Cluttered

I chose “cluttered” rather than “clutter” because it feels as if the objects are physically doing the cluttering, not just being inert clutter.  Clutter as a noun is inert, still, motionless, passive, benign (until stagnant).  Cluttered is an action word.  My objects have cluttered me.  The room feels cluttered.  The person’s life is cluttered with clutter that’s cluttering it up.

Have you ever noticed how the words “clutter” and “clatter” sound almost the same?  In some accents, they’re almost indistinguishable from one another.  I’m not an etymologist (someone who studies the origins of words; I’m also not an entymologist – they study bugs), so I don’t know whether the words ever began the same way.  I tried to find out, and discovered that the verb, “clutter” came from the word “clot” (like blood clot) in the 1400s.  And the noun “clutter” came from “litter” (like, trash) in the 1570s.  I enclose a screen shot because the definitions sound so perfectly descriptive.  We’ve become too desensitized to the word clutter, and accept it as part of our lives, but apparently we’ve been fighting it since the 1400s.  It’s particularly interesting that the verb developed before the noun, because I feel like the clutter is active, it is not passive, it is loud and noisy and it clatters along cluttering up the tiny amount of quiet space in my brain.  I feel verbally assaulted by clutter which is why I’m still on the journey towards a minimalist life.

The etymology of the word clutter.
The etymology of the word clutter.

My shower caught fire on Friday, it was the perfect end to a crap week, really.  I was just lathering up my violet toner to keep my hair shiny white, and I started smelling burning hair; I checked the box with all the wires, and it had started smoking.  It wasn’t a huge surprise since the shower unit melted in February, then when we gaffer taped it, it seemed to stabilize.  Apparently not.  To make matters worse, the DIY disaster idiots who put the thing in (before we bought the house) stupidly put the isolator switch directly behind the shower, on a wall in the bathroom, and since it wasn’t a pull switch, I was trying to get it to turn off with soapy wet hands for what seemed like ages before it finally went.  I can now say in all seriousness, with no sense of hyperbole, that having white hair has saved my life.  If I hadn’t had white hair, I would have just used normal shampoo, and I would have just splortched it onto my hair, back to the shower, and lathered it in, then stood under the water for several minutes while it came back out again.

An electrician friend of a friend came and made the unit safe.  When he opened it up, I was horrified by how close I’d come to serious harm.  The exposed electrical wires which had been on fire were less than a millimetre away from burning away the insulation that was touching the water outlet pipe that takes water out through the shower head.  If you know your basic electronics, you’ll know that water always takes the shortest path back to the Earth, so it would have come straight out of the shower head and down through me.  What’s more, the fuse was so high (45A, standard shower fuse) that it hadn’t shorted out throughout this ordeal.  The whole thing (as I’d been saying since February) was an accident waiting to happen, but it was only last week that we actually got together a few hundred quid to get the bathroom sorted out, because we can’t be without a shower, because my OH doesn’t fit in the tub.

We were already in the process of trying to get someone to come and plumb our bathroom, since the shower had started melting in February, but the first quote we had was £1800 (for labour only, and it wasn’t itemized so I couldn’t see how they’d arrived at that figure, I think they didn’t want to do the job so thought if they put it high enough they’d either make a lot of money from something they didn’t want to do, or get out of doing it.  That plumber seemed to lose interest when I said I was keeping our current bathroom suite) so, after I had finished laughing at the absurdity that anyone would pay £1800 to NOT get a new bathroom put in, I had phoned someone else to come and quote me, literally minutes before I went into the shower.  He will be round on Thursday.  So I had to clear the bathroom of all the functional bottles, sponges etc that we use.

That was how I found out how quiet our bathroom is when there’s no clattering clutter cluttering it up.  When there is not one single bottle of shampoo on the side of the bath or in the floor of the shower cubicle, it is so serene that I was disappointed at the idea of changing the room.  You see, we don’t want to waste money (to buy or to run) on a new electric shower when we have literally no water pressure issues in our bathroom and no hot water issues with our boiler, so the whole cubicle may as well come out, and have an over the bath shower.  When we were first thinking about this back in February, we wanted a new bath, and to move the bath, toilet and sink around to make better use of the space.

We actually bought the house because I loved the bathroom so much.  The idea of having to change it is heartbreaking.  But my husband doesn’t actually fit in the bath because it’s designed for men who are my height and women who are shorter, and children.  It’s not intended for six footers.  I wrestled with the wastefulness of discarding the bath compared to keeping it.  I watched him struggle in the bath last night and I finally understood that we weren’t being wasteful in getting rid of the bath, it sadly wasn’t fit for purpose.

We will have to get a new bath.  But it won’t be the same serenity when the bathroom has been changed, because the suite we have now is one of those coloured ones from the 1970s (not avocado, ours is sunshine yellow), and the happy warm friendly yellow will have to be replaced by a stark, clinical white bathtub, in full size rather than extra small, which will be all the more obvious since we’re keeping the yellow sink (basin) and toilet.  But at least my husband will finally fit into the tub.

For now, it is the one room that is completely without clutter.  Just having that one room in the house that has been silenced feels like a big minimalist victory over the advancing agents of clutter.  It has spurred me on to get rid of more things today, things that have been waiting for a week or two to be removed from the house, and I felt so much better when I came back from the tip and the charity shop (thrift store) with a lighter car.  It’s the one room where I can hear my own thoughts.

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Wedding Wednesday: Why do you want a wedding?

Starting off my new weekly Wedding Wednesday slot, I thought I would begin where people ought to – with questioning why anybody would want a wedding at all.

Getting married for the right reasons is like doing anything for the right reasons – it’s a good, strong foundation on which to build.  For sure, we could build our house on poor foundations, and who knows?  It might stay up and last the test of time – but it’s less likely.  So if you want the best possible chance of having a happy and long lasting married life with your significant other, you need to introspect and ask yourself why you even want to get married.

Here’s some answers the Internet gave me when I researched this for myself a couple of years ago, and my responses to this.  I may come off as an opinionated asshat about weddings.  I feel quite strongly about them:

This is the same ring my cousin got when she got married 18 months ago.
This is the same ring my cousin got when she got married 18 months ago.

