Getting Over The Want: Part 1


The bad news: all that work you put into getting rid of things in your home can be for naught. If you don’t halt the invasion of unnecessary items you’ll be back to stuffed closets and cluttered surfaces in no time.

The good news: you can beat this.

There are many ways to combat stuff. Right now I’m looking at the basics: why do we want it and how can we tame the want.

Because, make no mistake, I have a sparse closet but when I see the well dressed women of my ‘hood I notice what they’re wearing. I see the beautiful hand bags and boots and the perfect jeans. And I think about how I would feel in very expensive denim.

So how do you escape the want vortex? How do you resist the call and false promises of new and more?

Step One: don’t let it in the door.

If you’re struggling with getting past the want, don’t invite it round for a cuppa and a scone.

For city dwellers like me, we see 5000 advertising images a day. That’s up from 2000 daily images 30 years ago.

We cut our cable almost a year ago (and don’t miss it!) but we still see some commercials when we stream a television show from a network website. My brother’s children have mostly grown up without television and I notice a huge impact on their wants. One year my niece didn’t know what to ask for for Christmas. I’m interested to see how this plays out as they grow older. Will they want less because they only watch television shows with commercials at grandma’s house?

Here are a few ways to stop the ads and reduce the want:

  • Unsubscribe from all retail email newsletters and notices. Guess what? When I don’t get the email for 40% off at the GAP for one day only, I don’t buy stuff I don’t need. It took a few weeks to cull my inbox of retailers but I’m happy to report it worked. I also enjoy getting a lot less email.
  • Reduce your television consumption: I love me some good TV shows but remember, it’s an add machine. We would rather pay and just buy what we want commercial free. It’s not just about the cost of the cable bill – what’s it costing you in purchases made because you saw the ad 76 times?
  • Read books, not magazines: if you have a ritual of reading InStyle from cover to cover once a month, if it’s a little break just for you, enjoy it. But then recycle the magazine and pick up that book you’ve been meaning to finish for five weeks. I enjoy reading People at the doctor’s office but I let them pay for the subscription. Magazines are half ads and for me, the style and fashion do nothing to inspire me and everything to make me feel that my wardrobe and body are inadequate. Ditto for home decor magazines. When I am in the market for a new couch I will pick Elle Home at the library for inspiration. Until then, they fuel the want for a new kitchen. And that’s wasted energy.

If you’re going to live the rich life with less you need to make some new habits. Like any new habit it will take a while to adopt. Start by developing an awareness of how much advertising you are consuming – tv, magazines, email – and reduce from there.

Challengers? Is anyone living the minimal-ish life but a voracious television watcher or magazine reader? Does anyone believe you can view ads solely for entertainment or enjoyment and not be swayed to buy more?

Photo credit: Campanero Rumbero

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  • So here’s a question – what if you’ve got your own want totally under control, but someone else wants for you? My mom brings me bags of stuff every time I see her (2x a month). She knows I don’t want it. I’m starting to be more frank about the fact that I don’t even use it. But even knowing that it goes straight to Goodwill, she STILL keeps bringing it. Argh!

    If you’ve got any ideas to make someone stop smothering you with their wants, without hurting their feelings, I’d love to hear!

    • Hi Krista – I hope Rachel doesn’t mind me replying to you – I am sure she has a way of dealing with it, but thought I’d share mine. I went head on and blatantly told family to stop it. I explained I appreciated their thoughtfulness, but that I am on a mission to reduce and explained why – to reclaim my home. The bags of stuff still turn up but I refuse the items, I don’t have to explain further to them or save their feelings because I already have explained. In fact I am so blunt now when I get unwanted gifts I offer them back (to very close family only) for them to re-gift to someone else. Not sure If I am reading it correctly but they actually seem amused rather than offended! Jo

    • Do you have the same mother and mother-in-law as me? Every time we visit there is a bag of things for my son.
      I try to remind myself about the thought and intentions behind the gifts. They are generous souls that truly want to help. And help to them is stuff. Those bags of things you don’t need are filled with love and good intentions – albeit misplaced.
      I’m slowly working on the messaging here. That we really don’t need gifts and things and that we would prefer their time to anything with a price tag. There is no quick or easy solution to this. Just keep chipping away with the messaging and have thoughtful and nonconfrontational talks about want fewer things in your home.

      • I tried to tell my parents (in-laws) not to buy stuff, that did NOT work, they just wanted to buy stuff.
        If an effort to reduce the ‘stuff’ I limited them to clothes and books. It’s stopped me from having to buy much and once it’s outgrown – I can get rid of it.
        Another option is to ask them to put their money to non consumables such as swimming / music lessons – that way they are contributing without the ‘stuff’. Or if they are really generous ask for RESPs!!

