Real Life Minimalists: Gene

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today, Gene shares the details of his minimalist journey with us—and a wonderful photo that radiates the joy and freedom of a simplified life!

Gene writes:

Gene

Gene

Like so many people I had accumulated plenty of stuff. Ok, to be fair much of it was junk. As George Carlin is famous for pointing out, when it’s yours its “stuff” but when it is somebody else’s its “junk”. As in “Move your ‘junk’, I need a place for my ‘stuff’”. But I eventually realized that much of my “stuff” was in fact just “junk”.

Well, shortly after my divorce I discovered a TV show called “Hoarders”. My ex had taken most of her “junk” and so any mess that remained was entirely mine. The pattern was always the same, I would watch a half hour of the show and then hit pause and spend the next 90 minutes cleaning and sorting and purging. Anything I could do to distance my home from the one I just saw on TV made me feel just a bit better. Now in all fairness I was never a ‘hoarder’ but I do now recognize that I gained a certain amount of ‘comfort’ from having “stuff”…err I mean “junk”. My floors were mostly visible and if you came into my place with a shovel you wouldn’t discover any dead cats or raccoons. But admittedly my place was a bit cluttered. And so too did my life also feel a bit cluttered and encumbered.

I was always thrifty but I sometimes mistook buying a ‘bargain’ as the less expensive option even when really buying nothing at all would have saved me even more money. For example, after I had started down my minimalist path I was dragged at midnight on Thanksgiving to Best Buy. I needed nothing but when I saw a $7 panini maker I knew I had to have it. The little voice on my shoulder that was reminding me of my commitment to simplicity was beaten down by the old voice that couldn’t turn down a bargain. Well long story short – I don’t think I made more then 4 panini sandwiches with the darned thing before I decided it needed to go with the rest of the “stuff” to Goodwill.

I live in a major city where I can get away without having a car which further simplifies my life. Walking, biking, public transit, ZipCar and Uber meet most of my transportation needs.

I have pared down my belongings donating or throwing away things that no longer added any value to my life.

Books that wont be read again go to the library donation bin or to friends. I had once viewed overflowing book cases as a sort of intellectual trophy case to be displayed. No more.

All my many hundreds of CDs and DVDs have been put into sleeve binders. This act alone generated several garbage bags full of cases and created a surprising amount of space in my living room. In addition all my CDs have been ripped to MP3 and have also been uploaded to iTunes Match.

I have pared down my wardrobe as well. Clothes that I don’t ever wear I take on vacation. Why? Well I wear them one last time and then throw them away. No dirty laundry to bring back home with me. Although my friends have inquired why I tend to wear tacky or torn shirts in the photos from Disney World that I post on Facebook.

Now when I buy something I always ask myself if I need it.

I do allow myself a little retail therapy but I try to keep it to stuff that is small and functional. For example – I just the other day read an article that mentioned what the author described as the “worlds best mechanical pencil”. I found it online and bought it. OK, over $30 for a pencil might sound silly. But the thing really is a joy to write with and I wont be tripping over it.

And it’s not just stuff. I have tried to simplify other areas of my life as well. Fewer distractions so I can work towards focusing on those things that really do matter in my life. And the money that I save from buying stuff can go towards having experiences. And barring early onset of dementia those memories will far outlast my “stuff”.

I can say there are many purchases in my life that I regret. But there is not a single vacation or beer with friends that I would trade the memory of for any sort of refund.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Abbie

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week, Abbie shares an honest, thought-provoking perspective on the psychological aspects behind her decluttering. I’m sure many of us can relate to the issues of control and finding balance.

Abbie writes:

My grandparents saved because of their experiences with economic struggle. My parents saved because they were taught not to waste anything – one could use that or need it in the future, best to keep it until then. I saved because if you get rid of that, someone’s feelings will be hurt.

You know those boxes you have? The ones you are going to go through, when you have enough time? Everytime I moved, they moved and brought their friends.

Control issues do not stop once one is no longer a toddler. Control is one of the most important things we all deal with every day; control of ourselves, our actions, our environment. I lost control when I took the winter lay-off from work. I lost control when my partner lost control of their emotions. I lost control when I didn’t have the money to get into town from where we live. I lost control when the anhedonia took over.

