Articles


A couple weeks ago I drove up to UW-Madison to see Merlin Mann talk about Time & Attention. He was an amazing, really passionate speaker and you could tell that what he was talking about (the way you spend your time and attention) was important to him and that the conclusions he drew from his life were hard won. You can find a video of his talk (not the one I saw, but the same topic) below.

Knowledge Workers

  • Money is the reason people say they leave the job, but culture is what made it an issue.
  • We don't understand what each other does, that's what makes knowledge work hard.
  • Knowledge work is people not understanding what you do, why you're good at it, or how much work you have to do right now.
  • If the "good job" exists, it's for us to create. We can't count on other people to provide it.
  • Knowledge workers define what the task is. If you're doing something a robot/monkey/shell script can do, stop doing it.

On Email and Meetings

  • Email isn't good or bad - it's questionable, you have to spend time to figure out if it's useful. That's why it's frustrating.
  • Email is too many demands and responsibilities that you probably didn't even agree to. No one cares about your calendar, your email system, or what you have to do to find the time to do the things they're asking.
  • Prioritizing your email is like alphabetizing your recycling bin.
  • Email is like rain - you can't control it, you can only deal with the effects of it. Meetings, comparatively, kill people.
  • Have you noticed that your meetings start happening more often, meetings with have no agendas, and every meeting starts late AND ends late.
  • No laptops or cellphones in meetings. If you have to be checking them constantly, you're too busy for meetings.
  • "For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work." - Paul Graham

Prioritizing and work/life balance

  • Working harder isn't the solution to too much work - that isnt sustainable.
  • People who are effective solve the right problem at the right level with the right solution.
  • We judge how important something is based on how much *we* want it. Take ownership of your own stuff! Don't send emails to other people asking them to do your work.

So I have been re-watching the show Jericho - a series about what happens in the USA after bombs take out a bunch of major cities and it got me thinking. In the show they have to be very resourceful about how and why they used things because it's very difficult to get many things now that the infrastructure of the country has been all but destroyed. Building upon my last post about renting vs purchasing a home, I decided to challenge myself to something I have thought about for a long time, but have never really taken on 100%.

I am going to buy everything used.

It's not too dramatic of a change from what I am doing now. If I can buy things at places like Goodwill, I do and I will. If I can't find them there, then I tend to look at places that are on the cheaper side. The benefits of such far outweigh any convenience I get from stopping at Target on the way home to pick up such and such.

Buying used means that I'm recycling

It is one less of that item that will need to be produced and one less of that item in a landfill somewhere. People cast off perfectly good items every day because they don't need them anymore or because they got new ones. As a kid we moved *a lot*, so our parents taught us to regularly go through our items for things we weren't using anymore or that were broken beyond repair to give away, donate, or throw away (less to pack in a box and move across the country for us). It's a philosophy that has stuck with me all of these years and one that has grown in me to the point where I can consider myself a minimalist.

Obviously there are some things you just can't get used. Most notably consumables like gas, toiletries, medicine, food. You can get nearly everything second-hand though: cars, houses, clothes, appliances, furniture, books, music, movies, toys, sports equipment. For me, the two things that will be the hardest to get used are just-released electronics (which, if I wait a couple months I can find on the manufacturer's site as refurbished for cheaper) and yarn for knitting (I can find knitted items at thrift stores to unravel and upcycle the yarn). Lucky for me, I'll be good for quite a while on both. As far as giving gifts goes, I intend to hand-make what I can (I have made quite a few knitted or baked gifts :}).

Reducing Spending

The idea to make a pact to buy everything used partially sprung out of my recently found uber-frugality. I've been on a much more limited income the past year or so than I have in previous years, especially considering my bills are only going up (and whose aren't? :/ ). I'm hoping to go into business for myself full time by spring (instead of "day job" plus contract work), which means I will be on an even tighter budget. Buying used - and only the things that I need - will help greatly reduce my spending. Most everyone knows buying used is more economical - you can get things that are in very good condition for half (or even less!) of their original cost.

So why ever buy new?

