Consumerism – Stepping Out Of The River

Most people have a positively elephantine amount of possessions. All you have to do is look at the increasing size of homes and the unending construction of more and more “mini-storage” units to see that there’s a problem.

Now add to that the fact that there’s a constant river of stuff flowing into most people’s lives. Paperwork from school or work, food wrappers and packaging, gifts from friends, “irresistable deals” from the store, and dozens of other things are taking already-overloaded homes, cars, and storage units, and filling them past the point of overflowing.

Giving or throwing things away because there’s a constant river of stuff flowing into our lives would therefore seem to be an essential skill for our day. At best, it will contribute to a tidy, organized home. At worst, it will at least keep us off the “Hoarders” TV show.

The question is, what happens if we step out of the river? That is, after all, one of the goals of minimalism….isn’t it?

When we step out, things change. If there’s no constant influx and/or no constant access, our priorities have to shift. We’re free to create a small collection of stuff that we love, but we’re also compelled to create a small collection of stuff that we need.

Back during the “100 thing challenge” heyday I was joking with a few other minimalist bloggers that most of the 100-thing lists didn’t include “first aid kit”. Now I’m not as up on Apple tech as most, but I’m pretty sure that iPhones and Macbook Air laptops aren’t much use when dealing with a bleeding finger or a scraped knee. If “there’s an app for that”, I haven’t seen it.

One minimalist blogger once went so far as to write, “Emergencies rarely happen. Fact.”, as if it was a revelation from On High. To which I (and at least one other fellow minimalist) replied, “duh!” The fellow minimalist even quipped, “that’s why they’re called ‘emergencies’ and not ‘all-the-timies’”.

We’ve gotten very focused on what we should get rid of, but we don’t spend much time talking about what we should actually keep. This is a bit myopic, because keeping, planning, and owning aren’t necessarily bad – they’re just the other side of the coin. There are, in fact, many times when “just in case” is the single best reason for hanging onto things.

The question isn’t a matter of “if”, but a matter of “what”. What emergencies should we plan for? What should we own “just in case”? The answers to those questions are usually different for each individual. Sometimes they’re based on comfort. Sometimes they’re based on medical necessity. Other times they’re a legitimate matter of survival.

I’m going to be spending most of May talking about the “just in case” situations in minimalism, because I think a serious discussion of the topic is long overdue. My question to you is simple – what sorts of “just in case” things do you really struggle with? Are there things you’re not sure whether to keep or throw?

I’d love to hear your answers, so I can make my posts as useful as possible. Let me know in the comments!

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17 Responses - Add Your Input!

Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

This is a really fantastic, thought-provoking post.

For me, there have been three deciding factors: difficulty to replace and effect on my physical safety/well-being.

Some things are hard to replace or would require me to work a long time to earn the money to replace them. I may not use my cello very often (about once every 1.5 years), but I do really enjoy the occasional concert I play in, and I really don’t want to replace an expensive cello every two years.

I also keep a number of things that have an effect on my physical well-being. I occasionally break bones in my foot since I’m a runner. It’s not often, but keeping a walking cast around is really, really important if I have another accident and can’t make it to the doctor instantly.

I’d be interested in hearing what other factors drive people’s decisions to keep things.
joanna recently posted..You be the professional organizer: our front hallway

    Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    Replacement cost and physical well-being are two potentially great reasons to hang onto things. I might work your cello example into one of my posts. :)

    Thanks for commenting Joanna!

Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

I think this is such an important question! It’s like cocaine for me to purge that I often forget why I *should* keep something. One thing we keep “just in case” is The Hubs’ snowboard. It hasn’t been used in 4 years, but if/when he does get to go, it will save us a boatload of money on renting gear. Since a trip of that nature is already expensive for travel fees, lift tickets, etc., any money saved will actually allow us to go. Otherwise, we do keep a lot of first aid gear. For example, I have an Epipen in my purse at all times. I hope we never have to use it, but it’s one of those items that if I left out, it could mean the difference between life and death. Having been a Girl Scout, having an ex-Army dad, and being married to an EMT makes me abundantly aware that having certain items “just in case” can lead to my survival. Those items stay despite probability telling me those events are highly unlikely. I’d rather be able to defend, protect, and save myself in that rare event rather than saying that my pride in minimalism led to my demise.

    Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    Better a live hoarder than a dead minimalist? :) I like it!

Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

Chairs for company. Can I use my lawn chairs in my living room? Do I really need to buy folding chairs? My everyday seating is only for three people but I do have four kitchen chairs I can bring into the living room yet what about larger gatherings? We’re getting (or already got) too old to sit on the floor.
Linda Sand recently posted..Alerts

    Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    Oooooh….great, great question Linda! I’ll definitely handle it in a future post. I don’t sit on the floor much either, and when I do I usually regret it. You’re definitely not the only one with seating issues!

Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink

Few things here…
Packaging – this is starting to drive me potty. Also with Kids it’s what packaging to keep – some items are resold. I spend way too much time dealing with packaging.
Hoarders – I’d love to be able to view the show…but don’t seem able to over here.
The river of stuff – it’s so hard to stem the flow. As a known frugalista and recycler/reuser I get given stuff. That’s a hard one, as if I make a bad decision and purchase something I can dispose off it easily. Hand-me-downs not so easy. I appreciate the thought and very often the item – but not always. When I hand things down I give the receiver uncategorical authority to dispose of the item as they so see fit, or to return to me if it’s time consuming for them and I’ll dispose off.
ps – I did forget to e-mail – sorry, will sort today!
Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted..Not Buying It – School Meals

    Posted May 4, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    How fitting that I read your comment today, Jo (albeit, late in the game). I just got done sorting through 3 bins of hand-me-down clothing from a certain in-law family member. The clothing is SO numerous in the number of items that I am overwhelmed with what to do with it all. This kid may not have a college fund, but he had plenty of clothes and shoes from 18M to 3 years, I can tell you that (that’s another emotionally-heated topic for me to go off on a tangent). But, my point is, now I am overwhelmed with figuring out how to identify these hand-me-downs and ‘tag’ them to the giver because they have NOT given me the uncategorical authority to dispose of them. They want them back. This is driving me batty. Because not only will I most definitely NOT utilize all these items – the volume of clothing and shoes, I cannot keep track of and make sure he wears, now I have to tag and store them until the “appropriate” time to give them back. Like when he would have theoretically grown out of them. Seriously, what is the emotional attachment to this stuff that people would not just part with it and be done? Giving with strings attached, it what it is… Is that really giving? And, trying not to be unappreciative, most of the clothes and shoes is stuff that I don’t even want my child wearing. What to do when a person doesn’t subscribe to the same set of values, guidelines, standards and mindset that you do? What to do when they are in your family??? I’ve invested in Rubbermaid totes to store it all, when I give it back, I’m left with empty totes… Seems so counterproductive in my mind. Especially when I could get my baby through a summer with $15 worth of new clothes in his tiny dresser in his room. Hey, we live in the Southern US – its so hot, he barely needs to even wear clothes!

      Posted May 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Which just provoked another thought in my mind – is it considered NOT frugal to purchase a small amount of what you really want and will be happy with then to have oodles and oodles of stuff that you don’t really like (considering that you can afford it)?

Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

Just in case for me , is having a 80L backpack setup ready to go. I couldn’t survive forever with it, nor am I even really skilled *yet* at survival.

Knowing, you have an all climate pack with tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, water filter, solar charger, laptop, kindle, first aid kit, etc. gives some peace of mind in the event an emergency every requires packing a bag and just going…….
Jeff @ Digital Nomad Journey recently posted..African Drumming Village and a Psychedelic Forest

    Posted April 27, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Sounds like you’re talking about what some people refer to as a “bug out bag”. I’ll probably be covering those in some manner as well this month.

    Out of curiosity, what are you using as a solar charger? I’m assuming you’re talking about a setup that can provide some facsimile of wall current in order to charge the laptop, cell phone, etc.