“Wouldn’t it be easier if the cat was dead?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if my partner died?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if I had no family or friends to complicate my life?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if I were dead?”

Maybe. But not really.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to not have so many thoughts swirling around my head?”

Yes.

What do you like about walking into hotel rooms? Why do you feel drawn to them? Sure, they appear clean and your hands did not need to do it. But it’s more than that. Your *stuff* isn’t there. Not physically. Not emotionally.

This was my starting point. I refused to reach my next milestone birthday without trying to let go of at least some of my physical clutter. I’ve been working on my emotional clutter since my early 20s. It was time to work on the physical; to peel away that which covers to find that which matters.

In the last three years, we have had many changes in our lives. We moved from 165m2 with a single car garage, in a town, to 48m2 with a small shed, 45 minutes from the city. We went from not too much stuff to quite a full house – and it wasn’t just the things.

Living as the partner of someone with PTSD is not necessarily easy. They need a lot of space to spread out their thoughts so they can rifle through them and try to make the raging torrent of emotion make sense. Because of the lack of emotional control and stability, their physical environment suffers too. The depression and anxiety tell them so many lies that they start to believe these lies. My partner “stacks things big,” then feels overwhelmed by being surrounded by them and, after a short while, gives up.

I started to feel like I was drowning in the emotions and physical possessions in our house. Thank goodness I’ve been through the counselling I have so when I recognized my own distress, I understood that I can only control my own belongings and my own actions. That is when the purge started. I was still trying to “manage” my partner’s emotions and responses but that is a tale for another time.

Clothes that may fit in at a nebulous future date? Donated.
Books that will “someday” get read? Traded for credit.
Owning 7 sets of sheets for one bed and 3 sets of blankets? Extras to the Humane Society.
Fabric, wool, and notions, bought on spec, in case I someday care about sewing or knitting? To the charity store.
Extra chairs? Burned.
Too many bookcases? Found new homes.

As I took back control of myself and my own space, it became easier to let go of trying to shore up my partner’s emotions. My partner took to purging belongings on good days so that when the bad days come back around, there were less physical things that felt like suffocation. We worked together to let go of those “ideal self” pictures with all the hobbies and projects. I do not buy on speculation and my partner and I work together to limit the projects we bring into our lives.

It is an ongoing process. I have, in some ways, swung too far. On bad days, I sometimes try to get rid of everything. This is where living in partnership comes in handy. My partner talks me down, just like I do for them on their bad days.

I’m still working on finding balance.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Samantha

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today, I’m pleased to feature Samantha, who explains how selling their home has enabled her and her husband to live more intentionally and pursue their dreams. Please visit her blog to read more of her writing.

Samantha writes:

Samantha

Samantha

It didn’t take me long after buying our house to see how our materialism was eating away at our priorities.

Our spare time, energy and money were spent paying for, maintaining, cleaning and making plans for an edifice to live in. It seemed unnecessary and wasteful. And I didn’t like what it was doing to my marriage or to my soul.

My husband and I had dreamt of buying our first house. And while many suffered during the housing crisis, as first-time homebuyers, we benefited from it. We bought our house at a good price and a great interest rate. We saw lots of room for improvement and imagined the fat check we’d get someday when we’d sell our house in an improved market.

But I soon felt restless about owning this home. This house was a reflection of the life I was living. And I didn’t like the look of it.

I was pursuing the American Dream unintentionally. I was going to school for public relations. And a year after buying our home, I landed a good first job in marketing. I was succeeding in every possible way. At least that’s the way it looked. But that’s not how it felt.

I wasn’t grateful for the new job I had. I wasn’t grateful for the beautiful character home I lived in. I was becoming very restless with the way I was living my life and I knew I needed to make a change.

And I did change.

I left my job and pursued my dream of being a writer.

I started getting rid of all of my stuff. Slowly, but steadily. I didn’t know it yet, and I certainly had no goal of becoming one, but I was turning into a minimalist. Not to follow some trend or save money or anything like that. It just seemed a natural response to what was going on in my heart and my mind. I was weeding out the stuff in my life I felt was holding me back from living the life I wanted.

