hannahlearner

Archive for the ‘Less/More Project’ Category

L E S S

In Less/More Project on April 5, 2011 at 12:41 am

Without fixing on an exact number, I decided to use as few things as comfortably possible for a week and assess my real, material needs. On day one, I combed through my apartment, sorting anything that I haven’t used in the last year into three bags: donate, sell, or toss. This purge changed the landscape of my bathroom cabinet, leaving just thirteen of my items in the whole room, three of which were make-up. In the kitchen, I selected another ten items, appliances excluded, to use for the week, and set them aside in the bottom cupboard with a note instructing my roommates not to touch. I decided to boycott the living room altogether during the experimental week; I never used it much anyways. In my bedroom, I gathered the books and supplies I would need for the week: nine items. This number excludes the fixtures in my room like my pillow, my printer, and my rug, which total thirty-seven items, my thirty books, and twenty-two art supplies. After clearing out the receipts and gum wrappers, I left the fourteen items in my purse untouched.

Confronting the biggest challenge last, I  then edited my week’s wardrobe to ten items, (socks and underwear excluded) that I deemed the most versatile: a coat, a pair of jeans, stockings, a pair of boots, a dress, two sweaters, a blouse, a skirt, and a tank top. Since my goal with this experiment is to evaluate the minimalist, self-denying ideal of Strobel against practicality and my own sense of social norms, I decided that my imposed restrictions were subject to exceptions, say if I had an unexpected dinner guest, or if the weather dictated rain boots.

T H I N G S  I  D I D N’ T  N E E D :

Pounds of clothing donated to the Salvation Army on 4th Avenue: 9.5

-Number of books I sold on Amazon and their value, respectively: 8, $41

-Value of two coats and two pairs of shoes I sold at Beacon’s Closet: $21

-Ratio of toiletries I tossed to those I kept: 3:1

-Ratio of plastic food containers in my apartment to people: 4:1

-Pounds of paper and plastic recycled: 7

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M O R E

In Less/More Project on March 25, 2011 at 3:31 am

I grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Ohio, in a house of about 2,500 square feet, an area which allows 625 square feet for each member of my family. My mother was a dedicated homemaker with a zest for interior decorating. Our home was a canvas for her decorative whims. Every year or two, the living room was repainted or wallpapered, the sofa was slip-covered and re-slip-covered, the lamps were given new shades or were rearranged. Sometimes she bought new furniture altogether. She subscribed to many home-and-garden magazines that gave her ideas. Every month, the glossy pages showed her new designs, new styles, new pillows.

The main occupation and anxiety of my mother’s life was her chores. She had a notepad where she would make lists of the rooms that needed cleaning, with bullet points beneath detailing what needed to be done: vacuum, dust, clean windows, change sheets. My bedroom was next to the linen closet, the door of which stuck open a bit because it was so full. It held towel sets of several color schemes, spare sheets, screens for the windows, pairs of summer and winter curtains. Although I often marveled that caring for the house could possibly occupy all of my mother’s time, something was always needing to be done. She groaned about the chores she already had, and yet longed for a bigger, “nicer” house like those in the pictures she tore from the magazines. I remember going with her to an annual event called the Parade of Homes. It was a showcase for new housing developments, where we toured through massive homes that had been decorated to the nines. She came back home and sat at the bench in our kitchen, moody and dissatisfied.

T I M E S  W H E N  I   F E E L  S T R E S S:

– I can’t find something that I thought was in the bottom of my purse.

– I am at a large grocery store, selecting my items from a vast variety.

– I am late for a class or meeting. If it is a morning event, the reason for my tardiness is probably that I couldn’t decide what to wear. The longer I spend deciding, the more likely I am afterwards to feel that I made the wrong decision.

– The battery is dying on my phone or laptop.

– My apartment is cluttered, and I am expecting company.

T I M E S  W H E N   I  F E E L  H A P P Y:

– I am crossing off the last item on my to-do list with a red pen.

– I receive a postcard or a package in the mail. I had given up expecting a response to a letter I sent, but find one, finally, in my mailbox.

– A friend thanks me.

– I beat my father in a game of chess. This has yet to happen.

– It’s a cold day, and when I wake up, I look out my window and crawl back into bed.

AN EXPERIMENT IN CONSUMPTION

In Less/More Project on March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I recently read a newspaper story about Tammy Strobel, a woman in Portland who gave away all but 100 of her possessions. The accompanying photo showed Strobel and her husband sitting in a living room so bare it would seem that they’d just moved in. Immediately, I look up from my computer and tallied the number of items on my desk: twenty-two. If each of my books counted individually, then the shelf above my head must’ve held another fifty. I didn’t dare count the contents my closet. Although I believe I own fewer clothes than my peers, my hangers still sag with the weight of excess.

On one hand, I envy Strobel’s minimalism. But on the other, I have to wonder what she’s giving up, exactly. Even if she works in a casual environment, some variation and cleanliness of dress are required. Does a woman with only 100 belongings wear the same pair of socks everyday? Does she run to the store every time she needs a stamp or an aspirin? It makes sense to buy certain items in bulk. The point of this simplified lifestyle, after all, is to make you happier, not to give you more errands or trips to the laundromat. The article’s thesis is that having less stuff gives you more time, and it’s the time that makes you happy.

I know already that one hundred items is too few for me. A wall in my bedroom holds my poster collection, fourteen items and counting. Many of them were handmade by my friends, or taken from an event that I attended. I don’t see the good in parting with it. Similarly, I’d have trouble eliminating the four objects that sit atop my bookshelf: a postcard photo, a mug shaped like an elephant, a handmade stuffed monster, and a red folded paper crane. I don’t need or use any of them, but they were gifts. It seems strangely selfish to throw them out just so my ownership count can be lower.

And then there’s the necessities of my occupation. As a design student, I also own twenty-two items of art supplies, and that’s assuming that sets of things like markers and tubes of paint are counted together. I could get rid of a few of these things, but when the crunch of a deadline is upon me, a seldom-used utensil can come in handy in an unexpected way. My work is more creative when I have options.

No one who knows me would disagree if I described myself as “thrifty.” I might even be cheap. During the semester, I work two days a week and make about $800 a month. With my Brooklyn apartment, shared among three roommates, my packed lunches, and thrift store wardrobe, I just break even. By challenging myself to save more and more, “live with less,” as the Times article puts it, economizing has become a sport to me.

My school is equidistant from two train stops, 6th Avenue and Union Square. I usually choose to exit at the latter station because it is a hub of activity where there are newspapers, performances, and markets. There are also, not infrequently, people giving out coupons and free samples of products like Folgers and Clorox. I scan for them. One day I spotted a team of bubbly people in matching t-shirts handing out small packages. A group was crowded around them, and I walked briskly over, parting the crowd with my hand out to receive my share of the free bounty. Not until I was walking away did I see that what the package contained was dog food. I don’t own a dog, nor does anyone I know. I had just reached blindly for “more.”