1. For the ring.  
…Or you could just go to a shop and use that Personal Loan to buy something REALLY nice from Tiffany & Co, instead of wasting time and effort on the rest of the wedding.


2. For the dress

…Why not hire one and have a wedding themed fancy dress party instead?


3. For the one “Perfect Day”

What about the day after?  Could you really live with the rest of your life knowing that the one “perfect day” had already passed you by?  The idea that we only get that one “Special Day” and that all the other days are dull is very depressing.  I’ve had my share of perfect days but they were never the “One Perfectest of All Perfect Days” and they sure as hell weren’t my wedding day.  Throwing money at a specific point in time can’t actually perfect it – soon you’ll find yourself throwing more and more money at it for smaller and smaller gains (in maths, known as an asymptote), until even the most patient bridesmaids will wonder whether those seat covers were worth £500.


4. For money/financial security
Could you spend your time and energy doing something productive and contributing to your own financial security by … I don’t know… getting a job you care about and earning your own money?  If you want a wedding so you can become dependent on someone else, you’re going to struggle when they get sick of you sponging and leave you to fend for yourself.  This is NOT the same as taking time out to raise kids, which is more altruistic and assumes that at some point in the future you will get a job.  HOWEVER this is something you should discuss before you get married to be sure you’re on the same page.  A marriage is a 2 way street not a way for a needy dependent person to get their claws into a “good catch.”  Seeking Arrangement is there for that.


5. Because you’re pregnant
This can be a really good reason to marry the right person – my Aunt was 15 when she got pregnant and she got married about two days after her 16th birthday.  She is still married now she’s hit the big 5-0 and has three kids, a great career as a nurse practitioner (she started her nursing training after giving birth and worked her way up), a beautiful garden… none of this is because she got married at 16, but it’s the life she and her husband have built together, because they were thrown together by that one unfortunate act.

Conversely, I know someone else who got married at 19 because she was pregnant and thought it would make the father commit.  It didn’t.  Marrying someone doesn’t give you control over their actions and people will do what they like whether you’ve had a wedding or not.  If they’re a no good scoundrel, they aren’t going to change just because they’re married.  Guess who was divorced at 23 and is now struggling to pay childcare?  She would have been a single mum if she hadn’t married him anyway, it just delayed the inevitable and caused everyone involved a lot of stress and drama in the meantime.

6. One of you is terminally ill
This can be a lovely reason to get married, but make sure both parties are onboard, and that the commitment to care is going both ways.  Living with someone who is terminally ill is very difficult and caring for them can get very harrowing towards the end.  Make sure the person who isn’t terminally ill has a good support network, that they maintain contact with friends and family outside the relationship, and that their physical and emotional needs are getting met.  If you’re the carer, remember the best thing you can do to take care of your partner is to keep your own self in good working order 🙂

7. For the romantic fairytale experience
Go to Disneyland.

8. For the wedding presents
Um… the money you spent on the wedding could have been used to buy yourself nice presents instead.

9. For the honeymoon
Book a holiday.

10. For your parents
Parents often think they are doing the right thing by “nudging” people in the right direction but you should marry when you’re good and ready not when someone else wants you to.  Likewise, if your future spouse isn’t ready, take the pressure off by waiting until they’re ready (and stop pestering them about it) because respect goes both ways.

11. For love
Is love enough to get married?  Some people think so.  Others point to the fact that there are two stages that all relationships go through – the infatuation and the cooling off period.  If your relationship is still in that stage where you get chills EVERY time he or she walks through the door, you might want to wait a bit to make sure you haven’t gone off each other, it could be an expensive and stressful mistake.

12. After spending days of research on this, and trying to come up with a better answer, I finally arrived at my own reason for wanting to get married:  To honour, in the eyes of the law, a commitment that you are making, to stay by the side of another person, even if you’re geographically far away, to always keep a place in your heart for them.  For me, then, the wedding was meant to be a reflection of this, not froofy dresses (you know, they look like they belong in a fairytale… or on top of a toilet roll in an old lady’s bathroom, depending on your point of view), rings or anything else.  Those were the garnish on a salad of marriage.  Throughout planning my wedding, I found myself remarking several times to my future husband “can we just skip the wedding and get to the part where we’re married to each other?”

I am pro-wedding but I believe that people should do what’s right for them and that too many people lose sight of what’s really important when they start to plan their wedding – and who can blame them, with the overstimulating wedding industry and the average wedding costing over £17,000 now (including honeymoon, according to The Telegraph and The Guardian newspapers) or $25,000 (excluding honeymoon, according to http://www.costofwedding.com/, a free wedding cost calculation tool), it’s big money for people to make you want more than you need on your “Big Day” (as if you’ll only have one big day in your life).  I am very concerned that people are taking on debts they can’t afford to repay in order to buy their wedding, and that they are doing so for all the wrong reasons.

But what if you’re SUPER EXCITED about all those other reasons, to the point where you’re starting to worry that, according to this very list, your reasons are all wrong?

Ask yourself:  Do you love your partner?  Do you see yourselves getting older together?  Do you communicate with one another and have you both discussed your future plans and your opinions on things at length so you know whether there are any sticking points or areas of compromise?  Do you at least mutually care about each other the same amount and get both of your needs met through your relationship?

If that’s a no to all of those, you probably shouldn’t get married.  If you had at least a couple of “yes” answers, then maybe you just need to hash a few things out and check that you’re both on the same page.  Getting crazy excited about your wedding is natural.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, providing you’re not causing yourself (or other people) financial difficulty, and as long as you are getting married for the marriage, not for the wedding, and that you know that on the day after your wedding, you’re going to wake up with a big smile and say, “I married you.”

Clean Your Bowl

Washing Your Bowl

A concept I have come across today is called washing your bowl. The inspiration for today’s concept came from this:

There’s a famous Zen story that goes:

A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?
The monk replied, “I have eaten.”
Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.”

The meaning that Leo Babauta at http://mnmlist.com/wash-your-bowl/ inferred from this story was both profound and completely different from what I realised whilst reading it. I hope you see something different too, this story is really simple and really big at the same time – which is what minimalism is all about.

