Real Life Minimalists: Dominique

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 Dominique, who shares with us this touching tribute to her minimalist father. Please visit her blog to read more about her journey to simplicity.

Dominique writes:

Dominique

Dominique

It just occurred to me today while I was reading minimalism testimonials online on the Miss Minimalist website that my dad was a minimalist. My mom isn’t, but my dad was.

My dad passed away on October 11, 2014. The day after his 64th birthday. It’s still very recent and very difficult to accept that I can’t see him, hug him or hear him anymore. My father’s voice was so sweet to me. He didn’t give himself enough credit for the incredible man that he was. But maybe his modesty added to his greatness.

Anyway, my dad didn’t have or want many things. Growing up, I saw my dad use the exact same orange hair brush every day, and the same green plastic glass whenever he wanted to drink pop. My sister and I joked that those two items would be our inheritance. This was years before he got sick with COPD.

He was hard to shop for when it came to birthday and Christmas presents. He didn’t have many regular hobbies. Life for him was all about family. We’d ask him what he wanted. He would always say “Nothing. I just want to be with you guys”. So we would often just get him clothes because he never bought any for himself.

One of my favourite memories of a “present” that I gave my dad one year for his birthday was when I invited my parents, my sister and her family, and my dad’s last living sister to supper in my new house. My aunt Hélène’s husband, uncle Pierinot, had recently passed away. I had made my first turkey dinner and it turned out great. My dad was just so thrilled that we were together. He kept saying over and over again how pleased he was and how this was his best birthday. I was so proud to make him so happy. I really loved making him happy!

I’m so thankful that my dad was a minimalist. I hear of so many families who are torn apart over inheritances. By being a minimalist, my dad spared us any possible fights (although, he and my mom raised us right and I can’t really imagine that my sister and I would have fought over anything). He also spared us the guilt of having to give away things he left behind. I don’t think it was intentional. He just didn’t care about things. Well, he didn’t care about acquiring things. What he had he took care of, for a very long time. Whenever he got rid of something, it was because it was well worn out.

So what did we get? What was his legacy? In no particular order: we got a great example of devotion to family, of honesty, of work ethic, of love, of tremendous strength, of sincerity, of quiet wisdom, of forgiveness, of responsibility, of humility, of humour, of hope, of respect, of simplicity.

My sister got the green plastic glass, and I got dad’s orange brush.

{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: Judith

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, I’m happy to introduce you to Judith, who writes about the wonderful sense of lightness and freedom that decluttering can bring!

Judith writes:

Judith

Judith

I have always considered myself as very low maintenance, I never liked having A LOT of STUFF, and so even as a kid I regularly would purge my belongings. 2014 was an over the top busy and stressful year for my husband and I. My husband injured himself at work in May and as a carpenter he was not able to work for 3 months. As a business owner he had no income coming in for those months. And in August we ran into a great deal to buy a small house that needed some work. The perfect house and price for us. So we bought it and started the reno. We both work full time and are renovating the house as we can while living in it. It can get interesting. But I started to feel crowded and pressured. Then I ran into some information on minimalism, and it rang so true to me that our happiness does not come from what we have. I wanted our lives to be more than just about work and stuff. So I decided to start a major purge. I am not a good sales person so I donated a lot (over 12 bags of good stuff) and threw out just about as much. For someone who thought we didn’t own much, I was shocked. And I keep being shocked as I usually donate about 1 bag a week still at the moment. I have stopped spending (even though I always thought I was good at not buying stuff) and have adopted the one in one out moto. My husband has been very supportive and has got rid of a lot of his stuff as well. I am amazed at how much stuff gets accumulated. Stuff we don’t even miss when it’s gone.

The feeling of freedom in getting rid of my stuff is indescribable. When I first started purging I was feeling guilty for getting rid of stuff friends and family had bought for us, but as time goes, it all gets very easy. Getting rid of stuff is as addictive as wanting to buy stuff I believe. It feels like my head is much clearer, and cleaning is a breeze, even amongst these renos. As we continue on our renovations, I am planning on keeping the décor very minimal.

