Rethinking Minimalist Purchasing

I say “purchasing” in the title because “shopping” can bring about interpretations of shopping binges, multiple purchases at one time, or even mindless consumerism, most of which minimalism rejects as unnecessary. “Purchasing,” however, brings to my mind the idea of how one spends her money, whether it be on a necessity or treat and what that goes to support in the way of her life as well as the areas of consumerism she supports. And as many minimalists like to tell us, there is a right and a wrong way to do it – however, we disagree with that mindset. I think it’s all about how you view purchasing in relation to your home.

Neither my partner nor I are big shoppers. We have been guilty of giving into the compulsory consumerist mindset before, like most people, but neither of us spends wildly without consideration. I credit this to our lack of interest in fashion – one of the biggest areas that primarily female bloggers focus on when writing about minimalist shopping – and recently to our downsize in living space. With a little over 800 square feet for two of us and a cat, we have to be considerate of what we bring into our apartment.

With this in mind, lately I have noticed a trend in how people talk or blog about shopping as a minimalist. I’m referring to bigger purchases, the more specific items rather than the everyday needs such as groceries or household items. Many people imply that minimalism is about reducing possessions until you reach a certain number of items and maintaining that number is how one maintains his or her minimalist lifestyle. Likewise, the open-ended mindset of not limiting one’s possessions in such a critical way seems to scare people a little. We don’t buy into that thought: we make purchases as we need them and that might occasionally conflict with others’ ideas of how minimalism should be. Yes, we are practicing minimalism in our home, but we don’t let that keep us from living how we want to live.

Rather than restrict ourselves to only purchasing a few items a year, we simply evaluate if something is a need or a want, what value it will bring us if we purchase it, and how responsible it is to purchase it instead of using an alternative method. Books, for example, are always easy to justify because they often bring us value in the form of education and entertainment and are easily recyclable back into use through a used bookstore just down the street from our apartment. And books are probably our most common purchase throughout the year, regardless of how our budget goes. We simply enjoy them that much! Other items like clothes, movies, furniture, cookware, and so on are more difficult to justify and so are often only bought when we truly need them. Even iTunes purchases, which are so easy to do without thinking, have slowed for me because I stop and consider how often I’ll listen to a song, if we both will use the download, and whether or not I want it enough to purchase rather than listen to on Spotify or YouTube for free. Despite our recipe for monitoring our purchases, our first big purchase of the year was a little more difficult than we anticipated.

My partner recently underwent allergy testing and was told, not much to our surprise, that she is allergic to most plants, trees, pollen, and mold in the gulf area as well as cats. Our orange tabby found it ironic as she welcomed her home, her arms puffy from the needle-administered allergens, with a rub on the leg. As I have struggled some with allergies as well since moving to the coastal south, our ENT recommended many strategies for eliminating unnecessary triggers in our environment: if we have plants (we do), not overwatering them because consistently wet soil can encourage natural mold growth; always washing clothing or jackets that have been exposed to the outdoors before rewearing them; vacuuming two or three times per week to remove pet dander and hair from the carpet; and the biggest of all, investing in a HEPA air purifier.

After a little research, I can say with confidence that not all HEPA purifiers are the same. Some are cheaply made; some are ridiculously expensive. Many reduce pollen but not all reduce odors. Some act as secondary fans or have fancy light shows; others just sit on the shelf and hum. It’s all a matter of budget and preference. It was all a little overwhelming.

Name suggestions, anyone? We always name our electronics. She looks a lot like Eva from WALL-E, don’t you think?