The concept of cleaning your bowl once you are done eating is probably obvious – you just bung it in the dishwasher or dump it on the side then wait until you have enough dishes to wash to necessitate the cost of a sink full of water, right? Leo Babauta took different wisdom from this – that there is a sense of immediacy in the words that causes you to feel like you need to wash your bowl this very minute. So he does. He hand washes his clothes once they’re dirty then hangs them up to dry. I thought it could also have a wider meaning – that applies to the work that I need to do to clear my house – a lot of the things I’m keeping hold of are things that I’m done eating with. They’ve had their day. By holding on to all this crap in my house, I’m not washing my bowl. And all the dishes are piling up and festering in my soul and suddenly I don’t have enough spoons.

One of my favourite sayings has always been “expand and simplify.”

Basically, it started from Year 9 maths (don’t worry if you can’t follow this paragraph), with the quadratic equations, where you had to expand the equation then simplify it, and suddenly this horrible mess of brackets and letters became an even more horrible mess of x- to the two and minus y and numbers. It looked like a child had sneezed on an alphanumeric scrabble board. This is especially true at A-level when you get more than two sets of brackets, such as (x + 3) (x+2) (6x + x). That expands out to: (x squared + 3x plus 2x + 6) (6x + x) then becomes 6x cubed + 18x squared + 12x squared + 36x + x cubed + 3x squared + 2x squared plus 6x. What a mess! But once you start grouping items together and combining signs and working with what you’ve got, you suddenly get something really simple; in the case of the example above, 7x cubed + 35x squared + 42x.

When I started to tackle the mess it seemed like it had gotten worse – I am about one third of the way through my book clearance plan, which has so far unearthed about 250 books that are all unwanted.

230 books decluttering minimalism

That’s about 50% of the 500 books I’ve assessed so far. One in two of the books I’ve checked weren’t worth keeping. What it meant, though, is that I had displaced books all over my living room that needed to be removed from the house. They are mostly gone now, but a few stragglers are left over (my OH insists that he knows people who want them). My car was full of DVDs to sell at CEX for the same reason. Now it’s empty again. This is what I mean by expanding and simplifying. You get the stuff out to assess it, and it expands. Then you pare out what you don’t want, separating it from the things you are keeping, then you return the things you are keeping to their permanent home. Then you remove the other stuff from your house.

However, in order to simplify, you need to be able to decide what is important to you right now – not what was important ten or twenty years ago. Except for anything tax related (keep that). The bowl was important whilst you were hungry – perhaps you imagined it filled with tasty food. The bowl was important whilst you prepared the food, as well, and it had a significant role to play in the eating. But it is not a living thing. You are not doing it a disservice by cleaning it. You don’t need to keep all those bits of stuck-on food to remind you of the meal you had.

I found this train of thought very helpful while I was trying to clear out my sentimental pieces – those things you keep because they are “keepsakes” or they “were your grandmother’s” (who you never met) or because they mark what society tells us is a significant turning point in life, such as the 21st birthday. I got rid of things in all of those categories, so that my keepsakes were things I genuinely wanted to keep, because I was happy to see them and they reminded me of things I had done that I’d forgotten about and liked remembering. The only exception to this was my grandmother’s funeral card, because it’s the only photo of her that I have.

Speaking of photos, I also got rid of photos and cut down old calendars.

Photos had to go.

This was a lot easier than I expected. For a lot of them, if the quality was ok, I saved time and snapped them with my phone (I took a photo of a photo), because scanning is a bit of a faff and takes longer than phone photography for a fairly similar result. A lot of photos didn’t even get immortalised with a phone photo, I just chucked them out, because they were unimportant. They were the dried-on porridge that was caked around my bowl, and it was difficult to see where the porridge ended and the bowl began.

I still have some way to go, but a good example of how this helped me is that I had a giant pink plastic box with all my best stuff in it. I was originally clearing the rest of the house to make room for its contents to finally come out. Imagine my surprise when I started clearing it, only to discover that my 70 litre box of what I thought was my most important possessions turned out to be full of mouldy porridge, with a decent spoon inside (the three things from the box that I ended up keeping). I’m glad I started questioning everything. I’m glad I stopped assuming that mouldy porridge was part of the bowl. Because, even though our house got quite messy this week, we got it clean and tidy in under 2 hours yesterday ready for a house party, because we’re no longer trying to polish bits of old porridge (or deluding ourselves into thinking the porridge is the bowl).

On an even deeper level, I want to travel and experience new things.  How can I experience anything new if my bowl is already so full that I can’t fit any new experiences into it, even just to eat them?

Have you cleaned your bowl recently? If it’s looking tatty, start digging at it. There might be a bright shiny bowl under all that old porridge!

How to get out of bed in the morning

getting up How to get out of bed in the morning alarm
source: imgbuddy.com

For years I’ve had a getting out of bed problem.  A mixture of broken sleep due to iron deficiency and before that, severe insomnia.  At one point I had to limit myself to only staying up for more than 24 hours one day a week, because I was doing it two, three or sometimes 4 days a week.

I don’t really know what fixed my insomnia but I’ll tell you if I work it out.

My inability to get out of bed had been ruining my life for years.

Here’s what I did that solved it:

1. Set a regular bedtime, something that gives you the eight hours you need.  If you use one of those sleep apps that tells you that you need 7 hours and 24 minutes and 12 seconds of sleep, make sure you’re feeling rested when you wake up – you may want to consider sleeping for longer.  If it’s working for you – great!

2. Start going to bed at least an hour before you plan to be asleep.  I start going to bed at 9:00pm to get up at 6:30, that way I’m guaranteed to be asleep by 10:30, which is the cut off point to get my eight hours.  I played around with half an hour but it wasn’t quite long enough.  Anyway, unless you fall asleep within minutes of lying down, you’ll need to be in bed a little bit early to definitely be asleep by your intended time.

3. Don’t look at the clock once you’re in bed.  It can start your subconscious doing maths, which will keep you awake.

4. Make sure your room is a good temperature and that enough air is getting in – I have found that sleeping with the door open helps me get up because I get more air, and therefore I get a better sleep.

