A Return To Competitive Shopping

someecards.com - You outbid me on eBay. I'm going to track you down.

Summer 2004:

I am not going to the Olympics.

I am devastated.

I am also living in dorms with my friends and teammates that are going to the Olympics.

And training at the same lake with them.

And eating at the same breakfast table.

I cannot escape my failure.

I can, however, try and buy my way out of the deep disappointment.

How? With eBay. My sister introduces me to eBay when she sells her old rowing clothing on it to drum up a bit of cash. She helps me do the same.

The thrill and excitement of selling things in the online marketplace is soon replaced with the thrill and excitement of buying things.

Coach sandals, bikinis, shoes and shoes and more shoes arrive for me daily.

None of it takes away the pain of my narrow miss at going to the Olympics. I know this and yet, I keep buying.

Twelve years later I think I am immune to shopping for sport. I’m wrong.

A few weekends ago I looked through our stash of baby clothing. We had just a half dozen pieces in the newborn and 0-3 month size. Most of what we used with Henry in the beginning were hand-me-downs from my brother and sister-in-law. They were fantastic but didn’t have a lot of life left in them after we used them.

Though I was hopeful we would have a second child, I donated and sold a lot of our baby clothing instead of storing it. I realized as we pared down in the fall of 2010 that I couldn’t plan for every eventuality in life and that included having a second baby that was the same gender, birth month and had the same growth pattern as our first.

We needed six to eight sleepers or gowns in newborn and 0-3 month size along with a few hats. A quick look in the charity shops here left me empty handed so I turned to my old friend eBay.

Oh, eBay. You sure are fun. I was quickly in the swing of things creating watch lists and finding auctions that ended in the early evening so I would be at the computer ready to outbid someone with 10 seconds left in the listing.

If you’ve ever had a shopping romance with eBay you understand how exciting it can be to pip another bidder at the very last second. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It can also be addictive.

I quickly found myself feeling competitive about buying things.

It is so easy to fall back into old patterns. While I shop a lot less now this little brush with competitive shopping showed me I’m not cured of it. It showed me that my habits, not going into stores to browse and keeping lists of things we want to buy, really do help.

When the dust settled I had a half dozen pieces that will be great for our new baby and that I got at a fraction of what they would cost new.

Yes, it was fun to shop. I not only had a little thrill with the eBay bidding process and the hunting down of auctions that fit what I was looking for, I enjoyed getting these things for our new baby. I enjoyed thinking about a folded up little newborn wearing the soft little gown or staying warm with the sweet little hat.

The difference between now and a few years ago is that a few years ago I would have kept buying. We would have had enough sleepers and onesies for triplets. A lot of them would be things I bought because they were a fantastic deal – not because I really liked them.

This time it was different.

Once the last packaged arrived in the mail I emptied out my watch list, left feedback for the sellers and checked ‘buy baby clothes’ off our list.

Any other reformed impulse shoppers still dabble in eBay, big sales or those daily deal emails? Have you found it easier to just buy what you actually need instead of whatever the deal is?

A No Buy Vacation

When you calculate the cost of your vacation do you add in all the things you buy for it and on it?

New outfits, luggage, swim suits, travel devices and that afternoon spent shopping at the outlet mall everyone told you to go to can drive up the cost of a family getaway.

Those costs used to be a given for me. If we were going on a trip I needed a new outfit, possibly a new laptop case and I definitely wanted an afternoon to peruse the shops in places like Florence, Paris and pretty much any big American city.

We were in Spain last week and I realized I don’t shop for and on vacations anymore. When we budget out how much the whole thing is going to cost us there is no need to add in some blow money for that French department store or the half dozen garments we’ll buy before we go.

Food. Shelter. Transport. Fun. Those are the only things we spend on. Fun is entry to a zoo or a tram ride up Tibidabo mountain. Not a dress that looks amazing on the hangar, okay on me and that I’ll probably wear once in two years. We will visit a local market to see and smell the sites, taste a pastry or purchase local fruit, while on vacation. That’s quite enjoyable to me. But I no longer scan stalls for something, anything, to bring home with me.

Downside to no shopping: our pool wear wasn’t that exciting.

