Imagine this scenario:

You’ve landed a new job. Congratulations! There’s a lot of prestige associated with this company. It’s in a city you’ve always wanted to live in, and you’re going to be able to do work that you really enjoy. Unfortunately, the job doesn’t pay that well. In fact, they ask you to pay them for all the work you’re doing. But it’s easy, because they’ve organized a special lending program so that you don’t have to pay up front. Oh, and they don’t provide any of the tools you’ll need to do your new job, so your going to have to equip your own office with anything you might require.

The benefits aren’t really that great, either. They offer housing, but it’s pretty spartan and you have to share your room with another new employee. You’ve never met her, but whatever. I’m sure you’ll get along. While you’re working for this company you’re going to be very busy, and probably won’t have a lot of time to cook. So they offer you a selection of unhealthy foods that are ready-made any time you want them. For just a few thousand dollars extra, and of course you can pay that back later too.

The company does a great job training you to work for them. They teach you everything you need to know in order to excel in your new position. You put in a lot of overtime, and you work from home a lot, but you’re enjoying it because you like the work.

You’re going along strong at your new job. You’ve learned enough about the ins and outs of the company that you feel confident about the work that you’re producing. Then, after a few dedicated years at this company, you’re terminated. They’ll congratulate you on the great work that you’ve done with them, and they’ll give you their best wishes on finding a great fit at your next job. And then they remind you that they’ll be expecting your check next month as repayment for all the work you’ve done for the last few years.

Consider carefully: would you take this job?

Ok, that may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it probably got your attention, right?

Now here’s the best part:

You don’t have to take that job. You really, really don’t.

If you’re in high school right now, you’re probably weighing a lot of different options for once you graduate. (Or maybe, you’re just weighing the benefits of finishing your homework vs. getting enough sleep.) If you get decent grades, or even if you don’t, there’s probably someone telling you to think about going to college. You should hear that person out. But you should also hear me out. I’m the other person. I’m telling you to think about not going to college.

Be skeptical when you talk with admission counselors. Ask what they think the goal of obtaining a degree from their school should be. A high paying job? A well-rounded liberal arts education? Somewhere to live while you hang out with your friends? See what they say, and ask yourself what you’re really going to be paying for. Yes a degree in philosophy (or even art history, I can admit) is nice, but how much of what you plan to spend your time and money on is available for free right now, online and in the library?

Ok I confess… despite the flashy title of my post I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to college. I’m just saying that you don’t have to.

Subscribe via RSS or email, and stay tuned for ideas on what you could do instead of going to college.

Before you bring the heat on me for my next post, I want to address an issue that I’ve been struggling with personally, and that I think my whole country and probably other countries as well, are starting to think about: Higher education and its value.

I’ve been lucky in my life, in that I’ve had the opportunity to go to amazing schools. My parents and I sacrificed so that I was always getting what we believed to be a great education. And happily, I’ve always loved school and learning. I want to point this out because from here on out, it’s probably going to sound like I don’t appreciate education, or see its value in our lives. This could not be further from true. I believe that knowing about history, literature and the arts is valuable. I liked what Wynton Marsalis said on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago, “You’re a better person if you know what Shakespeare was talking about, if you know what Beethoven struggled with, if you know about Matisse. If you know what Louis Armstrong is actually saying through his horn, you’re better.”

There have been murmurs and rumblings around town lately. Many people are mentioning it. Some people are even talking about it outright. Of course, I’ve been on the lookout. For the casual reader, it may not be noticed. For me, its an issue that is in the forefront of my mind every day. Basically, I really do think that higher education needs to be scrutinized, because right now it seems to be out of date and grievously misused. The value that Wynton Marsalis touched on, the intrinsic value, is being overshadowed by a much more superficial value: that of cost and return.

If, in the future, you hear me railing against college, please remember this distinction. I believe in education. I believe in curiosity, intellectual stimulation and development, academic research, and learning as progress for our society and for each of us as individuals. What I’m skeptical about is the commodification of education, the piece of paper that costs $30,000, and the wisdom of combining our education and our career training to the point where they can become indistinguishable.