5. Consider iron tablets.  If you find yourself waking up groggy (when you finally awaken), and suffocating at night, you might not have enough red blood cells. Iron and protein can help here.

6. Get out of bed when the alarm goes off.  Don’t go back to sleep for “five more minutes.”

7. Make a thing you do in the morning that’s important to you.  For me, that’s blog posting.  So every morning my motivation to get out of bed isn’t work or days off, it’s that I need to post on my blog (or check my stats, if I’m not doing an article that day).  Some people find a shower or exercise is more motivating.  I like to do them a bit later in the day.

Well that’s what I’ve found works for me.  What do you do to get up in the morning?

Gold, Books and Panties

Gold, Books and Panties

This afternoon, I was going through a box of accessories that I found in the bottom of my wardrobe.
The majority of it was shoeboxes that either did or did not contain the correct style and quantity of shoes. That has now been sorted, and the bottom of my wardrobe is eagerly awaiting all the right boxes of shoes going back into it later today.

In one shoebox, I found loads of costume jewellery and pieces of jewellery that I’d made (I make jewellery) along with one or two “real” pieces that were made of gold. In amongst it all was a box from F Hinds that I bought in late 2012. It was supposed to contain a 9 carat gold bangle that I only ever wore the once. I always kept it very carefully put away ready for special occasions. I took it out to have a look at it. It’s been stored in its original box all this time.

The big blob of corrosion is center top.
The big blob of corrosion is center top.

As you can see from this photo, it’s got a huge green glob of corrosion on it. What you can’t see are the additional splodges that almost look like grease spots on the surface of the gold, which are all over the bangle.

Second photo, so you can see it's not a trick of the light.
Second photo, so you can see it’s not a trick of the light.

Let’s just think about this for a minute. If treated correctly, hollow gold, solid gold, even gold plate and rolled gold (and gold fill) should all be able to last a lifetime.

I bought a couple of Gold Fill bracelets from China at the same time as this bangle, and I also bought a gold plated watch. Guess what? The Gold Fill and the gold plate are both still in perfect condition. All I can see from the evidence in front of me is that F Hinds must be making inferior jewellery. To the mass produced Chinese stuff. Whuuut??

This is the gold plated watch.  As you can see there's no corrosion here.
This is the gold plated watch. As you can see there’s no corrosion here.

I feel very shocked and let down that a reputable high street jeweller is making and selling jewellery of such poor quality (and let’s face it, they don’t sell it at Argos prices). You think you’re going to get something of higher quality from them because of the price of their items and the fact they have a fancy high street storefront. Sadly, because they only have a 12 month guarantee on their items, and I’ve only just discovered the problem, they won’t refund, exchange or even give me store credit.

Just to make absolutely certain that this wasn’t a gold chloride compound (God only knows where the chlorine would have come from when it’s been in a box in a box unless there’s chlorine emissions from the packaging they sell it in), I decided to heat the bracelet gently on the stove. This should decompose gold chloride back to solid gold and chlorine gas (making it look as good as new). I heated it for about three minutes then allowed it to cool. I took photos during and after the process.

Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.
Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.

It didn’t change, and there was definitely no chlorine smell, which would have been a key sign that any reaction was taking place.

I have a silver ring which I bought from H Samuel in 2007 that hasn’t got one single speck of corrosion on it, and silver is supposed to tarnish more quickly than gold. If you remember anything from school chemistry, you should know that gold is less reactive than silver, because gold is almost completely unreactive. If you buried a lump of gold in the ground, it should look the exact damn same in 1000 years’ time. There is a litany of evidence of this actually happening. The gold in the pyramids of Egypt are about 4,000 years old and they have plenty of gold in them, in perfect condition. It’s not a fluke, either. As an archaeology graduate and a chemistry-specialist science teacher, I actually cannot believe that anyone has managed to make a gold that corrodes. This gold was hallmarked and therefore should not have corroded like this.

I can’t say all their jewellery will be the same. Perhaps my bracelet just had a manufacturing defect, but if this is the case it should have a guarantee period that allows time for the defect to become apparent, because corrosion to a metal doesn’t happen overnight (unless you dunk it in aqua regia). Even though it’s an alloy (because it’s 9 carat not 24 carat) it should not corrode like this. I feel like I’ve lost something that was special to me. What I will say, however, is that I’m really REALLY glad I didn’t buy my wedding ring from them – their diamonds are only guaranteed for 2 years and their other jewellery is only guaranteed for 12 months. So I’m going to take my custom elsewhere in the future because I am totally unwilling to pay over the odds for jewellery that’s designed to fail after 12 months, and I don’t feel I can trust them now. That bracelet cost a lot of money.

I never in a million years thought that jewellery could be part of the Planned Obsolescence manufacturing movement.

On a brighter note, I have managed to downsize my jewellery (mostly costume anyway) to only contain the things that fit into my jewellery box, with everything else separated into “throw or donate” piles, and the things that I no longer want will be donated to charity shops. As for the rolled gold bracelet, I will give it to the PDSA charity shop (they help pets who need vets), in the hope that someone will see its condition and pay a reasonable price for it, and it will probably make them very happy to own, whilst also giving valuable funds to a charity that helps animals.

We also got rid of 180 books yesterday along with four bags of clothing that were the culmination of my book downsizing project over the last few weeks – I’ve been reading the first 10 pages of every book in the house to decide whether to keep it or not, after I’d taken as many as I could be sure of to the charity shop (about 100 that I knew I didn’t need to check, they just left the house). This generated about 230 books to get rid of. We had a book sale last Saturday to get rid of any to people who might want them, and have gotten rid of the remainder yesterday, leaving us with a few that people are going to pick up at some point in the near future. If they aren’t collected within 7 days, we are donating them as well (but there’s only about 50 waiting now).

We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown).  We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.
We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown). We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.

230 books decluttering minimalism

The difference on the bookshelves is profound. There’s now room for all of our books on the ceiling bookshelves, so we can either get rid of the rest of our bookcases or put different things on them, such as any number of displaced objects that don’t have a home because they never got given a place when we moved in. *saddest face*

Another thing I did this week was to finally go through the socks and panties and downsize from the big tub to these two small baskets, one for socks, one for panties. I know my previous post on this topic was from a travel angle, but when I think that nomads manage to live with their travel packing 365 days of the year, I think I can probably cross apply the panty-sock thoughts to my actual daily life. If I’ve made a terrible mistake I’ll be streaking starkers to Marks and Sparks for a new set of undies any day now…

The answer to the eternal question of underwear.
The answer to the eternal question of underwear.