        • We’ve asked for nonconsumables too – Art Gallery pass for Christmas was great. I think I need to work on steering in this direction again. I also like the clothes and books idea.

      • I have to say, I’m on the verge of copying your strategy Jo. Sadly with my mom, the intentions aren’t all lovely. (She’s actually insulted the things I do have and then brought me replacements that are more to *her* liking) But I hate the confrontation…

        So… I may stick to doing what I did this weekend. Took the stuff yesterday, listed it for free on Craigslist today, and someone is coming to get it tomorrow.

      • At Christmas, one of Milli’s cousins opened a box with a piggy bank inside. I saw in Milli’s stack that she had an identical box. I didn’t even let her open it.

        But my point was that I let them know right away that we would not be taking it home; and if they wanted her to have, they’d have to keep it at their house.

        Since we’ve lived abroad and on the road so much, our folks get it though.

      • I hope its ok if I throw in my 2 cents… my mom does the same thing also. I have talked to her about it and slowly she is starting to get it. I took the gentler aproach to spare her feelings because my mom is very sensitive. It takes time for people to change their habits. The other thing I found that helped me is I would sell what she gave me on ebay or craigslist and put the money in savings for my sons college find. Hope that helps :)

    • I have the same problem with my mom, who is a shopaholic. I’ve gone the direct route. It gets better for a while but then starts up again. Now when she brings stuff I just try really hard to not let it in the door. It goes straight to my car. That way I can drop it at the local thrift store the next time I’m out and don’t have to sift through it and let it work its way into my life.

      Glad to know I’m not the only one. Usually, when I tell people I can’t get my mom to quit giving me stuff they’re jealous. I’m just buried!

    • Krista – it does depend on the person on whether you can adopt my approach. My Mom and Sister understand and accept me for the honest person I am and I can do it. If confronting your Mom won’t work or ultimately cause grief and even estrangement (as confrontation can with certain personality types) then you may want to continue as you are. I have one family member to whom we have to accept items and the find an exit strategy for them. Recently we ended up with a pair of boots for my hubby which didn’t fit, it was insisted we bought them home and told to wear an extra pair of socks to make them fit. We humoured them for a week then returned the boots stated that even with extra thick thick socks they do not fit. There are people in this world who demand their will on yours regardless. I’ve employed tactics to deal with this. Also you can always get the kids to accidentally break or mislay things! I don’t like telling porkie pies but with some people you just can’t win! Jo

    • My mother-in-law not only has a history of buying a lot, she always buys the unnecessary. Annoying singing dancing holiday dolls, figurines, and “collectibles”. After downsizing my household for the third time in five years, I finally had to put my foot down. There was no conflict. There wasn’t any offense given. It was simply a conversation of how happy we were in the place we are, that we have all we need and that I wanted to make sure that in the future the kids (we have two) were going to cherish what she gave them. I emphasized that quality was much more important than quantity. When the holidays rolled around, I gave her two options. She could pitch-in on the one thing we had decided to buy for the kids, or she could fill the few holes in their wardrobes that I listed in specifics to her. She opted for the latter and it was the most heartfelt and meaningful package we ever received from her. Because of this original conversation, and subtle reminders in correspondence since, we no longer receive the overboard gifts for silly holidays and stopped adding to the piles of stuff we don’t use.
      All in all, my advice is to be sensitive but up front and honest. Don’t use easy phrases like,”I don’t think we’d use that…” to keep from making waves, but rather “I know we’d never use that.” Stick to the clutter-free existence you’ve committed to, let your habits be known without being preachy about it and good things will and can happen. That’s my experience with one of the most stubborn forceful women I’ve ever met.

  • I occasionally spend time with a really lovely group of girls. They are really lovely fun ladies, but when I do I notice how much my attitude toward ‘things’ is different. It would be easy to get sucked in and start questioning whether they have got it right. I know I used to. I used to try and consume, but it didn’t really work, I didn’t get anything from it. There’s no issue with me getting rid of the want. It’s not there, the turning point for me was that realisation – and not wondering why I wasn’t like other women? It’s been a huge relief. What has made it easier is finding others like me also, through primarily blogs like yours.

    • Funny how you start noticing conversation topics and trends. I notice that when I am hanging out with people that are renovating or buying new homes I start reading articles about home design. For me, I need to keep my confidence up about what we’re trying to do and not get swayed by my friend’s paths and choices. If I’m feeling good about our choices I’m not as prone to being wanty.
      Ditto on the finding others that are stepping away from consumerism and upgrading.

  • I noticed a huge difference when we got rid of cable TV. Our kids weren’t constantly asking for stuff and, like in your post, they had a hard time coming up with what they wanted for Christmas that year.