I wrote in my last post about how minimalism rang true to me when I first heard about it on the news. Like any savvy young person these days, I followed up on the news clip with internet research. I found an extensive and ever-growing community of bloggers and readers who were talking about minimalism, sharing philosophies, counting their possessions, and generally inspiring each other (and me) to simplify and to grow into a better person.

I became determined to live with less. I started to purge myself of unnecessary possessions. Many things, I threw away. Others, I donated. I did hit some roadblocks. I wanted to make as little impact on the environment as possible, so I hated throwing useful things away. I also wanted to try and get whatever value out of my possessions that I could, if they were able to be sold or repurposed.  Emotionally, I was still attached to some things. Still, I continued to get rid of what I could. I’ve been doing well, although I still have plenty of stuff.

I started subscribing to minimalist blogs. My subscriptions on Google Reader went from 5 to 25. Even still, I would wait in anticipation for new posts, and devour them as soon as they went up. On days off from work I woke up and said to myself “what can I clear out today?” While I was at work, I would read minimalist e-books on my phone when it was slow. I began to refer to myself as a minimalist in conversation.

Despite the positive strides I was making toward owning less, I still felt a lot of discontent about how much I hadn’t fixed. My dad recommended the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, and while I was reading it I found something that helped clarify what I had sensed. Tolle writes,

“…renouncing all possessions has been an ancient spiritual practice in both East and West. Renunciation of posessions, however, will not automatically free you of the ego. It will attempt to ensure its survival by finding something else to identify with, for example, a mental image of yourself as someone who has transcended all interest in material possessions and is therefore superior, is more spiritual than others.”

“The ego tends to equate having with Being: I have, therefore I am. And the more I have, the more I am. The ego lives through comparison. How you are seen by others turns into how you see yourself. If everyone lived in a mansion or everyone was wealthy, your mansion or your wealth would no longer serve to enhance your sense of self. You could then move to a simple cabin, give up your wealth, and regain an identity by seeing yourself and being seen as more spiritual than others.”

Tolle is clearly a minimalist. And more importantly, he identified something essential in minimalism if it is to become a meaningful philosophy, instead of just a hobby that replaces the collection of stuff. He struck a chord with me when he described replacing a sense of self enhanced by how much I own, with one enhanced by how little I own and how enlightened I am.

I’m not saying that minimalism doesn’t work, or that it isn’t a great path. I’m still, slowly but surely, getting rid of my things. But I’m going to try and stay mindful of why I’m doing this. Getting rid of everything I own won’t necessarily keep me from wanting more. And I don’t want to replace a sense of self based on one construction, that of owning valuable stuff, with one based on another fabricated image, even if it’s an image of a minimalist. I want to remember that the journey is more important than the goal at the end. As Eckhart Tolle says, all we ever really have is this moment. It’s no good to live for a goal in the future.

And one last quote on minimalism from “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle:

“How you are seen by others becomes the mirror that tells you what you are like and who you are. The ego’s sense of self-worth is in most cases bound up with the worth you have in the eyes of others. You need others to give you a sense of self, and if you live in a culture that to a large extent equates self-worth with how much and what you have, if you cannot look through this collective delusion, you will be condemned to chasing after things for the rest of your life in the vain hope of finding your worth and completion of your sense of self there. How do you let go of attachment to things? Don’t even try. It’s impossible. Attachment to things drops away by itself when you no longer seek to find yourself in them.”

Minimalism resonated with me instantly. As soon as it was described to me, it was as though I had always known that it was what I wanted, but I just hadn’t realized it yet. I first encountered the philosophy in a clip of Everett Bogue on CBS News. You can view it on their website: 100 Items or Less.

I liked the idea that was presented in the clip, although I thought that Everett’s apartment (where you could literally hear the echoes reverberating around the walls, it was that empty) seemed a bit sad in its austerity. Even still, the lack of decor made for a more pleasant aesthetic than the contrasting clutter (and 500 pairs of shoelaces) that they showed in Jessica Schwartz’ apartment. And I knew which one looked more familiar to me at that point. (If your not sure which one, check out my video down below.)

When I looked the clip up online, I was interested in seeing how other people responded to it in comments. It surprised me to see what people wrote.

