Should you buy it? Use the 45 Minute Rule

I don’t think I’ve written a post on minimalism in years. My guess as to why is because once I adopted a life of less stuff, I really didn’t have that much more to say about it. I still have a sparsely decorated house and a half-empty closet, but at the same time this is the most I’ve ever owned and I’m hesitant to add to the collection. I am still striving to for that difficult balance of as little as possible with as much as I need. But I do have one rule that I adhere to:

The 45 Minute Rule

If you will not use an item for at least 45 minutes per day, you do not need to own it

I think this came from the book What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption but I also vaguely remember it in one of the Zeitgeist films on Netflix, so I’m not wholly sure. In any case, it’s served as a quick way to assess how much I will really use an item I want to buy. It’s particularly useful for those “novelty” gadgets you’re always tempted to get but can’t quite justify because deep down inside you know it will sit in a closet, but then you get it anyway hoping this time will be different. It’s not.

How much is 45 minutes per day?

That is 5.25 hours per week

275 hours per year

or 11 days per year

You’d be surprised what items you use for way more than 45 minutes per day: your furniture, television, coffeemaker. And you might be surprised at what you don’t: DVDs you’ve already watched, a fancy food processor, etc. Once I started looking at things, I couldn’t believe how much I owned, or rather how much I wanted, that wouldn’t serve any real purpose in my home.

Obviously you don’t wear all your shirts 5.25 hours per week but I bet you wear your favourite ones at least 11 days per year. Some items in your closet that you only wear a handful of times per year? Ditch ‘em.

If you won’t use something for at least 45mins per day / 5.25 hours per week / 275 hours per year / 11 days per year, it’s probably cheaper to borrow or rent it.

Let someone else commit to ownership of a snowblower or Margaritaville Magarita maker, you can offer some cash to borrow it on an as-needed basis. There’s no reason to accumulate a huge collection of tools or kitchen gadgets or whatever else if you’re not going to get the use out of these you need to justify the price. One of the things I always think about is my snowboard: I own one but I’ve been pretty bad at hitting the hills the past few years. In the past 2 winters, I’m not sure I’ve even made it out 10 times! And yet there is a great snowboard and all my gear, cluttering up the cupboards =\ That is an item I’d probably be better off renting until I took the sport more seriously!

Obviously you should still buy consumables (food, soap, etc.) that you will use less than 45mins per day, but when it comes to reusable items, the 45 minute rule is one of my go-to decision makers.

Getting my clothing spending down to 5%

I think it was the lovely Adina J that told me clothing should be 5% of your spending (or maybe it was 3%?). Not sure if she heard this rule somewhere or if she made it up herself, but regardless, she is a frugal and fashionable woman so I trust her judgement. And thus my new personal spending rule is this:

Clothing should be 5% or less of your overall spending.

Why this is a good idea:

  • instead of being a fixed amount, a percentage is proportional to my income. Therefore, the more money I make, the more I’m allowed to spend.
  • limiting my spending on clothing will result in more money elsewhere, which means more for debt payments, savings, or important items like furniture.
  • limits will force you to evaluate your choices. If you know you can’t have it all, you will instead select what’s most important. I’m all for prioritizing my wardrobe to keep junk out!

I’ve been tracking my spending for a few years now, and I know I spend more than 5% of my money on clothes. It never feels like I do, because I don’t own a lot of clothes. When I become bored with something, I give it to my sisters or donate it to Goodwill without a second thought.

I remain really dedicated to a minimalist wardrobe. I can just feel when I have too much stuff and it gives me anxiety until I cut back. If my entire closet amounts to more than 4 loads of laundry, it’s time to get rid of stuff.

However, owning fewer items frequently gives me the illusion that I spend less on clothing than I really do. In reality, I spend a ton of money on clothes.

I like expensive items. Fabrics like leather, silk and cashmere aren’t cheap to buy OR keep, but they’re my favorites. Sweatshop-free cotton tees are 3x the price of those at H&M or Forever XXI, and denim made within North American borders will have a price tag that reflects a North American minimum wages.

My clothing budget also reflects regular tailoring, dry-cleaning, and shoe repair expenses, which count towards the 5% total.

