Simple Retirement Plan

simple retirement plan

© 2014 Christy King

“[O]lder people often draw as much happiness from ordinary experiences – like a day in the library – as they do from extraordinary ones.”
- Ron Lieber


A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published For Some, ’Tis a Gift to Be Simple, by Ron Lieber, about a study Amit Bhattacharjee and Cassie Mogilner conducted on happiness. This study offers hope for those who haven’t saved millions for retirement; in fact, a simple retirement plan may produce just as much happiness as one involving grand adventures.

“Ordinary moments that make up everyday life tend to be overlooked when the future seems boundless; however, these ordinary experiences increasingly contribute to happiness as people come to realize their days are numbered.”
- Amit Bhattacharjee and Cassie Mogilner


Bhattacharjee and Mogilner found that, over time, the happiness-making potential of everyday pursuits grows equal to that of more extraordinary experiences.

That is, the older people got, the more happiness ordinary experiences delivered. One reason is that, while younger people tend to define happiness in terms of excitement and enthusiasm, older people more often define happiness in terms of calm and peacefulness.

“What types of experiences should we pursue to extract the greatest enjoyment from life: the extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime experiences…or the simple, ordinary experiences that make up the fabric of our daily lives?”
- Amit Bhattacharjee and Cassie Mogilner


As people grow older, they tend to have a better sense of who they are. Although people of all ages define themselves through experiences, older people tend to view experiences as self-defining even when they’re routine events.

That is, as people get older, their focus may shift from discovering who they are through achievements like graduating cum laude and unique endeavors like zip-lining through the rainforest to living who they are through spending time in their preferred ways, such as reading sci-fi, gardening or singing in the church choir.

A detailed article about the study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences, is available online for free.

Stop Impulse Buys

© 2014 Christy King

© 2014 Christy King

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.”
- Erma Bombeck

If you want to save money and downsize, it’s important to stop impulse buys. One advertising agency has estimated that, over a lifetime, the average American spends $114,293 on impulse buys.

I wasn’t able to find the underlying study, so I have no idea if this number is based on anything other than someone’s imagination, but I think we can all agree that most of us impulsively spend money on things we don’t need.

“At the end of the day, taking 50% off a $250 dress still means walking out of the store $125 poorer.”
- Ian Lamont

Now, this isn’t all bad. Occasional (emphasis on occasional) small impulse purchases can add joy to life. It’s hot out, you’ve been weeding for two hours and the ice cream truck goes by. Is it really such a terrible thing to buy an ice cream sandwich?

Or to try the Bourbon Every Burger Choco Cookies pictured above? No, we didn’t buy any, though we were awfully curious about what they are!

On the other hand, large impulse buys and frequent small impulse buys both wreak habit on our budgets as well as our ability to minimize our belongings.

“The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.”
- Mad Magazine

Below are a dozen ways to help stop impulse buys.

1. Wait. Depending on the size of the purchase, this may be 30 minutes or 30 days. Just don’t buy the item until you’ve waited the length of time you’ve established in advance.

2. Have a goal. It’s a lot easier to save money if you know the $3 you would’ve spent on that latte is going to help pay for your lift pass or trip to Jamaica.

3. Follow the one-in, one-out rule. If you know you have to dispose of an item to buy a new one, you may think twice before purchasing something new.

4. Don’t make it easy. Prone to buying impulsively online? Don’t allow sites to store your credit card number. Set up all your accounts so you have to physically get up, dig out your credit card and enter the number before buying.

5. Price isn’t everything. If you buy something you won’t use for 75% off, you haven’t saved 75%. You’ve wasted money, because you could’ve used that 25% to buy something you would enjoy.

6. Shop when you’re content and full. It’s never a good idea to go shopping because you need cheering up. Also, avoid the grocery store if you’re hungry.

7. Take inventory. Before you go shopping, take a good look at what you have. Knowing you already have three pairs of khakis may help keep you from buying a fourth.

8. Have an impulse budget. Give yourself a limited amount of funds to spend on impulse buys. This will allow you to have some fun money without blowing your budget.

9. Avoid advertisements. Watch less TV. Don’t read magazines that are mostly ads. Get an ad blocker program for your computer.

10. Give your kids their own spending money. It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard, “Never mind. I don’t want it that much,” when I suggest my son use his own money for the item he just had to have when he thought I’d pay for it.

11. Shop alone or with savers. Avoid shopping with friends who overspend. Go alone or with friends who will urge you to save your money or buy only after careful consideration.

12. Return it. If you do buy something on impulse, don’t open it when you get home. Wait a few days to see if you regret your purchase, then, if you do, return it.