And yet there was this house. My husband and I no longer wanted to own a home. It wasn’t worth it to us. It was more expensive to maintain a home than we’d imagined. On top of that, our priorities had changed over the three years we owned the home and we no longer desired the space or autonomy owning a home brought.

Instead of this home being a haven of peace and a sanctuary for us, it was a constant reminder of how much time, money and energy we’d spent maintaining and cleaning it.

And we wanted out.

We breathed new life into our dream of moving across the country just to try living somewhere different. It’s something we’d always wanted to do. Finding out some family and friends were moving out of state was the catalyst for us pursuing our dream. So we put our house up for sale.

We sold our home this summer. We’re moving out of state in two months. And we have no plans of buying a home again.

Selling our home and moving out of state are two of the ways we are choosing to live life more intentionally, which requires us to minimize the stuff in our lives that doesn’t matter so much.

Today, we’re weeding out that which holds us back from pursuing what matters most to us. That means living with less stuff. That means choosing more risks and less security. It means making choices intentionally and not operating out of habit.

And it doesn’t feel like I’m giving up anything at all. It feels like I’m gaining a whole lot more. And I am.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Daniel, The Minimalist Kanaka

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week we have a wonderful story from Daniel, The Minimalist Kanaka, who tells us how his Hawaiian heritage inspired his new, pared-down lifestyle. Please visit his blog to read more of his thoughts.

Daniel writes:

Daniel

Daniel

Aloha, Iʻm Daniel. I was born and raised in beautiful Hawaii and currently reside there. I canʻt say exactly when I discovered minimalism. The Hawaii lifestyle is naturally a minimalist culture. I remember when my brothers and I were young, our favorite toys were cardboard boxes. People would bring my family toys, but my parents ended up passing it to our cousins because we’d rather play with our cardboard boxes. Yes, we were and still are easily entertained.

But over the years, things have changed and the culture in Hawaii changed. I went off to college in 2003 in California and wouldnʻt return back to the islands for the next 10 years (other than visits).

During those years, I lost a bit of myself and my identity. I became unsure of what I wanted to do and felt like I was wasting my time in everything I did. In 2011, I came across two blogs that played a large role in my re-discovery and introduction to minimalism: The Minimalists, and Zen Habits.

I rummaged through their archives and read their posts daily. There was something about minimalism that I felt drawn to. The ideas were familiar but yet new to me. I wanted to learn more.

As I began to question the things I owned: objects, thoughts, ideas, relationships, debt, etc. I realized that I am in complete control of the circumstances.

While growing up in Hawaii, I learned the values of my ancestors of what it meant to live a purposeful life. The two main core values I remembered were:

Pono – living righteously

Aloha – the life force of unconditional love

So in 2011, I went through all of my belongings. At that time my wife and I were living apart while she worked in Hawaii and I worked in California. I got rid of the TV, went through all the kitchenware, decluttered my drawers and closets, created a spacious office and living space, and used a bike for my sole purpose of transportation.

The end result? A feeling of freedom.

But getting rid of objects was the easiest part. I didnʻt even second guess myself when I threw out the TV, and I loved watching ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’. The hardest part I had was getting rid of the mental and emotional clutter.

As a young boy I grew up partially deaf with a speech impediment. And being Native Hawaiian, I dealt with the inferiority complex that many Native Hawaiians deal with still today. I had low self-esteem, went through times when I would freeze in anxiety, and was scared to ask questions with the fear of not being understood or made fun of.

I spent hours writing down my thoughts and ways to how I could personally grow and let go of all the negativity I held within. The more I wrote and reflected, the more comfortable I became with who I am. I started to walk Kū Kanaka, which in Hawaii means to stand and walk tall. I saw my transformation mentally and began to see the changes around me as well.

Now that Iʻm back in Hawaii and with my wife, we are living with my parents (the cost of living in Hawaii is crazy!). My wife is not a minimalist and my parents have the tendency of holding on to and accepting objects because they have a hard time letting go and saying ‘no’. But there is an understanding between us and when we talk about minimalism, they are all very interested but respond with, “I could never do that, it seems too hard.”

