Mindful Consumerism

I've written about our small house and how we've sorted and downsized our stuff through the years (leaving the USA in 2008, leaving Uruguay in 2010, moving within Córdoba in 2015) with the most recent downsizing thanks to Marie Kondo and her amazing book

But what I haven't said is...

we really don't buy stuff.

This isn't easy. It's not something that comes naturally. We work on it and struggle with it all the time. We WANT stuff. It's ingrained, taught from and early age. Now we're fighting against it. Every. Day.

We recently made our first clothing purchases in over a year. We bought 2 pair of pants & 2 shirts for our 7-year-old (she is 56"/142 cm tall and is going to be a giant like her parents) and two simple tops for me. That's it. 

Thankfully we have two girls. Everything from daughter #1 gets packed away according to size & season and saved for her younger sister. The girls wear uniforms to school and don't need many other things. As adults who work from home, we don't need work clothes like if we went into an office every day.  

When we do make purchases, we create lists for what we have versus what we need (I am a little obsessed with spreadsheets), including where we could get that item for the best quality, then watch for sales and strike when we can get a great deal. If possible, we prefer to wait until we're in the USA to make purchases, so sometimes that means delaying purchases for 6-12 months (or purchasing ahead of time, in anticipation). We find the quality is much better and the prices lower in the USA than purchasing in Argentina. 

We all still have too many clothes, among our too-much-stuff in general.  But we're working on that. 

Yes, there are things that we want, but nothing that we really NEED. That is the difference. 

We've switched from focusing on needs and wants, to focus on ENOUGH. We have more than enough to make us happy and comfortable. We do not NEED anything more in our lives

With our new, small house, we had to buy a bed for the girls (our previous house was furnished and their bed stayed with the house) but we've not purchased any new furniture. We have two desks, a kitchen table with chairs, a rocking chair and two beds. Thats basically it. In a small house, you don't need (and can't fit) much more. 

Here are a few of our questions about use, sustainability and function that influence our purchases: 

Can we repair or replace items when worn out? 

  • I have Birkenstocks (love them or hate them. I think they're amazing) that I purchased in Germany in 1996. Seriously. They have been re-soled 3 or 4 times, with footbeds replaced twice but these things are nearly indestructible and will be with me until I die. They've been well worth the expense nearly 20 years ago. Now the Vibram replacement soles are better than ever and will last even longer between re-soling. Bonus. 

Quality (and careful consideration) will outlast cheaper alternatives.

  • We will always spend more to buy quality items. They are usually a better design, long-lasting and sustainable/repairable. 
  • When our oldest was a baby, we bought an expensive, foreign-made, wooden highchair, the Stokke Tripp Trapp. We were already planning our move abroad, so we purchased with the consideration that this seat is not only beautiful, it packs flat for easy shipping/moving and thanks to adjustments & accessories, the seat can "grow" with the child(ren). We love this chair, our kids fight over it and we anticipate it'll be with us for many years to come, long after a typical high-chair would have been relegated to a yard sale. 

Can it serve more than one Purpose? Is it Multi-function?  

  • Because space is at a premium, both in our home and our luggage, we search for items that can be used in more than one way. 
  • One appliance that is the epitome of multi-function is our 14-year-old Braun MultiMix (a wedding present that is, unfortunately, no longer made). It's a standard hand mixer with interchangeable immersion blender attachment and mini food-processor. 
  • We practice the concept of "capsule wardrobes" where your closet is built from a certain color or colors, with almost everything being able to mix and match to make different combinations. My capsule consists of 20 main pieces for summer and another 15 for winter, with some overlap (this does not count accessories or athletic gear). It makes packing and travel much easier, too. 
  • I specifically buy products that can be re-used, repurposed or recycled. At the grocery store, I'll spend more for a product that comes in a jar that can be re-used for spices or dry goods, rather than a different packaging. (I avoid styrofoam and canned goods whenever possible).  

(I know I was just mentioning multi-purpose items, but...) 

Is the Simple Solution Better?

  • Why do I need a toaster when we rarely ever have bread in the house? A stovetop, oven or one of these nifty gadgets work great for warming up a tortilla or defrosting Low-carb Ricotta Pancakes (my favorite!!)  
  •  Although a huge pot of steaming hot coffee is appealing, it really is mediocre coffee (and our old drip coffeemaker broke. Twice). An old-fashioned percolator, press pot or our trusty AeroPress have few moving parts and less to break. (Okay, I must admit, I've broken a couple of press-pots in my day.) The routine of boiling water over the stove and physically going through the steps to make a cup of coffee is really simple but beautiful. 

Do we want to move it or sell it when it comes time to leave? 

  • We evaluate everything that comes into our life (even more with the small house) by asking ourselves, "Is this worth buying just to sell it or move it (internationally) within the not-so-distant-future?" Very often, that stops us in our recovering-from rampant-consumerism tracks. 
  • Since we are not in a "forever" home, city or country, we are okay with not having the perfect "thing" for every corner of the house. 

It is hard though, because while we're comfortable where we are in life and how we're living, I do want to feel settled somewhere, and that hasn't really happened in the last 7 years. We're not living out of suitcases, but we are keeping our eyes open for the next opportunity. A semi-nomadic lifestyle leads to (and alternatively is caused by) a restless spirit. Itchy feet. The travel bug. 

We're also a little jaded because we started off in our 20's with the American Dream that we're all indoctrinated with as kids in the US---

"Grow up, find a good job, get married, buy a house, fill it with stuff, have kids. That's what life is all about!"

Blah, blah, blah. 

We had all of that. For a time, we REALLY wanted to be like the Joneses. Then we decided that the house full of stuff, two new Euro-imports in the garage and our full-time jobs that we needed to afford all the stuff were not worth it.

And I guess our story really began there. 

We've grown to look at frugality in a completely different light. This is not austerity. It gives us the flexibility to decide how we want to live our lives. It gives us options to work part time, spend more time with our kids and travel for 2-3 months every year. 

It isn't easy. We struggle with the burning WANT (and keeping up with the Joneses) but we always come back around to the fact that those material wants do not get us to our life goals. We have what we need to be happy and comfortable. We want to spend our money and time elsewhere. 


So, in reference to the first photo:

No, I DON'T want to go shopping. I won't buy a new pair of jeans, because I already have one and I really don't need another (at least not until my current pair of jeans wear out.) How about coming over to our little house for a great cup of coffee and conversation instead??