10 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress

reduce stress

© 2014 Christy King

Are you too busy? Is your life overwhelming? Does your mind race when you have a spare moment? Obviously, minimalism can’t solve all the problems that complicate your life, but even gradual progress toward minimalism can reduce stress.

10 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress

1. Just say no. Family, friends and charities all asking for more than you can give? It is perfectly okay to say ‘”no.” Or, “I’m booked this month, but I’d be glad to help next month.” Or “I’m really busy today, but I can drive you to the mall later if you mow the lawn for me.”

2. Ask for help. Ask some friends to help you weed the garden or paint your living room, in exchange for you helping them out with their projects later. Even though you’ll still be busy, you’ll have fun doing your chores.

3. Eat better. Don’t believe fast food is the only way to eat quickly. There are lots of homemade meals that are quick and easy to prepare, all while being much more healthful and cheaper than most restaurant fare.

A tortilla filled with refried beans and salsa, for instance, makes a superfast and nutritious meal, especially if you have some fruit for dessert. Whole wheat pasta with an easy tomato sauce is another option. A quick Internet search will turn up plenty of ideas.

4. Breathe. Stuck waiting in line? Riding the elevator? Take a few breaths from your diaphragm. If you haven’t tried belly-breathing before, you’ll probably want to practice at home first, but then you can do it unobtrusively anywhere.

5. Stretch. If you have a desk job, get up and stretch every hour.

6. Drink less coffee. If you’re feeling anxious, try reducing your caffeine intake by drinking herbal tea instead, or drinking a glass of water between cups of coffee. Make changes gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

7. Get enough sleep. You may be thinking, “How will this help if I’m too busy now? I’ll just have less time to get everything done!”

First, you’ll be more productive if you’re not tired. Second, you’re not going to get everything done if you run yourself down so much that you become ill or too stressed to function.

8. Try aromatherapy. The science seems up in the air on its efficacy, but it’s relatively inexpensive to try and see if it works for you.

9. Keep a Donations box handy. If you don’t have time for marathon decluttering sessions, that’s okay. Just have a place to put unwanted things as you come across them.

Notice your daughter outgrew one of her shirts? Don’t put it back in her closet; put in the box. Found a kitchen gadget you never use? Put it in the box.

10. Take some time for yourself. Even if it’s only five minutes a day, spend a little time alone doing something relaxing. Whether that’s meditating or dancing to your favorite song, it will help you get through the day.

How do you reduce stress in your life?


Minimalists in History: Nashville Agrarians

nashville agrarians

© 2014 Christy King

“If a community, or a section, or a race, or an age, is groaning under industrialism, and well aware that it is an evil dispensation, it must find the way to throw it off.”
- I’ll Take My Stand, the Nashville Agrarians

The Nashville Agrarians, also known as the Southern Agrarians and the Twelve Southerners, were a group of twelve American writers* who wrote a pro-Southern agrarian manifesto called I’ll Take My Stand: The South And the Agrarian Tradition.

This collection of 12 essays, published in 1930, argued that the South should sustain a culture of meaning instead of adopting the North’s culture of indiscriminate production and consumption.

The Nashville Agrarians believed that, as a result of the South’s agrarian culture, Southerners were more likely to focus on leisure time, enjoying life, conversation, hospitality and good food. The North’s industrialism had made people’s lives hurried and unbalanced.

“The capitalization of the applied sciences has now become extravagant and uncritical; it has enslaved our human energies to a degree now clearly felt to be burdensome.”
- I’ll Take My Stand, the Nashville Agrarians

I’ll Take My Stand encouraged a return to traditional rural culture and values, including small, local and humane manufacturing.

The contribution that science can make to a labor is to render it easier by the help of a tool or a process, and to assure the laborer of his perfect economic security while he is engaged upon it. Then it can be performed with leisure and enjoyment.

But the modern laborer has not exactly received this benefit under the industrial regime. His labor is hard, its tempo is fierce, and his employment is insecure.

The first principle of a good labor is that it must be effective, but the second principle is that it must be enjoyed. Labor is one of the largest items in the human career; it is a modest demand to ask that it may partake of happiness.

The Nashville Agrarians also railed against excess consumption and advertising.

It is an inevitable consequence of industrial progress that production greatly outruns the rate of natural consumption. To overcome the disparity, the producers, disguised as the pure idealists of progress, must coerce and wheedle the public into being loyal and steady consumers, in order to keep the machines running.

So the rise of modern advertising-along with its twin, personal salesmanship – is the most significant development of our industrialism. Advertising means to persuade the consumers to want exactly what the applied sciences are able to furnish them.

