It’s already April – how did that happen? In any case, I’ll cease with the mindless ramblings about time’s ability to fly by and dive straight into today’s post, an update on my living with less March challenge.
To summarise the essence of the challenge, the idea was to embark on a month-long journey of minimalism. I had been feeling completely out of balance since the start of the year, and thought I could benefit from a back-to-basics mental reboot of sorts.
To start with, I put myself on a shopping ban in an effort to curb unnecessary spending on non-essential items and focus on taking stock of the material possessions I already owned. I also vowed to be more frugal in the supermarket by cutting my weekly grocery budget in half and trying to use up long-forgotten foods in my pantry. Lastly, I took on the ambitious Cook 90 challenge and aimed to cook all my own meals and snacks for duration of the month.
So how did I fare?
I won’t lie to you guys, this one was hard – at first. The world of online shopping is vast, and thanks in large part to social media platforms like Instagram and Youtube, I find myself constantly coming across new ethical, eco and socially responsible brands with beautifully-made products. It seemed like everywhere I turned a new opportunity to charge my PayPal account beckoned, but thankfully I managed to resist. I did what I mentioned in my first post instead, and created a few “wishlists” using Pinterest to archive the things I liked the most, essentially becoming a virtual window shopper. Funnily enough, a couple of weeks into the month, I found myself losing interest in the whole endeavour. In fact, looking back at my boards a month on, I can identify only a handful of items I’d still want to purchase. A good friend of mine also suggested adding in things like online courses and experiences to my wishlist as opposed to material items, an idea I’ve since earnestly taken on board.
Overall, the shopping ban really taught me to be more mindful, especially when purchasing things online. It can be so easy to get sucked up into the hype and buzz surrounding a revolutionary new pair of leggings or an age-defying skincare product – but when I take a step back and time to think I remember that I own more than an ample amount of activewear and a bevy of unused facial serums and creams. It may sound incredibly basic, but I’ve become so much better at identifying the things that I actually need, and only consider buying something if I know that it will make a lasting positive impact on my life beyond the momentary instant gratification of a shiny new purchase.
Vegan on a budget
Surprisingly, this was actually the most enjoyable part of the challenge for me. It should come as no surprise that grocery shopping is already one of my favourite pastimes, but something about the added aspect of sticking to a budget made it that much more exciting. The most crucial element of this part of the challenge was limiting the number of speciality (read: expensive) items I bought. Even though I was pretty good at buying just the essentials, I found myself returning things like soy yoghurt, nutritional yeast and dark chocolate back on the shelves to avoid going over my weekly spend.
My top lessons learned from this exercise are:
- Always do a thorough audit of the contents of your fridge and kitchen cabinets/pantry before you grocery shop. This helps you avoid purchasing more of items you already have.
- Have a rough idea of the meals you want to make for the week. Even if you’re not a fan of regimented meal-prep, doing this gives you an idea of what it is you need to buy, and how much of it. Having a plan also means that food purchased is less likely to go wasted or unused.
- Make a list, and stick to it. If you’re allowing yourself a splurge item for the week, think of what it is and put it on there too.
- If you have access to a local fruit and vegetable or farmer’s market – go. I was genuinely shocked at how much I was able to save by buying all of my produce from the farmer’s market.
- Make smart switches. I love jewel sweet potatoes, but as an imported product they are pricey. Instead I bought locally grown butternut squash for a third of the price, and truth be told it is every bit as delicious.
I’m happy to report that this part of the challenge was also successful – thanks to my trusty Wally expense tracking app, I can see that I spent an average of around 15-20 dinars a week (around $40-50 USD/30-40 GBP) which is well under the 35-40 dinars I was likely spending before (I realise this number may still seem high to some people, but please bear in mind that this challenge was relative to my own spending habits and disposable income). The best part is that I never once felt that my tastebuds had to suffer as I still managed to create delicious and satisfying meals all month long.
Which brings us to the last part of this three-fold challenge.
Cook 90 Challenge
Let me just say that my weekly meal-prep sessions were essential when it came to tackling cook 90. Cooking the majority of my meals ahead of time took the guesswork out of mealtimes, while also making sure I was using up the week’s produce and grocery purchases in a timely manner. One thing I didn’t entirely account for however, was the fact that more often than not, social gatherings are centered around food – and saying no to a dinner might mean saying no to an outing altogether. That said, I did shamelessly whip out my tupperware box dining at a restaurant with friends, but at other times it wasn’t so easy.
Going into the cook 90 challenge, I told myself that I would allow myself up to three “free passes” if I was in a completely unavoidable situation where I couldn’t physically prepare myself a meal to eat. I ended up using all of my free passes and then some, dining out/eating takeout a total of five times, not including a few home-cooked meals with family. All things considered, I still think I did pretty well. My biggest takeaway from this part of the challenge is that dining out is not the end of the world, and sometimes it’s worth the extra expense to be able to spend valuable time with loved ones. I also discovered however, that it feels like much more of a treat when you don’t make such a regular habit out of it, and that in some cases, my body unfortunately does not react well to restaurant food after a long hiatus.
Moving forward, I’m aiming to incorporate all of my lessons learned from the living with less challenge into my everyday life. While I can’t say my anxieties and worries have completely subsided (more on that later), I do feel a lot more at peace and centered having had the ability to take stock and re-evaluate some of my lifestyle habits, and become a more mindful person all around.
Until next time, dear readers!