    I don’t really struggle with wants. I can’t really say the same for the other members of my family so that’s still frustrating. I have to remind myself that it does take time to break old habits and make new ones.

  • Just a question – do you guys US and Canada have ad-free channels? We do in the UK and that’s what the Hubby and I tend to watch. The kids do watch a little TV that has toy’s advertised, but they know it’s purely for Birthday and Christmas lists!

    • Erin posted that CBC has ad free programming. Now that we don’t have cable I am out of the loop.
      I’m sure we will have some DVDs for Henry eventually. Is there such a thing as kid’s entertainment that does not have toys and games associated with it? Maybe I need to find some really old tv shows, the ones that don’t have any toys available.

      • I’ve found limiting exposure to commericals is enough. You don’t have to (and not necessarily want to) totally avoid current kids entertainment… kids without the same cultural references as their peers are “weird”… they lack the proverbial water cooler knowledge and can get left out picked on.

        I’ve been looking forward to reading Peggy Orenstein’s new book “Cinderella ate my daughter.” Apparently, the volume of licencing ticked way up in the last decade…. as have to amount of $$ Disney et al. get from products rather than the movies, TV show, etc. themselves. Point: it isn’t the movie necessarily, it is the targeted sales of the associate products.

      • The old films etc work a treat, they don’t have merchandising, such as Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty, Wizard of Oz, Charlie and the Chocolate factory etc and my kids love them – because I remember them from my childhood I love watching too so we sit and watch together as an activity rather than the TV being background noise.

        • In my teen years we didn’t have cable (err… we couldn’t pay the bill) but we did have a good movie collection. I loved Operation Petticoat, Yours, Mine & Ours and a bunch of other old movies. Maybe I will be watching them with Henry someday!

      • My friend’s daughters watch DVD’s of the Marx Brothers and Cirque du Soleil. There’s also the old cartoons like Betty Boop. And of course there’s PBS (in the US). Those girls are Waldorf kids, so “screen time” is kept to a bare minimum. I think that’s a great thing.

    • Yes we do! In eastern Canada there’s TV Ontario, which is on the air in most towns and cities in Ontario as well as on cable. In the United States there is PBS. Both are for the most part free of advertising, so shows aren’t rudely interrupted many times.

  • We usually watch tv shows that have been tivo’d so we miss all the commericals. I’ve noticed that I don’t know what new movies are out at the theater, which new products are available at the store, etc. I do think it influences our wants a lot!

    • Before we got rid of cable we had a PVR (basically Tivo) and I did notice the missed commercial effect. We go to a LOT of movies, almost once a week, so we see previews for new movies in the theatres.

  • Wow, 5000 advertising images? That is just ridiculous.

    We still have tv and my kids enjoy watching CBC Kids – I don’t think that channel has any commercials, so that’s a good thing. My kids tend to be more influenced by what their friends have (certain toys) than by what they see on tv, or at least that’s how I perceive it. I don’t tend to be swayed by much in terms of commercials and advertising, but I did unsubscribe from a whole bunch of email subscriptions at the beginning of this year (mostly for clothing stores and fancy body care stuff) as I just wasn’t getting any joy from seeing all those ads for items that didn’t really add any joy to my life. Don’t really read magazines, but I use my eReader to take out books from our local online library for free – I love that I don’t have to buy books and don’t have to store the clutter when I am done with them too.

      • It’s not too bad, but setting their expectations early is a great way to go. I do sometings struggle with the comments from other parents/friends about how I am depriving my kid by denying them the latest “hot” toy – ha. :)

  • Magazines are a biggie for me. When I see, I want, and it’s not just the ads I’m talking about. Vogue profiles their stylish “It Girls” in all their just-thrown-on finery; Allure has their annual list of Top Beauty Products. The list goes on. This past week was Fashion Week in New York, a big parade of money and status as well as (and I can appreciate this) fashion as art. But guess what? The people behind the fashion – the editors, the designers, the stylists – don’t look like the models in their day-to-day either! Although they ARE very thin…Once I discovered this, it made all the difference to me. There’s fantasy (the stuff of marketing) and there’s reality, and only if you’re a very public figure (with the likelihood of showing up on the next day’s Page Six) does anyone really try to approximate the (air-brushed) advertisement.

    • You do love your Vogue =)
      I think your perspective, that it’s art to be enjoyed, is a healthy one.
      What scares me is the young women in my neighborhood desperately seeking status through things. They might be a barrista at Starbucks but they have a $600 purse. Sure, they may have saved for it… but most likely they are living a life they cannot afford. It’s sad. I write that and I’ve been guilty of living a life I cannot afford myself. You have to wonder, where does a 22 year-old that is making minimum wage get the idea that she has to own an expensive hand bag? Where is this sense of entitlement coming from? A magazine?