Our son was wearing swim trunks, a t-shirt and hat in the pool instead of a fancy UV suit. There was no flotation vest on just a pair or two of watchful eyes nearby to keep him safe. His sandals have seen a lot of miles this summer and have a certain odour. I don’t have a maternity swim suit so just wore an old two piece. My husband wore a pair of black running shorts as swim trunks. We weren’t impressing anyone with our wardrobes.

My clothing for the 8 day trip consisted of two skirts, one dress, a pair of jeans for travel days and a small mix of tops, tanks and light cardigans. Nothing was new or purchased specifically for the vacation. The whole thing fit into a medium packing cube like this one.

Upside to no shopping: more time in the place we’re visiting, less luggage and no mystery holiday costs.

We had three days in Barcelona and to lose an afternoon to the mall would have been a shame. At one point we ducked into a mall to use the bathroom when we were lost or as my husband says, just not sure where we were. It was like a lot of other malls I have been to. Except everything was in Spanish.

I’d rather spend an afternoon lost in an interesting city than an afternoon in a mall in an interesting city.

After walking through that mall I remembered that that hasn’t always been the case. When I was an athlete I went to Europe for competitions and my teammates and I always looked forward to an afternoon of shopping in places like Hamburg, Lucerne and Milan. Later when I traveled with my husband I always carved out time to visit a big American or foreign mall. Shipping while on vacation was part of the to see and do list.

Things have changed a lot in the last two years.

Less shopping means more travel.

If I still wanted to go to the mall we wouldn’t have been able to afford the vacation. Actually, we probably would have gone but most of it would have been on credit. Credit holidays are a lot less enjoyable in my experience.

There were no souvenirs, no t-shirts, no mini Sagrada Familia replicas or Park Guell snowglobes brought back with us from Spain.

I’m fine with that. The pictures and memories are enough.

Do you factor in preholiday and holiday shopping costs when you vacation? Any reformed outlet mall shoppers like me out there?

Leaving Minimalism

The title Minimalist Mom isn’t that accurate for me. If you’ve read a few posts here you’ll know that I aim for less and what we can live comfortably with rather than a rigid goal of a handful of possessions.

I chose the name while in a burst of zeal for the idea of what Minimalism could give me. I was excited, hopeful and had grand dreams of sparsely furnished rooms and a wardrobe that could fit in a small carry-on suitcase. After many rounds of decluttering I’ve found that the things my family want in our home, the things we use, is often in flux. I’ve found that I’m not interested in counting our possessions or living a nomadic lifestyle. I am interested in the space, time and money having less can give me and my family.

I’m not really a minimalist. We have a television, my son has a push bike he has yet to master and I recently bought a blender and a crock pot.

While I’m not a true minimalist I’m still fascinated by the idea of fewer possessions and the many returns from living with less. That’s why I keep writing here. That’s why I deliberate a lot longer on purchases than I used to. That’s why I have just two pairs of jeans, why we don’t have a car and why I keep a pretty sparse pantry. I like what having less gives me.

Friends Saying Goodbye to Minimalism.

Recently two of my blogging friends have discussed why minimalism is no longer right for them.

Rayna, a contributing writer to Frugal Mama, wrote about shutting down her blog The Suburban Minimalist almost a year ago. Embracing the movement had been positive at first and then lead her to a place she wasn’t comfortable or happy with.

 I’d learned the hard way that although there’s much to be said for living with (much) less than the average American, there are also quite a few things to be said for creature comforts and man-made beauty. Fluffy towels and familiar mugs sweeten our daily rituals. A closet with enough flattering choices makes me feel feminine and confident on the days I’m just not. – Rayna St. Pierre

Her new blog, Bright Copper Kettles, explores simplicity, design and the small things that make her life wonderful. It’s a nice read and I recommend popping in particularly for her links round up. Rayna has a great eye for articles and design that will inspire you to find more beauty in your life without making you feel bad about your living room that is covered in children’s toys or that you have yet to replace the glass on a picture frame that broke three months ago (guilty).

Faith started writing at MinimalistMoms around the same time I started this blog. Later she moved to MinimalistatHome and has written several e-books on minimalism and families. Recently she decided to move her writing away from minimalism.

… it became harder and harder to write a “minimalist” blog after two years. I’ve grown tired of wondering if what I have to say is minimalist enough or even if I am minimalist enough.. – Faith Janes

Faith’s new home online for living with less is a digital magazine called Simplify that launches October 1st. You can sign up to receive the first edition here.