We are still a work in progress, getting rid of the superfluous stuff is just the beginning, and my goal is to have a stress-free life, which I can enjoy right now, every day. I want to be able to spend some time every day with the man I love and the people I care about. And I don’t mean just the few minutes after we’re all done work for the day before we go to bed. We are both hard workers and do not mind working, but I do not want our whole life to be only about work. When I get older I want to look back on my life and say that I really enjoyed it and never missed a moment to be happy and live in the moment.

{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: Rowena

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, Rowena from London explains how several of her personal philosophies led her to minimalism, and how decluttering is already making a difference in her life.

Rowena writes:

I teach in London where I live with my musician husband, Dan, and two young sons. My journey towards minimalism has had several other names along the way! First I called it feminism, when, in my mid-20s, I rejected many of the useless and costly accoutrements of the female consumer. In my late 20s our children arrived so I called it natural parenting and eliminated unnecessary items by breastfeeding, co-sleeping and using baby-led weaning (although not nearly as much as I should have done. Ah well, hindsight is 20:20). Our adored children naturally limited our finances, so then I called it economical living and began to reduce our grocery bill by using cleaning tips from Kim and Aggie’s How Clean is Your House? Their natural cleaners led inevitably to an interest in the environmental impact of our household, and so in my early 30s I called it ethical consumerism and eco-living and invested in crystal deodorant, eco-balls, Ecloths and other environmentally-friendly items. Last year I got into vintage fashion and adopted the ‘buy-less-love-more’ approach.

However, I was still living in a tiny flat with Dan (and his drums), two young children (and their paraphernalia) and my own accumulated junk (and almost no storage). I have an exhausting job and no inclination to spend my evenings and weekends cleaning and tidying, so the flat was usually in a terrible state. Then, a few months ago, I stumbled across minimalist mother singlemomenough.wordpress.com and had something of an epiphany. Of course! If you have no stuff you never have to tidy any up!

All my various philosophies seem to have come together in minimalism. I suppose what they all have in common is a core concept of sorting what really matters from what society says should matter. I’m still a passionate feminist, attachment parent and environmentalist, but the Big Clear Out has begun! I have found so much peace and energy since this chapter of our lives began.

Some items are easier to reduce than others: my wardrobe is small and I’ve never spent much on clothing (see above!); CDs have been replaced with an MP3 player and rarely-used items are gradually leaving. However, we both have lots of musical instruments, with which we will never part, and I recently heard that there is a correlation between the size of a parents’ book collection and the standard of university that the child later attends, so I am firmly against reducing our 1000+ book collection by much. We also let the kids spend their pocket money however they choose (so that they learn early on what it is like to waste money!) and it does mean that various toys do enter our home, but they too have to learn how to manage their possessions.

Since beginning the purge of stuff from our home, I have at times been daunted by just how much we have, even in this small space. I have a couple of theories as to why we own so much. Our parents were born in the 1940s and 1950s, which in the UK meant rationing and ‘waste-not-want-not’.  The flow of items into the home was much slower than now, and so they were raised to hang on to things, should they be needed again. Dan and I grew up in the 1980s, when consumerism ruled. Possessions were how you measured and displayed your success.

Thus the pair of us arrived at married life with the twin notions of hoarding against future poverty, and valuing the accumulation of items. Obviously, I can’t blame all this on our ages and those of our parents, otherwise everyone in their mid-30s would be living in chaos, but I do look around some of my friends’ homes (particularly those with young children, admittedly!) and do see that, yes, actually, lots of people our age do live with huge amounts of clutter. (Each to their own, by the way. I’m not criticising how other people live, just attempting to explain it). I must also point out that my mother is a superb de-clutterer!

