Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I need a new...

A few years ago, a colleague and I were chatting at work and he mentioned he needed a new bedroom set. At that time, my husband and I were in the final phase of planning for an early retirement, having set the kids on their feet with only minor education loans and good employment prospects. I was wishing I had back all the cash I had spent on things like bedroom sets that I was about to sell at a garage sale so we could downsize. This colleague was single, in his early 30s. How could he "need" a new bedroom set? What was wrong with what he had? He spent most of his waking hours at work anyway. What real value would it add to his life? 

It really got me wondering how often we use this phrase "I need a new..." without really thinking about it? We're used to thinking in terms of buying new things. Advertising and social norms have taught us that well. Of course, you need a new bedroom set. Just look at all the shelter magazines showing you beautiful bedrooms. Yours is crap. 

Leaving aside the obvious difference between the words "need" and "want", let's focus on the word "new". There are two really good reasons not to buy new things. One is environmental. We have this wonderful planet that provides very well for our basic needs. Just look how many of there are alive today. Unfortunately, we've been using up the bounty a bit too fast and causing a wee bit of damage. I couldn't tell it any better than The Story of Stuff. So, not buying something new is better for the planet.

The other good reason is to practice cost avoidance. There are several good sources of information about learning to spend less and conserving your financial resources. One of my favorites is Mr. Money Mustache, who preaches about how anyone can learn to spend less and still continue to live well. So, not buying new means we can conserve our financial resources to spend them on the things we have already defined as priorities in our lives: for instance, beer.

I understand these two good reasons for not buying new things. I've been reading about minimalism for years now and thought I had internalized a lifestyle of simplicity. I remember my mother always used the phrase "make do" instead of "need a new". Then there are the 6 Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, and rot. We already downsized our possessions to a pretty small pile of useful, practical things and are on track for financial goals. I thought I was doing pretty well on that path. Then the other day I caught myself. 

I was looking at the ugly wooden soap holder for a bottle of liquid soap that is no longer made in that shape. It was hanging on the bathroom wall with a plastic cup for toothbrushes attached to it with screw-in cup hooks.  I said to myself, "This is crap, I need a new one." Whoa!! Let's back up here. What we had in place was functional, the soap bottle (which I just keep filling because it's the right shape) and the toothbrushes weren't just lying on the counter. It was ugly, but we'd been living with that ugly for two years. What would really be improved if I went out and spent money on a new one? 

Time to put all this minimalism/sustainability/simplicity stuff I've been reading into practice.  I started looking online for ideas for toothbrush and soap storage that didn't require consuming new parts. Could I find something used? There are cool stores all over the country, like Sustainable Warehouse in Charleston SC, that stock pieces of reclaimed houses and stores for those builders and DIYers that want to stretch their dollars and walk a little more lightly on the earth.

Could I make something out of things we already had or I could get for free? I was already leaning towards using leftover peanut butter jars (we have those in abundance) and some kind of shelf to hold them. Turns out I found parts to make two different kinds of shelf arrangements. One we had all the parts for and the other required two hose clamps I bought at Sailor's Exchange for $2.

Now we have "new" soap and toothbrush holders. I have more practice in my attempt to re-wire my brain to avoid using that phrase and to avoid buying new things. Practice, practice, practice.