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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 39 - Is it your duty to pay income tax?

MTSOfan, Flickr

Last blog post of the "Is it your duty" trilogy!

A friend was recently ranting about the fact that those who actively choose to work less than they are capable of (e.g. part-time when they could do full-time), consequently earn less money than they could, and in turn pay less income tax than they could, are depriving their fellow citizen from fiscal contributions. If those same "slackers" continue to use income-tax funded services and infrastructures, such as roads, schools, libraries, and health care (especially in countries where it's free, such as Canada), then according to my friend they can be viewed as freeloaders.

So let's say you are perfectly capable of working full-time at a reasonable income, but instead decide to stay on the "slow track" by:

  • working part-time
  • refusing promotions
  • working at a job that is not related to your training, and pays less
  • being a homemaker
  • retiring early
  • trading services instead of exchanging money for them (e.g. your neighbor gives your kids piano lessons for free, and in exchange, you tutor her kids for free)

... are you depriving society of something? Not only of the taxes you could pay, but also of your full professional potential?

Past my initial astonishment, I got thinking: are "slow-trackers" causing wrong to hard workers? Instantly, however, I could think of many ways people who work less are benefiting society. They can contribute by:

  • allowing more people to work by sharing the workload instead of taking a full week's work on their sole shoulders
  • volunteering (because they have more time for it)
  • looking out for family members, friends and neighbors, especially those who need it the most, such as children, seniors and individuals with mental or physical health issues (which then cuts on certain "society costs")
  • being an involved activist
  • maintaining and facilitating harmonious relationships
  • contributing to sustainable neighborhoods
  • polluting less (by driving less, spending less on work clothes and generally buying less stuff, etc.)
  • being healthier (from exercising more, taking the time to cook good meals, and experiencing less stress), which in turn means they don't use as much health care as their workaholic counterparts
  • being more relaxed, which in turn means they are more pleasant to be around (a friend of mine whose wife works very long hours says of her that she is often cranky - but I won't name names!) I know that when I work less, I am less impatient with my family members, who in turn are more pleasant to other people, who in turn... and the wheel keeps on turning.

Now, those contributions are not easy to quantify. But I do believe they can make up for the lower fiscal input.

And honestly, if we are going to look at income the tax money that is lost, we should probably start by focusing on fiscal evasion and corruption... don't you think?

What is your take on this controversial topic?


Eating less sugar still hasn't made me cranky or hungry. In fact, I might feel less hungry than I used to, probably due to the fact that my blood sugar levels are more stable. The only thing I feel more than I used to is fatigue: I tend to eat sweets when I get tired, but when this is not an option, I end up going to bed earlier. Which is not a bad thing in itself! 

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 38 - Is it your duty to pay rent or a mortgage?

RowdyKittens, Flickr

Is it your duty to pay to live somewhere?

In this world of mortgages and rent, very few adults can claim they reside somewhere for free. 

But there will always be subgroups to refuse to follow the mainstream ways. Here are some categories of people, most of them qualifying as minimalists, who have opted out of mortgages and rents altogether. Why is their lifestyle so alluring, and what are some of its downsides?

The hermit

I just finished reading One Man's Wilderness, by Richard Proenneke, the man who lived as a hermit in the Alaskan wild for about 30 years. Arriving there with the bare necessities, he built himself a log cabin and the furniture, tools and other objects he would need.

The hermit life and the self-reliance it implies has had an appeal for me ever since I read Robinson Crusoe when I was 8. I replicate it, smaller scale, whenever I go back country camping with my family.

The nomad

The nomad category has also fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Modern nomads are those people who sold their house, and live on the go, sometimes in a camper or on a boat. The story of La V'limeuse, a family of six who traveled the world for six years on a sailboat, stayed in my heart ever since I read it, as if I had been there with them all along. The nomad life bears the unique appeal of the constant discovery: new places, new people, new schedules: you never get tired of anything, simply because nothing lasts long enough for that.

My own take on nomadism lasted three months, that I spent travelling Europe on a train pass (actually sleeping on the train, and sometimes on a ferry, as often as I could to save on hostel costs). 

More recently, a German student decided to ditch her apartment and live on a train to save money (and to avoid the hassle of dealing with landlords, apparently). 

