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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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Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff

You love each other more than your stuff, right?

Giddy with enthusiasm you declare your intention to be a minimalist living happily with less stuff. Your significant other sighs and leaves the room. Now, what?

Take heart, even if your announcement was met with apathy or downright antagonism, you can make progress and at some point, you may be able to entice your spouse or partner to join forces with you.

When I proclaimed during dinner one night that I wanted to be a minimalist, my spouse expressed skepticism and probably hoped it would be a passing fancy that would fizzle out. That was not to be. I was and am serious about owning fewer belongings and living more lightly on Earth.

That was eighteen months ago.

I am a serial declutter and a neat freak and my spouse is a collector and has a more relaxed view of neatness. Not exactly a recipe for minimalist domestic harmony. Yet, now, we are both committed to minimizing the things we own in a way that suits us individually and as a couple.

No, a miracle did not occur.

We were able to reach this point because we love each other, we want to stay married, and we are both concerned about the environment and keeping Earth habitable for our children, your children, and everyone else’s children.

In part one of this two-part post, you will have an opportunity to read about how we went about divesting ourselves of things we no longer use, want, or enjoy. I like to think that my patience, diplomacy, and creativity smoothed the way for my spouse to get on board. The second post will cover what I consider to be the most challenging aspect of minimalism, acquiring less stuff, forever.

After reading these posts, I hope you will feel empowered to minimize your own belongings regardless of your spouse or partner’s level of support and that you will endeavor to encourage him or her to embrace minimalism at a level that you can both live with going forward.

You are Here

Like eating a healthy diet, being a minimalist living happily with less stuff is a lifelong pursuit that begins wherever you are in your life’s journey at the moment you decide to do it.

Unfortunately, my children were young adults before I realized that our society’s constant quest for more stuff is harming people and our planet. I regret my contribution to the problem but I cannot erase it. I can and did resolve to live with fewer material goods starting from where I was in my life in November 2016.

At that time, having been together for over three decades, my spouse and I had amassed thousands of possessions from cars to soap dishes. I had honed my shopping skills for many years and I was a card-carrying member in good standing of “Shoppers and Consumers of America.” My engineer lighting designer spouse had constructed a prototype shop in our garage and had a sizable collection of small and large parts and bits of this and that (I admit some of it has come in handy over the years).

Here we are a year and a half later well on our way to minimizing our possessions and transforming our relationship with stuff.

Pause and take a moment to reflect on why you want to be a minimalist and where you think you and your spouse or partner are on the minimalism continuum. If he or she seems resistant, be patient and start with your own stuff.

Your Stuff is Your Stuff, Right?

Technically, anything that is used or worn only by you, gifts you received, items you inherited, and things you brought with you when you began living with your spouse or partner are your belongings. You should be able to give away, sell, donate, throw away, or recycle your own stuff, right. Well, yes, but I suggest you keep your spouse in the loop and ask his or her opinion before jettisoning certain items.

Bookcase Filled with Books
Bookcase Filled with Books – Photo Credit iStock-clu

For instance, ask how he or she feels about you giving away a souvenir baseball hat or a pair of earrings he or she gave you. If there is an objection, keep that item for now and circle back to it at a later date. Let your spouse or partner know that you plan to donate your book collection to the local library and ask him or her if there are any books he or she wishes to keep. Make sure you mention that you are planning to sell your grandmother’s china in case he or she is more partial to it than you thought.

As space opens up in your closets and drawers and on shelves and furniture surfaces, you may see ways to reorganize the remaining items to make them easier to find and use or to rearrange them to look more attractive.

Once your spouse or partner realizes that you care about his or her opinion and are not likely to demand that he or she get rid of a favorite hammer, casserole dish, or yearbook, he or she may relax and be willing to work with you on minimizing some of your shared material goods in say the kitchen or garage.

Kitchen Capers

Our first joint minimizing effort took place in the kitchen. As the family chef, my spouse has dominion over the kitchen so I knew I needed to tread carefully.

Kitchen Canister Set with Botanical Flower Illustrations
Our Kitchen Canister Set with Botanical Flower Illustrations

My goal was to make the process as easy and painless as possible for my spouse so I suggested we tackle a small number of items at a time over the course of a month or so.

I cleared a section on the kitchen counter to act as my staging space.

Each day, I took everything out of one drawer or cupboard and laid the items neatly on the counter and then cleaned the empty drawer or cupboard. We looked over that day’s collection together and decided what to get rid of and what to keep, separating the items as we went. Later, I placed the items we agreed to get rid of in a donation box, the recycle bin, and occasionally the trash, then I neatly put everything else back.

During these daily bouts of minimizing, I reaffirmed that we could keep whatever my spouse wanted but I also lobbied for getting rid of stuff I thought was unnecessary or no longer needed.

For instance, I do not think the 4-piece canister set, as beautiful as it is, is necessary. My spouse wanted to keep the canisters so we did. I prevailed on the food processor that was hardly ever used. It went into a donation box. Not everything required negotiation. We easily agreed to standardize on one type of leftover food storage container in several different sizes.

Empty areas began appearing in our cupboards and drawers, which set me to thinking about how we could reorganize the remaining items to make it easy to find and get to the things that are used most. My spouse agreed to try it.

The mixer and blender found a new home in a cupboard that is further away from the sink and the potato and onion bins moved into a more convenient location. We arranged the pots and pans so that you do not need to take out a bunch of stuff just to get to one pan. I stacked the dishes on shelves that you can reach without a step stool.

After getting used to the new locations, my spouse admitted that there are benefits to having less stuff that you can easily find and access. When my spouse volunteered to work on minimizing the stuff in the garage, I knew we had passed a milestone. Yeah!

At some point, whether it takes months or years, our divestment phase will be completed. Sure, as we move through life we will have more things we no longer need but not to the same degree. For us to live happily with less stuff we also need to minimize the acquisition of new materials goods for the rest of our lives. That is what we will address in part two of this post.

Featured Image at Top: Orange and Green Apple – Photo Credit Simone Capozzi

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