Saturday, May 3, 2014


St. Helena, CA

I didn't buy this!
After the excruciating process of liquidating a house full of stuff, I came away with a different perspective about owning things. They weigh me down, limit my mobility and sap my energy. If I own something, I have to make space for it in my daily world, clean it and care for it. Eventually, I will have to transport it, which is a burden for me, find a new home for it, which transfers the burden to someone else, or dispose of it, which is a burden to my planet.

My first post this week was about the rules for buying things when I must. Today I'm adding my strategies for resisting the urge to buy more things to weigh me down -- even the really awesome ones.

1. Shop with a list.

When I go shopping, especially to big stores, I go armed with a list of what I need, then try hard to stick to the list. Sometimes, I go out with a razor focus, such as this month's "36-inch drop leaf table." I've been shopping for weeks with that single-item list. Eventually, I'll find that perfect table for our small space, but until then, I can look at fabulous things that I don't have to buy. #I_win

2. Return things.

Sometimes the store's magic dust wears off on the way home, and that fabulous thing loses its fabulousness. I like returning things, because it makes me feel like someone is giving me free money, which is obviously not true but works in my favor. Some stores are better than others about returns, but I rarely have issues. Receipts go into a slot in our expand-o file, and then get cleared out every few months.

3. Think of stores as museums.

As full-time travelers for the last four years, we had continuous exposure to money-sucking opportunities. I learned to think of the stores as museums: Look but don't take. It's oddly empowering and takes away the "what should I buy" stress. I simply savor the colors, feel the textures (a museum where you can touch!) and enjoy the ride.

4. Take a picture, it doesn't last as long.

On my laptop, I have a folder of photos called "Things I Didn't Buy," which includes that orange bench at the top of this post. I don't even like that bench any more, even though I almost bought it -- ON SALE. Taking a photo satisfied my immediate need for possession, which soon passed. Here are a few more of the things I didn't buy, although I still like these:

5. Buddy up with a friendly bad cop.

Sometimes I need an intervention to knock me out of the buying spiral, a simple reminder to think again. Chip and I play the bad cop for each other, a simple nudge or "yes, it fits, but is it fabulous?" Beware of the good cop, good cop syndrome, where you shop with someone who encourages you to buy indiscriminately. Take your good cop buddy to lunch, not Macy's.

6. Go on a fact-finding mission.

When we settled here in St. Helena, we went on a major scouting excursion to familiarize ourselves with area stores. Now, when we need something, we can make a strategic strike without wasting time or exposing ourselves to unnecessary temptations.

7. Don't buy more storage space.

It's a scientific fact that empty space (a vacuum) wants to be filled. If I had bought that bench at the top, I would have put things inside it. That's the same reason we rented a tiny house and why we didn't buy a dresser for the bedroom, but instead bought a small rack with just enough space for the clothes we already have. No more buying things that hold more things!

8. If I want a souvenir, I get something tiny.

Size truly doesn't matter when it comes to souvenirs. You're buying a memory trigger. It's what it represents that matters.

After our first cruising season, crossing the Gulf Stream twice, I saw this ring in Charleston. The mesmerizing blue of the Gulf Stream is immortalized in this stone, and wearing it transports me to that glorious water without having to worry about impending weather or yakking over the rail.

9. Rethink gift exchanges.

We've revisited the whole premise of gift-giving. For our own birthdays we plan a luxurious dinner date, splurging on a decadent restaurant. It's a delicious treat for both of us -- and we don't have to take it home (except maybe a few extra pounds). For others, we give things that are consumable or expendable, like brownies or homemade limoncello or flying wish papers (LOVE THESE).

10. Savor the open space.

An expanse of open floor or a nearly empty shelf. Acknowledging and appreciating open space makes me want to keep it open: no fabric or plants covering the view out my windows, no floor-to-ceiling pictures cluttering up my walls. My eyes crave open space, an uncluttered gaze. It's how I find my muse.

Today, I'm grateful for: every blooming thing.

NEXT WEEK: It's all about wine country!

More about: downsizing | living small


  1. LOL on the gulf stream comment. Man was that water a beautiful blue color, but honestly all I can think about is the yakking.

    1. Yakking is just so memorable. Fortunately that color is as well. ;-)