From February to May 2017, I lived with my friend Gathoni.
For 4 months before moving in with her, I would spend a minimum of 5 hours commuting to and from work every day. 2 hours 15 mins in the morning and 3 hours in the evening. By the time I got home at 9 pm, I’d be so exhausted that the only conversation I had with my family was;
“Hi, guys…Bye guys.”
I rarely had dinner. I didn’t have the energy to eat. All I wanted was to sleep. I’m among the special group of people who, given the choice between sleep and food, always choose sleep.
On Saturdays, I’d sleep all day. Sunday was the only day I’d interact with my family and sometimes friends. It was an exhausting period.
When I told my friend Gathoni about the kind of suffering that I had to endure while commuting through Nairobi traffic, she asked me to move in with her
Living with her was pure bliss, I’d get more hours of sleep in the morning. My commute had reduced to less than 1 hour both to and from work. I was happier, focused and more productive at work.
Living with her was a life-changing experience. Her living room consisted of a few possessions. A brown, old-fashioned deliciously soft set of sofas. An old JVC TV set, like those chunky ones with an ass that you sometimes find in hotel rooms. It was so heavy that the TV stand had curved inwards. A CD player. An old rectangular antique carpet, and a bookshelf with several classic reads.
Her closet was also a reflection of her minimalist self.
Her kitchen was the only room that defied this rule. On a monthly basis, she’d go to the mall and shop generously for food items and snacks. She’d then proceed to Ngara market to buy a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits. Over the weekend, we’d take long walks through coffee plantations to the dairy farm and queue for 10 litres of fresh milk. That home was literally the land of milk and honey.
She was an excellent cook and would make us scrumptious meals. I learnt how to make some of my favourite meals from her.
The only wars we had was when she forced me to eat and when she insisted I pack a balanced meal to work as I’m a poor eater.
She also had a good medical cover and always insisted on seeing the best doctor there is, and warned me against always downplaying illness as a way to avoid spending on healthcare and the fear of medication and needles.
A year down the line when I had moved out and living alone, I came across a film on Netflix titled Minimalism: A documentary about the important things. It’s about living with less and only buying what genuinely adds value to your life, brings you joy and helps you function.
The other day when we were having a video call to catch up, I asked her if she considered herself a minimalist when I reminded her that she owned 2 pairs of jeans.
“I could wash my pair of jeans and wear them again the next day. But I could never recycle food.”
“A home with fewer possessions is more spacious, more calming and more focused on the people who live inside it.” -Joshua Becker
By that time, I was stuck in debt so the concept appealed to me. I didn’t own a lot of household items. My addiction was low-quality clothes and shoes. To get out of debt, I stopped buying these for a year.
I kept exploring the concept of minimalism and having conversations about it with a few friends.
“The less you own the more content you are. And for me, it feels even more fulfilling when I know I own less even though I can buy more.” – Wevyn Muganda
By the time I was relocating to the UAE late last year, I had almost achieved a minimalist closet. I used the relocation opportunity to sell and donate most of my stuff.
But to be forced to fit all my remaining possessions in 2 suitcases was still a nerve-wracking experience.
Minimalism appeals to me because it helps keep my expenditure low and reduces the amount of stuff I have to take care of; especially clothes I have to fold and hang because my organizational skills can best be described as ‘There appears to have been a struggle.’
It also helps me to strictly focus on saving to buy quality stuff as opposed to quantity. When you take time to budget and buy quality stuff, you learn to value your possessions differently. You take care of them and they serve you for a longer period of time.
“When you buy quality, the price is eventually forgotten. When you buy junk, the price will haunt you.” — Wealth Theory
How to shop like a minimalist (or like me 😉 )
1. Have a budget
Living or spending without a budget is like driving a car while blindfolded, you’re bound to mess up! You should start with the 4 basic items; food, rent, transport and clothing-if you don’t already have enough of this!
Then the other major items follow; utility bills, home supplies, emergency fund — yes, if you don’t have an emergency fund, it’s an emergency that you include it in your budget and start building one.
2. Create an excel sheet titled ‘My Desire List.’
Any time you think you want, need or deserve something, add it to this list. At this point, you can go wild and add anything or everything. Leave the item on the sheet for a minimum of a month and use the time to ask yourself whether it’s really a need or you’re playing that dangerous game where you justify to yourself that a want is a need.
If it’s a need, add it to your budget and save for it. If not, cross it out, give yourself a pep talk and move on.
