My husband and I left the country last August for five months of travel around Australia and Asia. Before we left, we downsized our life to fit into a 9×9 foot storage unit; it was a painful process to make thousands of decisions on what to keep and what to let go of. We spent weeks making these decisions and then went about selling and donating the hundreds of items that we let go of. It was astonishing how much time it took to get rid of all of these things that we rarely, if ever, used. When I think about how much time and money went into purchasing all of these items, how little they were used, how much time it took us to get rid of them, and how much waste we generated, I feel pretty foolish. Yet rather than beating myself up about my past decisions, I’m trying to be more constructive and think about how I can avoid this situation in the future.
I’ve adopted a minimalist mindset over the past few years, opting to own fewer things and to ensure the things that I do choose to own are used often. Fortunately, today it is easier than ever to be a minimalist because you no longer need to own things that you use on occasion in order to have access to them. There is literally a service for renting almost anything these days, plus thanks to social media, it can be a easy to borrow something from a friend by posting on Facebook or a neighbor by posting on NextDoor. By borrowing instead of buying, you spend less time and money on maintaining things, can reduce clutter in your home and sometimes even can downsize your living space, enabling you to spend more of your time and money on pursuing your passions rather than maintaining things you rarely use.
Minimalism does not mean owning nothing and sometimes it does make sense to buy instead of borrow something. To keep myself from re-cluttering my life by making impulse buys, I now ask myself the following five questions before I buy something:
- How often will I use this item?
- What is the cost to own and maintain this item over its lifespan?
- Can I borrow it from a friend? If no, can I rent it?
- What is the cost of renting vs buying? If it costs more to rent, do I save significant time or get access to a higher-quality product by renting?
- Does this item get updated frequently? Does renting give me access to the latest and greatest gear, while owning would leave me with a quickly depreciating, outdated asset?
I also try to wait several days to buy something that I think I need to ensure that I’m not making an emotional purchase, because I have a tendency to get excited and think that I’ll use things more often than I actually will.
If you decide to borrow instead of buy, here are some good resources to use to get started although it is far from a comprehensive list. Often there are brick-and-mortar stores that will also rent things if there is a great demand for the item in the area (e.g. I can rent an ice ax and crampons in a mountain town, but I could not easily find those in San Francisco). You can usually find those pretty easily by searching on Google or Yelp.
- Zipcar, GetAround, Enterprise CarShare – these services allow you to rent a car for a few hours or days instead of owning.
- Bicycle Shares – many cities offer bicycle shares, meaning you don’t have to worry about greasing the bicycle chain, changing the brake and shifter cables, and putting new tires on it. Plus, you don’t have to worry about your bicycle ever getting stolen again!
- Rent the Runway – borrow designer dresses for special occasions, getting a way nicer dress for that special night for less than it would cost to buy a far cheaper dress.
- Airbnb, HomeAway – why own a vacation home that you rarely use when you could rent one? Sure, if you can afford to own a second home, it can be a good investment but it does take time and money to maintain. The simpler, less expensive path is to rent a place.
- BorrowLenses.com – good camera lenses are expensive, so if you have a special trip or project that requires a niche lens that you would rarely use, why not rent one for a fraction of the cost? You can also rent entire cameras if you want a SLR for a special occasion, but don’t want to invest in owning one long-term.
- NextDoor – need a hammer? This social network allows you to ask your neighbors if you can borrow one of theirs. It’s also a great place to get a deal on second-hand goods if you are looking to buy something that makes sense to own.
- REI – don’t camp often? Rent camping and outdoor gear instead of buying it.
- Home Depot – rent equipment as you need it versus buying expensive equipment for a one-time project that you then have to store.