  • Maybe I am lucky to be such a huge cheapskate…. Although I am a pack-rat and have TONS too much stuff, it is mostly hand me down, free, picked out of someone else’s garbage/clothing swap. I definitely need to let go and declutter – but almost think my need is to _spend_ more, but have less. i.e. instead of accepting 5 pairs of someone else’s cast off shoes that don’t _really_ fit… maybe I need to (gasp!) buy a pair that do. (And pass on the 5 ill fitting pairs!)

  • Great point about tv. I tend to leave the tv off most days until the evening and we watch netflix with the kids. When there is no advertising they have no idea what they are missing and tend to not ask for toys, games etc. My goal is to get rid of our cable. I am all for it but hubs is not. I will wear him down:)

    • It took about six months for my husband to agree to it. As soon as the Canucks were out of the play offs we canceled it.
      I think we are at the 10 month mark and so far we don’t miss it.

  • Great post and lots of good ideas. I have been actively decreasing my magazine consumption and noticing a big decrease in the want factor. Ditto on the less tv and more books. As someone who gets a lot of enjoyment out of sewing and home decorating I struggle that I find they are things I can get really wanty about. I don’t think not wanting to create a warm, lovely home is an option for me, but I am trying to put those wants in their place. I am trying to reframe those wants into a long, slow hobby. The pleasure can come in the thoughtful, thrifty creation of a beautiful home AND enjoying that home. Sometimes it seems like it would be great to be able to redecorate my whole house in one fell swoop and spend a mint and have it look just so, but I know that the pleasure for me would be so short lived and unsatisfying doing it this way. Instead I am trying to take more time to like to look around my home and enjoy and appreciate the beautiful things I have already purchased or made thus far and allow myself to think about one aspect I might want to work on next. I would like to be able to enjoy this process over my lifetime.

  • I find I want more things the more space I have for it. We just moved into a new home, and I have several storage areas that are empty. I keep thinking, “Oh now I have room for a that monstrous blender”. “I could probably fit an espresso machine over there.” I don’t really need them and have lived just fine without them for ages.

    On the other hand, I am a huge advocate of not depriving myself. So, if I want it, I write it down. If I still want it a week later, I bring it up to my husband. If I still want it a week later, I start researching a good deal on it. That’s four weeks before making the purchase.

    Keeping a log of your stuff (only recommended for those with endurance) will definitely keep you in place. Knowing you have to write it on the list…forget the purchase.

  • I like to watch TV during the winter, but I am savvy enough to not fall for the advertisers who present their wares as ‘must haves’. It helps to be older (46). I also have a book in my lap as I watch, and generally switch to the book when the commercials come on. I find them really annoying, like the one for tiny wedges of cheese that shows joyful, skinny women who are fulfilled by this bit of sustenance. Or the ads for convenience food or items that try to convince us that we cannot achieve the same results without them. Once upon a time I did fall for such ads, but thankfully I grew out of that phase.

    • I’ve never been fulfilled by one tiny wedge of cheese. As soon as I finish one of this little Babybels I want another.
      We watch more tv/movies during the winter too. Currently making our way through Weeds. Like the book during commercials idea.

  • My little boy just went from a toddler bed to a twin bed. This was an actual need, because his toes were sticking through the bars. :-) BUT Then, after buying sheets, a blanket and a comforter, the WANTS set in. I found I was looking at Cutsey pics, curtains, bed skirts, lamps, etc. etc. I had to drag myself out with just what he needed. I even went to bed that night with images of Pottery Barn style bedrooms dancing in my head, thinking I could really make the room “perfect.” The next morning, after I shared these thoughts, my “truly minimalist” husband, said ” Now what would a little 4 yr old boy care about all that stuff your thinking about.” Then, I realized he is perfectly happy with the fact he gets to sleep in a big boy bed, and the rest is just ….well…..stuff!

    • That is my whole problem! I need sheets(or jeans, or the kids need new tees), I go to the store and then I need the matching coverlet, top, shorts, ect. I walk out ashamed that I just bought so much. I am working on this problem. There are some great ideas here.

      • You are not alone. It takes time and focus to get over this. I’m still working on it. Doing better but still prey to the occasional on sale chocolate or jar of peanut butter when all we needed was garbage bags. And when I grocery shop I do at least one return to shelf. Even with a list I am tempted by on sale snack food, etc.

    • I’m showing my son’s room here in a few weeks. I bought a full set of comforter, rug, etc during my spending days. It does look nice, the resale on it is too low for me to think about selling it – but I still look back and think what a waste. He really doesn’t care what the room looks like. It’s all for me.

