All posts tagged get rid of stuff

Is that purchase worth it? Consider the cost per use, a simple strategy to help you decide.

 

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Technology can be a pain in the ass. Smartphones, Game Consoles, DVRs, digital thermostats, talking cars, and home appliances. A lot of this technology is designed to improve our lives, give us more free time, maybe even help us save a little money.  Most of it falls short. In fact, when multiple technologies are combined, they can often have a negative impact on our time and quality of life. Multiply this by a family of four or more, and all this stuff can make you its bitch. Constantly beeping, demanding upgrades, presenting you with unrepairable failures, offering multiple support options, mostly paid ones, none of which actually solve your problem, and all of which require your time.

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Planned obsolescence has become a science, hurling consumers into a constant cycle of upgrades and repairs on items that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago, taking time and attention away from more important matters. It in an affluent society we often just throw money at the problem, replacing the defective item with the new shiny model, while the old one often ends up in a landfill.

It’s possible to step off this treadmill, embrace simplicity or minimalism. I believe these are viable approaches that can change people’s lives. The problem most people have is that they been on this hedonic treadmill so long they are afraid to step off.  It’s the transition from having your life managed by stuff to a simpler path. That is the challenge for most people. I’ve been working to simplify my life for over three years: writing about it, working on it, giving stuff away, but still have a long way to go. Some progress is forward progress, and that’s what I’m focused on.

Something I found that has worked is evaluating any purchase, item you want to replace, or something you’re having trouble parting with, on a cost per use basis. Here’s how it works. Cost Per Use is the price of something divided by the approximate number of times you use it over the life of that item. So something you use many times per day may be a better investment than something inexpensive you use infrequently. Based on this formula, my iPhone is one of the least expensive things I own, and after I finish with it, I’ll give it to a family member, lowering the cost of use even further. As an added benefit, my iPhone replaced about 20 other items helping me lighten the load getting rid of everything from music CDs to handheld GPS units.

Some other cost per use examples

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It’s best to start with the big stuff, so let’s start with automobiles. If you buy or lease a new SUV every three years you’re absorbing all of the depreciation and increasing your cost per use of that vehicle substantially. That vehicle loses most of its value in the first three years. If you buy a larger vehicle your cost per use is also higher based on gas and operating expenses.  To lower the cost per use, it would make sense to buy your next car like it’s your last. Purchase one high quality, fuel-efficient vehicle and keep it for at least 10 years. You can lower your cost per use even further if you know exactly the vehicle you’re looking for and can purchase a low mileage version just coming off lease, and keep that vehicle. Once those car payments end, you’ll find the maintenance costs required to keep the car in excellent running condition are a lot easier to swallow. I’ve also found that keeping a car in excellent condition, including the occasional carwash or detailing, makes me less apt to even think about replacing it.

Clothing can be phenomenally expensive when evaluated with cost per use.  It’s best to look at clothing as a wardrobe rather than trying to think about cost per use of individual items. Simple and classic items that go with everything and are very well made can really bring your CPU down. Steve Jobs was famously known for wearing the same thing every day, a black shirt and blue jeans. You can bet his cost per use on those turtlenecks was pretty low. The real savings here is time. If you limit your wardrobe extensively to a few types of high quality items think of all the time you save each day deciding what to wear. One of the things I’ve tried to focus on in redoing my wardrobe is not replacing things I get rid of, and working on wearing stuff out. At least as long as my wife Kelly will allow me to be seen in it!  The best way to do this is when you do purchase a new item, think about something of such high quality that it would last at least 10 years, stay in style, and replace at least five other items. When you compare it to running out to a big box store to buy crap, you’ll find that your overall cost per use goes way down, especially on items like shoes and jackets.

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When it comes to clothes, you often hear people say, “Well, I need a wardrobe for work.” With casual work environments and more people working from home  it’s easier to assemble a minimalist wardrobe than ever before. Courtney Carver assembled an entire wardrobe out of 33 items.  I think men have it even easier, less pieces, parts and accessories. Unfortunately, we tend to have expanding waistlines so there’s some additional benefits to staying in good enough shape to keep the same pair of Levi’s for a decade.

