Minimalism for Couples – Buying Less Stuff

You have the power to change your shopping and buying habits.

Your spouse or partner returns from getting the mail carrying a cardboard box and says, “Delivery for the minimalist.”

No, you are not a failure as a minimalist. Acquiring less stuff in our consumerist society can be challenging but you can do it and so can your significant other (if he or she chooses to).

At some point, months or years from now, you will have divested yourself of the things that do not fit in your life as a minimalist and hopefully your spouse or partner will have participated. If you do not want to end up back where you started, you need to plug the incoming stuff pipeline into your home or at least reduce its diameter.

The two main sources of incoming material goods are things that you and your spouse or partner buy, those that you give each other, and gifts from other people.

Unless you and your spouse or partner were able to immediately cease acquiring stuff once you decided to minimize you will likely need to change your shopping and buying habits and at least evaluate your gift exchanging philosophy.

This is the second post of a two-part post. The first post Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff dealt with minimizing even in the face of apathy from your spouse or partner while attempting to engage him or her in the process. This post addresses acquiring fewer possessions now and forever after, a formidable yet rewarding undertaking.

I hope these two posts will help you feel empowered to be a minimalist making your own choices and changing your own behavior even if your spouse or partner is not on board, yet.

Consumerism Takes a Holiday

Even though I did not recognize it at the time, our minimalist journey got a jump-start in 2013 just as the Christmas shopping season was getting underway. Any enjoyment I used to get from shopping and wrapping gifts was crushed under the rampant display of consumerism everywhere and my concern about the enormous environmental impact that our society’s constant quest for more stuff is having on Earth.

Little Blue Car Overloaded with Christmas Gifts on Top
Photo Credit iStock/Sergey Peterman

My spouse was feeling the same way so we agreed to opt out of exchanging gifts. We told our family and friends that we loved them but we did not intend to give gifts and did not wish to receive gifts either. We do still give to Toys for Tots and occasionally give or receive gifts. This feels right for us.

I am not saying that minimalists do not exchange gifts. What I am suggesting, is that you and your spouse or partner at least discuss your views about exchanging gifts and perhaps consider making a change.

If this seems like a draconic approach to minimalism, consider asking yourself the ten questions I raised in the Free Yourself from Christmas Consumerism post. If you still do not want to address gift giving and receiving or if talking about it is distressing your spouse or partner, then do not do it, at least not now.

Repair Instead of Replace

Repairing things to extend their useful life used to be routine until inexpensive and often low-quality consumer goods became ubiquitous encouraging you to buy new things instead of fixing them. For instance, why take the time to stitch up a fallen hemline on your t-shirt when you can toss it in the trash and buy a new for under $10.

Everything you use in your daily life has an environmental footprint. When you treat material goods as disposable, you end up wasting a lot of the energy, water, resources and people power that went into making and transporting it. The cost of harming people and the planet is not included in the purchase price of the products you buy.

Focusing on the environmental consequences of acquiring new things changed the way my spouse and I evaluate damaged or broken items. Now, we determine if we can repair it ourselves, pay someone else to fix it, live without it, or if we want to buy a replacement for it.

For example, after at least two decades of use, our card table with four matching folding chairs was pretty beat up. When the foam in the seats started deteriorating, we decided to have the tabletop and chairs reupholstered and my spouse painted the frames.

From the narrow perspective of dollars and cents, this solution was more expensive than buying a new table and chairs. However, we felt good about refurbishing our table and chairs instead of buying a new set because a lot of the original materials were reused and we supported a local craftsman who owns the upholstery shop about a mile from our house.

Fortunately, for you and us, repair is making a comeback. Organizations like iFixit empower people to repair their own stuff (especially electronic devices) and repair cafes are popping up where you can go to get help repairing things.

To Buy or Not to Buy

Overcoming the gravitational force of consumerism has been difficult for both me and my spouse but we are making progress on buying less stuff. You can only change yourself so that is what I have been working on.