  • How right you are. I live in a flat in Barcelona (Spain) and I love it and I don’t want to move, but after browsing through a decoration magazine, with such big and wonderful kitchens, I feel as I lived in a cave. I hate those magazines, they are absolutely far away from the reality of the great majority.
    I’m a mom too, trying to be a little more minimalist every day.

    • Hi Gemma, Thanks for commenting and love hearing the perspective from someone living in Europe. My kitchen is very cave like. I try to think about the purpose of it, that we cook good meals and sit as a family to eat together, and that a show home kitchen is really just for show.

  • We’re actually in the process of getting rid of our cable and switching to Hulu and Netflix only. We hardly even watched TV that we didn’t DVR. Since we can get everything we watch via those two websites, we decided to switch. Weirdly enough though, we’re watching more ads because of it. With a DVR, we skipped all the ads. Now on Hulu, we have to watch one ad per normal commercial break.

  • For some reason ads are not a big trigger for me–probably because I have never had the kind of disposable income that would allow me to buy expensive jeans or designer clothes, so they are sheer fantasy–not something I actually consider within reach, or at least, not a high enough priority that I’d actually spend the money on them. This is one of the things I really love about small-town living: shopping is very limited and you aren’t exposed to the constant barrage of in-your-face advertising and endless shopping options and hundreds of impossibly fashionable women everywhere. Even the wealthiest people here look pretty much like everyone else. So, say I saw an ad in In Style that made me desire that $300 sweater–I couldn’t get it anywhere here, I wouldn’t find it pleasurable to shop for it online, it wouldn’t be worth it to me to make a trip to the city… and so I’d lose interest in it by the time I closed the cover on the magazine.

    For me, it’s staying out of the physical shopping location that’s the lifesaver. If I spend too much time in Target or that cute little kitchen store with all the glistening servingware, it’s really hard for me not to conjure up new wants and “needs.” Over the years I’ve trained myself out of shopping for sport–it wasn’t that hard as I added more children because it’s no fun to take a bunch of little kids into Target anyway.

    These days I go antiquing instead of shopping. My rule of thumb: Buy nothing unless you absolutely LOVE it and have a specific purpose for it. That means that on 4 out of 5 shopping trips I buy nothing–it’s all about the pleasure of looking at old things and thinking about their history. Scratches that shopping itch a bit, but it’s really more like treasure hunting. :)

    • I’ve found shopping to be less fun as I now have a child in tow. In fact, I’ve noticed that I’ve made rushed and poor purchases with a fussy toddler along. Besides groceries, I don’t shop when I have my son with me. And when I do have down time on my own, shopping is the last thing I want to do.
      Used to love of Antique Roadshow. I understand the treasure appeal!

  • These are all wonderful ideas! I think that it would be wonderful to meet like minded people in the Vancouver area. Maybe ‘playdates’ at parks or cafes with the kids so the adults can discuss!! My boy is 4 and my daughter is 10 months – we live at SFU but skytrain downtown all the time! ANy interest?

    • Sounds great! Drop me an email, Valerye. rachel jonat at gmail dot com (all together). I’ll keep a little list of locals and when we have a few we should try to meet up. If we keep having this beautiful afternoons maybe the park is in order soon!

  • I saw a study that said for every hour of television you watched per week you spent ~$200 more per year. They even isolated the effect of the commercials and that didn’t account for all of it… even if you DVR and zip through the commercials there is still a “keeping up with the Jones” component – Desperate House Wives (their example) becomes your reference point and you adjust your consumption (up) accordingly.

    I think the 3 best things we’ve done for the cutting the consumption are:
    (1) getting rid of the TV, still see the commercials for Captain Morgan when watching the Daily Show online but I am not that interested — years and I have never bought a bottle. My kids never watched commercial TV and rarely watch movies or PBS and I am not nagged for the latest and greatest toy or for trips to McD’s unlike other parents I know. They still have requests for X-mas… my son wanted a real reindeer and pigs in the backyard and maybe his room and my daughter wanted a babydoll, which I told her was not going to happen because she already had one – they got bowling trips and tickets to a children’s program at the symphony instead.
    (2) shopping at a grocery store not a supermarket or, even worse, a supercenter. When there is nothing to buy at the store but food, you only buy food. There is no impulsive toss of something “convenient” into the cart, no nagging for the Disney Princess flashlight in the checkout line (still have the candy to contend with but, again, it is food-ish).
    (3) Walking/biking for as much transportation as possible. I cannot put that darling piece of furniture at the boutique downtown on the back of my bike… it at least gives me the time of the bike home to get the car to re-think the purchase and it is amazing how many purchases have been rethought. I now I consider myself reprogrammed and I usually nix things that don’t easily fit in my bag right off the bat.