      Posted April 27, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Hi Robert,

      In some ways, yes it’s a “bug out bag”. My understanding is, bug out bags are only meant to hold 3 days worth of stuff. I’m, just piecing something together that provides shelter, tools etc for potential emergency, unexpected travel in any weather condition or even a zombie apocalypse :)
      It somehow feels better than doing nothing and being totally unprepared.

      I’m actually using it this weekend , for an all night bonfire/drum circle event that runs until Sunday, so it’s a camp-out in the forest. Chances are for a Europe backpack trip, I’d probably take the same setup, including small tent, etc.

      Per the charger, I haven’t picked one out yet. I’ve got the base shelter stuff down, and cooking stuff at this time. The issues I see with solar chargers is the ones which can convert enough power for a laptop are heavy, or $400+ for the folding panel ones. Ideally, I’d use the folding panel ones and attach to the outside of my pack. It’s a hard justification at this point, since for regular travel it’s not needed, only in an extreme environment would it be useful, like if the main power-grid was not operational , and then even the Internet would take some time to get back up.

      Hope that helps somewhat.
      Jeff @ Digital Nomad Journey recently posted..African Drumming Village and a Psychedelic Forest

Posted April 27, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

Oh, I can’t wait for your posts in May. I’m just beginning my journey and have started the purging process. It’s going to be a very long process indeed. We are suffocating from the stuff. Some things I’m struggling with whether to keep are: my wedding dress (boxed and heirloomed), my flutes and piccolo from junior high/high school (I don’t play anymore, but what if my 7 year old decides to play?), my husband’s golf clubs (he plays once every couple of years for work), all of the extra plates for entertaining (I’m ashamed to admit we have about 70). We’ve already decided to sell the wedding china and crystal we never have used in 17 years of marriage. Finding someone to buy them is a different story. Glad to have found your site.
Kandice recently posted..Stationery

Posted April 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

This is be a great series of posts. I’m interested to see what you come up with since this is an area I struggle with. I’ve been taught for years to be prepared for all of the what if’s and for when SHTF but honestly, all the “stuff” required to be prepared is overwhelming for me. About a year after I got seriously into minimalism I gave away a lot of our food storage and most of our preparedness items. Skills (not stuff) is where it’s at (for me at least). Not saying I have those, lol, but I’m trying.
One area that has really paid off for me is keeping kids clothes for hand me downs. I have a really efficient system for storing, finding and using saved clothes. 2 weeks ago was our semiannual wardrobe rotation and when all was said and done I only needed to purchase 1 pair of shoes and 2 pairs of jeans. Not bad.
I almost drowned in that river though several years ago. Being a large family with only 1 income, we often got lots of offers of “help”. Help meaning every time someone was getting rid of something, anything, they wanted to gift it to us. Nice, but not so great. The final straw was when another large family decided to give us a bunch of clothes for the kids. They called and said they had stopped by and dropped a few garbage bags of clothes in front of the house for the kids. Well when I went out front there were more than 20 large black garbage bags stuffed with clothes! I was so upset about all the work that represented that I called them and asked them to come back and get them. Right then and there I vowed to never again. I’m very selective now about what we accept.
Heidi @Adventures of a Thrifty Mom recently posted..A few of my latest money saving tactics

Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

I do have a first aid kit. More than one, in fact – one in the car, one at home, and a tiny one for hiking. And my car and motorhome each have spare tires, jacks, and lig wrench — while I don’t plan on having a flat, they’ve both proved themselves, unfortunately, to be necessities. I also keep plenty of spare parts – common things like fuses and light bulbs, and less common things like water pumps and a back-up method of brewing coffee.
Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted..Goodbye Google, Hello DuckDuckGo!

Posted May 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

Great post..
well now…
I do consider survival equipment part of the minimal stuff… in fact even something like a guitar or your recorder.
My mantra when I am de-cluttering or considering a purchase is very simple;
“Does this thing support the mission?”
I only keep essentials, but what is essential is of course the issue. Minimalists need a clearly defined mission. Anything that does not support the mission goes, it is so easy to let go of anything with this mindset.

Posted January 7, 2013 at 4:00 am | Permalink

[...] blogging buddy Robert was interviewed a while back and talked about how the battle with stuff can be compared to bailing [...]

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