In 2017, to get a grip on my own shopping and buying habits, I thought it would be fun and informative to track my purchases for a year. I shared how I did it and some insights I gained about my own behavior in the post entitled Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy.

Below are a few examples of things my spouse and I have bought or did not buy recently and why we made the choices we did. Minimalists are not immune to advertising and the desire to buy stuff.

Waterpik

Last year just before going on a trip, I saw a Waterpik that came with a mini travel-size unit on a store shelf and stood there for several minutes considering buying it even though I had a Waterpik sitting on my bathroom counter at home. I felt very virtuous when I did not buy it. However, the story did not end there.

Standard and Travel-Size Waterpik with Carrying Case

A month or so ago, when the water tube broke inside the wand of my Waterpik, the travel-size version flashed through my mind but my spouse fixed the old one so I still did not buy a new one.

A week later, the repaired tube broke spraying water all over my face and the bathroom. I had had enough. I went online and bought the Waterpik model that came with the travel-size unit I had been coveting. Hmm, it is small but I might have to leave something else out to fit it in my luggage. Oh, why did I buy an extra thing I do not need?

My spouse repaired the old one and is now using it.

Olive Oil Dispenser

A couple of days ago, my spouse accidentally knocked over the ceramic olive oil dispenser we kept next to the stove and the top broke off in a way that was not repairable. We discussed buying a replacement but fortunately, our inner minimalists whispered that we could just pour olive oil out of the bottle (duh).

Today, our minimalist selves would not have bought this item in the first place.

Compost Pail

Eight years ago, when I began composting fruit and vegetable scraps, I bought a 1-gallon stainless steel pail that we keep on our kitchen counter and empty into the composter bin outside every day or so. I did not realize that stainless steel is not an ideal choice for a compost pail because it eventually gets little rust pits and starts leaking.

My spouse prolonged its life with some epoxy on the bottom but eventually smells began to adhere to the pail. Strictly speaking, the compost pail still works and making stainless steel has a significant environmental impact so it seemed wasteful to buy a new one.

The thing is that the pail smells mostly of bananas, which I ate a lot of when I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Now I cannot stand to eat bananas. Every time I lift the compost pail lid the smell reminds me of that terrible time in my life. A few days ago, I decided that the old pail had served us well but it was time for a new one. My spouse agreed.

After doing some research, I selected a ceramic model with a removable plastic liner and ordered it online. When the new compost pail arrives, I am putting the old one in the recycle bin.

The above examples may seem minor to you. But chances are these kinds of day-to-day buy or no buy decisions will help you and your spouse or partner live happily, with fewer possessions that add value to your life, or will lead, you right back to where you started.

If there is one thing I hope you take away from this post, it is that reflecting on why you are trying to live happily with less stuff is the greatest deterrent to acquiring more stuff and later regretting it.

I leave you with this final thought.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” —Mahatma Gandhi

(I used to have a wall hanging with that quote on it, sigh.)

Featured Image at Top: Internet Shopping – Keyboard, Miniature Truck Filled with Boxes, Earth Globe – Photo Credit iStock/cybrain

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Shrink Your Carbon Footprint with a Smart Thermostat

Make saving energy easy and fun.

You can stay warm (or cool) in your home, use less energy, and save money by replacing your old thermostat with an easy to use learning (smart) thermostat. The operative word here is easy.

With a little training from you, a smart thermostat will learn your household’s temperature preferences, adjust to changes in your schedules, and suggest settings to save energy.

For instance, during the winter a smart thermostat will learn what time to turn your furnace down at night while your household is sleeping. On a hot day, a smart thermostat will learn when to turn on your air conditioning so that your home cools down before your kids get home from school or you arrive home from work. If you sign up for an account and download the app, you can control your thermostat using your smartphone and get detailed information about your home heating and cooling energy use.

A smart thermostat is likely to cost you between $150-$250, plus sales tax and possibly shipping if you buy it online. You may be able to install it yourself or with the help of a friend, but if not, hiring an installer will add to the cost. Most manufacturers claim that a smart thermostat could reduce your home heating and cooling energy use by at least 10-15% and that the thermostat will pay for itself in energy savings in two years or less.