One of my favorite quotes is by Miyamoto Musashi, “It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.”

So I write to share my story and thoughts about simplifying life in paradise, living pono, and finding Aloha for yourself and in the world around you. It’s a work in progress and I only hope to inspire other minimalists and people in Hawaii to see the beauty behind minimalism.

Minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of things. It’s also about creating a life that is filled with meaning and value.

Aloha and A hui hou. (Good-bye and Until we meet again)

Daniel, The Minimalist Kanaka

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Sophie

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today we meet Sophie, who tells us how a simple home improvement project led to a wonderful new lifestyle.

Sophie writes:

It All Started With the Hardwood Floors

In a small photo album on my bookshelf, I keep a picture from 2006: a huge dining room hutch cupboard, every shelf loaded with knickknacks and totchkes. All of them had to be dusted regularly; all (the hutch included) are long gone. But I’m getting ahead of the story . . .

It all started with the hardwood floors. In 2006, a relative died and left my mother a small inheritance. Since money had been tight since my father died in 2004, we had not had the means to do some necessary repairs and renovations on our 60 year old house. Now we were able to sit down and decide on our priorities. One of these was tearing up the old, funky wall-to-wall carpeting and renovating the hardwood floors. The hardest part? No, not stripping, sanding, polishing and sealing the floors; oh, no, it was moving all of our STUFF to actually get at the floors. Bookcases, tables, a sofa, a loveseat, more bookcases (a total of four, all stuffed with books), um, more tables, assorted statues and, well, more STUFF that had to be moved from one room to the next in order to get to the floor. And then the light bulb went on over my head. Instead of having to move all this STUFF back, why not just . . .get rid of it? Go through it, keep the best and give away the rest. And that was what we did. Every drawer, every bookshelf, every closet, every dark, cluttered corner was searched and cleaned. Relatives and friends who stopped by were happy to receive items that they had long admired; various charities received donations of furniture, books, clothing, unopened sheet sets, and other useful items. Slowly, our house took on a more open, spacious and light-filled atmosphere. I could literally feel fresh air, light and energy flowing through our now-uncluttered rooms. And we could see our beautiful floors! Phase One of the Great Purge was over.

Nothing succeeds like success, and my family and I found additional ways to declutter and simplify our lives. As time went on, we went from owning four cars to owning two (and my background as a transportation analyst became very useful.) The clotheslines my father had installed in the backyard sixty years ago suddenly had a new lease on life as I discovered how energy-efficient and pleasant it was to hang the laundry out to dry. My sister’s long-neglected raised garden beds also had a new life as my family learned to grow vegetables (we were defeated by the eggplant, however.)

As we conclude the eighth year of our ongoing minimalist journey, we are continually discovering new ways to simplify our lives. That is the beauty of a minimalist lifestyle: it is fluid, flexible and adaptable. We have kept some practices, jettisoned others, and tried new ones. That is the core of minimalism and simple living: it can (and will) change as needed. And most of all, it is so liberating and fun! By eliminating the unnecessary and superfluous from my life, I now have the time to appreciate and enjoy what I have. I have found that my family and I can do regular decluttering of our house to keep it open and clean and this has become one of the most enjoyable aspects of our journey. And this is a journey – destination unknown, but we’re having a lot of fun getting there. I might even try growing those eggplants again next summer.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Rine

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week, we have a wonderful contribution from Rine, who writes about the benefits of minimizing consumption, from a personal to a global scale. Please visit her blog to read more of her writing.

Rine writes:

I started practicing minimalism about seven years ago when my partner and I were newlyweds. A variety of factors led to my desire to simplify our way of life. When my partner and I moved into our first apartment, we were lucky to have the generous support of our family and friends who—with a free hand—bought us everything we needed from our wedding registry and even sorted through their dusty attics and dingy basements to give us their spare furniture and appliances. Unfortunately, after my partner and I merged our belongings and organized our gifts, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by copious amounts of stuff, including duplicates and even triplicates of things—we had three televisions, two CD players, two crock pots, too many lamps, furniture with nowhere to put it, et cetera.