For 2013, I was heavy on clothing shopping early in the year. I bought a pair of leather boots early in January and stocked up on my favorite jeans when I went to visit my parents in Utah. These two shopping trips alone account for at least 1/3 of what I’ve spent on new clothes this year! Since then I’ve slowed my clothing spending down, save for a recent stock up on basic t-shirts from American Apparel for summer (using my spending account, so I shopped guilt-free!), I’m hoping to see the percentage drop. To date this is how my spending looks:


Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 7.44.31 PM

total spending so far for 2013

Eep! Nearly 8% on clothes and I still need a new pair of sandals =( How can I bring my clothing spending down to 5% of the pie? Two ways:

1) Cut down spending on clothing (obvious, right?)

2) Increase spending elsewhere.

Now, I don’t want bigger bills to pay and I shouldn’t go crazy and spend more on food, but if I increase my debt payments and investment spending, each of those categories will grow thus shrinking the clothing spending slice of the pie. All around source of win!

So my plan going forward is to slow down — but not eliminate! — my spending on clothing while increasing my debt payments and buying some more stocks. Can’t go wrong there ;)

I’m still having a minimalist Christmas

Spoiler alert for people I will be gifting to: I recently learned that I make wicked biscotti, so that is my homemade delight this year. That’s what you’re getting. And my delightful company.

Ok, maybe a small something or other to show my affection too, I can’t give it all away on a public blog.

For myself, I don’t want any gifts this year, I’m just hoping to get a lot of good food and hugs from family (and friends) at Christmas dinner! This is like last year, when I first advocated a material gift-less Christmas, and in the past 12 months, my perspective on the subject is largely unchanged.

Why I still don’t want stuff:

(seriously, this was actually the theme of my birthday)

It takes up space. It takes up space in your home, and when you’re bored of it, it takes up space in landfills. I had a lot of anxiety buying my TV since it’s the first item I’ve bought in over 6 years that cannot fit in a suitcase. I’m still living in an apartment largely furnished with a friend’s possessions, and as the conversation goes forward on what to do with it all, I’m hesitant to inherit anything. What if I move? What if I change my mind? Extreme clutter only ever leads to extreme anxiety.

It’s wasteful. Not only does it take up space, it takes up resources and time, both to make it and to maintain it. When I’m sick of dusting or washing dishes or doing laundry, I know it’s time to give away what I don’t need and simplify so I have more time and more focus on the things that are important. Time is a precious resource that I always feel short of, so I don’t want to spend any more of it than I have to maintaining objects in my home.

It’s all depreciating assets. I do love to spend, but it has to be only on one of three things: 1) things that I need, 2) experiences that make me happy, and 3) assets that will generate more income. Food, shelter, clothing, travel, savings, investments, education, DONE. I do get a bit sentimental about some jewelry and I like to dress in fashionable clothes, but other than that I’m really proud of how little I’ve come to own over the past few years. I feel largely unattached to my possessions and I find that very liberating.

I just don’t. If I stay out of the mall and off of shopping websites, I don’t make wish-lists of dresses and trinkets. I don’t buy DVDs or books (unless their absolute favorite stories and hard to find). And while I do have those moments when I think, “I need new bed sheets, these are fading” or “these shoes will need to be replaced soon”, at the end of the day I have more than I need and I’m satisfied with what I have.

Now, I posted the following video last year but I still think it’s worth a watch to keep perspective during this stuff-obsessed season where we equate objects with affection:

Merry Christmas!

Minimalist Challenge: 30 items for 30 days

From March 1 until March 30 I set a goal to only wear 30 different items of clothing.

Not 30 outfits, just 30 items. This includes pants, shirts, dresses, skirts, and sweaters. It does not include underwear, accessories, shoes or jackets (because that would just be too much). I’m also not counting work-out clothes because those get worn twice a week for one hour — but for those I limited myself to only two pieces (because I didn’t work out much! Shame on me!), just to keep in the spirit of the challenge.

How much of a challenge is this? I’m not sure. It’s not nearly as ambitious as the One Dress Protest, but I feel like I wear the same thing every day. However, after I itemized my closet I learned that I have a lot more clothes than I thought I did. I have a feeling I’m wearing the same few things over and over again, but when it came down to picking only 30 I found it challenging. I had to leave out some favourites, but I also quickly filled the list with my regulars, making me realize just how much of my closet I’m genuinely not interested in.