    I have also really focused on packaging… I look for the option with the least amount of packaging and going through that process, for whatever reason, is often enough to interrupt the buying impulse and I often decide that all of the options are unacceptably packaged. I think it is once you add in all the parameters (prices, packaging, size, color, material, etc.), the whole process is just too complicated and I give up. That helps with online purchases too.

    My biggest ongoing challenge is the stuff the kids bring home from school and birthday parties. I want to scream when my daughter gets back from a birthday party with a “goodie” bag full of cheap plastic toys and jewelery, pencils, stickers, etc. I would L-O-V-E it if we could scale back the grade school (and preschool) birthday madness… but even my enviro-conscious parent friends hop on the plastic necklace bandwagon. We had a no-party-till-kindergarten rule but at that point it seemed unfair to not go to anything and I can’t expect my super-shy 6 year old to say “no thank you,” when I can’t even do it and I really don’t want the stuff while she really does.

    • Great stuff in this comment. Thank you for posting it here, particularly the tv ==> consumption.
      Grocery stores: I hadn’t thought of this. Great idea. I do walk/stroll over a bridge to a larger and more economical grocery store (downtown stores are expensive). But, after reading your comment I see that it might be a trigger for shopping in the future. They do carry some toys and housewares as well.
      No car shopping: very true. No impulse furniture shopping when you don’t have a car. Though I did manage to put a small shelving unit from Home Depot in the bottom of my stroller (the stroller hasn’t been the same since).
      Loot bags: really? Will I be a social pariah if we don’t provide or accept them?

      • Loot bag – I wish I could post a picture of the bag from last weekend. There are 9 pieces of plastic jewelry (necklace, bracelets, rings), a pencil & sharpener, several temporary tattoos, several pieces of candy.

        We have never gotten away from a paper where they are without one or two (little brother in tow) and we haven’t thrown a party (family-only parties until school) so I can’t answer your question about going without resulting pariah status.

        I have heard of parties where the guests are supposed to bring one of their own books wrapped and then each child is sent home with one of the wrapped books — everyone gets something “new” but nothing new is purchased… but the parents having them are generally frustrated by other parents who also send a gift or otherwise don’t play along. We have had some no-gift parties (still had loot bags though), which I thoroughly appreciated. One asked that we donate to the Humane Society in lieu of gift.

        • Someone told me about toonie parties (a toonie is a two dollar coin for non-Canadians). Instead of a gift, each kid brings a toonie and the birthday child gets to take that $ to the store and buy themselves something. I love this idea. Sure, it’s still $ and gift centred but, it sounds more manageable and fun than a huge pile of gifts.
          Slotting the book idea away.
          Thanks for the good idea of what is to come. We are also doing small family only birthdays until school age.

        • For my girls’ birthdays we do a gift exchange instead of a gift for the birthday child/loot bag. Each guest brings a small (under $10) gender-neutral, wrapped gift. When they leave the party, everyone gets to pick out a gift for themselves. It’s worked really well for little-kid birthdays – we’ll see what happens as they get older. I did try to do a “no gifts” party one year, but I found that almost everyone ignored me and brought a gift anyway. (And the one or two people who didn’t bring a gift felt badly.) I think people like to show up with something in their hands, and the kids like leaving with a treat, so the gift exchange has been fabulous.

          • I’d like to offer this from the child’s point of view, based on what my family of 4 kids does (note: I’m one of the kids. 23 now, but I still think of myself as one of the kids instead of one of the adults as none of us has kids yet). My mum firmly believes in cheap and cheerful birthdays. Parties are held at home, with balloon races, obstacle courses, treasure hunts and donut-eating races. Prizes are either none or end up distributed fairly, and are always consumable. Food is junk, fruit and cake. After all, is IS a birthday :) if an activity is a craft, it is taken home, otherwise take home stuff is limited to food. Definitely going to throw my own kid’s parties like that when I have them. I helped run some of my sibling’s parties and it was almost as easy for mum and me as it was for the people attending!

  • Great post!
    We don’t watch much TV.
    My 2.5 year old son knows the big M, we have only been there a few times in the summer… timbits are still too hard to resist.
    Advertising is everywhere. I like the flyers when I am looking for a good deal, but my kid wants all the toys, he has already too many -received as gifts.
    For his bedroom decrations we used stickers and diy foam shapes from the dollarstore.
    I started getting rid of stuff 2 years ago, when we traveled overseas and put our stuff into storage for 4 months. Now in our 2 bedroom apt I still have stuff sitting in 2-3 boxes from 2 years ago -most of them are old magazines, some had been picked up from garage sales and never read. I still have 2 magazin subsciptions but I do lots of reading in the checkout line, waiting rooms or in my company’s lobby. Why to spend $3-$5 on 10 minutes of reading?
    Thanks for the tips, I love the word minimalish’.

