Amazon.com has been my store of choice over the past several years. The convenience factor -- shopping anytime, day or night, without children tugging at my clothes -- as well as the low prices convinced me that it wasn't such a big deal to buy online.
After awhile, though, a strange thing happened. I was getting boxes every week or two, and the thrill of getting these "gifts" in the mail kept me adding things I "needed" to my shopping cart.
Having started decluttering the house in January 2015, I began not only keeping less but buying less, as well. I thought it would be interesting to do an inventory of my past Amazon purchases.
I've never totaled this up until today. This is what I spent on myself and my family and my home on Amazon.com since 2010, the year I had my first child:
$4,999?! Let's just round up to $5,000. And here is all the stuff I didn't include in that tally:
Knowing how much I spent, I went back and looked at how much of the stuff I actually still have in my house. Not counting all the "consumable" items like shampoos, diapers, vacuum bags, etc., I only have about 50% of the items I originally thought I really needed! All that long-gone baby gear could have been bought for a fraction of the cost from garage sales. It turns out that a bamboo steamer, panini press, egg slicer, or other one-use gadget won't make me a better cook. And that $150 collector's edition of all six seasons of LOST? It didn't make the series finale any less disappointing.
If I had taken half of that spending -- $2,500 -- and invested it for seven years instead of spending it on Amazon, it would have made me more than $1,500 (assuming a 7% rate of return). Over a 25-year period at the same rate, that $2,500 could have earned over $11,000!
I say this not to make myself feel awful or to inspire guilt, but to move forward with a better appreciation of how spending habits can be more costly than we think at the time.
When simplifying and decluttering, I have had to confront my past actions with every item I've donated or sold. What's done is done, though; the lesson has been learned, and now I know for sure that life is better on the simpler side.
When I was a little kid (I say this a lot, fair warning...), birthdays were small affairs with 5 to 7 friends, usually at the birthday boy or birthday girl's home. Pizza, cake, open presents, watch a movie or play some games, see ya later. Today, it's different, at least in suburbia. Parties are held in "venues," with "staff" to help run the event. Entire classes are invited, plus neighborhood friends. That's a lot of parties for a child to attend each year. Of course, my daughter loves this set up!
When my daughter was younger, we used to spend about $25, including card and gift bag, per present for her friends' parties. Now, given the sheer volume of invitations, that seems totally unrealistic; there are plenty of quality presents young children will enjoy that cost much less.
With another friend's birthday party in the books last weekend, here are some ways I've simplified birthday gift-giving lately:
My thought is, if I'm feeling stressed about something that should be easy and fun, it needs to be simplified!
It's crazy to look back on how I went from a passive consumer to somewhat of a minimalist. It's not that the light went on immediately -- more like a constant, slow turn of the dimmer switch up, lighting more and more layers of my world and showing me just how much is "out there" and how connected it all is.
Flashback to January 2015. A Barnes & Noble marketing email popped up in my inbox featuring the latest inventory. (This was way before decluttering my inbox, of course.) As I had no books in mind to buy, I was about to hit 'delete' when my eye caught one particular title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Hmm. That's a big claim, I thought. And I'm kind of a skeptic. So, of course I clicked through and hit "BUY," unconscious consumer that I was. Nicely done, B&N.
Within a few weeks of finishing the book, I had touched nearly every item in my house and determined whether it sparked joy. (If you're raising an eyebrow right now, it might be because you haven't tried it.) At the time I was a bit embarrassed by the trash bags full of stuff I decided to part with, since I'd always considered myself fairly constrained when it came to making purchases. I proceeded to have my then-five-year-old daughter go through the same process: first her clothes, then her toys, then her books, then her stuffed animals. She was surprisingly willing to part with quite a few items.
The biggest takeaway at the time was that once your house is filled with only items that bring you joy (or that make your life easier), you'll always have a 'tidy' (read: clutter-free) home. I have to admit, the book title was no exaggeration. It was pure life-changing magic that set me on the path to simplicity, without me even knowing it.
From there, I bounced around to several minimalist blogs and sites, doing a few more rounds of decluttering -- each inevitably more ruthless than the last. Then, I started thinking about how hectic life felt each day raising two young children, which led me to explore simplicity parenting. Next, I examined the technology our family used, how we spent our money and time, what kind of food we ate, and how we were impacting the environment with our consumer choices. It's all intertwined. And the further I tumble down this rabbit hole, the more I see not only the personal benefits of simplicity, but the dire need for it in many aspects of society as a whole.
Well, I can't possibly end this post with such doom and gloom. Instead, I'll end with a challenge: locate your nearest reputable donation center that accepts clothing, toys, and household items. If you take any of this or future simplicity talk to heart, you'll soon be making many trips there.
A lot has been written about simplicity, decluttering, minimalism, essentialism, and related topics. I'm totally sold on this way of life, after seeing the benefits firsthand -- so much so that I hope my observations and experiences (as well as my struggles and questions) will inspire others to look into these topics as well. Hence, this blog!
In researching wills a few years ago, I read that some people leave behind letters to their children that express their own values, hopes, and life lessons learned. I never was one to sit down and write in a journal, but I feel like this topic would be a good place to start. So, if nothing else, this blog is the beginning of the letter to my young children, explaining why we live the way we do, what we value, and how to take a stand against an illogical status quo.
Those are the "whys". Away we go!