I’m excited about where this journey will take us, and I love the feeling of airiness and order that has been created in our little flat even at this early stage. There remains a lot to be done, but the process is as satisfying as the result. Minimalism is the latest philosophy to enter my life, and I’ve written about the others – chiefly feminism and parenting – for some other sites. Please find links to them here: https://www.facebook.com/rowenapelham.

{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: Morten

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, Morten from Denmark tells us how downsizing has helped him and his wife find more time and freedom to pursue their passions.

Morten writes:

Morten and Maria

Morten and Maria

My name is Morten Storgaard, and with my wife I have been downsizing since 2011. We had a printing company with a handful of employees, and times got tough during the crisis, so I guess we needed simplicity, and started downsizing.

I have really enjoyed the process, and last year I chose to try the so-called “100 thing challenge”. So I only had 100 belongings for 12 months. That was a stretch, but I am really glad I did so, because it challenged me to get rid of even more stuff, and in the process I realized, what I really appreciate and what I don’t need.

Today we are out of the company, and I work as a consultant instead. We don’t need a high income, so I work only 15-20 hours per week, which gives me time to play music (my passion), and work on my two websites www.GoDownsize.com and www.MurphyBedHQ.com, where I try to inspire people to downsize and find smart interior solutions for small spaces, and find a life with more time and freedom on their hands.

I have found that the tough part about downsizing and living with less stuff is not to actually live with less stuff. The hard part for me was to let go of my things in the first place. I think most people only use a small percentage of what they own, and they wouldn’t miss much of it, if they were able to let go of it. This is my story anyway.

During a longer trip to Africa we talked about how easy it was to live without all our things back home. We spent one month in Kenya and Nigeria, and we only bought our carry-ons. Since that experience we always travel light, and we have gotten rid of our big suitcases, as carry-ons are more than enough. It also means that we get quicker in and out of airports, and that’s great, when you are exhausted after a long flight.

I live with my wife in Aarhus, Denmark, and for the last two years now, we have rented out two rooms in our apartment. So we now live in the two living rooms, which is fine, because we installed a Murphy bed in one of the rooms. So whenever we want to sleep, we just pull down the bed from the wall, and voila – We have a bedroom.

We enjoy having a tenant. She has become a very good friend, and it’s also great to have someone to look after the place, whenever we go traveling. The extra income from renting out those two rooms we spend on traveling.

So we have been able to travel a lot more the last two years, and soon we are leaving for Thailand. We are so excited about this, and we look forward to experience Asia!

{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.}

The Minimalist Guide to a Long Distance Move

Have I ever mentioned that I love to move? Crazy, I know—but ever since college I’ve barely been able to stay in one place for a year before I’m itching to pack up again. When I was tied to a certain location, I’d use architecture as an excuse—as in, let’s see what it’d be like to live in an old Victorian, or a high rise, or an industrial loft. Or I’d neighborhood-hop, so as to experience living in different parts of a city. But really, I just liked to move. :)

Many of you are familiar with the BIG moves of my recent past—over to London, and then back to the US a few years later. Well, I just did it again—this time from one coast of the US to the other. Having a 3-year-old made it a little more challenging…but you know what? It was still very doable, and dare I say, kind of fun. So I thought I’d share some survival techniques with anyone else considering such an endeavor.

1. Spend at least a moment considering the extreme: selling or otherwise disbursing of all your stuff and starting over.

A long-distance move can be expensive; not just $$ expensive, but $$$$$ expensive. If you’re not particularly attached to your stuff, or it’s not all that nice or valuable to begin with, give some serious thought to leaving it all behind. For the price of transporting it, you may be able to replace it with stuff you like better. This strategy can also generate a tremendous amount of goodwill amongst your family, friends, and neighbors. We have a friend who still thanks us for the iPod speakers we gave him before our overseas move.