    • Thanks, Charlotte. You made the actual move overseas but a great way to decide what to keep/toss is to pretend you are moving overseas. Or downsizing. Gives you a good perspective on what you actually use and need.
      Storage lockers: that was one of the reasons I “found” minimalism. We were getting close to needing one and there was no way I wanted to pay to store stuff for years and years.

  • Hi there! My parents cut the cable when I was 4. I am now 20, living on my own, and still do not have cable or any wish for it. My dad did start reconnecting the cable for the hockey season a few years ago (yay Canucks!) but to this day the TV is never on for more than a few hours a week max for hockey and a few minutes of the news. We are big movie people as well – we rent DVDs frequently (and in stacks when someone is sick at home) and we go out to the theatre at least once a month. The few TV shows I do watch I can stream online for free, sans commercials. I never missed cable growing up. It was a treat to watch TV when we visited friends and grandparents. At home I occupied my free time after school by reading everything I could get my hands on. And as we got older our family kind of stopped doing the traditional Christmas with gifts as it simply wasn’t important to us. Now we go skiing or someplace warm for a few days instead, where we can enjoy each others company and reflect on the many gifts that God has given us. We all love it! So don’t worry, I think this path will turn out just fine for your family in the long run. :)

    • KL,
      Thanks for this perspective from someone that was raised without tv. And I love hearing that another family has moved away from Christmas/Holiday gift frenzy. My family stopped with the gifts almost 10 years ago. The holidays are so much more enjoyable when it’s just about meeting up.

  • Great post! We don’t watch much TV – only selected programs on the weekend. Never had Cable TV! Our TV is connected to a rotary antenna on a tower. Really limits the stations that are available! Tend to watch public broadcasting stations – no advertising! Programs with advertising interupt the flow of the story anyway! Usually Friday night is “Movie Night” – watch DVD’s borrowed from the public library. Our preference is listening to the radio – can still do other things. Find light classical stations and “Oldies” selections very relaxing! We also play musical instruments – spend our “spare time “socializing” with our musical friends!
    We went through a patch when our finances were pretty tight – so we stopped going to the malls – no sense in being tempted. Only shopped for essentials and food. Cut back on the newspaper and magazine subscriptions too! Did things that didn’t cost money – but were experiences – flying a kite, walking, biking, music, reading, going to the library, etc. Found that “window-shopping” (but not buying) satisfied the need to see “new things” and get ideas. Developed new habits and realized that for a lot of people “shopping is their recreation.”
    Had the experience of being an executor and helping to clean out 30 years of family living before selling the house. The 30-day closing kept us motivated! We saw all those “gifts” given over the years – and now they were destined for charity, relatives, auction or sadly, the dumpster! Sure was an eye-opener! It has helped us re-consider “our stuff!” Trying to adopt the one in / one out (or better 2-3 out) principle! Really like the idea of giving “gifts of experience” – swim passes, music lessons, restaurant gift certificates – or giving towards children’s education funds! Getting together with family and friends for potlucks and socializing is becoming popular again. Does anyone remember “Sunday dinners”/visits when they were growing up? What is old is new again! Re-kindle the fine art of conversation. Thanks for keeping us “minimally movtivated!”

  • I watch TV, but I skip the ads. We had no TV at all for 2 years, and the shows we did watch during that period were commercial-free. I do find now that when I watch something live, I find the ads jarring. I’m not sure exactly HOW they affect me, but I think they do. It’s just so many messages about how we’re lacking because we don’t have whatever they’re selling. It has to get to you.

    As far as kids go, though, even though I had a largely commercial-free kid, she went to daycare and now she goes to public school. And let me tell you, she learns what to ask for from the other kids. I think you can reduce the “gimmes” by reducing media consumption in children, but as long as another kid has a super-cool new toy to show off, I don’t think you can eliminate them.

  • It seems to me that it is expected that you give (and take) goodie bags. I make goodie bags with cute (and practical) pencils and erasers as well as rubber bracelets and bouncy balls that won’t break.

    I don’t like my kids receiving junky stuff in goodie bags. They often play with them for the day and forget about them. I slip the cheap toys in a bag to take to Goodwill and hide the candy in the cupboards and they don’t normally even notice!

    My kids (4 and 7) have watched commercial free channels like CBC kids and PBS kids or dvds. We did cancel cable recently and didn’t think Netflix was worth it for us — we prefer borrowing dvds from the library (it’s amazing what you can find there!). We’ve been watching “Little House on the Prairie” (talk about minimalism!) and “Leave it to Beaver”

    My kids aren’t seeing commercials, but they still get ideas for toys and things from their playmates who bring toys to school. If my kids ask for something I tell them to put it on their birthday or Christmas wish list.

