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Weekend reading: Minimalism is for life, not just for Netflix

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What caught my eye this week.

I first came across Marie Kondo when a friend’s departing ex left him The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up as a parting gift.

Quite an intimate detail to share with me, you might say, except he didn’t do so deliberately.

I literally stumbled across the book on top of a pile of about 50 others – surrounded by four or five other such piles – when I visited to see how he was doing.

This isn’t a cute metaphor. He really was a messy hoarder, his stuff was all over the place, and she’d had enough.

My friend eventually got rid of a lot of his junk, but it wasn’t because he rejected consumerism.

Rather he leveled up by buying his own expensive – but not expansive – London flat. He couldn’t fit everything in, so he was forced to clear out.

Indeed I didn’t even think about Kondo in the context of tactical frugality until I read the excellent Reset by David Sawyer. For Sawyer, a critical step towards intentional living with fewer shopping trips was to jettison vast amounts of material from his home.

This does seem to me an odd notion.

I lived my ascetic graduate student lifestyle for many years, and so I never accumulated much expensive flotsam and jetsam.

But the key advantage wasn’t that I could open my cupboards without a crash helmet or dodge choice paralysis when confronted with my barely half-a-dozen pairs of shoes.

It was that I didn’t spend the money on lots of stuff in first the place! Let alone on having to hire vans and skips to take it all away again.

When Kondo’s KonMari method reached Netflix this year, my skepticism returned. Perhaps Sawyer’s readers do find the hard reboot of a spring clean an important step. He’s wrapping it up within a redesigned frugal living package, after all.

But for many Tidying Up viewers, I suspect clearing space in the closet will just leave a void to fill.

According to a (securely paywall-ed) Wall Street Journal article this week, Kondo’s impact is now rippling across the US thrift economy:

A global ‘Tidying Up’ frenzy is burying donation centers with goods that truly, nobody wants.

“We aren’t a place for people to just dump their rubbish.”

Call me cynical, but I suspect many of these new Kondo converts filling their SUVs with unwanted things (a) are signalling how soulful they are (b) showing-off how well they’re doing, perhaps unconsciously, via their rejected excess stuff, and (c) will be restocking before summer is out.

But maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps a retail rout will follow. Time will tell.

I stress again, I’m not knocking the general philosophy. When I was at the height of my minimalist powers in the early 2000s, a visiting friend asked if I’d been robbed.

But has anyone out there used Kondo to jump start a permanent switch from shopping til dropping?

From Monevator

Robot angels: Automated seed investing on the Seedrs crowdfunding platform – Monevator

The Gordon Equation: how to calculate expected returns for equities – Monevator

From the archive-ator: Learn how to get rich from a video game – Monevator

Archive-ator bonus: It’s 10 years ago since the bear market bottom – Monevator


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1

Life expectancy falls by six months in biggest drop in UK forecasts – Guardian

House prices bounced back 5.9% in January – AOL

UK cash system ‘on verge of collapse’ says report – Guardian

World’s largest sovereign wealth fund to drop oil and gas stocks – CNBC

Google’s AI-powerhouse DeepMind will open a huge new London HQ in 2020 – Wired

Private equity has trillions, but research shows women get little of it – Bloomberg

Workplace theft is on the rise – The Atlantic

Your scheduled reminder that fund out-performance is typically fleeting – Bloomberg

Products and services

ISAs: Who wants to be a millionaire? [Search result]FT

Almost 90% of UK shoppers use Amazon, and 40% have access to Prime – Guardian

The £100 bonus from Ratesetter boosts your expected first year return on £1,000 to 14%  – Ratesetter [Affiliate link]

Will these be the worst new ‘rabbit hutch’ flats in Britain? – Guardian

Terry Smith’s Smithson investment trust seems off to a solid start – IT Investor

Comment and opinion

Average long-term returns hide a lot of ups and downs – A Wealth of Common Sense

Lighten the load – Humble Dollar

What happens after you win? – The Irrelevant Investor

Even Keynes couldn’t time the market – The Evidence-based Investor

Most investors should be satisficers not maximisers – Behavioural Investment

The single woman’s guide to retirement planning [Paywall, but clickthrough] Barron’s