If you apply the cost per use formula to lots of things you’ll find you don’t have to give up much. I have a desk loaded with technology but both of my computers are now over 7 years old.  Using cloud-based software, faster Wi-Fi connections, and a few memory, and hard drive upgrades have kept them running like new.  I use them every day.

Next time you’re evaluating a new purchase, whether it’s a hoodie, a power tool, or even a new car, here are a few tips to maximize your cost per use.

  1. Avoid bells and whistles. This really applies to everything from small appliances to automobiles. Think of it this way, you can buy a product loaded with add-ons and high-tech features, sometimes for less than a simpler high-quality item. The more technology that’s loaded into any automobile or talking appliance with digital touchscreens, the more potential it has for failure. Evaluate the product on its ability to do what it was designed to do like wash clothing, vacuum the carpet, efficiently get you to your destination.
  2. Buy quality. It helps to look at online reviews on sites like Amazon. I always look at the average then remove one star, as people (including me) often overrate products they purchase to make themselves look smart!  Consider five-star reviews to be four-star reviews etc. Make sure there are enough reviews for a representative sample and average. On Amazon that’s like 100+ reviews.
  3. Do your research and wait at least one additional day before you make any big purchase. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about purchasing something, going through the motions but then just skipped it, as I realized I didn’t really need it. Researching something helps me delay purchases.  For instance, I might research the new hot camera but realize my current camera is just fine.
  4. Are you replacing something that’s needed or just buying something because it’s on sale. I always ask my wife Kelly to go shopping in our closet first. There’s a very good chance there’s going to be a very nice pair of black shoes in there.  
  5. Wear stuff out. Make sure whenever you’re buying something you’re replacing something that you’ve worn out. 20 years from now when you look back on all the great steaks you cooked on that grill you’ll know it’s done its job. It can be pretty tempting to go out and buy a shiny new one but if you get it right the first time you won’t even have to think about it.

The Frug

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Lessons Learned after 30 days playing The Minimalist Game

By Brad Beckstrom

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My wife Kelly and I just wrapped up our 30th day of the Minimalist Game. The Minimalist game basically requires that you get rid of one thing on the first day of the month. On the second day, two things, three items on the third and so on.  If you have two people playing the game, by the end of it you will of given away 992 things. We called it a 30 day giving challenge as we were trying to focus on giving away items that could be used again like toys, clothing, electronics, kitchen stuff, and dreaded decorations category.

We also thought it would be fun to document the challenge, so I set up a table next to the moving boxes we were filling up and photographed each item before it was either given away, recycled, or trashed. I thought it would be cool to have a record of all the stuff we got rid of. It’s almost like some sort of sociological study of all the junk people keep in drawers. I liked how some of the photos came out, but it got a little trickier as more and more items were given away on day 25, 26, 27 etc.

Photos were also helpful for some of the sentimental items we were both holding onto.  When I was much younger, my grandmother bought me a beautiful toy car in Dublin. I was excited and surprised. When she gave it to me, she said” this is something to remember me by when I’m gone” so I had hung onto it for over 40 years. The problem is when we store stuff away in a box we just forget about it and it’s not doing anyone any good. The trick is separating the memory, which I definitely want to keep, from the physical item, the toy. By photographing it and writing about it, I’ve remembered her. It was time to send this toy on its way so some collector or child can enjoy it.

A few other things we learned:

Read more…

Living Lean, a 30 Day Giving Challenge.

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By Brad Beckstrom

Many of us forget how much stuff we have lying around, countless drawers, boxes and storage bins, full of unused things. Three years ago I declared war on stuff.  I pictured myself and my family living a simpler, leaner lifestyle.  We’ve been at it ever since, filling up a large box of stuff nearly every month, then like clockwork scheduling a pick-up with Purple Heart.  I keep one large box in the basement and another upstairs so there is never an excuse not to give something away.  You might be thinking, a large box every month for three years, he must’ve been some sort of hoarder.  Sadly no, most people who know me would tell you I’m organized. I guess I’d become pretty good at organizing all the stuff that a family of four accumulates living in the same house for 18 years. I was spending time researching, buying, organizing, cleaning, repairing, storing, and disposing of stuff. It was straight up batshit crazy.