    I do take them to the grocery store and let them play in the toy department for 7 minutes or so if we’re there for a long shop as a break/reward. We try out all the toys and have great fun. I read some pp talking about how browsing is good for them — I think that’s true of kids too.

    My daughter begged for something once after browsing when she was 5 or so and I said we wouldn’t be able to browse at toys anymore if she did that again. Most of the time they’re content to just try everything out and seldom do they even have anything they want to add to their wish lists. I think it gets it out of their systems — they have played with that toy and tried it out and they know they don’t need to OWN it.

    My mom comes over with second hand clothes, books and toys for my kids with every visit. She is a bargain hunter, but doesn’t understand I don’t want all those bargains coming into MY house! I tried explaining how I felt to her, but she didn’t understand. I recently told her I wanted her to think if something was amazing enough that she would want me to trade it for an item she’s given the kids in the past. Like a one thing in one thing out policy. I think that made her understand a little bit more… but it’s still an uphill battle to find a balance where I can keep my house from being filled to the rafters and keep from hurting her feelings.

    Thanks for the insight and inspiration…

  • I’m not sure if this is the right post to inquire about this under, but I couldn’t find this idea talked about anywhere else. I’m a “minimalist in training” but I have one major problem…
    I LOVE yard sales/tag sales/flea markets!

    I truly adore them… I look forward to them, I get all excited driving around looking for them, I find a huge enjoyment browsing around at them, I feel a trill finding such a great deal and I feel satisfied heading home with all my discoveries.

    I know it would be so easy to just say, well… I know it’ll just bring more stuff i don’t need into my home so I just won’t go. Yet it’s like watching a movie or going out to eat for some, for me it’s “used-stuff sales”. It really brings me great enjoyment in my life as an activity.

    So my question is, is there a way to continue enjoying this hobby while still traveling the road to minimalism? I know it sounds counter intuitive, but is there some strategy or system folks may have already discovered that will allow them to enjoy yard sales and minimalism somehow? I can’t see myself finding amazing deals and then donating them to charity just to keep them from entering my home, but maybe there is something to that effect out there.. I just can’t visualize what it might be!

    Thank you for your thoughts :)

    • Have you thought of turning this hobby into a business? I’m writing about making extra money next week, ideas and methods for earning a few extra hundred dollars a month.
      You could enjoy your thrifting and garage sale-ing by first limiting what you buy and second just buying items you want to flip for a profit. If you’re looking to keep your home uncluttered identify one space that holds all your inventory. Only buy more when you have room. That should motivate you to turn items around before you buy new ones. Consider blogging or journaling your finds. If it is the thrill you are after you would always have a well documented memory to go back to.

      • Thank you so much for your suggestions! I loved your post about making extra money too, it was right up my alley and gave me some great ideas to run with. I’m very grateful for your site and all the inspiration you provide backed up with resourceful links as well!

        • Thanks =) I get a lot of support and ideas through this blog. Your encouragement means a lot. Sending it back to you! Good luck with decluttering and finding a few micro-business ideas.

  • My daughter never asks for stuff except for food, LOL. And I don’t like to shop. And yet, I feel like I’m constantly on a clutter bucket brigade. Our home is small and that makes the clutter more obvious, but honestly, I’d rather have it obvious than hidden for years in the basement only to require a major overhaul to get rid of it all. Since her bday is coming up, that means yet another great purge, as if moving three times in the past five years hasn’t been enough.

  • I don’t have a tv or a magazine subscription, and whenever I get email that say buy this or that, I instantly unsubscribe, because they just clutter up my mailbox. I also make it a rule for myself not to just randomly go shopping. But it’s the random bus stops and building advertisements that get to me. At one point I was on a serious diet of nothing but shakes, and I was managing really well for that first week and a half, already on ten pounds, and i was seriously motivated for another ten, until one day I was riding my bike homewards and got hit by, first, an advertisement for dominos pizza (drool), next, an advertisement from the supermarket for cauliflower (which I love) and finally, an advertisement for KFC (I don’t have one nearby, but it always makes me crave crunchy chicken). And the worst thing, that bike ride from the train station is just 5 freaking minutes!!!
    Of course, I’m never particularly strong about food, as you can’t institute in a year long no-buying-food-challenge. A woman has got to eat after all. But clothes have just that temptation lying around for me. And sometimes it’s not even advertisements, it’s just seeing it on a particularly well-dressed, attractive person.
    that’s one of the few things good about being fat, clothes never really look like I feel inside (inside I feel like tough well-toned tomboy biker chick, but on the outside, I wear more feminine clothes because onthe whole they look better on a fat person, in my opinion.) And the ones that I do like, well, they don’t actually come in my size…
    Money saved there :)

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