The tiny house enthusiast

New trend in the rebellion against mortgages and rents, the tiny house movement is gaining in popularity. Its proponents usually start by mentioning they were tired of spending so much money to just live somewhere. With seducingly low costs and some elbow grease, many were able to build themselves a small but cozy living space. See what it's like here and here

The other side of the coin

At first glance, it seems like the hermit, the nomad and the tiny house enthusiasts are making an individual choice of frugality. However, a closer look sheds some light on the tacit agreement they have with others, and on the fact that complete self-sufficiency might be a pipe dream.

Proenneke, the hermit, depended on someone to bring him the life's necessities he could not find or build himself. His friend Babe made several trips with his airplane to carry such things, including his mail.

Muller, the lady who lives on a train, "tries to sleep at the apartments of relatives or friends. Often, she is accommodated by her boyfriend, her mother or grandmother." 

Williams, who built and installed her tiny house in a friend's backyard, also uses said friend's water, fridge, and oven. The friend is, needless to say, also responsible for a mortgage and property taxes that Williams does not mention (and does not seem to contribute to). Admittedly, the friend expresses great joy about having Williams in her backyard. But for the latter, this arrangement doesn't qualify as living off the grid.

And so for a lot of those self-proclaimed minimalists, frugality is partly made possible thanks to other people's generous input. 

There are even individuals who, in addition to not paying mortgage or rent, refuse to use money altogether. It's the case of Heidemarie Schwermer, this 69-year old woman who hasn't used money since the turn of the century. She gets around by bartering: she will, for example, offer to clean a grocery store in exchange for food. That seems fair. Some people, however, have commented on the fact that the house-sitting and house-cleaning services she offers to homeowners in exchange for residing in their houses are hardly worth the real cost of the rent/mortgage, utility bills and other home related expenses. Following that premise, one could argue that she is able to live mostly thanks to the generosity of others, not based on a fair exchange. 

In light of the above examples, do you think it is our duty to pay for where we live?


I might have become the queen of resisting temptation. We had to go shopping for kids' swimming suits (sun, sand, salt and chlorine have destroyed the old ones). That task involved facing one of my biggest temptations: sports gear and outdoor equipment stores. Surprisingly, I was able to keep my calm. My heart rate did go up a smidgen when we walked past the running clothes and the backpacks, but that was quickly and easily managed.

Even more impressive was my reaction to D bringing home a dozen doughnuts barely 48 hours after I decided I wouldn't eat sugar anymore. After an initial reaction of terror, I regained my composure, didn't eat a doughnut, and generally speaking felt pretty good. A week without sugar, and I must admit I haven't been half as cranky as I thought I would be. I did eat a little bit more fruit than usual, and I did buy a 80% dark chocolate bar, with only 4 g of sugar per portion, to share. I also lost two pounds, which was not even the goal!!! 

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 37 - Is it your duty to shop? And a new goal!

J0sh, Flickr

After the 9-11 events, in a "business as usual" kind of approach, George W. Bush enjoined the U.S. nation to "go shopping". Life had to get back to normal, and for a large number of Americans, "normal" could be equated with shopping: 

"Most people in developed societies spend large percentages of their waking hours shopping, preparing to shop, or being urged to do so." (Thomas Hine, I Want That! How we all Became Shoppers)

Shopping is indeed at the core of the North American culture and economy. In fact, when it comes to minimalism, a common worry is that if everyone stopped shopping, the economy would collapse:

"If everyone became a minimalist, then we’d all be doomed: the financial system as it stands today would collapse, and no longer would we have the wealth necessary to purchase cheap plastic shit from Walmart." (Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus on The Minimalists website)

The theory goes along those lines: shopping stimulates economic growth, and economic growth is good, so make sure you shop.

Today's question is: 

Do you owe it to your country's economy to go shopping? 

That shopping stimulates the economy is not up for debate. That economic growth is desirable, however, is questionable. The proponents of economic growth usually base their enthusiasm on the premise that economic growth is both beneficial and harmless. But is that really the case?

Focusing on growth at all costs obscures its limitations and, more importantly, the precise costs that inevitably come with it:

"Our measures of growth are deeply flawed in that they are purely measures of activity in the monetized economy. Expanded use of cigarettes and alcohol increases economic output both as a direct consequence of their consumption and because of the related increase in health care needs. The need to clean up oil spills generates economic activity. Gun sales to minors generate economic activity. A divorce generates both lawyers fees and the need to buy or rent and outfit a new home-increasing real estate brokerage fees and retail sales. It is now well documented that in the United States and a number of other countries the quality of living of ordinary people has been declining as aggregate economic output increases [...] All too often what growth in GNP really measures is the rate at which the economically powerful are expropriating the resources of the economically weak in order to convert them into products that all too quickly become the garbage of the rich." (Based on When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Korten)