Enter The Minimalists

We’ve made progress controlling our spending on stuff, but sometimes I feel like we’re running in place. Stuff in, Stuff out. This spring it’s time to jump start this process. To do this, I went back to the source, the Minimalists. I met Joshua and Ryan 3 years ago in Fargo, ND. They gave an inspired talk about Minimalism that’s now become a movement and a movie coming out this spring. The most popular essay on their blog is the 30 Day Minimalism Game.

Here’s how it works. Read more…

Spring cleaning for the mind.

8 lasting ways to devote attention, time and energy to what’s most important to you.

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By Brad Beckstrom

When most of us think of spring cleaning, we think of cleaning our home, maybe the basement or some closets. The weather is pleasant so we can open up some doors and windows, maybe haul some crap to the curb that’s been accumulating around the house for years.

When we’re done and hang up that broom, we’re beat, but it feels good. We’ve given some stuff away, we’ve lightened the load. When we get rid of stuff and don’t run out to replace it, the stuff no longer requires our attention.  The need to clean it, move it, store it, discard it goes away, freeing up time (and the to-do lists in our head) for more important things.

Mental Clutter

When we think of stuff, most of us think of physical things, but what about mental clutter? The reason Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day wasn’t because he was trying to become a minimalist or a monk, he just wanted a few less decisions to make every day.  He wanted to reduce mental clutter.  

Reducing mental clutter is simply following a daily practice to clear our mind allowing us to focus on what’s truly important.  Our minds are actually trickier than a cluttered basement or apartment because, unlike inanimate objects, your brain constantly responds to outside stimulus like email, notifications on our phone,  “service now” lights in our cars, “upgrade today” alerts for every piece of software on our computers.  Think of it like a warehouse full of smoke detectors whose batteries are going dead randomly one at a time constantly beeping at us requiring us to find and fix the complaining piece of technology.

This gets at the core of simplification. If we can slowly and steadily reduce the number of inanimate objects, devices, media outlets, emails and stuff that will (ever) require our attention we will free up time to focus on our families, our health, our experiences and what’s important to us. When we use our smartphones and tablets it will be on our terms, distraction free.

Here are 8 habits that will have lasting benefits and reduce mental clutter. Read more…

The Freedom of Limited Options

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By Brad Beckstrom

I’ve been busy lately, limiting my options. Nope, not talking about stock options. I’m pursuing a simpler lifestyle built around fewer possessions and more experiences. The idea is simple, stop spending time and money accumulating, storing, and caring for stuff. Get rid of it, starting with the small stuff, knickknacks, unused toys, clothing then moving on to larger items, eventually cars and houses. With each box of things we get rid of, each closet we empty out, there’s a sense of lightness. With each thing we wear out, then don’t replace, there is a feeling of freedom.

The closer you move to this limited lifestyle, the more things improve. If you limit your wardrobe, you’ll spend less time picking out what to wear every day, less time in the store replacing cheap sweaters and shoes. If you limit your diet to exclude crap foods and monster menu items, the payoffs include your finances and your health. Those “vintage” clothes will fit better. Even the best restaurants serve crap food. If they don’t get you with the heavy-handed ingredients, they will get you with the portions. I do miss my weekly visits to the local BBQ joint with 100 different sauces. Now, when I stop in, maybe every few months, it’s more of an event, something I look forward to. My gut has not missed the weekly three meat platter at all.

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Limiting options does not just apply to clothing, diet, or the number of cars you own. It’s something you can apply to any part of your life with benefits. I’m learning to master investing by knowing less about stocks, bonds, and mutual funds and more about simplified micro fee index investing. Read more…