Recessions: It’s been a while – Morgan Housel

From gloom to boom – Investing Caffeine

Is Unilever still a no-brainer for dividend investors? [PDF]John Kingham

Hargreaves Lansdown Vs. Nick Train Vs. Terry Smith – Sharepad

Valuing Lyft ahead of the ride-sharing company’s IPO – Musings on Markets


Brexit in a nutshell – via Twitter

Kindle book bargains

The Complete Guide to Property Investment by Rob Dix – £0.99 on Kindle

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini – £1.99 on Kindle

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau – £0.99 on Kindle

Off our beat

Does social status still matter when you hit a certain age? [Search result]FT

Also: The life-changing magic of discovering grey hair – Quartz

The people who eat the same thing for lunch everyday [Is me!]The Atlantic

What does ‘self-made’ mean (or matter) anyway? – Hunter Walk

The Stormtrooper problem: Why thought diversity makes us better – Farnham Street

Having fun is a virtue, not a guilty pleasure – Quartz [via Abnormal Returns]

…though work isn’t really so bad [Research]Marginal Revolutions

You are not trying to be liked. You are trying to be judged – Medium

And finally…

“Being a citizen is an active state; being a consumer is passive.”
– Roger McNamee, Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe

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  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. []
{ 30 comments… add one }
  • 1 MrOptimistic March 8, 2019, 6:02 pm

    I reckon it’s the anticipation of buying, and the act of buying, which is the impulse, not owning the stuff, and since the pleasure of the new purchase fades as this isn’t why you really bought it, off you go again. Bit like buying stocks really 🙂

  • 2 Steve21020 March 8, 2019, 9:14 pm

    What is all this Kondo stuff that seems to be popular now? Isn’t this just the famous De-cluttering fad that started years ago and someone called Kondo is jumping on the bandwagon? We’ve been de-cluttering for about four years and never heard of this Kondo till recently. Maybe I should jump on the passive investing fashion, give it a memorable name and claim it as my idea?
    Yes, it’s not easy, especially when you have a wife and ‘grown-up’ kids who have their own ideas about what should be thrown away! 🙂

  • 3 dearieme March 8, 2019, 9:22 pm

    “my barely half-a-dozen pairs of shoes”: what? Wellies, trainers, sandals, one pair black, one pair brown. Why the sixth?

  • 4 dearieme March 8, 2019, 9:23 pm

    Of course! I left out your walking boots and your steel toe-caps. Sorry.

  • 5 MrOptimistic March 8, 2019, 9:48 pm

    Oh, hadn’t spotted that. Winklepickers and loafers, plimsolls, boat and deck shoes, various shades natch.

  • 6 Laura March 8, 2019, 10:08 pm

    I found Marie Kondo’s book quite useful. I’d started decluttering but was really bad at hanging on to things I wasn’t using but I felt obliged to sell or ‘had value’.

    Combined with reading The Minimalists’ blog, it helped me to actually get rid of unused stuff, accepting that the money was wasted when you bought the thing, not when you throw it out. My post-war baby parents demonstrated that you never throw out anything that still might be useful.

    Her ‘does it spark joy’ test sounds a bit woowoo, but helped me get rid of stuff like clothes that there’s nothing wrong with, but I don’t really like, so now I have far fewer clothes, but I wear and like them all. Things that do their job well spark joy for me, so socks that don’t slip or fall down please me, and I now immediately throw out ones that do, instead of leaving them in the drawer and never using them because they annoy me, but leaving them in the drawer in my way ‘just in case'(?!)

    I’m hopeful that for some people it will be a permanent change, as her method of piling all like things together and dealing with everything in that category all at once, so you can see what you’ve got all in one place. That made me realise that I have plenty of stuff. So I’m never going to have to buy a top because I’ve “nothing to wear”. And it made me not want to have excess stuff that I don’t really like again, so I’m much more careful when shopping and generally only buy things that do spark joy, that are perfect. So it definitely has made a difference to my buying habits.

  • 7 Gillian March 8, 2019, 11:43 pm

    Having recently cleared my home of many excess items not only does it look so much better but I feel a heavy weight has lifted. I have donated many items to 4 different charity shops and now when I am home I feel much more relaxed and tranquil.
    A good rule to apply when shopping is ‘one in one out ‘ so that for every new item purchased a similar is donated to charity. I believe Marie Kondo’s method helps us make more ‘considered’ choices in future. Looking forward to reading Francine Jay’s new book ‘Lightly ‘ released on 12th March. Her website is excellent!

  • 8 IanH March 9, 2019, 1:57 am

    Well. I have read Marie Kondo ‘s book and done some of the sorting out she recommends. And I sort of get it. Now here’s the thing my experience can perhaps add. You see, MK is still rather young, from my perspective, and the problems with stuff just get worse as the years pile on. For example, I subscribed to a music magazine for years – seems harmless – then a year or two goes by and I noticed many of the mags are still in their plastic wrappers. A year or two more goes by, and eventually the subscription is cancelled, but I have to resource a stack of shelves to sort all the f**ers out, with a separate wotsit for the accompanying CDs. I guess I might use them sometime… It would be such a waste to simply trash the lot. Wouldn’t it?

