Stop Buying Useless Crap, and Other Tenets of Militant Minimalism

by Jessica Adamiak

I’ve always joked that if my apartment building ever burns to the ground, I’ll mourn my computer and maybe a few incinerated wardrobe items for a hot second, then shrug and begin hunting for a new rental. This attitude serves me well, especially from a financial standpoint. See, I’m a militant minimalist.

Being a militant minimalist doesn’t mean I subsist on peanut butter sandwiches and wear only secondhand clothes, but I do live in a 10×6 Brooklyn bedroom without a closet because the rent is lower than what some New Yorkers pay to ride in cabs over the course of a month. (And 95% of my belongings fit inside of it.) I’ve had my favorite Frye boots repaired so often that the last time I asked my cobbler to gussy them up, he handed them back to me and remarked that they were too old to be salvaged in the same tone a vet would use to tell a pet owner Sparky isn’t going to make it.

Some of these lifestyle choices sprang forth from necessity, because I’ve yet to earn a lot of money. Rather than spend what I do make on a bigger room that I’m rarely home to enjoy, or designer sunglasses I would lose or sit on within a week a day of purchase, being a bit of a tightwad enables me to travel and stockpile cash into my Don’t Be a Poor Old Person fund.

The last time I visited my parents, I realized just how set in my ways I’ve become. They recently did the get-old-move-South thing, abandoning my Pittsburgh childhood base to occupy a new house in sunny South Carolina. Since the move, my mom* has become obsessed with stuffing it with The Right Things. I didn’t realize how dedicated she was to this mission until I observed her hunched over her computer one early morning, clicking with purpose around a site called** The living room, see, was missing a ‘certain something.” (If you’re not in the know, soothing walls are basically free-standing illuminated rectangles over which water trickles. Fake rocks may or may not be involved.) These wastes of space can be purchased for hundreds or thousands of dollars each. My parents are comfortable, but by no means rich. And honestly, even if they balled as hard as Oprah, what is the point of paying for an ornament that uses as much electricity as a fridge?

While my mom doesn’t let clutter encroach upon her like those poor bastards featured on voyeuristic TV shows like Hoarders (in fact she keeps a lovelier home than I probably ever will), she does collect shit. Lots of it. And on that fateful morning last January, I briefly considered staging an intervention, but honestly … she’s too far gone. There may still be hope for you, however.

Since I made my bare-bones lifestyle sound sufficiently glamorous in the previous paragraphs, here are four ways you, too, can be a militant minimalist:

Don’t buy useless crap. Don’t even buy nice crap, unless you need it. The answer to “should I or shouldn’t I” buy something isn’t always as clear cut as the example my mom inadvertently provided — I have a dear friend*** who shops for new books on the regular. I covet each and every one of them, with their beautiful covers and new-book smell, but I recognize that they’re money pits and shuffle off to the library instead. (Note: if you’re paying to store useless crap you’ve accrued because it will no longer fit in your apartment or house, well … as they say in the South, “Bless your heart.” You, too, may be a lost cause.)

Get rid of things. Constantly. From your closet to your car, purge any item that’s no longer serving you. if you acquire something new, toss something old. Bonus: you might even be able to sell it. That pile of Lonely Planet books you consulted for your trip to Thailand? Post them on Amazon Marketplace and someone in Des Moines, Iowa, or Fresno, Calif. will take them off your hands within hours. Trust.

Shut your eyes and plug your ears (Chanting ‘LALALA’ like a defiant three year-old is optional). You can’t want what you don’t see. For me, flipping through an issue of Lucky triggers a case of the sads. “Ooh, metallic wedges! … For $398.” Toss the magazines and catalogues until you know you need to pick up a specific item; then have at it. If you do encounter something you desperately want, wait 24 hours before making it your own. Chances are another thought will soon take up real estate in your brain and you’ll forget all about it.

Don’t be cheap. Minimalists buy fewer products, but what they do drop green on is good quality, so it’ll likely last longer. Don’t be afraid to cough up the cash, without guilt, for a well thought-out purchase. And don’t cut corners. if you decide it’s worth it to go out for a fancytime dinner, that means committing to the entire expense — including a good tip for your waiter.

That’s pretty much it. If you’re still not convinced, check out what someone way smarter than I am has to say on the subject:

I’d send it to my mom, but that ship has sailed.

* “Writers are always selling somebody out.” — Joan Didion
** Just Googled “soothing walls” to double check the site name; “Soothing Fire Places” and “Soothing Bean Bags” also exist. God bless America.
*** Yep. Doing it again.

Jessica Adamiak is fantastic at managing money. Not as good at making it. Photo: crabchick/flickr

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