At that time, I was also deeply enmeshed in international human rights theory, which I was studying in graduate school. Initially, I mostly focused on human rights issues overall, but as time went by, I became more and more interested in how political, economic, and societal systems and norms lead to things like inequality and poverty. I began to focus my studies on political economic theory and the effects of globalization on both economics and culture in order to better understand why over half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 per day. The fact that we haven’t found a solution to these problems in our modern times really baffled me and still does even now. I also focused on how consumerism and over-consumption negatively affect not only people, but also the environment, and I began looking into alternative economic systems, as well as more personal changes that I could make in my own life that could reduce my so-called “carbon footprint” and any other affects my consumption might have on the world. Some of the books that helped me to work through these issues and that I highly recommend reading were Mindfulness in the Marketplace: Compassionate Responses to Consumerism edited by Allan Hunt Badiner, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher, and Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton.

Fortunately, both my partner and I decided to minimize our lifestyle and so we slowly began the process. First, I went on Craigslist to sell our two televisions, two CD players, multiple pieces of furniture, and old bicycles. I sold clothing, board games, video game consoles, and other gaming paraphernalia on Ebay, and I used Amazon to sell books, CDs, and DVDs. Eventually, I sold our third television, and my partner and I turned our desktop computer into our primary entertainment center. We stopped buying things like books, movies, and games throughout the year and designated Christmastime as the only time we could purchase something new. We adopted a “one in, one out” policy for new purchases, and any purchase of something that wasn’t a necessity had to fit within our very limited monthly budget. We gave our car, which we were actually borrowing from our family, to one of our brothers, and we started walking, cycling, and taking public transportation to wherever we needed to go. We ended up buying a Honda Metropolitan scooter for quick trips around town, like to the grocery store or for places that were inaccessible by public transportation or cycling, and luckily, the Honda was a very good investment—it got 90 miles to the gallon, and we drove it for almost 10,000 miles.

By limiting our consumption, my partner and I were able to pay off his student loan debt and save money. This enabled us to do a number of things over the last couple of years, including living abroad in two different countries. We still have a lot of minimal and simple living goals to reach, including paying off my student loan debt, as well as continuing to minimize the amount of stuff we own. In the coming years, I think our focus will be on the quality of what we own rather than the quantity. My own personal beliefs regarding my relationship with stuff has come full circle since becoming a minimalist. I think that some minimalists like to believe that objects are not important, and I think that I felt similarly in the beginning; however, as a trained anthropologist and archaeologist, I recognize the importance of material culture to humankind—creating and using material objects is part of being human. For me, the objects we own and use in our daily life should be respected and valued for their utility and aesthetic nature rather than simply for the status they may supposedly endow us with.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Pamela

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today, I’m pleased to bring you this lovely story from Pamela. She started decluttering over a decade ago, and shares with us the inspiration behind her minimalist journey.

Pamela writes:

Ever since I was a little girl, I have maintained all my belongings in a neat and tidy way. On the surface, everything had its place, from my dolls and books to my school notes. As I grew up, those “neat and tidy” habits stayed with me as I continued to “organize my clutter”. College books and notes filed away in bankers boxes; my doll collection as a child stored neatly away in 5 large plastic bins; books that I had accumulated (my prized possessions!) lined bookshelves and filled yet even more boxes in the basement of my family home. The more schooling I completed, the more boxes I accumulated and filled with all the notes and text books that were acquired through my schooling years. By the time I was in my 20’s, I had so many boxes, bins and possessions lining the basement of my home!

So while it was neatly organized, it was still overwhelming and took up a LOT of space. Despite my attempts to use pretty storage boxes, I was still just “organizing my clutter!”, as Miss Minimalist likes to call it! I remember the first moment I decided it was all too much. I was about 21 when the young man I had a crush on left for a one month holiday. He inspired me so much and made me want to improve my life in so many ways. Upon his departure for vacation, I thought to myself, what will I do with the spare time I will have while he is away? How can I use this time in an inspired way, to make my life better? I decided that decluttering the possessions I had amassed but no longer had any use for would be a good use of my time. While he was away, I filled over 10 garbage bags full of clothes, old toys, trinkets and books to donate to charity. In addition, I recycled my elementary and high school notes. That cleared out a ton of space! It felt so good and it was so amazing to see some empty spaces on my shelves and in my closets, where all that old stuff was just sitting idly and not being used. In that moment, a minimalist was born!

