Simply do without.
When I was setting up my first apartment my parents kindly sent me off with all the duplicates from their house: some extra utensils, cups, bath towels, bedroom linens, things that had accumulated but that they didn’t really need. It was very kind of them. Despite their generosity the majority of the things I needed like a frying pan, a bed and a table to eat at were still among the items missing from my apartment. My instinct was to buy an inexpensive frying pan at a discount store, something that would last a few months, hopefully a year, until I could afford a good one. I felt some guilt even at the thought of buying something I knew would soon become garbage, but what choice did I have? Matt, thank goodness for him, said there was clearly a choice: Choose to do without. Do without until you can buy something you’ll own forever. Aha! He was right. Soooo right. So, I lived those first few months without any appliances and just a few kitchen tools, until I could buy a premium frying pan with a lifetime warranty. It was expensive, but we still own it and use it today. We’ve never had to replace it, likely never will.
Since this time, we have always taken the approach that we will not buy a “for now” or “temporary” item. We only buy forever things — quality things that we expect to last our lifetime, that we never expect to replace. This has meant we’ve gone a long time without some things (13 years without a bed, yep!), but it has also meant we’ve lightened our impact on the planet and overall have saved ourselves money. We’ve also learned a lot about the difference between need and want. Most things we think we need, we really, truly, simply want.
To this day we still do not have a kitchen or dining table. We eat at a desk, a writing desk. There have been countless times I’ve wanted to make a trip to Ikea and buy some cheap dining table that could comfortably seat us and a few guests. But I’ve resisted. We’ve had holiday meals with 14 people squeezed like sardines around that desk. We’ve had many cozy dinners with friends around it – elbows knocking each other and no space for serving dishes, but enjoying food and conversation just the same. We’ve done just fine for nearly 20 years eating as a couple, eating as a family of 4, entertaining guests around a desk. We haven’t really done without.
Today, I’ve got a fantastic interview to share with you, with someone who really inspires others to think about what they can do without. Julie Fathy is a mother of three, living a simple life, inspired by minimalism and living in an ecologically thoughtful way. Her blog is a great resource for learning how to live with less, much less, how to do things yourself, how to live garbage free, and how to fill your life with fun and adventure. I hope you enjoy hearing from Julie and are inspired by what she shares.
Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?
I’m a mother to teenagers and a toddler and married to the father of my youngest child. We live in Denver, Colorado. I work outside of the home at a company I started with another woman 12 years ago. When I’m not at the office, you’ll typically find me either at home or in the outdoors exploring. I get great enjoyment from time spent cooking, sewing, knitting, reading and making stuff. I also have a deep nature connection with a strong desire to protect the planet and explore the beauty it offers. My husband and I share a love for skiing, mountain biking, camping and mountaineering. We’re currently working on climbing all of our state’s 58 14,000+ foot mountains, of which I’ve summited 30.
How many children do you have and what are they like?
I have three children ages 18, 16, and 2. My 18 year old daughter is a very driven and fiercely independent young woman. She shows a tremendous amount of generosity to others and works hard to keep a positive attitude in life. She’ll be a freshman at the University of Mississippi next year. My 16 year old son is a creative soul and a talented photographer. He has a great deal of compassion and a wonderful sense of humor. My two year old is a love bug. He has a very social and happy temperament and gives hugs and kisses freely. He loves to follow his big brother and sister around.
Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?
I’m not even sure where it came from, but a favorite quote is “You can have what you want, or the excuses for not.” The quote serves as a reminder that the only thing stopping me from my goals and dreams are excuses. When I catch myself making an excuse I look hard at why. Sometimes an excuse serves as a means of filtering out things that aren’t important, but sometimes they are the stopping block for reaching a goal or dream.
I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?
I’m drawn to simplicity in all aspects of my life and have found minimalism to be one of the best tools to achieve simplicity. By ridding my life of clutter, both mental and physical, I’m leaving space for what I value. There’s not an area in my life that I don’t give consideration on how it could be simplified.
What is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?
I would say I started on a minimalist path when I became a single mom. I envisioned a different life for myself and children that was edited of extra stuff so that time, money and energy could be freed up for a more intentional and meaningful life.
For 2016 you took a pledge to buy nothing new for the whole year. What inspired this? And how is it going?
I took the pledge for a couple reasons, and I can’t really say which is more important to me. On one hand, I’m on a journey to live lighter on the planet and use fewer of the earth’s resources. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, it’s easy to use what we have on hand, buy secondhand, repurpose materials, or simply do without.
