Photo credit: ATBO
I get a big kick out of opening the refrigerator door and seeing not much more than a half-stick of butter, an apple and an almost-gone gallon of milk.
Yes, it can be comforting to have a refrigerator stocked with fresh produce, an assortment of dairy products and the meat and seafood I love to roast and sear. But having a full fridge also casts a shadow on my life. Each time I go for a yogurt or grab some grapes, I see hundreds of dollars’ worth of perishable goods which—” should they go to waste—” will cost me guilt in addition to the money I’ve already spent on the food. A refrigerator, or house, full of unused stuff is akin to a business with inventory collecting dust. Both represent money poorly spent.
This is why I get a rush when the drawers and closets of my home are spartan. Little waste. Great value in my purchases. I felt a special tingle recently when I threw out a favorite peacock-blue T-shirt so full of holes that it couldn’t even be repurposed as a rag. I got more than my $30 dollars’ worth out of that top.
I hate waste. At my core, I believe the root of happiness is gratitude, and waste is the ultimate expression of ingratitude. I plan and take time and care to ensure that I make good use of what I own. My (almost) bare-cupboard campaign comes from a desire to express thankfulness for my ability to afford good food and nice things.
So I happily add a browning avocado half to my morning scrambled eggs. My shower holds but one shampoo, one hair conditioner and one body wash. I use up each one before bringing in another. The times when the bathroom was cluttered with four half-used containers of hair products stressed me out—” the pressure was on not to waste money.
My makeup collection consists of one foundation, a favorite blush, two eyeliners and mascara—” plus a handful of lipsticks (cut me some slack—” I’m a girl!). I used to maintain a giant plastic tub of half-used cosmetics, a constant source of guilt because of money spent on unused items housed in plastic tubes that eventually would be dumped in a landfill.
My philosophy is practical, too. Life is simpler owning less. When I throw open the linen closet door in a quest for a Band-Aid to cover my son’s scraped elbow, I like everything in plain sight and not having to dig for what I need under heaps of bed linens and medical supplies. When you know just how many boxes of pasta line the pantry and what spices are on the rack, you’re less likely to buy duplicates.
Embracing this way of living didn’t come to me easily. I grew up in a house where the mentality was “more is more.” I married a man who loved to shop and collect music, photos, shoes and mementoes. Some people I care about very much find comfort and a sense of abundance in having lots of stuff around them. Intellectually, I get that. But for me, using up the teeniest, tiniest last sliver of soap or glancing at my (almost) bare cupboards gives me a deep, nearly spiritual, sense of contentment.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.
The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.
Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.
Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.