    And I had a complete Cinefilm setup – movie camera, editing whatever – that my dad got second hand from a US airforce guy in Libya in 1965. WTF? Took me 5+ decades to junk it. And I’ve still got his collection of military badges. And my Great Grand Uncles MC – he’s buried somewhere in Belgium. What do I do with that? – It hardly ‘sparks joy’ but I’m not just going to chuck it in the recycling.

    But I have pared stuff back from necessity. I moved from a big house in Brum to a smaller rental in Henley – and despite doing about a million trips to the tip in Brum, I could hardly fit all my gear in to the new place – e.g I had to part with a huge 1950s ex-government desk. I’ve hardly anything now, compared to most folk, but I still feel overburdened. I remember being able to move everything in a few carrier bags and a backpack in one trip on the tube and being really pleased with my life. There’s some
    thing in that, I think. What, I’ve no idea, but perhaps Marcus du Sautoy or similar would have a view.

  • 9 Neil Richardson March 9, 2019, 8:50 am

    Has anyone tried buying this book for their other half and did your relationship survive the experience?

  • 10 JimJim March 9, 2019, 9:14 am

    I got Reset last year when it was reviewed on this site, even before reading the chapter on de-cluttering, (in which even the author suggests M. Kondo might have gone a bit far with the “sparks joy ” thingy ) I knew we had a problem.
    We ordered a skip for February half term, the whole 8 yard skip, and enlisted the services of our 19 year-old daughter. We live a good 24 mile round trip to the recycling centre so the skip was the least worst option in terms of time/environmental impact. I would have not even started the process without a skip. As it was it took us 6 days to fill it, Garage, shed, greenhouse, utility, kitchen, living room, hallways, three bedrooms and it was full. .. We did not get into the loft. 22 years in one spot living with two bookworms and a collection of hobbies sure fills a place up.
    The low point was watching my daughter cry on our landing while she said goodby to three suitcases full of teddy bears.
    The result, the house is easier to clean (which we both hate doing so the less time it takes the better), we can find stuff now and the house feels calmer.
    We have not missed anything we threw away yet.
    We still have too much art pottery, too much fabric art to a point we could never display it all, but as a previous comment said how do you throw that stuff out, some of it was produced by family who are no longer with us.
    I have no desire to accumulate any more stuff… well, maybe just one new bike…

  • 11 Ben March 9, 2019, 10:16 am

    As a typical Yorkshireman I don’t go out buying stuff, but then I don’t want to chuck out the stuff I have because it might be useful. And I’m not bloody going to buy back something I’ve just chucked out!

    The Humble Dollar link (lighten the load) got me thinking. I seriously disagree with the outlook on many levels.

    1. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. There are always going to be things you don’t like doing, running away from them isn’t the answer.

    2. Money. Paying others to maintain your life gets expensive.

    3. Give a man a fish. These are skills, what’s happens if the plumber doesn’t want to come out Christmas day, or he does a rubbish job that you aren’t qualified to spot.

    4. Health. I have a mostly unscientific belief that some amount of the modern obesity epidemic is down to all the little things getting automated. Washing has gone from a day of labour to a button push, a lawn mower has gone from hand push to robot, tv remotes, smart lights, etc.
    If you’re outsourcing all your manual labour, whilst maintaining your calorie intake, what happens to your weight? I don’t want to oversell this point, I don’t know Mr Dollar or his lifestyle, and a macro level though I think it would have some sort of affect.

  • 12 tom_grlla March 9, 2019, 10:56 am

    I know it’s not quite the same, but getting rid of stuff to declutter, and then buying more stuff again reminds me of investors who sell stocks when there’s Fear in the market, and then buy them back at a higher price when everyone’s cheered up.

    Even though I’m very aware of it, I still find this a tough psychological issue. I’m doing OK, but I think it will always be a struggle, and I will occasionally succumb to temptation.

    (Of course I appreciate that if I followed a sensible passive strategy like ‘Slow & Steady’ then this wouldn’t be a problem!).

    Back on Marie Kondo, yes, it’s not really new, but you can never underestimate the effect a successful TV show on the public consciousness. The key soundbite for me is the guy at Ikea saying in early 2016 we’d hit ‘peak stuff’ (in the West).

  • 13 John @ UK Value Investor March 9, 2019, 11:12 am

    I still can’t work out why you need six pairs of shoes. (1) Walking shoes/trainers for urban environments, (2) serious walking boots for beach/muddy fields/mountains/etc, (3) slippers for indoors, (4) smart black shoes for weddings/funerals/office/etc.