 

It turns out you need far less than I had (who didn’t see that coming), and I’ve now got about two weeks’ supply of both, while still keeping variety (e.g. tights, stockings, socks) because I don’t want to wear everything that I have in a precise rotation of clothing (that’s way too prescriptive for me), I simply wanted a functional set of objects that had me covered for every type of clothing that I own. Now I just need to get into the habit of doing the laundry more regularly. Having said that, a lot of the stuff I threw out was things I haven’t worn in a long time, or I balk at the idea of wearing if I ever pull it out, so I think I’ve probably been wearing exactly what I’ve kept anyway, so it might not affect my laundry-doing habits.

And here are the losers.  They all went to the bin because I can't stand the idea of second hand underwear.
And here are the losers. They all went to the bin because I can’t stand the idea of second hand underwear.

I’m going to go and put the washing machine on now.

Is Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed Making You Shop?

Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed

Have you ever gone into a shop and browsed, only to feel like the woman behing the counter is watching you, and like you can’t leave empty handed? That compulsion to buy something?

It can get a bit ridiculous. When I first left home, I had to know what was inside every shop, I think it was just curiosity and an enjoyment of the time I could spend doing it. However, I seemed to keep leaving the shops with an item or two. Sometimes three. Sometimes these items were fairly expensive. Always I didn’t want or need them. I couldn’t understand why I kept doing it until I got stuck in a particularly cloying boutique.

It was the kind of shop that calls itself a boutique, that sells things which are labelled in squiggly handwriting with the name of some unreadable (and unremarkable) “designer.” The window display had been some pretty hats, and for some reason it lured me in. I wondered what else they sold.

I went inside. A particularly sour-faced older lady in the over sixty category, wearing a very unattractive floral print dress (prints had been out for about 10 years by this point, and wouldn’t ever make a comeback in the garish incarnation she was sporting) and a necklace that seemed to be garotting her neck fat. She glared down her nose at me and didn’t say a word. I looked around to see what the shop sold. There was a lot of things that the older lady might wear to watch a regatta or go to a wedding. I could see the Queen shopping somewhere similar. Nothing had any price tags on. I started to panic because there was nothing in the whole shop that I could buy. Not a single thing. Everything was repulsive in some way or another. I felt too hot, the temperature was stuffy and the artificial floral air freshener was catching in my throat. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t buy anything, so I looked obsessively at every single item, pretending to be interested, and I had an epiphany – I didn’t have to buy something in order to leave. The exit was right there, all I had to do was be brave and walk out. I suddenly realised that when I came into shops like this I tended to worry that sour older women like that would just see my school uniform and assume I was shoplifting when I wasn’t, causing unpleasantness. She couldn’t stop me for shoplifting – because I hadn’t shoplifted anything. It didn’t seem like such a silly worry at the time, so I had to take a very deep breath, close my eyes, pull the door open… and I was back on the street, walking away, never to see the inside of that awful place again.

I felt like I’d escaped from a spider web.

For years, I felt very uncomfortable when trying to leave a shop without buying anything, although it wasn’t unmanageable. I did still find it quite difficult, however, and there were a few times I ended up leaving with something I thought I wanted to buy, but if I’d really thought about it, I wouldn’t have bought it. It all came to a head in my first year of university. I’d just got my student overdraft, and I saw a dress in the window. It was sparkly and pale pink. I went inside to try it on. It didn’t fit particularly well and it had a huge design flaw that made my legs look terrible. Additionally, it was actually a very unflattering pale peach, and made my skin tone look dead. Oh, and it was also £250. But do you know what I did? I bought it anyway. I didn’t find out about the colour until I got back to my room; they must have had some very odd lighting on it in the shop.

I got it home still feeling really pleased with myself about buying the dress, pleased that I was now the sort of person who could spend £250 on a dress without thinking about where that money would come from. Pleased, in short, that I was able to participate in consumerism at a higher level than when I lived at home. I equated spending power with success.

It was about seven or eight years later that I finally realized that I had made a poor choice. The years came and went, I never actually wore that dress to any of the variety of functions I attended, at all of which it would have been appropriate, because I was afraid of someone spilling something on it, or standing on the hem. Every time I tried it on I would look in the mirror and feel very pleased with myself for having such a nice dress. Through the bad times, the times when I was working at McDonalds and when I was unemployable because I couldn’t walk, I would try the dress on and feel the same way I had when I bought it – like I was going places. I felt like anyone with a dress like this must be on their way up in life. I loved it. And underneath that thought process, I also hated it. I felt like it was a tangible reminder of my own weakness, my inability to not buy things, something I knew was a personal failing even as it made me feel happy. The feeling grew on me that I had never worn it, and time was always moving forward, and it was just taking up space in my life. I didn’t need it, and I didn’t want it. Every time I altered the hemline or changed the drop of the skirt, it still didn’t look right and I couldn’t put my finger on the reason.

The bottom line was, it was an expensive waste of money and it was also an overpriced and poor fitting monstrosity that I would never have occasion to wear.

When my wedding day came, I pulled it out. The most expensive dress you ever wear, we are told by the Wedding Industrial Complex, is supposed to be your wedding dress. Well I wasn’t going to spend £250 on a wedding dress, but I also didn’t actually like that dress and didn’t want to wear it in public. I think the peach colour had progressively faded from the moment I bought it and when it came to my wedding year it was a really yellowish peach that made me look positively anaemic (which I was, but I didn’t need to look like I was). My actual wedding dress was £10. When I first started minimalizing the house, six months after the wedding (we haven’t been married anywhere near a year yet), that £250 dress was one of the first things I got rid of.

Do you know how good that felt? It felt better than when I bought it. I felt like I’d unhitched a cart that I’d been dragging behind me for years. I felt lighter and more moveable. It’s several weeks later and I’m still glad I got rid of it.