I also took the pledge to curtail my spending so that I can pay off a home debt more rapidly and ultimately achieve financial freedom. When I do pay off what remains of the debt, I don’t expect my spending habits to change much. My hopes and dreams aren’t to own more, but to do more. The hardest part of the challenge is that my teenagers have expectations of me to provide some of their material goods. Sometimes it’s tough to say “no” but I did build in a quarterly clothing allowance that allows me to stay within my parameters, but gives them the freedom to make their own choices.
I’m a month into buying nothing new (with the exception of food and household consumables) and it’s going well. I’ve noticed when I decrease my spending, there’s a decrease in my desire for stuff as well. I suppose that’s because I notice my happiness level doesn’t change, and if anything, it goes up when I stop buying stuff.
You are working towards a zero waste lifestyle, can you talk more about this?
Moving towards a zero waste lifestyle is a way for me to reduce my ecological footprint. What may be surprising to some is that the lifestyle is also beneficial to those living it. It forces you to buy package-free products, which tend to be unprocessed, whole foods, goods made from natural and renewable materials, and products and ingredients that are void of chemicals, synthetic colors and fragrances. I’ve also found a zero waste lifestyle to be one of the best ways to achieve a minimalist aesthetic. Just look into the homes of some of the zero waste bloggers (here, here, and here). For those interested in learning about a zero waste life, I am sharing ideas on how to get started on my blog this month (February).
Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?
One of my favorite resources is the Center for a New American Dream. Their message is “one that emphasizes community, ecological sustainability, and a celebration of non-material values.” A couple blogs that come to mind is Becoming Minimalist and Assortment. For parents, especially with young children, I can recommend the book Simplicity Parenting. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a wonderful book to help with the decluttering process.
In what ways/areas do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?
When we think of minimalism, we generally think of our physical space being clutter-free, but for me a far greater struggle is clearing clutter from my digital space, both in terms of time spent there and the amassed information stored there. It takes a tremendous amount of diligence and discipline to limit our online exposure, even for the most conscientious. For the most part I don’t want my entertainment coming from digital media. I’d much rather spend that time pursuing my hobbies and interests and building relationships with my family and friends. The filter I apply to help me find balance in my digital life is the exposure must be informational (as it applies to my life), inspirational, or provide a meaningful connection. Anything that doesn’t fall into those categories I make a point to clear from my space.
Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?
One of my biggest struggles I have isn’t per say with family, but it’s being gracious and accepting of all gifts received from family and friends. While most gifts are loved and appreciated, sometimes a gift can feel like a burden. For someone who’s not a minimalist, this may be hard to understand. Obviously honoring a person’s generosity, thoughtfulness, and well intentions are far more important than giving attention to my own apprehensions. The best way I’ve learned to deal with this struggle is to suggest to family and friends to exchange experiential or consumable gifts, or skip the gift giving altogether.
In what ways has minimalism improved your life?
The biggest thing minimalism affords me is freedom. It can mean freedom from debt and freedom from the burden that comes with owning too much stuff. Minimalism leaves space to pursue my dreams.
What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative) you’ve had with minimalism?
Although it doesn’t happen very often, there have been situations where I’ve given away or sold something that I later regret. In my ambition to reach financial freedom, I once sold a set of beautiful silver dessert forks that were family heirlooms to help pay down my debt. They would likely still be in a box unused, but I’m sorry I sold them.
I have so many positive experiences related to minimalism, but one I love to share is the mobility my minimalist camping set-up has afforded me. Although it doesn’t happen as often anymore, my husband used to call me on a Friday afternoon at 4pm and suggest we depart that evening for a weekend of camping. I never hesitated because I’ve streamlined our camping gear to fit inside of a toolbox (tent, sleeping gear and food excluded). It was so easy to grab those few things and go.
What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?
I think the best approach to minimalism is to look at ways to simplify your life. Simplifying forces the things you don’t value to start falling away. Once you get started, you probably won’t look back.
Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?
My husband and I are making plans to take a sabbatical after my teenagers leave for college (my daughter starts this fall and my son next). We’d like to travel with our toddler to British Columbia, Alaska and parts of the west coast. My husband has been slowly equipping our truck for overland travel, which will eventually include a rooftop tent for our sleeping quarters. After our travels, we plan to settle in Bozeman, Montana.
Thank you Julie! Readers you can read more from Julie on her blog the beauty in simple, where she documents her family’s path to a simpler life from an ecologically thoughtful perspective. You can also find her on Instagram @thebeautyinsimple. You can find all the interviews in this series “interview with a minimalist” here.
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