share your selections in the comments below.


It is hypocritical to run a website about buying and living on less while begging your readers to buy your crap so I refuse to do it. That said, I live on the money I receive from book sales, so if you can find it in your heart to pitch in I would be immensely grateful.

I’ve written a lot of books sharing my odd view of life in hopes of helping others. My most notorious book is titled The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, but The Minimalist Cleaning Method is pretty popular as well. You can find them at the following places:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

Categories
Happiness Life

Why Bad Things Happen

The other evening I had a moment to chat with a young friend. This person needed to share the burden of some personal problems and wanted to seek my advice.

In the course of the conversation it became apparent that my young friend was placing far too much importance on what, in the end, was a rather trivial situation. To explain the difference I shared a few of the things I had experienced in my personal life.

My friend was somewhat shocked. “Why do these bad things happen to us?” She asked.

“To make us stronger,” I smiled.

I explained to her that while the experiences I’d had were traumatic, I had gained priceless knowledge with each event:

  • I realized what mistakes had led to the situations.
  • I uncovered areas of myself that I needed to change.
  • I learned how to work through my problems and resolve troubling situations, and
  • I discovered that I was capable of surviving anything that Life decided to toss my way.

In hindsight, the traumas of my past have not only benefited me; they have helped others as well. Those experiences inspired my desire to show others that they were not alone in their struggles. While I may have had to feel my way out of darkness alone, I ended up creating the beacon of this blog to help light the way for others facing their own personal darkness.

That alone has made everything I’ve experienced worthwhile.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’re facing. Regardless of how things seem there is someone out there who has faced far worse and rose to the challenge.

Remember that the next time you feel as if your life is ruined due to something that has occurred. In the grand scheme of things, our challenges are but a tiny blip on the radar. Chances are high that in a hundred years no one will even remember them.

So take a deep breath and relax. Step back from the situation for a moment and think about it critically. Realize that it’s not as bad as it appears to be.

Then form a plan to resolve the situation, pull up your big kid panties, and get to work.

You’re going to be okay.