This works for major purchases such as electronics, furniture, closet makeovers, educational courses etc.
3. Do I NEED it?
When you’re out and about and happen to spot something that calls your name romantically, ask yourself if you need it. If the answer is no, move on.
“In 1936, Psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote a simple equation that makes a powerful statement: Behaviour is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B=f (P,E).
It didn’t take long for Lewin’s equation to be tested in business. In 1952, the economist Hawkin Stern described a phenomenon called Suggestion Impulse Buying, which “is triggered when a shopper sees a product for the first time and visualizes a need for it.” In other words, customers will occasionally buy products not because they want them but because of how they’re presented to them.” — Excerpt from James Clear’s Atomic Habits.
This is the sole reason why I deleted my Instagram account. The number of people on that platform who are out hawking things that I didn’t need was detrimental to my goal of getting out of debt and increasing my savings and investments.
This is connected to the lesson on how to design your world as opposed merely being a consumer of it. I wrote about it.
4. Do I already have something like it?
If yes, move on.
“Many think that clothes and accessories make you look rich, but I believe a man who is debt-free wears the confidence on his face. The ability to be patient, thoughtful, and unhurried in decision making belongs to the man whose time and money is his own.” — Wealth Theory
5. Will this go on as an impulse purchase at end month?
From January this year, I started this habit where I record all my purchases on the notebook app on my phone.
At the end of the month, I journal about my spending and this is one of the questions I have to answer. If I made an impulse purchase, I have to battle with guilt. I’m accountable to myself so I avoid buying rubbish so that at the end of the month, my pride and esteem skyrockets.
6. Will I use it often?
If the answer is no, skip it. Stop bringing clutter into your house.
7. Where will I store it?
This is perfect for me because I love having empty space, space to practice my dance moves, and indoor exercise. If an item takes away this luxury, I skip.
8. Does it match the things that I already own?
This works while buying clothes. Buying a pair of shoes that don’t go with anything in your closet means having to spend more money in the near future to buy clothes that go with that pair of shoes.
“In fact, the tendency for one purchase to lead to another has a name: The Diderot Effect. The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.” — Excerpt from James Clear’s Atomic Habits
“The most useless expense is buying something you don’t need just because it’s available at a discount.” – D. Muthukrishnan
9. Do I absofuckinglutely love it?
I stopped buying stuff that I don’t like 100%, e.g. a blouse that just doesn’t fit perfectly around my bosom, pants that just don’t fit right, heels that will never see the light of day… Not listening and honouring these doubts slowly morph into disgust and regret. When I look back at something with regret, it makes me feel stupid. I hate feeling stupid.
10. Will I still love it later?
Again, I hate feeling stupid.
11. Does it have long term value?
This is about not buying rubbish, quality over quantity.
12. Is this purchase a status game or lifestyle game?
We could all save so much money if we stopped buying stuff to impress other people.
“Make purchases that will improve your lifestyle, not your status. Status is the life other people believe you live; lifestyle is the life you actually live. Free time is the ultimate status symbol.” — Wealth Theory
13. By buying this item, will I be killing the dream that I’m currently saving up for?
If you’re saving towards building an emergency fund, medical insurance, school or even working towards paying off debt, then go ahead and buy something that isn’t in your budget, won’t you be doing yourself an injustice?
“Before you buy anything, ask yourself: Does this help me live a better life now, or is this something my imaginary future self would own? Only buy for the person you actually are, not for the person you think the right purchases would make you.” — The Financial Diet
Before COVID-19 happened, I used to have a hard time paying attention at work. We have those open-plan offices and my colleagues will openly have meetings in the office or have conversations in a language I don’t understand. I work better in silence. To improve my productivity, I need noise-cancelling headphones. They’re pretty pricey and I want the best quality I can afford. This is on my desire list and I’m saving towards owning a pair. This is an example of a purchase that improves the quality of my life. Better still, it plays a role in ensuring that I produce my best work.
During this pandemic where we should focus on keeping our expenditures low, It’s also prudent to use your free time to declutter. Get rid of any possessions that currently do not add any value to you.
Remember that all that clutter in your space used to be money. You might also be filling your living space with something that another person would need. Make some money by selling it online, or donate it.
One more thing, now that we have time to invest in financial IQ, go to your favourite podcast app and look for “How to get rich without getting lucky” by Naval Ravikant. I would love to have conversations about it with you when you’re done!
Remember, we either make ourselves miserable or make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. Carlos Castaneda
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