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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 2 - Gratitude

View from my window in the morning

In the past weeks, I have been reading Nickle and Dimed, the story of a writer and activist, Barbara Ehrenreich, who investigated (by putting herself in the situation) what it's like to live with the minimum wage (which is, at the moment, around $7 an hour in the States and $10 an hour in Canada).

It has been an eye-opener. We all know that poverty exists, but unless we actually witness it on a regular basis, we tend to forget. Even me, the woman who spend a significant part of her childhood in a third world country with parents working in international development.

Now the stupid things I am not allowing myself to buy appear in front of my eyes in all their glorious insignificance. I cannot believe I worried that I could not replace my Chai tea. I cannot believe I thought one year without buying would be long. Looking around me with new eyes, I realize I could probably live for 10 years without any new acquisition, solely replacing what is broken beyond repair whenever that happens (eg. the computer, some pairs of socks, etc.) 

Another realization I came to is that the pride I take in my accomplishments might be misplaced. The American Dream tells us to "just put in the effort, and you will reap the benefits". And so, as many others, I have been patting myself on the back for how well my life is going. We live in a meritocracy, and it's easy to assume that the luxury one affords is a direct consequence of elbow grease. By reading about the people who sometimes have to take on two jobs just to make ends meet, I am reminded that hard work does not equate material comfort and financial success. Nor does it always equate self-actualization, as some of the low-wage jobs are rather uninspiring. Of course, a positive attitude and a good work ethic will rarely come without rewards, and I still value them highly. But let's remember that being born in the right place at the right time is a big part of the equation.  

No matter how you approach it, either by reading, by volunteering or in any other way, get acquainted with the situation of the less affluent. Chances are you will have a renewed appreciation for what you have. You might even decide to share more, by donating money, things or your time.



I had to go to the post office. It is situated in the grocery store. Normally I would have found something - anything: food, cosmetics, office supplies, ... to buy. Probably not a big purchase, but something. This time, however, I walked straight to the post office desk and back. Even buying food was not an option. Groceries are not my responsibility anyway - we realized early on that they cost less when D is in charge, and since he seems to enjoy grocery shopping more than I do, I happily handed him over the task many years ago.

A similar situation occurred when A's teacher asked for a large quantity of Popsicle sticks for some "engineering" project. Since I do not own that many Popsicle sticks, I had to go and make the purchase. I cannot begin to tell you how many tempting items I saw on my way to the art and craft section of "the big store I won't name". I had to take a couple deep breaths. In the end, I realized it was easier if I did not look at the displays whatsoever. 

The kids' basketball team took pictures in the Fall, that they are now selling us. I had to by one, right?

A got a set of bow and arrows for Christmas. The kids have been using it daily. One arrow just broke. My first reaction was to tell her to not worry: we would get her a new arrow. But she said "It's okay, mom, I still have 2 other arrows". Pfiew!

So my only purchases of the year, up to now, are Popsicle sticks and my kids' basketball team picture. Who would have thought?


Good riddance - the things that are in too bad a shape to even be donated: 

I got started on cleaning my office. Oh, how I dread that kind of cleanup. Any other room is fine, but the office? It takes forever as I feel the need to re-read every single sheet of paper before I decide to toss it or keep it. I really need to learn to apply the Touch It Once rule. File papers right away. Don't let them lie on top of your desk indefinitely!

I still have to go through my books, but I am aware this will be a gradual process. A year should be enough to complete the endeavour.


I realized that:

  • (Well, actually, I already knew that.) The kids have too many clothes, and instead of providing them with a wide array of choice, it puts them in a state of anxiety whenever it's time to get dressed. I'm sure if they only owned a few pieces for each kind of weather/activity, as opposed to having overflowing drawers and closets, morning routine would be more peaceful. Let's work toward that.
  • A lot of the things I own, I did not buy. I received. Not necessarily as a present, but rather as a "donation" from someone (older family member, most of the time) who did not need it. I have to learn to say no, thank you.


Does owning good quality items conflict with an ideal of minimalism, I wondered as I put on my winter gear for my 15-minute walk to work on a -28 Celsius (- 18 Fahrenheit) day. But since we have made the choice of not getting a second car (D uses the one we have for his longer commute), I realized that the winter gear I own is my means of transportation. It has to be in good working order. Especially in such hostile weather conditions. That being said, I do realize that some people who need it do not have appropriate winter gear. 

The answer to "Can you make your own Chai tea?" is a resounding YES. I already had plain tea and all the spices: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. I add turmeric for its health benefits. 

View from my other window in the late afternoon.

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? How did that make you feel? Please comment below! And...


  1. I love watching the progress. Yes, clothing is a big one.

    Next week I'm moving from Colorado back to San Diego. Even though I don't really own anything, I do have clothing. Since I'm flying back, and don't wish to pay $50 for the extra checked baf, the local clothing closet for the homeless and needy will be getting my leftovers after I pack.