Still Sticking With The M Word

I’ll still be here writing about my own brand of minimalism, the challenges of living counter-culturally and if I really needed that crock pot or blender.

While the term minimalism sounds extreme I think there is a lot to glean from the movement for even non-radical folk like myself. I like the discussion here about how to live with less, the benefits of it and how to go about it happily in a world that doesn’t support slow and simple living.

Real Simple magazine always told me that it was ‘life made easier, every day’ but I found that when I read it, I hated my home and felt the pressure to buy a lot of baskets and label makers and organize instead of truly simplify. I used to flip through those glossy pages and tell myself that I’d have a show worthy home if I just tried harder and made bread from scratch and a jar of lemon curd for an Amalfi Coast inspired luncheon replete with Limoncello ordered direct from Sorrento, Italy.

Life wasn’t made easier. Life was harder and the expectations bigger in ways that just made me tired. I had zero of the 20 must-have classic wardrobe staples for a woman in her 30’s. My vintage mason jar collection was nonexistent.

I wasn’t inspired by the supposed ease of this everyday beautiful simplicity. I was overwhelmed.

There is room in my life for beauty and minimalism. I keep fresh flowers on our kitchen window sill, not the dining room table, because that is where I enjoy them most. When I’m washing dishes I see my vase, sometimes it’s just a water glass, filled with the cheap and cheerful white carnations I buy myself or roses, a gift from a friend, and it’s enough for me.

Because I have less I appreciate what I do have more.

I’ll still be here writing about minimalism and how we’re making it work for us. With our roses on the window sill, our blender and even my expensive ballet flats that fell apart.

Why Do You Buy What You Buy?

I bought a crock pot. Jo is clapping right now.

We had a crock pot back in Canada. It was a gift, something I had asked for. I only had it for a few months before we moved overseas but I liked using it. I liked the ease of putting a meal on in the morning and having it ready at dinner.

Instead of buying one when we moved to the Isle of Man I improvised. I slow cooked roasts, soups and stews on our stove. The results were okay.

This is where I confess that I’ve been a dangerous cook. I would occasionally leave something simmering while I was out. This became a more dangerous habit when we moved to a home with a gas range.

I discussed the crock pot purchase at length with my husband. While my life isn’t that busy I still have demands and I still fill my days with work, housework, errands and activities with my son.

One thing that I spend quite a bit of time on is cooking. With our new little one arriving in January I know I’ll have a lot less time and energy to cook quality meals. My husband is already pitching in more on that front but he’ll only be off of work for two weeks once the baby is here. And there are 21 meals a week to get on the table.

I’ve yet to really buy anything for the new baby but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we’ll adjust to being a family of four. How we’ll manage feeding ourselves in the manner we’re used to and like: home cooked, mostly no grains, fresh vegetables and fruit and lean meats. Dark chocolate, thankfully, needs no preparation.

While no kitchen gadget can change your life, I think owning a crock pot can make life a bit easier and simplify meal preparation. Particularly when you have a reverse cycling newborn. And when your spouse has found a few meals everyone likes that he can easily prepare before heading to work.

So we bought a crock pot. It’s already made a very good Chicken Tortilla Soup. Our version was made without the tortillas, beans, corn or cheese. Instead we topped it with avocado and served with veggies and dip. Really good and really easy.

Why do you buy the things you buy?

How do you decide if a purchase is a want or a need? And if it’s a want how do you decide if it’s really worth it?

I made this hand dandy flow chart on how we decide on purchases in our household.

There is a whole other side to this on deciding what is a need and what is a want of course. And as you can see, we have some general cash savings that we access if it’s a need item like an emergency flight to Canada or a repair bill for our property in Vancouver. I know a lot of families don’t have that kind of cushion and have to rely on credit or loans for emergencies. We’re lucky to be in this position now that we are out of consumer debt.

Apologies for the huge picture.



How do you make purchasing decisions? Do you discuss it with a spouse, make a list and wait or do you generally just buy things as you need or want them?

Getting Over The Want


I’m putting up some popular post from my archives this week.

Today: getting over the want. This was one of two posts on the subject of getting over the want of more and better things. You can find Part 2 here. This is such an important concept and habit to make once you’ve decluttered your home. Why did it get that way and how will you keep yourself from going to Target for butter and leaving with a half dozen outfits for fall?

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?

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