Many were amused:

“I have more than 100 pairs of shoes!”

“Can my 3000 CDs count as one thing?”

“Hell, my wife takes about a hundred things just on a picnic Everett. You gotta be single dude….LOL”

Some were defensive:

“Your house is too big now that you’ve gotten rid of everything. You need to find a one room shack somewhere and move into it. Seriously, if you want to live that way and no one else cares go for it. Just don’t expect the rest of us to join you.”

“We don’t have to. We’re not a 3rd world country.”

Others were just silly. But what surprised me the most was the sense of empowerment that I got while reading those comments. Many minimalist bloggers I read congratulate their readers on being part of an unusual group. They say that we’re doing something special. That we’re the exception to the rule.

We are special, it seems. Of all those comments, only one was written in support of the minimalist philosophy that was being presented. It surprised me that the same video clip that has, honestly, changed how I’ve lived my life for the past few months, could provoke such negative reactions for a lot of others.

Let me ask, how did you find minimalism? How did you decide that it was important to you? For me, it was like someone giving me a cipher to a code I’d been trying to crack my whole life. I’m still cracking the code, but having the cipher means it’s only a matter of time and effort. When you heard about minimalism, did you have that instant resonance or did it grow on you more slowly?

Ok, so I had a minor setback in my journey. Nothing that might derail me or anything. More like a stumble over an uneven sidewalk. Anyone who has walked with me in the city knows that for me sidewalk tripping is -literally- an everyday occurrence.

My setbacks are part of a trial and error process, I tell myself. If I hadn’t ever listed something on Ebay, how would I know how much I dislike using Ebay to sell my stuff? I’m being a little dramatic, but I did have a stumble in my first sale. I listed a set of books from a series. The retail value was $60.00, and I was hoping to get about $20 or $30. I had read that starting your auctions at .99 generates more views and more interest, so that’s what I did. I set a “buy it now” price of $25.00.  Week long auction short, it sold after one bid for 99 cents.

Now, I wasn’t as upset about this as I might have been a few months ago. Although I’d saved them since 9th grade (that’s about 9 years, for anyone who doesn’t feel like doing the math) I wanted the books gone at this point.. Now they’re somewhere in California, maybe a Christmas gift for a kid who could never have afforded them otherwise. But it still irks me. $0.99 + $3.50 s/h doesn’t begin to cover cost of time that it took to list the item, the package to ship it, the gas to get it to the post office, etc. Minimalists like Everett Bogue, Leo Babuata, Joshua Becker, and others have been convincing me that my time is my most precious resource. I don’t want to waste my time. I’m glad that Ms. Anon in California got a great deal on a book she wanted, but if I had known in advance that they were worth so little, I would not have bothered to list them.

So, I mulled over what to do. Obviously, it’s only worth it to list higher value items on ebay. Baker from Man vs. Debt recommends a cut-off price, an estimated value that something has to be worth in order for it to be worth listing it. This estimation, of course, has to come with some education behind it, which is where I failed in my first listing. BUT, I plan to learn from that.

Items that I know tend to sell on ebay, and that can fetch a price of at least $10 might still be listed. Otherwise, I’m going to continue searching for a better, fixed-price venue for my sales venture.

However, for anyone who is using Ebay: don’t forget the more you know the better you’ll do. So here’s my quick bite of advice that I learned from my first failed auction. (And from the advice of more experienced, awesome ebayers that have already done it. Notably, Adam Baker, who is awesome and whose blog I am thoroughly enjoying thank you everyone who recommended it.)

  • Research, on ebay, before you list. Search for your item and see if anyone else is selling/bidding on it. Check completed listings in the sidebar and see if anyone has bought one of your item recently. If the answer to these questions is no (or if it sold for 1.65% of its retail value), you might not want to bother listing it.

I was starting to talk myself out of this venture. As I stared at the piles of stuff I have stashed around the house, I couldn’t help but think that *no one* is going to want it. Yard sale material, I thought, if that. I was seriously thinking of just throwing in the towel and donating the whole pile to the Goodwill. Or, worse yet, boxing it up to hang on to until spring, when I will suddenly have the motivation and interest in doing a yard sale.

