It has been over a year since I embarked on a cleaning up of my material life, and I would like to share some learnings if you are interested to do the same and reject the materialistic lifestyle of many people in developed countries. Last year I compiled a bunch of lifehacks to save money in Singapore, and I’ve continued to learn more ways to live like a modern minimalist.
Shop at Daiso first, before anywhere else
Yes, I am an official Daiso Uncle. I can spend over an hour each time at major Daiso outlets looking through every single aisle to find out what they sell for just $2 SGD.
The range is staggering and often surprising. Here you can find… a box of screwdrivers, a storage box that can hold my Playstation 4 controllers, a bunch of pens, two cans of iced coffee, an iPhone screen protector, a tape measure, anti-cat spikes, tablet pouches, laptop sleeves, photo frames, display cases for small toys, small clocks and watches, thermometers and so on.
My most frequent purchases are micro-fibre cloths of varying sizes (for cleaning all my stuff) and the famous Tohato Caramel Corn snack (NTUC Fairprice sells it for 10cts less just to compete).
Only when I cannot find the item that I want for $2, or if I need more robust stuff, will I head elsewhere to look for household items or stationery.
Through vigorous Daiso browsing and trials, you will soon understand what type of profit margins certain shops are earning, and how much you should pay for better quality stuff. Not all Daiso stuff is long-lasting, their screw-drivers are definitely not as strong as a Yale model for tough jobs.
The Daiso lifestyle teaches you to assume that almost anything can be purchased for $2 if you are not too fussy. If more people decided to do their shopping at Daiso, a lot of other retailers dealing with household goods or tools will be in trouble.
FYI, it is frustrating how they do not provide any catalogue for you to browse their tens of thousands of items, but it’s probably a brilliant strategy to keep you in their stores as long as possible.
Stop buying new clothes and keep ironing
My wardrobe has essentially remained filled with the same items for about two years. In fact, a lot less of the same items since I took out half the clothes and converted them into cleaning rags (as you can guess, I do a lot of housework and vehicle cleaning).
I really only buy new clothes during Chinese New Year (one set) or when a shirt gets too weary-looking.
One way to keep your wardrobe in check is to keep ironing your work clothes – when I spend so much time sweating over the ironing board, I realize I do not want to have many more new shirts to do a hot press.
Then recently, my wife decided to try out the KonMari way of decluttering by careful folding and rolling of my clothes.
I’ve caught on to it as well as the way the clothes are rolled and stored, really do not allow for more new clothes to be purchased. I used to just stack my clothes on top of each other so they accumulated rapidly, but now when they are arranged in popiah-like rolls, they will stay static in numbers.
Browse as long as you want
I used to go out and buy things I urgently needed at a whim.
Now, I think it takes an average of three weeks (serious!) for me to make a purchase decision for anything that is not food or medicine.
That is because I will constantly browse at retail, on online shopping sites, on second-hand goods sites (Andios for phones, Carousell for general stuff) until I have a really good idea of the lowest possible street price I can pay.
A lot of marketers say that shoppers today are omni-channel, but they may not realize that it does take an immense amount of time to go through every single shopping channel. But that’s what I do.
For example, it took me two months to look for a proper walking shoe as my three-year-old Nike sneakers were killing my feet. After searching multiple sources, I finally stumbled upon a $59 Reebok shoe at Royal Sporting House at Junction 8 near my house.
Amazingly, it comes with very good cushioning and fits my broad feet well – but its 80s retro design is what probably relegated it to the discount stack. Perfect for 80s children like me.
The real risk with buying discounted shoes is that the stores may often clear problematic products – one set of Caterpillar walking shoes was suspiciously cheap at 50% off and I realized the soles were poorly glued to the shoe. Thankfully the Reebok has not posed any problems in the past few weeks, but remember, Buyer Beware.
The other principle I have is to never ever buy things at Recommended Retail Price (RRP), also known as Suggested Retail Price (SRP) if I can help it.
For example, Uniqlo is always guilty of dropping prices rapidly after it has launched new designs. I would like to ask them why they bother selling tee-shirts at $14.90 when most of us will wait for the $9.90 pricing. What is surprising about Uniqlo is that it has started to discount staple run-rate products like their Oxford shirts, probably to drive online sales traction.
My lesson from Uniqlo is that I will avoid paying more than $15 for any tee-shirt (Ducati clothes exempted), or more than $40 for any work-shirt again. Clothing retailers, please take note.
Sell everything that you have stopped using. Like now.
I do not buy anything on Carousell, but I keep selling stuff. It has become a habit where if I spot something I have not used, I just put it up for sale.
So far, I’ve sold about 50 items over the past year and I now need to sell the Spigen casing that I recently bought for my Samsung phone but didn’t really like.
Keep eating the same food that will not make you fat
I’m proud to announce that I’ve kept my weight within a +/-1kg range of my target weight of 63kg since Aug 2013 (nearly three years). That’s because I follow my own advice in Anyone Can Lose Weight and I keep eating Chinese economy rice almost every day (Rice + 2 Veg + 1 Meat) and avoid sweet drinks.
The immediate benefit of this is that I do not have to buy any new clothes because my weight has remained the same. Then I can continue folding the same clothes the KonMari way.
What if everyone behaved this way?
Recently, there has been a lot of news about retrenchments, empty malls, retailers exiting Singapore and so on. The economy is bad and people are just spending less.
But even when the good times return (life is cyclical), it is my firm belief that people need to be smarter shoppers and spend as little as possible on material things.
Firstly, all things rot and fade away. That isn’t obvious until you have to do massive spring-cleaning.
Second, I have long observed that people change their behavior and suffer unnecessarily just to sustain their purchasing behavior or look after the material goods (homes, cars, golf clubs etc).
We are often quick to criticize “yes-men” but perhaps they say “yes” all the time because they cannot get out of the lifestyle they have built for themselves?
That is why I get very annoyed when I meet people in the working world who are not really concerned about their customers, but only about securing their own lifestyles and bonuses. These are the people who often make life miserable for the decent, hardworking folks.
The interesting bit is what happens if the majority of people decide to reject wanton materialism – will the economy collapse?
Well, breathe easy. This is unlikely to happen because as I have read in the Bible and history books, man has been materialistic since the beginning. It was the same then and now.
It is just that there are so many more platforms to buy things now (offline and online) and many people do not take their time to shop around carefully.
Those of us who know otherwise, press on and see you at Daiso next weekend.