The fact that I was able to get rid of it means that I am putting that part of my life – the naive thoughts that being able to consume more expensive items equates to success and happiness – behind me, I’m committed to minimalizing my life and letting go of the things that are weighing me down.

All my sandbags will be cut loose, so I can soar amongst the stars.

No longer am I afraid of leaving empty handed. I don’t need to buy things to prove to shop assistants that I have spending power. I know that I can buy anything I want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to use that power. In Kung-Fu, it is taught that true wisdom is knowing when not to fight. So in minimalism, we learn that true wisdom is also knowing when not to purchase things.

I think this is probably linked to FOMO – or fear of missing out.  Sometimes I worry that if I don’t buy something when I see it I’ll never get back to buy it when I really need it.  This is an obstacle I’m still trying to overcome.  But that’s okay, because minimalism is a journey, and it starts with choosing which pair of shoes to wear to take that single step.  Unless you’re a centipede.  In which case you can wear all of them.

[minimalism] Planned Obsolescence

Planned Obsolescence (or Planned Obsolesence, but that’s not how you’re supposed to spell it):

My future husband’s microwave was already rusty inside by the time I moved in with him in late 2010. One day in early 2011 I tried to reheat some parsnips. There was nothing special about them, they were bog standard parsnips that we had, in fact, only cooked the night before. It was a good job I had a back problem at the time, had difficulty with the (very steep, unsafe and not up to building code) stairs and was effectively stuck on the ground floor, and that the kitchen was an easy place to be. I watched my food. I am very glad that I did.

At first, I thought there was steam coming from the bowl. Great, my food is cooking quickly, I thought. Then the smell of smoke gave it away. Something was burning. I opened the microwave and saw that the smoke was actually coming from the top of the microwave itself, not the food! I called for help, unplugged it and got the back door open, then had to BELLOW at my future husband to get the damn thing outside and on the concrete before the whole kitchen went up, because he was so surprised that he was just staring at it in disbelief. Between us we got it thrown out where it burned itself out, and was taken to the recycling centre that same weekend because I refuse to live in a house with discarded appliances strewn in the back yard, even a miserable yard like the one in that house.

How had this happened? My future husband grilled me over what I had put in the microwave to cause this. It was just a plastic bowl with some reheatable boiled parsnip. Did I put water in? Yes. And besides, the bowl wasn’t the thing on fire.

We didn’t think we could function effectively without a microwave, given our propensity at the time for microwave rice, so we went to the shop and looked at new ones.

The first thing that struck me was the price. They were the same price in 2011 as they had been in 2002 and 2004, the last two times I’d accompanied anyone to buy microwaves. Not only that, but the wattage was now lower.

I found this interesting. You could buy a low end microwave for £40 in 2002 and 2011. But the manufacturers had redefined the term low-end. In 2002, low-end £40 microwaves were 800 watts. In 2011, they were 700 watts. An 800 watt microwave cost at least £60 in 2011.

You could say that this was inflation. I disagree.

The microwave’s lifespan is almost exactly the same each time. The new one we bought is now not heating things as effectively as before, and the way it’s heating them causes them to need re-heating sooner than before because they are losing that heat energy too quickly. It is now common for me (if I need to re-heat a drink which is usually once or twice a week) to have to re-heat the same hot tea three or four times to finish it, where it used to take one re-heat.

We rarely eat ready meals. Last night, I bought what was probably the first ready meal we’d had in the house in about twelve months. The microwave heating instructions for the meals were aimed at 700 watt microwaves, ours is 800 watt. Following the instructions for both ready meals did not cook them. I had to put them in for an extra minute and a half. The microwave has definitely lost heating output.

I predict that our microwave will not last to the end of this year. This is a microwave that we bought in 2011. I did a quick search of Argos to see how much a new microwave would cost. A 700 watt microwave is now £34.99. An 800 watt microwave is £52.99.

I think I have been the victim of Planned Obsolescence.

Planned obsolescence is the underpinning idea that explains exactly what you’ve suspected for years – that certain products are specifically designed to fail after a given period of time. There is evidence that this has been going on since 1920, around the world. Basically, companies realised that they were not going to make any money from long lasting products with a “lifetime guarantee” because they can only sell to each customer once. If they make a product that’s great but breaks after a few years, they can sell to that customer again and again.

Here are some common examples that had made me wonder about whether products were designed to fail long before I found out this really was a design feature:

1. Printer cartridges. I got my own printer for my second year of university, and I used to be able to use the ink until it started fading on the page, printing thinner and thinner. Then, around about three years ago, after a mysterious printer software update, the printer wouldn’t do faded prints until the ink ran out. After another update, it stopped letting me substitute colour for black (it used to be able to make “composite black.” Around the same time, it refused to print something in black ink because the cyan ink was too low. Despite the fact that it didn’t need cyan to print black, and I even played around with settings for over an hour telling it on different screens to print in black ink only. That’s right, I had to spend £20 on a new 4-colour set (because they don’t come separately) because the cyan had run out while I tried to print something in black. That 4-colour set is always sold separately to black ink, by the way. Once the printer stopped being able to print 100% perfectly by its own arbitrary standard, it refused to print at all.

The second time it did it, it was out of yellow and I was trying to print a serious black ink letter to someone important. Then, immediately after being recharged with 4 new colours (another £20), it refused to print at all. I’d had it 4 1/2 years. I capitulated and bought a new printer which promised cheaper ink and better efficiency.

Cars. Isn’t it interesting how cars from particular decades are built to fail in different ways? For example, the cars from the 1990s were built to rust, but cars from about 2002 onwards were built to not rust. I bought my car last year that was 10 years old, and there was no rust underneath. It’s now 11 and still only has speckles. My previous car had been 6 when I bought it, and it had no rust either. When I sold that, it was 8 and still no rust whatsoever, the underside was bright silver. But my first car had died of rust about 18 months after I got it, aged 13. It was only 5 years older than my current car. Second hand cars from the 1980s were so bad that I remember my mum being annoyed that she had to pay £500 in 1993 for a car that was 5 years old and therefore past it’s use by date. £500 wasn’t as valuable in 1993 as people like to think – can you imagine buying a 5 year old car for £500 – or even £1000 – today and thinking it was anything other than nearly-new? Different things fail on cars in different decades as well – the 1980s was engine failure and electricals, the 1990s was rust and electricals, the 2000s was engine failure again (and electricals, maybe they’re easier to design to fail). Easily dentable bodywork was a big one for a while, and a few years ago every second car was dented somewhere, but it became clear that people would just drive around in dented cars rather than buy a new one and mysteriously they don’t do that any more. Even if you do get a car that’s not doomed to fail within a decade, chances are the manufacturer will discontinue the spares for it soon. It’s all a peculiar pattern that can only be explained by Planned Obsolescence.