    What am I missing? (and motorbike boots or tap dancing shoes don’t count)

  • 14 MrOptimistic March 9, 2019, 11:48 am

    Putting to one side an impulse to make a snide remark alluding to Imelda Marcos ( for now anyway), I wonder if someone can shed light on a problem I have interpreting ‘growth’ statistics. Apparently the UK economy grew by an underwhelming 1.4% last year. However, if inflation averaged 1.8% then what was the real growth. Perhaps the growth figures are adjusted by a deflator but if so never seen it referenced.

  • 15 JimJim March 9, 2019, 12:26 pm

    I had to count, why did you mention the shoes! Doh!
    1, Flip flops
    2, Walking sandals
    3, Everyday dossing around shoes
    4, carpet slippers
    5, Work shoes
    6, Cycling shoes.

    Six pairs, wellies don’t count

  • 16 Ben March 9, 2019, 1:02 pm

    @ john UKVI

    New trainers (best)
    Old trainers (daily)
    Old old trainers (diy/dry messy)
    New shoes (best (weddings, court appearances))
    Office shoes
    Winter shoes (if above don’t have grippy soles)

    Did your mother not bring you up proper? You need a ‘best’ pair of shoes.

  • I used to think that 3 pairs of footwear was enough for any man – however, as I’ve got older and dressed better – I’m starting to rival her indoors. Yet I’m not concerned and am starting to appreciate quality craftsmanship in expensive footware. Yikes ..

    Surely the min for a smartly dressed man about town is

    Brown shoes (works with Jeans) + smart blacks shoes.
    3 pairs of trainers min esp if you are sporty (daily/indoors/running) – I have 2 separate pairs of purely fell specific shoes personally.
    Sandals/flip flops
    2 pairs of hill walking boots for summer/winter – depending on where you live.

    NB Londoners – you don’t need mountaineering boots best suited to the Himalaya’s when a snow flake is seen in the sky. Just saying …;)

    Everything else mind in my life bar books of course, is paired down to the barest minimum in terms of needing the functionality vs resilience.

    No room for sentimentality though – neither functional or money making, unless your keeping boxed Star Wars figures from your youth. See my link.

  • 18 Jonathan March 9, 2019, 6:27 pm

    JimJim shares a common problem. An insightful friend has confirmed: the optimum number of bicycles is precisely one more than the number you currently own.

    Others may have the same problem with shoes …

  • 19 Dave March 9, 2019, 7:20 pm

    Ha, I expect you’re right @TI.

    I amazed by the amount of people who get in touch with me to say what an effect decluttering their living space has had on their lives. For many it’s a spiritual experience, particularly if they go Full Kondo.

    Thanks for the kind words about my book. On to the important bit…

    I have more than six pairs of shoes, and that’s just for running, breaking down as follows:

    Fancy trail running shoes I don’t want to get dirty.
    Fancy road running shoes that are too good for running.
    A pair of Asics Gel Nimbus 20s, which I only use on special occasions.
    A pair of Adidas Boosts for 10k races.
    Four pairs of Asics Gel Nimbus 19 and 18s that I choose dependent on the state of the off-road running I’ll be doing that day (dry-but-dirty, boggy, a bit wet but not soaking, very wet but not boggy).

    Hope this adds to the shoes debate and makes your dirty half-dozen admission look positively minimalist.

  • 20 JimJim March 10, 2019, 8:12 am

    Guilty… New bike on its way from Stuttgart, before some clown stops me ordering things from that there Europe cheaper.
    Weirdly non of the U.K. bike shops cater for the taller gentleman in the bike I wanted but those crazy Germans seem to favor the larger bike so I had no choice but to buy a German designed bike with a frame made in Taiwan components from Malaysia, tyres from Germany, seat from Italy assembled in Hungary, set up in Germany and shipped to Blighty bike.
    Oh I found my walking boots… That makes seven

  • 21 The Investor March 10, 2019, 12:50 pm

    Have to admit it’s always fun — and often surprising — seeing what grabs attention. And why not shoes, eh?

    This is my current tally, now I have capacious storage facilities of course.

