Want or Need: buying decisions


Perhaps the best thing to come out of our RV experience is a deep appreciation of downsizing / simple living / minimalism.  Unfortunately, names often come with connotations — you know, those meanings we assign to a word out of personal emotion as opposed to the dictionary definition or “denotation.” There are a lot of mixed feelings, and misunderstandings about the whole minimalism movement. I’m not going to eradicate any of those ideas here. That’s not my job. I don’t much care to be a crusader for a lifestyle. What I would like to do is to to share a few personal thoughts after almost 6 years of simplifying our life.

The word “minimalism” seems to trigger this fear (in some people) as if a person is “required” to give up the most precious things in their life in order to live simply, or live a minimalist life. Actually, the “idea” of minimalism is that you get rid of the stuff that doesn’t matter so that the you can concentrate on the stuff that does matter. 

When we downsized to go RV’ing we had a property with 6500 sq ft of “stuff.”  A lot of it I never really wanted — much was the remains of parental estates that I never bothered to dispose of figuring that there were things there that I’d eventually use.  After all, my parents sold (at auction) an entire hardware store that they owned and the few items that didn’t sell in the auction they kept — believe me when I say that for 40 years I rarely bought a screw or a nail, I had enough wooden hammer handles to repair a contractors supply of hammers, and I’ll never run out of can/bottle openers!

The prospect of downsizing to go RV’ing in a 230 sq ft RV was impossible to me.  We ended up hiring a good friend who does estate sales and believe it or not the cash that we took in from that sale provided all of the loose change that we needed from the date of the sale until now.  I haven’t used a cash machine in a long long long time.  That little slush fund is about exhausted now. Purely a coincidence.  But for a guy who charges everything that I can and pays off the credit card bill every month I use very little cash!

Returning home to a now empty house was shocking to me. I rattled around in that former school building with all those rooms for a few days feeling really disconnected from reality.  But as the days went on and I realized that I wasn’t missing any of the stuff that “disappeared” out of the house I gradually embraced not only the downsizing just past but also the idea of keeping ourselves lean, mean, and trim.

I’d be lying if I said we haven’t accumulated some more stuff along the way.  We have.  Moving from a 230 sq ft coach to a 300 sq ft coach gave us a little more room.  I was jealous of the new found space and worked hard at not letting the basement storage bays fill up with unnecessary clutter.  But I still have too many clothes, and my computer installation is more than I “need” and so on.

As I said, the idea of living a minimalist life is that you remove all the excess until you trim down to what you really need to function as a happy human being.  That amount will vary from human to human.  But all those things that you retain and do not use are things that you have to maintain, move around, look behind, squeeze between, etc..  Ridding yourself of excess really is liberating.

Which brings me to our current state.  What do you do about major purchases?

Peg & I have had a pretty basic philosophy about house buying and apartment renting:  choose what you want and need.  I never saw a lot of value in buying a new house only to rip out everything that was there and remodel the daylights out of it.  

There is a part of me that has always been offended by excessive waste and remodeling.  Remember, this is the guy who’s grandfathers (both) used to straighten bent nails so they could be reused. I really do try to:

  • reduce
  • recycle
  • reuse

When we have bought houses or rented apartments we have been slow to replace appliances — even if they weren’t what we really “wanted” because what we had met our “need.”  It’s not a posh way of living.  I don’t know that anyone ever walked into our house and was awestruck by the interior decoration but we were happy with what we had and that was all that mattered.

At present I have a 4 burner electric stove.  You know, the kind with the coil elements.  The stove does a good job.  All the burners work.  Peg’s dad had a little 24” electric stove with the same kind of burners and he used it until only one burner worked and that only on a medium setting.  When he finally replaced the stove it was 50 years old.  Appliances can last a long time!

My “problem” with this stove is simple.  For one thing the burners are not level, and they will not STAY level no matter what I do.  The parts are worn and slightly askew so fat always drains to one side of the pan (which might not be the worst thing in the world.  Another issue I have is that the insulation in the stove is quite poor.  If I turn the oven on the entire top of the stove gets HOT — not warm to the touch, but HOT. I suppose that at some point I’ll replace the stove with a ceramic top unit, perhaps an induction unit, and maybe even a double oven.  But when?  That’s the question.

I don’t need a new stove.  We might not need a new stove for as long as we own this house.  Do I replace it when it’s still working and adjust my cooking and the way I live in my kitchen (watching out for hot surfaces) or do I give in to my whim and have it hauled away?

I’m lucky to live with a very frugal wife.  She doesn’t need or want a lot of things.  It’s painful to attempt convincing her to buy new clothing unless it’s the ultimate in utility.  That makes my life easier; but I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn’t just go ahead and do things / get things that would make her life easier.  Sometimes I do, other times I don’t.  Bottom line is that minimalism is different for each of us:  what I need to be happy is not the same thing she needs to be happy and I do well to let her choose her own happiness instead of trying to get her to conform to my happiness.  Respect:  there’s never too much respect in a marriage.  Running roughshod over your partner’s feelings is not a good thing.