We really wanted to do this, and even went so far as to itemize replacement costs. And if we didn’t have a child, we would have made it happen. But the cost and hassle (and in some cases, impossibility) of replacing her favorite books, toys, and other possessions outweighed the benefits. And after uprooting the poor girl from the only life she’d ever known, we felt that maintaining some familiarity would help ease the transition. She seemed genuinely surprised and delighted when we unpacked the same stuff—“that’s OUR couch!!!”—into our new apartment.

2. DIY to whatever extent possible.

Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I feel that if I’ve accumulated stuff, it’s my responsibility to pack it up and schlep it around. (Call it my penance for possession, similar to why I use eBay.) I’m usually a proponent of rent-your-own-moving-truck—but outfitting one with a car seat for a 3000+ mile drive was not an option. Therefore, we opted for the next best alternative: a pack your own POD (portable on demand storage container), which we then had shipped across the country. Above all, avoid a full-service mover: not only is it pricey, but you won’t get the valuable, eye-opening, and yes, potentially uncomfortable experience of confronting and culling your own possessions.

3. Choose a transport vessel that is ridiculously small for your current amount of stuff.

This will vary according to your circumstances. If you’re single or a childfree couple, it might be your car or a small U-Haul trailer. If you’re a family moving from a 3+ bedroom house, think a POD the size of a walk-in closet. If you don’t panic and break out into a cold sweat at the sight of it, it’s probably too big. ;-) Think of it as packing for a trip, and your pod/trailer/moving truck is a big suitcase. Your goal is to pack light, and take only the essentials.

4. Halve your stuff.

If a die-hard minimalist family like us can find 50% of stuff to get rid of, so can you. It’s easiest if you group everything into categories: if you have 100 books, take only 50; if you have 10 shirts, take 5; if you have 8 pairs of shoes, take 4. The cool part is that you’ll end up with only your very favorite stuff—and you’ll have a wonderful excuse to get rid of the rest (especially those gifts, heirlooms, and ill-conceived purchases that can be so hard to declutter under normal circumstances).

5. Halve it again.

Yes, really. You’re in the groove now, so you might as well keep going—who knows when such an opportunity will come along again (and if you’ve chosen a small enough moving container, you won’t have much choice). This round will get you down to the minimalist Holy Grail, the glorious 20-25% of things you actually use.

6. Pack it up.

You’ve decluttered, and decluttered, and decluttered some more—yet some items will still have slipped through the cracks. It’s in the midst of packing that you will wonder why you have spent a small fortune on bubble paper to wrap a $6 set of Ikea glasses, or spent half a day finding a box to accommodate an odd-sized and seldom-used piece of hobby equipment. These are the enlightening moments that long-distance moves are made of—and another compelling reason to DIY.

7. Reconsider option #1.

Do you really want to drag all this stuff across the country?

8. Run out of time and/or packing materials.

My husband and I tend to be spontaneous, and only gave ourselves 3 weeks to orchestrate our latest move. But it doesn’t matter—we could have had 3 months (or 3 years, for that matter), and everything would still have come down to the wire. That’s when all those decluttering decisions you couldn’t make will be made for you—because in those final moments, the preservation of a cheese grater pales in comparison to getting the padlock on the POD before the truck arrives to collect it.

9. Question your sanity.

Everyone else will, so you may as well join in the fun. Particularly so if you are decamping with no job prospects, family, or housing at your destination, and with no more compelling reason to move than “walkability” or “weather.” It’s a herculean effort, and the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow may not be so obvious to the casual observer (or even, at times, to you).

10. Do it anyway.

Sometimes you just have to follow your heart.

From the moment we landed here, I knew we were home. I have never been so enchanted with the place where I live. I’ve spent the last few weeks wandering the streets, starry-eyed and lovestruck, checking out the playground scene with Plumblossom, the food scene with my husband, and the housing scene with our realtor (yikes to the latter, and a good thing we saved some coin on the move!). Our apartment is temporary, and another short-distance move is in the future; but for the first time, I actually have the desire to put down some roots and stay awhile.