It consults the happiness of the consumer no more than it consulted the happiness of the laborer. It is the great effort of a false economy of life to approve itself.

‘A man can contemplate and explore, respect and love an object as substantial as a farm….  But he cannot contemplate nor explore, respect not love, a mere turnover, such as an assemblage of ‘natural resources’, a pile of money, a volume of produce, a market, or a credit system.”
- I’ll Take My Stand, the Nashville Agrarians

An agrarian society allows art, religion and education to flourish, said the Nashville Agrarians. Of course, they wrote about more than farming and simple living.

Some have criticized the movement as pro-Confederacy and pro-fascism. Others said they painted a romanticized view of the old South.

My library system doesn’t have the book, so I haven’t read it, but the introduction is available here for free.

Sorry, no field trip suggestions with this Minimalists-in-History post, but the Nashville Agrarians were based at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I was just in Nashville for a couple of days this summer, and near Vanderbilt there’s a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Check it out if you happen to be in the area.

*The Nashville Agrarians were Donald Davidson, John Gould Fletcher, Henry Blue Kline, Lyle H. Lanier, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Herman Clarence Nixon, Frank Lawrence Owsley, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, John Donald Wade, Robert Penn Warren and Stark Young.


Living with Purpose

living with purpose“[I]t seems less about discovering my grand purpose and design, and more about living with purpose, that is, in a purposeful, mindful way – being present to what is within me and around me in every moment.”
- Christina

Often, people interested in minimalism believe in living with purpose. For some, this means switching careers to find more meaningful paid employment.

However, I’m reading two books, neither related to minimalism, that challenge the common idea that living with purpose means earning a living with an especially meaningful job.

“And yet meaningful work is hard to come by. Not everyone can teach school or cure illness. Plenty of us do not get the kind of work we want, and plenty more can find it difficult to stay focused on the meaning of what we are doing.”
- Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor is, as the title suggests, about finding God out in the world, not just at church.

Don’t stop reading if you’re not religious, though. What she says will still apply to you, with a little creative rewording in your head.

In the chapter called The Practice of Living with Purpose, Taylor says:

One common problem of people who believe that God has one particular job in mind for them is that it is almost never the job they are presently doing.

This means that those who are busiest trying to figure out God’s purpose for their lives are often the least purposeful about the work they are already doing. . . .

The mission to read God’s mind becomes a strategy for keeping their minds off their present unhappiness, until they become like ghosts going through the motions of the people they once were but no longer wish to be.

Obviously, the same is true for those who are looking for a job to fulfill their inner passions, rather than the one they believe is a call from God.

One of the points she’s making is that, in looking for the perfect future job, we’re missing out on opportunities to find meaning and purpose today.

Taylor goes on to describe her solution:

When old work has become meaningless and new purpose is hard to find, I recommend cleaning baseboards. . . .Washing a dog also works. . . .

I no longer call such tasks housework. I call them the domestic arts, paying attention to all the ways they return me to my senses. . . .

This is my practice, not yours, so feel free to continue calling such work utter drudgery. The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose, and to be willing to look low for that purpose as well as high.

Living with purpose isn’t necessarily about the big things (though it can be). We can find meaning in creating a pleasant place to live by cleaning the house or in making nutritious meals for our families.

“[K]nitting. . .is just one of the many crafts you can practice to make a difference personally, locally and globally. The key is to. . .find a way to use the skills and knowledge. . .to create positive change in the world.”
- Betsy Greer

The second book is Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, by Betsy Greer.

She writes first about how we can benefit from craft. Benefits include expressing ourselves creatively, feeling pride in our work and calming our minds.

Part II of Knitting for Good discusses ways to build community through craft. Crafting in public can create the opportunity to talk to a stranger. You can join a crafting group, teach children or prisoners to knit, or spend time crafting with those in a retirement home.

If you’d prefer, craft for a charity. For example, you can knit mittens for Afghans for Afghans, sew burial gowns for hospitals to give families who lose babies, or crochet lapghans for wounded soldiers.

Part III addresses more global aspects of crafting. Greer writes, for example, about how craft can make us less consumerist. We can create more of our own goods as well as buy handcrafted goods instead of those made in a factory. She also discusses ways craft can be political.

Greer closes the book with the following:

Start making this world a better place slowly, even if it’s just stitch by stitch by stitch. Each of your actions causes a ripple effect, just as each move of your hand around the needle causes a stitch – they create something that wasn’t there before, sending creativity, hope, and light out into the world.

What about you? Do you believe living with purpose means changing the world in a big way?

Or can you live with purpose by baking bread for your family, scrubbing the sink or knitting a pair of socks?