Buying new might mean that the product comes with a warranty, it has no history (you don't have to worry about finding out later it is broken), you can return it if it doesn't work as advertised, it might be in better shape than a used item, and you can almost always find what you need new in a store. There's a sense of urgency when finding something used: almost the same feeling that you get when you find something on deep discount at a store. You find that you're telling yourself "it won't always be there!", "this is such a good deal, I can't afford to pass it up!", "someone else is going to get it before I really need it!". That's a dangerous way of thinking, too. No, it might not always be there, but do you really need it? If you can't find a use for it *right now*, why do you want it cluttering up your home?

Don't forget that there are ways to find used things that you need without buying them, too.

I live in an area that is both heavy on college students and has a high percentage of affluent families - both good neighborhoods to find items on the curb marked as free. Don't buy books - take them out from your local library (it's less cluttering your house if you don't have to own the item, remember!). You probably aren't going to watch that movie or tv series over and over again - can you find it online for free at places like Hulu? I get away with not having cable by watching everything online for free (and legally) from the website of the network that produces the show. Instead of buying things like plants, ask your friends for clippings of their's so you can start you own. Need a staple gun for one small project? Maybe your neighbor can loan you one for the weekend; offer your tools up for loan in the future to save them money, too. I intend to track all of my spending on a spreadsheet so I can see exactly how much I am saving by either buying used, borrowing, or finding items for free. I'm interested to see both how much it impacts my life (better and worse) and my budget. I'm sure I'll need to be creative in some cases.

Where to buy things used (or get things for free, in some cases):

Thrift Stores

Recently I have started to really love my apartment. I went through and got rid of a ton of stuff I didn't need - giving a lot to Goodwill, selling some books over at our local second-hand bookstore, and giving some things away to other people who could make better use of the items than I could. I reorganized things so there is a much better flow and less clutter. I have plans to (hopefully this summer) paint, put up some artwork (helloooo Etsy :D), and refinish some of the furniture and cabinetry that I have now. All of this got me thinking - I really wouldn't mind living in this apartment for a long time. I love where it's located, that I have a garage (which is hard to find in my area of Milwaukee), that the rent is super cheap (seriously, you can't find a studio apartment in Milwaukee for what I am paying for my 2 bedroom), and that it's comfortable. It could use some updating, but all-in-all it's perfect for me. Not to mention the fact that I have four cats and my building manager is not only *okay* with that (and I don't get charged extra rent or security deposit for it), she has 4 of her own and brings mine treats and toys all the time. I had intended to live in this apartment, anyway, until I bought a house just because the rent was so cheap. Now I'm challenging the idea of buying a house at all. I had this discussion with coworkers and Matt, but I couldn't really come to a solid conclusion until I did some actual research. The pros of renting

  • lower monthly payment then mortgage
  • not responsible for property taxes
  • not responsible for maintenance
  • renter's insurance is much cheaper than home owner's insurance
  • may not have to pay all utilities (I don't have to pay water or garbage)
  • don't have to worry about lawn care, snow removal, etc
  • easier to move if you need/want to

The pros of buying

  • tax benefits (although in Wisconsin we do get a renter's tax credit)
  • equity is built up
  • control (for the most part) over monthly payments
  • no possibility of eviction
  • easier to make changes like painting, landscaping, remodeling, etc

According to the New York Times , with my current rent rate and the cost of an average home being $150,000, Buying is never better than renting over 30 years unless my home appreciates at 7% every year, then I would come out ahead after 7 years. The Home Loan Center has a mortgage calculator that told me that:

Buying a Home Will Cost You: $3369 more
Our Recommendation: Strongly advise renting

Now that isn't that great of a savings, but when you factor in the other costs of having a home (insurance, taxes, maintenance), it increases quite a bit. What should you do with the money you save renting? This article suggests investing in stocks would be a better option, economically, because homes tend to only return an average of 3% - equivalent to inflation. Stocks, on the other hand, return an average of 7%. I also found this interesting (from the same article):

"Renting is for poor people."
True. But it's for rich people, too. The average renter makes about $34,000 a year, but while the percentage of renters declines after incomes exceed $20,000 and rents exceed $600 a month, it jumps again once incomes top $150,000 and rents top $1,200 a month. In other words, poor people rent modest apartments for lack of choice. Middle-income people buy houses. High-income people, presumably with a dose of financial savvy, often rent nice apartments instead of buying.

So maybe I can't have the big backyard garden that I've always wanted, but the money I'll save renting I can easily get some space from a community/victory garden.