We have seen, in the past decade, what happens when people respond enthusiastically to the invitation to consume goods, big and small (think houses, among other things): a recession in due form, with all the problems that come with it: 

""We have more will than wallet," the president's father said in 1989 during his own inaugural address. That is again painfully true today. The 2008 election finds the Pentagon cupboard bare, the U.S. Treasury depleted, the economy in disarray and the average American household feeling acute distress. Profligacy at home and profligacy abroad have combined to produce a grave crisis. This time around, telling Americans to head for Disney World won't work. The credit card's already maxed out, and the banks are refusing to pony up for new loans." (The Washington Post

As of August 2015, the average consumer debt was still $15,000 in the U.S. More precisely: 

"U.S. household consumer debt profile:
  • Average credit card debt: $15,706
  • Average mortgage debt: $156,333
  • Average student loan debt: $32,953"
(Nerd Wallet)

It is obvious that shopping is not the solution to anything, and we haven't even talked about the environmental impact yet.

For an increasing number of researchers, whether or not our economy thrives is losing relevance as the environment shows more and more signs of an upcoming disaster (which, needless to say, will affect the economy as well):

"The perpetual growth myth [...] promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices."

(collective of Blue Planet environmental prize winners

Perhaps, then, the main problem isn't what decreasing consumption will do to the economy as we know it, but what not decreasing consumption has already been shown to do to our own well-being and that of the planet:

"We should be more than skeptical of an economic model that calls on us to give up all loyalty to place and community, says we must give free reign to securities fraud and corporate monopolies and deny workers the right to organize, and tells the poor to run faster and faster after a train they have no chance of catching—so that a few hundred thousand people can become multi-millionaires by destroying nature and depriving others of a decent means of livelihood." (Based on When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Korten)

Think you are not to blame, and that big corporations are the culprit? Of course they are. But each and every time we open our wallet or type in our credit card number, we "vote" for this consumerist system that is so detrimental to all living things, humans included. Without us supporting them, the unethical corporations would not survive very long. This is yet another reason why I have become so circumspect in the way I spend my money.


If economic growth, stimulated by shopping, is neither beneficial nor harmless, then what are the alternatives?

In the event that everybody decides to ditch shopping, the economy as we know it will certainly collapse, but it will give rise to another type of economy that we have yet to discover. An already existing parallel economy might grow : 

"Parallel economy [...] encompasses areas such as household food cultivation, home construction and renovation, and community initiatives such as barter and bulk buying." (Juliet B. Schor, True Wealth)

As they embrace minimalism, people will spend money they do have on things they can afford, focusing on experiences more than objects, and investing in local economies:

"Minimalists invest in experiences over possessions. Travel, indie concerts, vacations, community theater, etc.: we can all spend money without acquiring new material things [...] Minimalists support local businesses. Local, indie shops tend to be less motivated by profit." (The Minimalists

In any case, we will all benefit from such a shift:

"We're at a crucial point in history. We cannot have fast cars, computers the size of credit cards, and modern conveniences, while simultaneously having clean air, abundant rainforests, fresh drinking water, and a stable climate [...] Gadgetry or nature? Pick the wrong one and the next generation may have neither. (Mark Boyle, The Moneyless Man - A Year of Freeconomic Living)

Additional readingThe Growth Illusion: how economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many and endangered the planet, by Richard Douthwaite.


One of the last things that needed to be decluttered in my house was the bar and cellar. Your belongings should mirror your lifestyle; it turns out that hard liquors are not something we consume, and neither do our friends and family members, with some rare exceptions. Once the bottles are finished (who knows when that will happen), I have decided I will not replace them. As for wine, it seems like our tastes don't match that of the people we hang out with either, and that the custom here is for everyone to BYOB (as opposed to me ceremoniously uncorking a meticulously picked bottle and serving everyone). So. I will still pair my nicest meals with my favourite wines, but I will not maintain a collection.

Drum roll... new goal!!!

I have been thinking hard about what should be ditched from my life. What is superfluous, and causes me more grief than good? The answer was not what I expected:


Sugar hurts me.

Sugar has to go.

In coming up with that I did not have to read any articles or rely on any theory about the "evils of sugar". Here I am relying solely on my own gut feeling (literally): when I eat sugar, I feel crappy. And for that valid reason, I will say "goodbye, sugar!" Here is the rule of thumb: any food (except for fruit) that contains more than 5 grams of sugar per portion will be off-limits. Based on my observations, that should get rid of most desserts, plus unhealthy breakfasts, sweet snacks and drinks. I will refrain from drinking fruit juice as well (even the "no sugar added type"), simply because it also makes me feel crappy.