That was over 10 years ago and was just the beginning of my decluttering and minimalist journey! Since then, I have pared down hundreds of books, clothing, kitchen stuff (including glasses, vases, mugs and plates), DVDs, CDs and much, much more. Books are always a little tough to part with, because I love to read so much! But I remind myself that if I need to read them again, I can always borrow them from the library. I also keep in mind that someone else may really need that book even more than I do, which is one reason I love donating them! The staff at the local charity always sends a smile and thanks my way when they see me coming with my big bins full of stuff. Not only has it felt good for my soul to give to a charity that benefits my community, but my home is clean, spacious and very easy to maintain! I have also saved lots of hard-earned money by not making those purchases that promise the world but deliver very little in terms of true happiness. The time I save on cleaning, sorting and shuffling all that old stuff around, I spend with my friends, family and pets. The love and fulfillment I get from focusing on those life experiences can never be replaced by any of that stuff! It has been a truly liberating experience and it all started with the inspiration I received thanks to a little crush.

I am so grateful to Miss Minimalist for posting all her inspiring articles and for you, fellow Miss Minimalist readers and writers, for all your inspiring stories. They keep me going on this exciting journey! And although I may never own just “100 things”, my life is so much better thanks to living with less stuff. Best of luck to you all!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists Update: Regina

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week we have an update from Regina, whose original feature appeared two years ago. She has some wonderful (and inspiring) news for us! If you’d like to learn more, you can follow her journey on her blog.

Regina writes:

Photo by Regina

Photo by Regina

Since I embraced simple living and minimalism and started this blog two years ago, a post on ‘I am debt-free’ has been at the top of my list. I still can’t believe that I am finally in a position to write such a post: I am debt-free and I have money in the bank. It feels rather surreal and after two months, it has yet to fully sink in.

For the first time since I left university, I am totally free of debt. Debt-free: two words that seem so innocuous yet whose attainment can bestow so much freedom, lightness, and control. The freedom to explore options, make choices and pursue dreams. The lightness that comes with not owing a single penny and of owning every single pound, beholden to no one but myself. The control that I have regained over finances and my time and how I want to spend it. The realisation that I fully own every one of my possessions and assets. That feeling is rather indescribable.

Many of us have debts in one form or another and in varying amounts once we reached adulthood. University debts, credit card debts, car loans and mortgages are all part of being grown up and getting ahead. We are mortgaging our future for a better present which we can’t presently afford; in the hope that our future would be able to cough up the payments. Then that opportunity arises for that nicer suit, that newer car model and that bigger house–and we fall deeper into the debt hole. One would hope that job promotions and pay rises would make our lives a little easier, our debt pile a little smaller. Easier said than done. With more money, we yearn for that even nicer car and bigger house to keep up with our newly elevated status. Oh dear, we just have to stay in that crappy job for a little while longer to keep up with the payments. Having money can make us poorer and more indebted–sad but true. It is like buying bigger size pants to accommodate our bigger waistline but ending up eating more because we now have more room to fill!

We all consume in one way or another and I am not saying consumption is bad. We all need shelter, food, clothing and a few other things to make our lives civilised, comfortable, enjoyable and efficient. But mindless consumerism where we consume impulsively and with the vain hope that in some way or other it will give us the happiness and purpose that we crave for is self-defeating. It is likely to make us more reliant on the jobs we loathe and leave us further from our true happiness and purpose.

