The Many Paths Toward Simplicity

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I have never been a very neat person. Having a bigger house is not a good thing for me. I swear the amount of junk we have has doubled since we started living in a house with a basement!! Given that we are also doing an inter-state move in less than 4 months, I really need to get rid of this junk. Because of this, I’ve been noticing a lot of other articles that related to simplifying your life:

The Zero Inbox – Here, the idea is to have nothing in your e-mail Inbox. Nothing! The second you get the e-mail you either answer it, delete it, or file it away appropriately. 43 Folders has a whole series about this method. I think I have over 1,000 messages in my blog e-mail Inbox alone. 😛

Buy Nothing For A Year – A group of people, called The Compact (see their blog and Yahoo Group, are pledging not to buy any new products of any kind (from stores, web sites, etc.) for all of 2007. They wish to “counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture.” and simplify their lives. Instead, they borrow, barter, or buy used. (I think food and medicine are okay.)

Having Zero Impact – What if you went further, and led a life with the goal of having zero impact on the environment? For the couple interviewed in this New York Times article “The Year Without Toilet Paper”, it means “eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.” This means no cars, no subway, no toilet paper, and barely any electricity. I’m sorry, but I need my Charmin, dude…

While I don’t necessarily want to go to any of these extremes, I do feel I need to consciously choose to live a more simple life and let go of my pack-rat tendencies. I’ve felt this way before, though, so I know it won’t be easy.

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  1. I’m totally trying to not buy stuff for a while now (I’d say it’s almost 4 years). And (not that I was so loaded anyway), but it’s really tough not to accumulate new stuff! I used to love to buy clothes, but really consciously stopped buying clothes a long time ago, but it’s amazing, everyone is always giving me their clothes and my family always buys me more. It’s nice, but like, please don’t! I’ve thrown out giant bags full of clothing, have bought basically nothing, and still have clothes all over the place. I can’t understand where all this stuff is coming from!

    And even stuff that seems ‘valuable’, like furniture – who needs it? My husband is now after me to buy a new bedroom set and I’d love to (we have some money now), but we have some dressers that we use and what’s going to happen? Are we going to throw out the other dressers? No, we’ll stack them in the garage will the 1,001 giant bins I bought to put other ‘important’ junk in (old school books and papers). This sounds crazy, but if we just took our important papers (say one filing cabinet) and went on vacation and all the stuff in the house got blown away, it would be so refreshing! I would love to have nothing again and just buy necessities. I would love to have a barren living room with just a couch and TV. And 5 outfits to wear – and 2 pairs of shoes. Who needs anymore?

  2. Where are you moving Jon? We’ve had basements for years and yes they do get full! I cannot live without buying stuff – but when you have a family income/business over 300k yr profit you have that luxury.

    A tip if you want to “buy” your kids something “without” it counting as anything other than food – the Burger King kids meals – include a spongebob toy currently but historically have some great toys that are as good as stuff you’ll pay 5-10 bucks for at a Toys R Us or Walmart. Our kids love the current set of Spongebob stuff. Plus, after a few weeks or months you can just throw them out knowing all you paid for was a burger meal with fries and coke!

  3. The thing is, this isn’t even to save money. Maybe I just need to start giving things away. I don’t even to think about how much stuff we’ll accumulate when we have kids 🙂

  4. No wonder you don’t reply to some of the blog posting.I had asked you a question about 410K rollover to IRA which you never answered.I guess blog popularity comes with a price.

  5. You should try freecycle to get rid of your things… It is a wonderful site

  6. If everyone just thought of how they were going to dispose of what they needed to replace, that would reduce a lot of consumption. We can no longer afford to just throw things away without thinking about what happens afterwards. It’s wasteful on so many levels – there are the resources used to make the object including chemicals and waste byproducts, and the resources required to dispose of the object.

  7. Bob – Yes, I tend to fall behind on my e-mails. It it is a challenge to keep up. Comments are even worse, because I have hundreds of posts to keep track of. If the question is very important to you, please e-mail me and I’ll answer it to the best of my ability. Sometimes I don’t answer because I just don’t know, and need to do more research but never get around to it 🙂

    Nina – I agree. I do re-use every single one of those plastic grocery bags for doggie waste removal, though!