We face similar changes and purchases in several areas of our life right now.  Things we’ve put off, or which the former owner put off.  Heck — we’re still dealing with questions about Serendipity our old motorcoach — the new owners sent me an email this morning asking if they should purchase this, that, and the other.  I didn’t mind, Chuck & Dave seem like nice folks.  And their dogs Chester & Denver seem to be quite happy with their new home (except when the slides actuate and the walls start to move — evidently the dogs understand that walls are not supposed to move).

But, back to simplifying…

I like this idea that what we own ought to help create the life we want.  And it ought to augment our pursuit of that life. I know that from our pre-RV life we owned a huge amount of stuff that had no impact at all on how we lived our life.  Some of it we didn’t touch (physically) for years.  Some of it was just in the way.  Much of it had no positive impact on how we lived at all.

But the biggest impact — to me — about having moved to a minimalist lifestyle is the way in which minimalism seemed to resolve many of the complexities of life. Not having all those things meant I didn’t need to waste my life dealing with them — one way or another. And believe me, as you get older you start to think about life in terms, not of what you want to do, but what you still have time to accomplish!  Life is not open-ended.  The only sure thing about life is that we’ll die.  Even taxes aren’t sure if you’re rich! 🙂

At the moment I’m not really considering replacing our electric range.  It’s one of those things that pops into your brain when the pot doesn’t sit quite right on the stove.  If I’m honest, I have to say that I’m still getting used to the idea of living with a real stove after having lived with a 2 burner induction hob for 5 years.  I made fewer dirty dishes in the coach.  Now that I have a stove with 4 burners and a real oven I am not nearly as efficient in my use of cookware.  Peggy keeps assuring me that the results are worth the mess, but I can’t say that when I walk away from the stove at the end of the meal and I see all those dishes that I don’t feel just a little bit guilty.  And of course, a new range will not change that.  I would be lying to myself  to say otherwise.  It would be cleaner.  It would be safer (without the hot top).  It would look nicer with  flat ceramic top — but would it function any better?  Marginally, perhaps.  The new thing in ranges is the keep-warm burner and I’m not sure I’d even use it.  I might like a more powerful burner for some purposes but I can live without it.  And the one thing induction cooking taught me was to learn how to cook better at lower temps — something that seemed anthema to me a decade ago.

Simplicity really does resolve the complexities of life.  Having one vehicle is easier than having two.  And therein lies the super-sized question mark.  If having one “thing” is easier than having two how should the confirmed and dedicated minimalist feel about living 1/2 year in one place and 1/2 year in another?  Does that even compute as an option?  I really don’t know how I feel about that. And I really don’t know how the two of us will resolve that question. Will we talk ourselves into becoming Texans?  Will we talk ourselves into selling out down here (in a year, or in five or ten years)?  The question is partially about what’s comfortable for us.  It’s partly about what’s practical for our entire family — including daughter.  It’s partly about being ethically  ecological in our living.

We were very careful about our RV’ing — and our carbon footprint. Yeah — our diesel contributed to pollution but overall our calculations on net impact between the few miles we drove each year and the lifestyle we lived in the RV compared with the lifestyle we would have lived had we been up North with heating and cooling requirements on top of our travel.  I think overall we did a good job of minimizing our impact on the earth — whether or not the United States cares about environmental impact or not.

We’ll take our decisions and make our changes as time goes on, but we’ll continue to do so with the desire to be good stewards of this earth. After all, it’s on loan to us from our Grandchildren.


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4 Comments

  1. Peter, I do like how your mind works! However, I think you need,to give your self permission to replace that range! As a retired home economist, I can tell you that the satisfaction you will get from using a well designed and SAFE piece of equipment is worth it. Your current range sounds like a disaster in waiting. My thoughts, for what they are worth!

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    1. Never fear, Liz. I WILL replace that thing. We have to figure out what we’re doing in that house first!

      And always remember, I do love Hyperbole. A little exaggeration for effect makes a better story!

      I’ve gone out several times (with Peg) and we have looked at replacements. What we have not found was that “just what we wanted” solution. I’m still vacillating between single/double oven. She doesn’t know if she wants to change from white to stainless. And to complicate matters we just bought a French yellow and blue table cloth for our dining table which is right in the kitchen and she may decide that seeing as those are her all time favorite colors that it might be time to do a majorly comprehensive re-decorate job. She has been extremely restrained so far in this house and I’m wanting her to figure out what SHE needs to make this more her home and to be comfortable with it. In the RV’s there wasn’t much “decorating” to do and she’s a bit bashful about making changes anyway…. so best just give her some space to figure things out for herself.

      >

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      1. For the record, I love my double oven. Don’t use it all that often, but love having the option. Also use a roaster in the garage when the ovens will create too much heat.

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      2. What has really amazed me is the SIZE of some of the new ovens! Yikes! We could put 2 or three of our RV STOVES inside of some of those new ovens! (See — we’re still new enough at NOT being RV’ers that everything is by comparison to RV life!)

        I suspect by Christmas I’ll have pulled the trigger and replaced it, but there are just things I’m more interested in doing right now than buying a new stove. And, I noticed last year around Christmas/New Years there were some really outrageous sale prices. The thing is, when it’s on my thought wavelength I think about it, and then it falls off and who knows when I’ll get motivated enough to do something about it.

        But — we’re on the road now. Be back home tomorrow. So, who knows. It’s a luxury to be loosey-goosey about when things get done. I’m still like a little kid about that!

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