Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Minimal Living Provides Opportunity To Spread Wealth

If minimalism or voluntary simplicity is about living with less, then the obvious corollary to the concept of minimal living is that such a frugal lifestyle will open up a surfeit of resources for other uses. I have discussed in many of my other articles that my minimalistic focus is toward enjoying the newly filtered aspects of life more thoroughly by de-cluttering my environment.
However, I have no desire to relinquish the pleasure that I gain from productive work. Thus, while I free up time to enjoy more targeted pleasures by eliminating redundancies and excesses, I also free up money.
Therein is one of the real bonuses of simple living: the ability to use surplus income for purposes that I find worthy; namely, a variety of charitable causes.
For instance, I have revived a cooperative housing project initiative that will enable those people who may not be able, otherwise, to afford home ownership, to engage in a strategy to purchase their individual homes through a group buying initiative. With my surplus free time and, fortunately, surplus income due to my frugal living approach, I am able to give back in areas of my own choosing.
Perhaps many aspiring minimalists are undertaking this new lifestyle because of budget constraints, or environmental concerns, or simply because of social conscience. Regardless, the new freedom that one discovers as priorities are rearranged to suit the minimalistic approach allow for more freedom to be charitable. It is often an unexpected frill that flowers from one’s new lifestyle.
Psychologists almost universally agree that a great contributor to unhealthy stress is the lack of choice. By freeing resources, by being less reliant on material success or need, a person is afforded a greater freedom to choose what is important individually. It is true, however, that when a person chooses to “ cut to the bone” on luxuries, and cuts the reserves that provide a “soft cushion” in times of financial hardship, a degree of stress results. The stress of facing a short-term bout of belt tightening on a frugal budget is far from the stress, though, than the stress of financial crisis when one is burdened with enormous monthly expenses. By trimming overhead, you open the door for more choices.
It is ironic that the greatest contributors to charities, per dollar earned, and the greatest number of volunteer hours committed are given by those people who live in more modest communities, states or provinces, and that those most likely to give in a crisis are those that have experienced a crisis of their own.
By entering the world of modest living through voluntary simplicity, a person almost automatically is drawn toward charity, volunteerism and community service, and, in turn, reaps the enormous benefit of reaching out to others.
As you contemplate your foray into minimal living, you may want to set out a template, or set of objectives, and include in that template the anticipated or sought-after benefits (as well as drawbacks). Work into your new budget an allowance for both time and money given to those in need, and establish that allowance as a priority. Simply by laying out, concretely and publicly, your intention to use your newly discovered freedom to benefit others, you will discover that your focus on what is significant in life alters dramatically. Again, it is an established psychological principle that, when a person publicly commits, even in a modest way, to a position or goal, he more adamantly defends and works toward that position in the future. Think, for example, of Weight Watchers or AAA meetings, where a public statement of commitment is used to drive dedication to an objective.
Consider that, as you gain freedom from stress and financial or material dependence for yourself, you also are opening the door for a more altruistic you. Go minimal, but give it your maximum effort!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living With Less Does Not Always Mean Doing It Yourself

One of the problems inherent in “going minimal” is the tendency to radicalize. That is, some of us assume that minimalism requires that we not only do without every luxury and most essentials, but that we involve others at a minimal level in every purchase. We often suppose that doing with less means doing it yourself.
Need an oil change? It must be a minimalistic approach to do it yourself. Want a special meal, such as a lasagne? One has to obtain the ingredients and make it oneself. Of course, a true minimalist must do her own vehicle repairs, make his own clothes, grow every food item and complete every repair or household renovation alone.
These are just a few of the myths of minimal living.
Let us take a quick look, for example, at that lasagne dinner. Typically, a 2-pound store-bought, ready-made lasagne will cost you $5.99 to $9.99. Your total cost, including cooking in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes, will be $6.11 to $10.11, or $3.05 to $5.06 per pound. However, calculate the individual costs of buying the ingredients. Cheese, lean ground beef, spinach, spices and noodles will end up costing you at least $6.80 per pound if you buy the size required to make a 2-pound lasagne. Cooking will take two hours, for an additional cost of $0.22, while cleanup of the baking pan and utensils will add another $0.30-.40 to the total. This doesn’t factor in the cost of the pan & utensils, or place a value on the two hours that it may take to make the meal. Total savings, per pound, of buying the ready-made meal will be up to $4.37! Hardly worth the effort, is it, unless you prefer the quality and uniqueness of a homemade meal?
How about that oil change? With a litre of oil costing, on average, $4.19 and a filter $6-12, a four-litre oil change will cost $23.76, versus the $29.95 for a shop to do it. Yet, you don’t have to worry about the cleanup and environmental impact, or the cost of oil drain pans, jack stands, etc. It’s almost a fair trade to farm out the task.
Don’t even consider doing your own repairs on a new car. Just the OBII-compliant computer tester will set you back $100 or more, and you haven’t begun to figure out how to do the repairs, with the few outdated tools that you own. Each new car demands its own specialty tools to conduct repairs. However, buying the new car is more environmentally friendly, and generally more cost-efficient than maintaining the old one.
A true minimalist may want to mend his own clothes, make his own curtains, upholster his own furniture. Aside from the grotesquely ugly results that are likely, this option, too, is impractical, even for a minimalist. However, if you find someone who is handy with a sewing machine or needle and thread, and you have the cash, consider providing the material, while your partner provides the handiwork and skill necessary to make clothes, drapes or couch covers.
Similarly, home renovation skills are seldom within the reach of the typical homeowner. You may be great at rough carpentry, but lousy at finishing work. You may know the basics of plumbing, and fail miserably at electrical repair. Here is where a collage of colleagues, with compatible and exchangeable skills provides a real advantage. You may undertake the framing (or supervision) of a garage for a neighbour, while another provides skills at concrete work and a third can wire the building. When you need your recreation room renovated, those same people can pool their skills to assist you, and so on.
Have a large back yard? Grow your vegetables, and a few for your neighbours, in exchange for a few trinkets that you require from them.
The last three examples are perfect illustrations of the benefit of bartering for the frugal individual, or those who favour the minimal living approach. Bartering, or swapping services and goods not only lessens demand for duplicate items or redundant services, but reduces the cost to each individual in the barter group. Barter groups may be loosely arranged, or established as a cooperative, with specific assigned values for work and goods that are exchanged, with a “banking” option that allows a member to provide his goods into the pool, and obtain the benefit that he wants or needs at a later time.
Minimalism is not about doing it yourself. It is about seeking the path that is least intrusive, with the greatest benefit, to obtain those needed items, while recognizing that “need” and “want” are not synonymous, and that using less is a pathway to getting more out of your life, each day.