    My new life will begin with the clothes I can fit in a suitcase. I'm guessing I won't add to that to soon or too often.

    Thank god Stroodle counts as and extra carry-on...

    1. You are right, clothing is a big one and I have not said my last word about it! :-)

      I have traveled to Europe for a week with only a carry-on to avoid having to wait at the conveyor belt. Turns out it's entirely possible to live on a very small suitcase.

  2. When you live on a very tight budget you learn to walk into a store and buy just what you went for. You look at things and ask yourself do you really need that? Most of the time there is something at home that can be used, reused or worn out first.
    I took my friend thrift store shopping this past week. I found so much I would love to have but I had to ask myself do I really need it. So I resisted.
    While at the thrift stores I also brought in a bag of cooking/baking items that I am not using. I used to have a home daycare so have extras to send to others.
    You did awesome and wrote some great thoughts and plans.
    Can't wait to see what week 3 brings.
    Take care and have an awesome and blessed day.

  3. I went in to Staples (my office supply candy store) and came out with exactly what I went in for...number 10 envelopes and 1 report cover. Tada. I walked past all those delightful pens and post it notes and journals etc etc etc. We did eat out this week (first time this year) which is pretty good for us. We had been going out to eat two or three times a week.
    Keep up the good work. You are doing really well.

    1. Good job to you! You are doing really well too! Office supply stores are a tough one indeed.

  4. I donated time. As I do every week. For nearly seventeen years now I have been volunteering on a telephone crisis line. It is now an integral part of my life and helps to remind me that I am very, very fortunate.
    I recycled some paper. Not enough, but a start has been made.

    1. Wonderful. Donating time is something most people can do. Says a former Girl Guide leader. :-)

  5. Well here I am in my part of the UK having talked about the 'terrible wind and rain last night' and then I hop over to your blog and see your beautiful snow pictures and you are out in minus temperatures and not just minus five !

    Many of us are guilty of not realising how lucky or fortunate we are, the family and friends we are surrounded with, we can speak to on the phone, can Skype them etc. Many people, especially the elderly but more and more younger, vulnerable people are on their own with no-one to talk to ..... those that volunteer their time to help those that are lonely are doing a great job and all it is costing is time - what price would you put on that ?

    Keep well and keep as warm as you can.

    All the best Jan

    1. Thank you for this wise comment, once again Jan! Everything is relative. And human connection is worth its weight in gold. :-)

  6. Gorgeous soft photos. I especially like the first one. I brought up two wide brimmed hats from our building's recycling room. They were really women's hats, so I got rid of them, back to recycling bin.

  7. I came from poverty but never felt like it as I was too young at the time. My grandparents were dirt poor but they worked very hard and thrived, and my parents educated themselves out of that. Going from a one-room school and outhouses to being world renowned. These experiences set their values for life and were instilled in me.

    I have a hill of stuff in the garage that will soon be donated to local organizations or whoever wants it from a recent search through all areas of storage in the house and items that I don't need.

    We have similar, though not the same, botanical views out the windows :-)

  8. Quality VS price is always an interest debate!!!
    Shoes, jeans, backpack, food .... when are you just buying a namebrand vs when are you buying lasting functionality?

    1. Lasting functionality all the way! For the things that matter. Outdoor clothes are a good examples.

  9. I'm still working on the clothes issue - slowly pulling more and more out of my over-packed closet.
    You are doing awesome on not just not spending but on appreciating all you have - some days I forget that I need to be more appreciative because we have so much.

    1. Yes, I am doing the same. I will devote one entire post to clothes at some point. Keep up the good decluttering work!

  10. I am working on some of these same issues. It's not just clutter that is an issue for me, it's about saying, "no." No to negative people, no things I don't need, no to the clutter in my house, no to self induced stress. I am working on this, it is just becoming clear to me how the word "yes" has held me back. You have taken to a much deeper level with more meaning-- my eyes are opened and I am listening. I am heading to the Library to get Barbara Ehrenreich's book.

    1. Absolutely agree on the importance of saying "no" to all the things and people that bring us down! Enjoy reading the book, and please come back to share your insight. :-)

  11. Im still in the getting rid of place with the move (unpack, look at, donate!!!) but I fear soon I may be TEMPTED by the cold cold cold to buy buy buy (jackets :-)).


  12. This is interesting project indeed !

  13. Years ago when I first thought of decluttering, I found the best way was to empty the room, or the drawers/cupboards and put back everything I used daily, then everything I used weekly, then things that I knew I needed but only a couple of times a year. Everything left over got donated or thrown out. For instance baking trays that I only use at Christmas time were carefully wrapped and stored. The extra large roasting pan that I haven't used since the kids left home, got donated.