    — Pair of sensible black brogues, sole gone, used to be fancy, need replacing, used for everyday action
    — Pair of fancy ‘best’ black shoes/boots crossover (high in the ankle). Were expensive. Old enough to have come back into fashion.
    — One pair ASICS running shoes. Bought for me as a present by an ex to inspire my running. Despite very inconsistent running (maybe once a fortnight) soles are gone, badly need replacing. But am fond.
    — One pair Vivo Barefoot walking boots. I’m a shareholder and got a mega discount. Love them. Would buy again.
    — One pair classier-DM style brown brogues/boots. Were fancy. Laces gone and nobody sells size/width replacements! Soles gone. Need chucking.
    — One just bought pair of beautiful light chestnut brown boots bought recently to replace above. Half-price in a sale but still expensive. Love them.
    — One pair Australian bushman style Chelsea boots (sorry I forget the brand, famous.) Should wear more. Bought 15 years ago in Australia.
    — One pair fancy brown shoes. Best for jeans etc.
    — One pair of black boots with laces and a zip that I love and that nobody sells exactly like them anymore. (They are chunky, which most of the zippy ones aren’t, rivals tend to bow out at the ankle). Wear a lot when not-fancy-but-out-out. Will mourn when they’re gone.

    So nine pairs, but two really need to be binned, black will be replaced, so call it eight pairs.

    Maybe I should start to compete for FireVLondon’s high-falutin’ audience! 😉

  • 22 Vanguardfan March 10, 2019, 1:23 pm

    I notice no women have ventured into the shoe debate ;-). I’m not going to be the first!
    Life does become more complicated when you have shoes for trousers and shoes for skirts/dresses (and no, they are very rarely the same)

  • 23 Steve21020 March 10, 2019, 8:17 pm

    Wow, I hadn’t realise that Monevator had changed its name to the Marie Kondo Page. Okay, just kidding, but can someone please explain how her book is any different to the 100s of De-cluttering books we’ve had on Amazon for the last five years?
    I really laughed at the first review on Amazon:

    — “Throw away what you don’t need or love. When you use something, put it back where it belongs afterwards. There, in 2 lines I have told you all the advice this book has to offer. Honestly don’t waste your money, it’s a con.” —

    I don’t for one minute believe it to be a con, but I’m a little bemused at all the hype. From what I’ve seen, the only new thing is her way of folding up underwear. The rest has been common knowledge for yonks.

  • 24 Laura March 10, 2019, 11:10 pm

    No, Marie Kondo isn’t really doing much new, in the same way that personal finance advice hasn’t really moved on since Dickens.

    Mr Micawber: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

    Excepting the invention of index funds. Arguably Monevator hasn’t said anything new in the last decade: spend less than you earn, buy index funds, minimise charges.

    But just because the information is “common sense” or widely available, doesn’t mean people don’t find it useful to read, and reread.

  • 25 Factor March 11, 2019, 1:18 am

    I manage with six items of footwear – smart black shoes for suit/chinos, strong brown trekky shoes for everyday use with jeans, fitness trainers, old fitness trainers for garden/diy, leather slippers (which can also be worn outdoors for wheelie bin action), and Hunter wellies. Also wooden, stretcher, shoe trees which I wouldn’t be without but which I don’t think anyone else has mentioned.

  • 26 The Investor March 11, 2019, 9:55 am

    “Also wooden, stretcher, shoe trees which I wouldn’t be without but which I don’t think anyone else has mentioned”

    Are these like Crocs? Like any self-respecting urbanite I’d snigger at Crocs, and then would go and visit my parent’s and slip my dad’s on/off to go in/out the house/garage/shed/whatnot constantly — and find them the most useful shoes ever!

  • 27 Jane March 11, 2019, 4:54 pm

    I read Kondo’s book before I began the gargantuan task of emptying out our enormous house in the American Midwest. We were moving to a house in the UK that cost the same but had 50% of the living space and, oh, 5% of the storage space? Something like that. That’s when you find out which of your stuff you really like.

    It did help. So did William Morris’s “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” (I may be misquoting a bit). I’ve tried really hard to think before I buy stuff–I now unsubscribe from all merchant emails so I’m not tempted and I give myself more time to think about purchases. I’m much more ruthless about chucking stuff out when I’m cleaning or sorting.

    I feel like we’re a long way from perfect but I don’t think I (the worst offender in our household, I’ll admit) waste nearly as much money now. Mind you, I watched one episode of Kondo’s TV show and absolutely hated it!

  • 28 JimJim March 11, 2019, 6:35 pm
  • 29 Factor March 11, 2019, 6:57 pm

    @TI #26

    Goodness me no! Get your man to open up your computer gizmo and locate https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoe_tree_(device). Personally, I can vouch for Dunkelman of London, my trusted provider of the sprung wooden variant 🙂

  • 30 The Investor March 11, 2019, 7:41 pm

    Ohhhhhh, shoe trees. Of course, I’ve seen those. In fancier abodes than mine. Such as shops. 😉

    Thanks for the clarification. Still, painful to wear. Until the amputation heals over, anyway…

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