2015 Residential Energy Use Pie Chart
2015 Residential Energy Use Pie Chart – Source The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration

There are probably 100 million thermostats hanging out in hallways across the United States. Imagine if every household had a smart thermostat. We could be comfortable in our homes, save some money, and most importantly decrease our reliance on burning fossil fuels to heat and cool our homes. When millions of people make even a small change, it can really add up to make a significant positive impact.

That all sounds wonderful so smart thermostats should be flying off store shelves, right?

I am highly motivated to curtail my energy use and yet it took me five years to decide to buy a smart thermostat because I was evaluating the purchase using outdated cost/benefit thinking.

Is a Smart Thermostat a Good Investment?

I have been eyeing smart thermostats since 2012 when I wrote about them in the post Use Your Thermostat to Save Energy and Money. At that time, I did the math and decided that replacing our old thermostat with a smart thermostat did not pencil out, meaning it did not seem like a good investment.

My spouse and I both work out of our home office so since we are home during the workday we use energy all day. However, we live in a temperate climate where the average winter temperature during the day is in the 50s and we do not have air conditioning. If we managed to save 10% a year on our natural gas bill, I estimated it would take at least four years or more for the energy savings to equal the cost of the smart thermostat.

So, what changed my mind?

First, I had to admit to myself that I was never going to learn how to use our existing programmable thermostat and that manually turning it on and off and adjusting the temperature when I thought about it was not an energy saving practice.

Programmable Thermostat Inner Workings
The Incomprehensible Inner Workings of Our Old Programmable Thermostat

Once or twice during the ten years, we have lived in our current home, I opened the thermostat cover and looked inside with the intent of learning how to program it. The inner workings seemed complicated and difficult to use. I sighed and closed the cover feeling defeated. I know I could have tried to find the instruction guide online, but I never did.

Then there was the argument that our current thermostat was operational so it would be wasteful to get rid of it. Eventually, I realized that using more natural gas than we need to is much more wasteful especially considering that extracting, processing, and burning fossil fuels is harming people and the planet. We need to get off burning fossil fuels sooner rather than later and decreasing our own use is a step in the right direction.

The seemingly long payback period made me hesitant to spend $200 on a new thermostat. My only excuse for that holding me back is that I spent a couple of decades working in corporate America where every product purchase was evaluated based on how long it would take to pay for itself in either sales revenue or cost savings. Every decision was made with an eye on the financial bottom line.

My narrow thinking kept me from buying a smart thermostat until near the end of last year when I was researching and then writing about why you should learn to read your natural gas and electricity bills. My purpose was to empower readers to understand their own energy use and be responsible for decreasing their fossil fuel use. While I was editing my posts, I realized that I could and should do more than I was doing to reduce our household energy use by purchasing a smart thermostat.

Smart Thermostat Installation

Fortunately, my spouse agreed that we should move the dial forward on our goal to reduce our home energy use by purchasing a smart thermostat.

Of course, there are many different makes and models of smart thermostats on the market in a variety of price ranges. We opted for a Nest Thermostat E for $169 because it has a cool looking design and seemed easy to install and to use (it was and it is).

The picture at the top of the post shows what comes in the box accompanied by an easy to follow instruction guide. My spouse installed the new thermostat, however, even though I am not mechanically inclined I think I could have done it.

An optional rectangular piece of plastic comes in the box so you can cover up the outline and screw holes left on your wall from your old thermostat. My spouse is very handy, so we decided to spackle and paint over the wall.

Sure, replacing our old thermostat with a smarter version is a small change but imagine if everyone did it. If we want to have a habitable planet to live on in the future, we had better expand our vision of what constitutes a good investment.

Reader Note: When I mention a specific product in a post, it is because I think you and other readers may find the information useful. I do not accept product review solicitations and I do not receive compensation of any kind for mentioning a product in a post.

Featured Image at Top: Nest Thermostat What Comes in the Box – Photo Credit Nest Corporation

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