Optical drives. The great thing about CDs, the thing that made CD-sized discs really take off, was that you could write the data to them and it would last, even if you put it in a magnetic field, in a hot environment, a cold one or a damp one. In January, whilst clearing out my mum’s house after she died, I found a CD with all my poetry on from when I was 16. That CD had been dumped in a mouldy attic with a leaking roof (even the steel stanchions of the house frame were thoroughly rusty, where they used to be shiny silver, due to the roof leakage) and even its paper label was wet and mouldy. I washed the CD when I got home and put it into my computer. The disc loaded first time and all my files were fully intact, openable, readable, everything exactly the same as when I saved them, twelve years earlier. That’s how good disc-based storage is – their only vulnerability is scratches, which are carelessness. The discs themselves are almost infallible.

So why is it that every pack of writeable CDs and DVDs has duff discs in it? How did they not pass quality control? It’s always a similar number as well – usually about two or three in ten, or five in twenty, will fail while you’re trying to write to them. Is it the discs that are at fault or the optical drives? I am unsure. I did suspect they just put the useless ones in boxes and sold them for two reasons – a) they make money back on the plastic they’ve used and b) they actually make more money than they would if you got 10 working discs because you have to buy more packs of discs to actually get 10 good ones. I strongly suspect the optical drives have a part to play. It’s very mysterious that DVD players, CD drives and games consoles designed to read discs tend to break every four and a half years, the same as microwaves and printers. In the past five years we have had to replace a DVD player, a games console, and a portable DVD player (we didn’t actually replace that, we just got rid). The CD player in my car doesn’t work either, so for road trips I bought a portable boom box that takes batteries – very environmentally unfriendly, but it costs over £100 to get a new radio put in whereas the boom box was £20 and takes batteries I can get in four packs from any £1 shop, and when I calculated how long it would take to recover the £100 in batteries, I realised this was actually just far cheaper.

Consumerism won this battle, but I hope that by not spending the £100 on the new CD player at the moment, I will be able to win my war on frivolous purchases. What is really insidious about the optical drives at the moment is that computers and laptops now don’t automatically come with the ability to play a DVD or Blu-Ray – even if the laptop/PC is equipped with a DVD or Blu-Ray drive! I tried to watch a DVD last year (yep, I don’t watch them very often) and found that, despite the fact that 5 different appliances all had the right shape/size disc, and said “DVD” on the disc drive, they actually couldn’t play the DVD. No. You need a DVD player to do that. The games console will only play DVD games, not DVD films. The laptop will only give you a handy tray to put your DVD down on, while you try to find a scart cable for your DVD player. Five years ago they all proudly multi-tasked and now, realising they can get more money from you, they all solo-task. If your laptop plays DVDs, how can they sell you a DVD player as well? If that hasn’t spent all your money for you, how about a portable DVD player, or an in-car one, for car rides?

This all seems like just “the way things are?” Think about these two things:

  1. School textbooks. They are designed to be obsolete in a few years – as are all school curricula – overtly this is to “reflect the latest changes” but how much have English or History changed in the last ten years, or maths, or anything else, insofar as it’s genuinely reflected in what thirteen year olds learn? And how many GCSE and A-level specification changes have there been in that time, necessitating new class sets of texts? Having been a teacher now for three years, I can tell you that they don’t use the same textbooks and resources that they did when I first started. Somewhere, the decision makers do this so that children learn that everything has to be recent and relevant, and that anything “old” has no value so when they grow up, they buy everything new.When I was at school, we had French textbooks with pictures of kids with monobrows and shell suits, ten years after both went out of style. I enjoyed seeing things that reminded me of what the world had looked like when I was very small. I grew a sense of nostalgia. We were the very final year group to use those text books, and a new French curriculum was brought in for the children who were a year younger than me, so they were promptly detached from that sense of the past or of connection. There were even promotional posters for the new text books that made people in my class feel like we were getting an inferior French education by using the older texts – parents complained. The joke’s on them – I got an A in GCSE French and think those text books were fantastique. This “new is always better” fallacy is awful though – it trains children to value nothing, and to believe that people from the past were intellectually inferior (unless they’re a Historical Figure). It also makes people think that education is “better” today than it used to be – which is odd because if that’s the case, why are people who had that “inferior” education now the same people designing these textbooks?? If their education was inadequate, why are they qualified to dictate what kids should learn? Of the 62 million adults of various ages living in the UK today (and educated here), how many of them don’t know what the second world war was, or can’t read at all, and is it the fault of the resources, the educators, the parents, the media or the individual? Mainstream education makes children a product of their time as one of its subsidiary covert purposes. It’s very sad.
  1. Your grandma. If your gran was too young, ask your mom about great grandma, especially if she’s from the United States or Germany, both of whom suffered the worst in the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. If she was like my grandma, she would have said “in my day, things were built to last.” and she put her kids in terry towelling nappies and washed them in the toilet before she put them in the machine. She bought new broom handles and new brush heads, and sewed things when they ripped, and kept spare buttons.

Ultimately, the only reason anyone dismisses this as a conspiracy theory in spite of the evidence of their own eyes and wallets and numerous examples, is because of this:

“For planned obsolescence to work, the customer must feel that he/she has had value for money. Furthermore, he/she must have enough confidence in the manufacturer/company, to replace the original washing machine with the modern equivalent machine, from the same manufacturer.”
(http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/plannedob1.html).