 (side note: wearing my Talula blazer and Joe jeans that caused some controversy in my Frugal Fashion post. Both items are over 1.5 years old — still look new! Also, sorry my mirror is so hazy. It’s my hairspray mirror.)

I considered taking a picture of my outfit everyday but…

  1. this is not a fashion blog, you don’t care
  2. with only 30 items, I’ll be re-wearing a handful of outfits and that’s quite boring

So what’s the point of this? Well, there’s a few actually. First, it’s simplicity for simplicity sake. Limiting my outfit choices will reduce the amount of time I spend trying to decide what to wear in the morning. It will make my laundry schedule more regular. It will keep the clutter in my room to a minimum. Secondly, it’s like a fast. Just like when you go without eating, either for spiritual or health reasons, you naturally participate in a few mental tasks: choosing what’s most important, practicing self-discipline, and pondering what it’s like to be with less. I’m trying to train myself to become increasingly more sensitive to the over-consumption that defines our culture, so I can reduce it in my own life (this is probably a lifelong process for me because I am nothing short of enchanted by traditional marketing strategies).

The only awkward thing about this challenge is I planned to buy an item of clothing this month. I had a coupon, gift cards and my eye on a certain dress at Banana Republic. So what happened? Well, I just picked out 29 items from my own closet and picked up the dress (40% off no less) the first Wednesday of the month. Even though it became part of my 30, I still felt like I cheated a bit which is why I’m ‘fessing up now =\ But the happy side to that tale is I got a $189 dress for $40.

Now we’re nearing the end of the month and I’m looking forward to getting back my other 35 items that were put away for this challenge. Though I have to say I really do enjoy the simplicity of laundry when you only have 30 things to worry about — it was significantly less of a chore!


More Minimalism.. online

I don’t own a lot of stuff. I have a very, very small bedroom and limited closet space. I have one dresser, one desk, and one shelf. That’s it. There is nowhere to hide clutter or stack papers. I can only ignore laundry for so long before it becomes a safety hazard that would surely obstruct a successful exit should my apartment complex ever catch on fire. In short, I feel like I’m doing pretty good at the minimalist thing.

But I am not a minimalist on my computer.

I get 63957297 emails per day. My desktop is full of unsorted files and photos. I have 15 different versions of my resumes, lab reports from 3 years ago, and a whole bunch of other things that are as mysterious as their origin. I keep emails from 6 years ago, “just in case”. I can’t delete anything permanently because I’m sure I “might need it later”.

It’s a sickness, friends, I swear to you.

Realizing I have a serious problem, I decided to immediately go about trying to solve it. I started with email, and the first thing I did was unsubscribe from everything. Did I really need an email every time someone replied to me on Twitter? Of course not — especially since it appears as an alert on my phone anyway. Ditto foursquare and Groupon. I cut out Morningstar investment news and relaxed my email alerts with ING. I unsubscribed from notifications from Rogers, Apple and Elle magazine. Heck, I was signed up for websites I didn’t even recognize, so I cut those out with a second thought. I can’t even tell you how glad I am I don’t use facebook.

Now my inbox is so quiet, you can hear crickets.


I have no idea how many minutes that became hours I wasted checking my email. Not to mention the serious draw on my iPhone’s battery pushing every new useless message. Every time my phone buzz, I thought it might be something exciting, but it was just spam. It’s a lot like when you go to the mailbox expecting cards or handwritten letters, but it’s full of flyers and bills.

I’m just a little too connected, and I need to let it go. Not having wifi or 3G sends me into a panic equivalent to that I would experience not having electricity. That’s not really rational, but my job/generation/nature has pushed me to the depths of dependence and I feel I need to reel it a bit. One of my Day Zero goals is to “unplug” for 48 hours — as in no TV, iPhone, iPad, or computer for two whole days — and I’m trying to wean myself off slowly before I attempt such a feat. The quiet has been nice, because it frees up more time for me to be present. Whether I’m at work, out with friends, or home alone, not spending so many minutes checking out to check email ensures that I’m not missing a beat.

Are you addicted to gadgets? How much of your day do you waste reading useless email notifications & spam? How much time each week could you save by merely unsubscribing from a list or two (or ten)?