Then my brilliant father suggested an idea, which has started to grow into a plan. “Bundle a bunch of little things together,” he says. “That way you can sell them online more quickly.”

That seems a little obvious, but it started me thinking about my approach to online selling. On its own, each individual piece of my unwanted stuff isn’t very valuable. And lets be honest, a bundle of 15 old VHS tapes isn’t going to fetch a whole lot of cash. So instead of bundling a bunch of things that are the same, I’m going to organize my bundles by theme. Like thrift store gift baskets.

Not only will this be more attractive to buyers (at least, I hope it will), but it’s infinitely more interesting and fun for me. Now, instead of taking boring pictures of each item, I can arrange them in interesting combos and write fun descriptions for each one. Some of the themes are going to be funny (Angsty teen, 90s Childhood, Shrine in a Box), and some will be more interest-related (Workout, Crafty, Back to School, etc.).

Tonight I began taking action by brainstorming themes for the bundles and starting to organize them into bags marked with the theme. My next step is to decide how I want to sell them online. Ebay is a little daunting, as is Craigslist. I wanted to use Etsy, but they explicitly say that “gift basket” items aren’t allowed. I may make a master entry here, or create a sister blog and sell through that. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Which brings me to one last thing! Thank you so much to the people who have read and commented. I’m glad people seem to be interested in what I’m doing, and I’m especially glad for all of the suggestions for ideas, other bloggers to read, and ways to improve the site. A few people have suggested that I read Man vs. Debt, which was a great suggestion. He’s on my Google Reader for sure. Thanks!

The theme bundles being divided up. Believe it or not, this is actually a more organized version of my clutter.

 

I wanted to offer a “before” example of my pre-minimalist life. While part of my focus is on clearing my debt, I’m also trying to clear out my space. My parents moved while I was in college, and while I do have a room in their new house, it’s a lot smaller than the one I grew up in. All of the things from my college apartment have been squeezed into the new house, where I had already squeezed in all of the things that I’d left behind when I moved to school in the first place.

If I sound a little frustrated in the video, I apologize. I don’t think I’ve quite mastered the art of the video capture on my camera! On that note, I also apologize for the awkward clicking noises that my auto-focus makes, and for the sideways shots. Oops.

I realized last night as I was drifting to sleep, I am 23 years old and 23 thousand dollars in debt. This is probably not unusual for college graduates these days. However, it makes me uncomfortable.

The realization was brought upon by two very thick envelopes arriving at my parents’ house (where I now live) a few weeks ago. They had a lot of intimidating columns and numbers (hey, I was an art history major!), but the bottom line was that my monthly payments worked out to about $250. That’s a little less than half of what I make in a month working part-time at a retail beauty supply store. Good thing my parents aren’t charging me rent.

This realization happens to coincide, whether coincidentally or by my own subconscious machinations, with a new interest of mine in minimalism. The appeal of owning less stuff and simplifying my life is very strong. Minimalism also seems to offer a solution to financial difficulty and a general sense of uncertainty and loss of spirituality. Proponents suggest that it helps people focus on what is most important in their lives, whether it’s the physical things that they own or the direction of their life’s energy (as Joshua Becker described it in his audio post on his blog Becoming Minimalist).

For the past week or so, I’ve been going through my things and trying to purge the unnecessary. I was loath to throw a ton of perfectly good stuff straight into the trash. Then, I thought, why not put the money where it can do me some good? That’s how I came across my plan. I’m going to catalog my stuff and begin to sell it. And all the money that I make from it, I’m going to put toward that scary college loan debt.

And you, my friends, get to come along for the ride. I’ll keep you updated on my stats and together we’ll see how close I can get to raising $23,000 by selling off my stuff. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this plan of mine. Let me know in a comment or drop me an email: byandby@gmail.com

Welcome

bioimage2
^
|
| That's me! I'm Olive. I just graduated from college with a BA in Art History. I work part-time in a retail job. I volunteer at an art community center. And I have a lofty goal: to rid my life of the stuff that is holding me back.

And join the mailing list, for email updates.

Join 3 other followers

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.