But we considered what was significant for us as we made our purchase, and I’m happy to say that we used factors that support our minimalist mindset. Price was important because we didn’t want to spend a down payment on a car for something that could do the work for half the price, but we also wanted to buy a purifier that was a good quality product and would last longer than six months. Likewise, it needed to accomplish our goal of cleaning the air and reducing allergens; the model we selected had four filters rather than two to help remove more hair, dust, and odors from the air. Moreover, the model we selected accomplished another goal of our lifestyle by filtering certain chemicals so that we are less likely to breathe in the chemicals found in our man-made environment such as formaldehyde. We also opted for a model that allowed us to set it on a timer for while we were out of the apartment as well as control how much light it produced. In the end, we selected a middle-range model that  requires filter changes only a few times a year (less than cheaper models) and has a longer expected lifespan. In this way, we got the best bang for our available buck so that we don’t have to make another purchase any time soon.

This purchase is also an example as well of how we deviate from how many minimalists choose to shop. We do not practice the art of one-in, one-out when we bring items into our home. Some people choose to own only a set number of items, a specific goal they can monitor to ensure that they do not lose their way and wake up one day to a cluttered home. We don’t have that issue because, again, we are not compulsive shoppers and our purchases nowadays provide function in our lives. If we are replacing something, say a broken kitchen item, then we do remove the old item from our home; that’s the natural way to replace something. But, as with this big purchase, we did not bring it into the home and then look for an item to toss for three reasons:

  1. We already had room for it and didn’t need to make space. By evaluating our home as we go, sometimes even without purchases in mind, I feel like we are always considering how items function with us. So introducing new functional, practical items is not a chore.
  2. Tossing out something unrelated – say a book for an air purifier – is simply a waste, even if I recycle or sell it. If we still use it and have a purpose for it, I shouldn’t toss it simply because I am aiming for a particular number of possessions.
  3. We don’t believe that items should be evaluated in comparison to each other. At this point in our lives, perhaps we are living in a way that means we have more functional items than we have before or will in the future. If we were to set a number, that number might not always work for us.

This isn’t to say that setting a goal for how many possessions you own doesn’t work; for some people, it helps them stay or track. For examples on how to do that and go about it, check out Project 333, which many people have found invaluable in controlling their spending and closet organization. And if that works for you, great! Go for it! But I do want to express that this method is not the only way to bring new items into your home as many minimalists suggest: we do it in a controlled manner and one that works for us.

We do replace items, though, when the occasion calls for it. Clothes are a prime example. My partner had her first day at her new job today, and it required a few items of clothing that she either didn’t own or that were worn enough to warrant replacing. So we shopped this weekend, something we haven’t done since last summer. We usually have a single item in mind when we shop now – again, considering our spending and justifying a purchase – but this trip was different: she needed very specific items and I needed replacements. I have a small set of clothes (a post on my closet contents is coming soon), especially for work. Therefore, each of my four pairs of work pants are worn at least once a week and washed every weekend. I’m anywhere from month twelve to month fourteen with most of these clothes, so they are starting to show some wear and tear. Some do not fit as well as they used to, a bit from washing and drying as well as changes in my body. The good news is that, because we don’t shop often, replacing these items is not difficult or expensive because I’ll likely only do it once or twice a year at the most.

Three sweaters and two pairs of pants later, I had replaced nearly a third of my work wardrobe and was culling my side of the closet. I bagged up old sweaters that didn’t fit, shirts of all sorts that I had stopped wearing for various reasons, old jackets from my younger, thinner days that couldn’t zip around me anymore, and even socks that had become uncomfortable and been replaced at Christmas. The beauty of it is that we can donate every single item to a nearby thrift store that helps the underprivileged and homeless so that our no-longer-needed clothing doesn’t go to waste. It simply goes to someone else!

Minimalist shopping – that is, shopping with your minimalist values in mind – doesn’t have to be a tough process where you have to count possessions or restrict yourself to shopping only in certain ways, especially when life gives you reasons to need more possessions. We didn’t need more clothing but new clothing; we did, however, need a new possession in our air purifier. It’s all a matter of perspective and which method works best for you as a minimalist rather than the minimalist ideology.

How do you shop for bigger purchases as a minimalist? What methods have made it easier for you? What questions do you ask yourself when looking at a purchase, big or small?



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