I followed a similar trajectory after university. I had good jobs earning good pay with good companies in exchange for long hours, stress and diminishing personal time and self-fulfillment. Weekends were sacred as I sought to spend those precious hours in doing things I like and spending money on things I wanted in order to assuage the misery that piled up during the work week and dull the dread of heading back into the grind on Monday. Sunday night blues is not just a myth; it was very real and tangible in my case. Each new job and promotion delivered more money into my bank account but there never seemed to be enough for me to feel ‘rich’. I was buying stuff; of not only things I needed but also of things I thought I needed and that I wanted. I used to think that if I were to leave the house, I needed to bring something back, anything, even a copy of the day’s papers to make it worthwhile, even though I know I didn’t have the desire nor time to read it. I was buying stuff on my holidays, on my work trips, and each overseas posting added more to my possessions. Anyone walking into my flat would find it nice and tidy and nowhere near cluttered. But clutter can be a rather subjective term. I had a lot more stuff than I actually needed or wanted and they were draining my finances and robbing me of my time and clogging up my living space. I was buying stuff with my hard-earned money and credit cards, hoping to numb the misery of my cubicle existence and make myself happier, staying in the job so that I can fund my purchases and pay off my bills, getting the next bigger job with a bigger pay cheque, consuming more to numb the bigger dose of misery and dullness that came with it. The cycle repeats. But the happiness remained ephemeral and I spent more money and had less time and control over my life.

I was staying in jobs that paid me good money, paid my bills and indulged me with the little luxuries in life but left me empty. With time, the misery grew deeper and the emptiness reverberated stronger. I finally took the plunge and left the corporate world to spend my time working on projects that I am passionate about and that give me happiness, purpose and delivers value. I felt a lot happier, freer and more fulfilled. But I still carried the burden of having to pay the bills and think about ‘making a living’. Then I chanced upon this article and I was blown away. It was as if the scales dropped from my eyes and a stone was lifted off my back. I was filled with hope, excitement and lightness–clichéd but true. This is the carefree state I want to be in: debt free. Saying is much easier than doing and it has been quite a long-drawn out process with tough decisions and uncertainty aplenty. But I finally made it and I am truly embracing the freedom and lightness that came with the disentanglement.

I am writing this post in one of my favourite local cafes. A light-filled space staffed by friendly baristas and serves great coffee and Eccles cakes by St. John (the best ever!). I paid for my coffee and cake with cash as I do with the bulk of my purchases–I seldom use my debit card nowadays; my two credit cards have not left my wallet in the past two months and have become seemingly redundant. Cold hard cash gives me better control over my spending and prompts me to buy and consume more mindfully. I also tend to ask myself if a purchase is going to add value to my life and worth that amount of money to my freedom and time. I glance through the list of properties that are up for sale. The London property boom has thrown up a a slew of properties that are way overpriced; waiting for desperate buyers rushed by the limited supply to take the bait. I believe that I will find my dream home; one that is right for me, when the time is right. I guess one can’t rush such things; magic happens when you are least expecting it. When that dream abode turns up, I will be paying for it in cash–no more mortgages, no more debt. Being debt free has opened me up to choices and options and I am free to choose and pick the road I want to travel on. There is nothing to hold me back except myself.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Wild Poppy

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today, I’m happy to feature Wild Poppy from London, who describes her joyful decluttering as “retail therapy in reverse.” Love it!

Wild Poppy writes:

As a child I didn’t have a lot of possessions, but I would find a pretty pebble, a shell or a marble and with naive appreciation would revel in the luxury of my find. I accumulated a small store of these treasures. My young life was not cluttered with more material things.

I was gifted to have a mother whose focus was not on acquiring either money or possessions. We lived a simple, contented, happy life and enjoyed our vast garden, the Yorkshire Dales.

As I got older I never did develop a desire for more material things, thanks to the guidance in my formative years. However with the passing of time, it was difficult not to acquire more. I would not avidly seek to expand my store of possessions yet clothes, books, crockery, furniture etc. would still find their way into my home.

At one point I was living in a tiny London bedsit, containing only a sofa bed, a very narrow set of drawers and a wardrobe. My total living space (not including communal bathroom and kitchen) was 8′ x 9′. This had to be kept clean, neat and tidy in order to serve as a study, a lounge, a dining room, a craft room and a bedroom. So the one-in-one-out philosophy enabled me to keep my little home functional.