  8. Need a partner? LOL

  9. I love the idea of not buying new for a year. Sadly, it’s probably relatively easy for those of us who already almost live like that. I live in a rural area where you have to truck your trash to the landfill (which we as a county pay for dearly with our taxes), so packaging is on our minds when we buy–lots of bulky packaging uselessly takes up landfill space. Also, we have a recycle shed where you can drop off most any useful item for someone else to pick up. This is a super idea because it encourages you to get rid of things (and make room in your life for replacement stuff) with the knowledge that someone else can use them. Here’s a challenge to readers: get rid of of ONE item of clothing every day. You’ll be surprised at how good it makes you feel. Most of us have gobs of clothes that we haven’t worn for years–let someone else wear them!

  10. The “zero impact” idea is silly. Sure it’s great to love the environment and all, but organic food uses up much more resources than “evil corporate food”. I think if all food was grown organically we could only support about 4 billion people.

    Likewise growing food locally is terribly inefficient. Some areas are much better for growing certain crops, so we should take advantage of it. I don’t even see how this makes logical sense. It might even be worse for the environment.

  11. I love it when economics and environmentalism meet!

  12. For email I love the way Google mail does things. Pretty much no folders or whatnot (although there are tags that can act like folders and I use them for a mailing list or two). There are no folders, but it is dead easy to search through all of your mail.

    I filter out a few mailing lists seperately and I pretty much delete those messages as soon as I read them (in a batch in the evening). Everything else gets “archived,” and if I need to I search for it. I never leave more than a few need-to-get-to messages in my inbox.

    I was really skeptical about the “no folders” idea, but I have to say I love it, and I’m pretty much as geeky technical as they come. So folders are well within my competency level. It’s just that searching is better. It’s what you end up doing when you can’t remember what folder you put something in anyway, so you might as well just start there and skip the folders all together.

  13. I find TLC’s Clean Sweep motivational when things are messy.

  14. I’ve been a user of the zero inbox for a while now and it’s been great. Although I do stray a little bit from it and keep important stuff in there (even though they should be going to an @action folder or something) I never have more than 30 or so messages in my main inbox. I have a lot of filters setup that automatically move messages from mailing lists and “server noise” to specific folders. This way I know email that’s in the inbox hasn’t been moved anywhere and thus must be important.

    I’ve found this much easier to do at work then at home. At work I litterally just have one archive folder, split up by years just so I don’t have a single folder with 10,000 messages in it. At home my archive folder is split into personal, order receipts, and a few others.

    I’ve been slowing down on the spending, mainly because I really need to get my credit card bills paid off. I used to use my best buy reward zone card all the time to get free points, now i may buy a single dvd a month or so.

  15. Steve the K says

    As long as they don’t infringe on other people’s right to not particpate or force others to participate, I say “good for them.” But I agree, I need my Charmin — fresh from the store, not second-hand.

    As for the third group (the “zero impact”, no TP people), what they are doing is not new nor novel. That has been going on since the beginning of the Republic. I think they are called Amish. 🙂

    But my question about that is, if they limit themselves to food grown within 250 mi of Manhattan — didn’t know they had Amish in NYC — do they walk or take horse and buggy 250 miles to get the food? Or does the food have to be transported by horse and buggy from the farm to the store? After all, if it is transported by truck, they are not technically being “zero impact”. I can only imagine all the fruits and vegetables and spices that are grown in parts of the country or world that are beyond 250 miles of NYC.

    Do they grow their own cotton or herd their own sheep to weave into thread to make fabric to make clothes? Do they make their own soap, or buy organic soap made within 250 miles? I imagine these people look and smell no different than vagrants on the street. Surely they can’t have good regular jobs.

    In any case, they can do their thing as long as they let me do mine (and don’t squeeze my Charmin).

  16. Those are some extreme examples of reducing impact, but Charmin might be one thing you should give up 🙂 They cut down ancient forests to produce it (not just Charmin, also other softer whiter varieties, Kleenex tissues and paper towels).

    I like Charmin but when I found out about untouched forests being “flushed down the toilet”, I started buying recycled TP. My 2cents.

  17. I reuse email all the time.

    I go to my send folder, look for the person i sent the email to, click on it, delete the content, add new content and then click send.

  18. Some Asians in Asia wash their butts right after, so that means no TP at all.

  19. Debt Free says

    Europeans have been doing that for years. It’s that “other” toilet you find in some bathrooms, called a bidet.

  20. Savvy Steward says

    I’m trying to work towards the “zero inbox”.

    I use gmail and I love the fact that you get tons of space. But after two years it has gotten totally cluttered.

    I only recently began using the “labels” feature and I’m slowly labeling and archiving my thousands of e-mails. I’m half way there. Soon I will be clutter free.

  21. Zero toilet paper seems the exact opposite of simplicity to me.

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