And if people believe they have had value for money, they don’t question it when the product breaks. Additionally, the companies have to be careful that this cannot be proven, so that they don’t end up the victims of lawmaking to stop them doing this or huge lawsuits. After all, if there’s no evidence, there’s no crime as far as the law is concerned.

The fact that people are unaware or don’t believe this is happening just goes to show how successful the consumerist indoctrination that takes place in schools and through the media has been. Even the headteachers and governors, and the film and television directors, are blissfully unaware of what they are doing because they’ve been taken in by it as well.  After all, they’re also (influential) consumers.

The most pressing question that I can’t see an answer to isn’t “why do my things always break” (which as we have established is part of their design) but “what should I do about it?” This is what I want to try and unpick.

Repair shops are thin on the ground these days, and even if you find one, half the time they tell you things are going to cost more to repair than replace. This forced consumerism is dictating to us where our money goes.

I guess for a lot of it, the fundamental problem is that they have created a need for the item. The microwave, the TV, the DVD player, the games console. You purchase a bunch of pretty specific stuff (such as DVDs or video games, specific foods that work best in the microwave) that only that specific device can operate. Then you get used to being able to enjoy those items regularly, thinking to yourself that this is great and convenient. Then they break and you think you have to buy a new one. That’s right. You think you have to. You don’t actually have to. Can I cook without a microwave? Of course. I hardly use it for cooking since we maybe eat ready meals once a year, I only use it for shortcuts such as defrosting or re-heating leftovers. Can I re-heat my tea without a microwave? No, I can’t. But do you know what? I’m going to learn to be more diligent and drink my tea faster because for 25 years of my life, I refused point blank to re-heat tea, because it affects the taste, it’s a recent laziness I’ve acquired that was borne from a need to not waste tea and has gotten out of control.

I spoke to my husband last night about getting rid of the microwave altogether by not replacing it. The very thought upset him. His first response? To ask me how I would re-heat my tea. Then to tell me that if I didn’t want to use the microwave, I should just not use it, and leave him to it. I don’t think he really understands that’s it’s not about whether it gets used, it’s about curbing our dependence on useful but superfluous devices that we don’t need. Do you know what I worry about? If we get rid of the microwave, it’s almost guaranteed that the cooker will break.

Now lets talk about how planned obsolescence fuels consumerism. The original meaning for the term “planned obsolescence” was to create a need in consumers to buy something a little bit better, a little bit sooner than they would have done. Let’s take the qualifiers out of that and turn it into a straightforward sentence: “To buy something better, sooner.” In modern times the term planned obsolescence has grown to encompass those items that we just know are designed to fail. But due to potential lawsuits from multinational companies nobody dares say anything or prove anything.

When something breaks, you get rid of it. But like with my microwave, what if it’s just outlived it’s usefulness? What if it just doesn’t do the job you bought it for? Would you replace it then? What about before that happens? I only replace things, unless they break, when they stop doing the job I bought them for – or if that job no longer needs to be done. But do I really want to replace them? The thought process goes something like this: “X doesn’t do Y anymore. Z does Y better. Previously, I bought X to make life easier, because Z wasn’t as good. I should buy another X.”

The flawed logic is thinking that we need to replace X. Really, we should actually own a better Z and not have an X at all. For example my bathroom has a bath and a shower cubicle as two separate units. Recently the top of the shower’s electrics box started to melt. I looked into replacing the shower and it was really expensive. All along my thought was, we cannot be without a shower. I even considered the most depressing of all financial packages – the dreaded Bathroom Loan, the epitome of self-indulgence and subservience to the Consumeriarchy (just made it up, d’you like it?) unless you started off with JUST an outdoor toilet.

Luckily my husband intervened. He duct taped the hole in the top of the shower to stop water getting into the electrics. I thought he was crazy. Then I realised this was really helpful – not to fix the shower, but to give me time to think about how to fix the shower. When he took away that sense of urgency I had a chance to think, and when I thought it through, I realised we have a perfectly good bath and we can just get a cheap mixer shower and use it in the bath. In this example, the shower is X and the bath is Z. There was and is no reason for us to have a bath and a shower, except that they came with the house, and I recently found out that the electric shower is apparently increasing our electricity consumption by a whole lot. It’s just another device of mass consumption of my paltry finances.

Sense of urgency is the path to bad decision making. I try not to make decisions when they seem urgent because it’s led to some bad consequences in the past – it always feels like I’m getting good items, but they are always far more money than I would have spent if I had felt like I had the time to choose carefully. I am not usually an impulse buyer, but that sense of urgency from a car write-off, a burning microwave or a melted shower can really make me feel like I need to make a decision fast – which always leads to me throwing money at it until the problem goes away.

To sum up then, stuff’s designed to break. Spending more may or may not prolong its life. Nothing lasts forever – and nor should it – but it would be nice if things lasted as long as they could instead of as long as the manufacturers let us have them for. This most insidious form of consumerism is one that I’m not sure even the power of minimalism can fully overcome.  I would go so far as to say that this is why people think they’re “too old” for particular things – one example I can offer amongst many is that someone I know in their 40s recently claimed they were “too old” to go to university and get a degree, even when I told them of three people who had been over 50 (one over 60) who were at university with me doing the same degree as me (and they all got higher marks than me).  What a shame that human beings can be convinced that they, too, can become obsolete after a certain age.

Resources:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/g202/planned-obsolescence-460210/?slide=7

The documentary exposing the Planned Obsolescence society Phoebus: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/light-bulb-conspiracy/

An academic paper which discusses this in detail from an economics perspective (using a lot of economic terminology): http://www.murks-nein-danke.de/blog/download/An%20Economic%20Theory%20of%20Planned%20Obsolescence.pdf

Quote source:

http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/plannedob1.html

These are in French but the first is a good overview (if you read French) of the lightbulb conspiracy, as well as giving examples, including a detailed explanation of how the iPhone obsolescence is being carried out (which is linked at the bottom of the first article I’ve linked to, as well as being the second link below these words) The third explains how Nylon/DuPont limit the life of stockings and tights:

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/le-cartel-phoebus-et-les-lampes-a-incandescence/

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/iphone-ipad-ipod-et-mac-dapple/

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/bas-nylon-de-dupont-de-nemours/