After five years of living in a veritable cupboard I was given the opportunity to move into a larger room, and I confess the prospect of sleeping in a real bed was tempting due to issues with my back. So I cleaned and painted and bought additional furniture for my new place… and now had added space to stash unnecessary items. I had under-bed storage and more surfaces to display pictures and trinkets.

Yet the more I owned, the less I enjoyed what I had. Ironic, I know.

One day I stumbled across The Joy of Less by Francine Jay and immediately the concept of minimalism she presented made perfect sense. I determined to put into practice the ‘streamline method’ and began to recycle, give to charity or simply bin all those items that no longer had any practical value.

The more I disposed of, the better it felt… Retail therapy in reverse. Shopping drained me, decluttering invigorated me. So much so that I threw ‘err on the side of caution’ out with the rubbish, and enjoyed the vast amounts of space I could see on shelves and in drawers and on every visible surface.

Space equals potential… Potential to create, to craft, to paint, to write, to entertain, to relax.

This age of technology enables us to become free of much physical clutter. We now have virtual forms of music, books, magazines, photographs, movies. This doesn’t mean we can become complacent. Minimalism is a progressive endeavour. Virtual items can surreptitiously collect. Therefore my laptop and tablet are also subject to my regular declutter frenzy.

My card craft supplies make up a fair percentage of my total possessions, so that too is submitted to a regular streamlining. If I buy a pack of pretty papers and know I’ll only use 8 of the 12 sheets, I won’t hold on to the extra 4. If I buy die cut shapes in assorted colours, there will be shades that I am unlikely to use, so they also get pared down. If I buy a collection pack, there will be items I will never use, so they too must go. The resulting selection offers a lot less indecision and heaps more inspiration.

So I relish the simple act of opening a wardrobe door to find, not the magical land of Narnia, but a spacious rail of neat and tidy clothing, colour coordinated and ready to wear. Or pulling open a drawer to see underwear arranged in a manner closely resembling the order of a filing system.

My journey to a more minimalist self did not begin with an overindulged childhood, nor did I ever find myself desirous of a great quantity of possessions, rather I was set on the right road, and though there have been twists and turns along the way, I am continuing to perfect the art with each passing day.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Real Life Minimalists: Matt

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week we hear from Matt, who shares with us the life changes that inspired his minimalist journey, and his happiness with his new, pared-down lifestyle.

Matt writes:

Matt

Matt

My minimalism started nearly two years ago and was born as a result of growing disquiet in my life. It was Christmas day, my four year old daughter was ripping through the umpteenth present, my wife at the time was admiring her newest addition to the clothes collection that would join its predecessors in the wardrobe never to see the light of the day. It was while sitting there, an unnecessarily large pile of presents in front of me that I realised I wasn’t happy, wasn’t happy with my relationship, wasn’t happy with the direction my life was taking and certainly wasn’t happy with the feeling that I was drowning in my house from all the things my family was acquiring.

Fast forward six months and after many discussions, counselling and attempts to fix the problems both my wife and I had decided that enough was enough and we both wanted out. We separated and it was at this point I saw that life had presented me an opportunity, a chance to start again with a clean slate. I packed up a single suitcase with clothes and another with treasured possessions and told her that she could do what she wanted with the rest as I didn’t need them.

As I got in my car and began the drive to my mother’s house I knew that I had turned a corner, that I would never allow myself to be seduced by the power of consumerism and its desire for me to have more. Over a year down the line and my house is in the words of anyone who comes over “sparse”. My friends ask me where my stuff is and I say “it’s all here” at which point they pirouette on the spot and reply “Where? There’s nothing here!”

I don’t have nothing, I have everything I need (and probably more) I simply don’t have stuff. I have a TV, Computer, Sofa (New addition as per my other half), one of every utensil I need in a kitchen and even a fully stocked bookshelf of DVD’s and books. If a new one is purchased then something must go to make room, it’s become an interesting experience having to decide if the new addition is worth the loss of an old favourite.

Not everyone in my life has fully grasped the principles of my minimalist life, people will still attempt to buy me or persuade me to have the latest “must have” and I struggle at times to resist but overall I’m happy with the place I have reached.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}