I will let you know how that goes! I'm expecting it will be as follows:
1) Cranky
2) Very cranky
3) Extremely cranky
4) Less cranky
5) Barely cranky
6) Feeling awesome

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, September 7, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 36 - She's got the looks

"If tomorrow women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business." (Dr. Gail Dines)

I just came back from what was probably the last camping trip of the year. Campgrounds are always a great place to reflect on minimalism. One morning, I found myself brushing my teeth next to a woman who used not one, not two, but three different electrical appliances to do her hair. She was getting started when I walked by on my way to the shower, was still busy perfecting her hair when I got out of the shower and stopped by the sinks, and was still working at it when I left. I was perplexed. Why would anyone want to spend so much time on their looks while camping in the woods?

I had had the same reflection while backpacking throughout Europe, some 15 years ago. I never understood why my fellow female backpackers spent so much time in front of the mirror each morning. Personally the only "cosmetics" I carried had to do with basic hygiene (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shampoo, soap), plus some sunscreen. On most days, I would detangle my hair then let it air dry until it was ready to put in a quick pony tail. I was preparing to visit museums and national parks, not for a walk on the runway!

I do not want to sound judgmental. In each of those instances, I mostly wondered what those women would do with their time and money if they knew that they actually look great "as is", and that they have the right to use their precious energy for more rewarding pursuits than a perfect complexion and hairdo. Most women complain that they are tired and lack time (including time to actually have fun). What would they do if they simplified their beauty routine?

But it's not my place to comment on individual choices and priorities. Freedom makes the fabric of a healthy society. This is a free country, and we all make our own, unique, informed choices on what we use our time and money on.

Or do we? When we choose to spend as much time and energy as most women (and an increasing number of men) spend on their looks, are we basing that choice on individual preferences? Or have we been pressured into it? Pressured into thinking we need certain things (and "interventions")?

A couple times in my life when I put on more makeup than usual, and asked my partner about the result, I was told that "it does not make a huge difference". If several dollars and several minutes do not make me significantly prettier, you can bet I won't waste any more of my time and money!

I just wish I had known earlier. In my teens, influenced like many of my peers by the "female audience media", I had come to think that 1) my looks were deeply inadequate (compared to photo shopped supermodels, which were the reference), and 2) I needed a full cupboard of products to even hope looking good enough. Which is preposterous. I looked absolutely fine! And most products failed to deliver anyway. E.g. if you have fine hair (my case), nothing will give you a thick mane. You can pretend but it won't be the same. Just embrace what nature gave you. 

Marketing orients our choices more than we think. Do we use free will when we take out our wallet? Think again. We are manipulated like puppets by advertisement, and that is when lobbying efforts don't stop the products we might have wanted from becoming widespread. Here is one recent example (click here).  

We need to open our eyes, put on our critical thinking glasses, and realize that "what you see is not what you need". During that same camping weekend, for example, our friend S commented on other campers packing too much stuff: "There's no way someone can eat all that, wear all that, and use all that". Words of wisdom.

Another problem is that when you downgrade based on your true needs and values, there comes a point when you fall out of the "mainstream", and potentially end up feeling marginalized. Sometimes it will just be an imprecise feeling of "being different". For the longest time I was the only one of my friends who did not even wear a smidgen of mascara. Nowadays we are the only family in one big neighborhood to own "only" one car, "only" one TV set (which I personally barely use), and no garage

Sometimes, others will openly underline your weirdness: in his latest post, Rob Greenfield recommends getting rid of 10 things (that most people probably don't feel they can live without), to which a commenter responded that he's beginning to sound like a Hare Krishna. (Admittedly, it could be a compliment.)

As Anne Wilson Schaef put it wisely: 

"I have constantly been told that I am crazy by my society when I put forth my clearest, sanest, most precious perceptions. Now I accept that I am "crazy" in the eyes of an insane society, and I feel very "sane" with my "craziness". Watch out for who is defining "crazy". Maybe it's time for us to give up trying to be as crazy as our surroundings and be the clear, sane [people] we are."


I am beginning to wonder if I will need a new challenge for the last 4 months of the year. Getting rid of stuff and not buying has become an automatism and I am getting slightly bored. I still want to write about minimalism, but maybe I could try and apply it to something else than stuff? Any ideas?

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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