11. Enjoy a vacation from your stuff.

After endless deliberations, decisions, and debates over your stuff, you probably won’t want to see it again for awhile. Enjoy a blissful separation while you await your POD (or if you’re road-tripping, while it’s stashed in your moving truck). We flew to our destination and camped out in our empty apartment for a week, eating on a picnic blanket and sleeping on the floor; and I can honestly say that, after all that packing, I was so tired of our stuff they could have dropped our POD in the sea for all I was concerned.

12. Unpack and unwind.

Of course, the time will come when you have to deal with those boxes on the receiving end—but if you’ve followed the advice above, you’ll be unpacked in a matter of hours (instead of days, weeks, or even months!). The excess will have been culled, and you’ll actually need everything you’ve brought. You’ll feel light, liberated, and ready for a fresh start in your new location. The blood, sweat, and tears will all be worth it, and—as for that 75% you decluttered—I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t miss a thing.

Have you made a long-distance move (or do you fantasize about one)? Tell us your experiences in the Comments!

{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: Chelsea

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 Chelsea, who explains how her minimalist lifestyle is helping her achieve the financial freedom to pursue her dreams. Stop by her blog to read more.

Chelsea writes:

Chelsea

Chelsea

I grew up in a somewhat frugal household.

Frugal in the way that if it could possibly be useful, we didn’t throw it out.

A lot of things we did use (and therefore saved money on), but a lot of things we didn’t.

If old tennis shoes still fit and could be used for “dirty” activities like painting or working in mud, we kept them—even if that meant 3 pairs of old tennis shoes each. If we might ever wear an over-sized, ugly sweatshirt given to us by a relative for Christmas two years ago, it stayed in the back of our closet.

If we might still play with toys we’d outgrown or might want to pass them down to our children someday, they stayed.

I carried the same habits with me when I moved to college: it was astounding to me how much stuff I could fit into my half of a 10’ by 15’ dorm room… and how many books and T-shirts a person “needed.”

I never really realized how excessive my amounts of non-useful clothes were until I hung out in friends rooms and realized how fewer clothes they had than me, despite the fact that they dressed way better. (Key takeaway: quantity does not equal quality)

After college, I moved back home for a couple of months before setting off on a four-month international internship with just one suitcase.

At the time, I had no idea I would fall in love with the simplicity of life that was afforded to me by only having a limited number of things in my wardrobe and keeping my life small enough to move it from place to place on a whim.

It’s very financially freeing too: if I don’t absolutely need something, I don’t buy it. Plain and simple. I could say it’s because I’ve become so budget conscious and I’m super strict on my spending because I keep my end financial goals in mind, but it’s really because I don’t want the hassle of dealing with excess stuff when the time comes to move to a new place.

Money is used for housing, food, travel, health insurance, and that’s pretty much it. There’s the occasional gift to buy, but not spending money on new clothes just for the sake of having a fresher version of the same shirt and not buying things when I already have 1-2 things to fill that purpose has really helped me cut down my spending to the point that I’m able to save up and achieve huge life goals.

Not only have I started putting money away for retirement, but I’ve got an emergency fund and I’ve bought plane tickets to travel the world and see things most people only dream of. (Still traveling, too.)

I’ve got a long way to go… especially when it comes to getting all the stuff out of my childhood and teenage bedroom and learning how to deal with gifts people insist on giving, but overall I’m incredibly happy with the direction my life is taking now that there’s less clutter in it.

{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: Conrad

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, Conrad tells us about the pared-down lifestyle he and his wife enjoy aboard their boat. I love how he describes time as “the great equalizer,” and shares how his minimalism helps him make the most of it. Please visit his blog to learn more.

Conrad writes:

Conrad and Roxanne

Conrad and Roxanne

Living in a country where bigger is synonymous with better, being a minimalist is a title my wife and I often kept to ourselves. Even the coolest slogans encourage upsizing: “Go Big or Go Home”, “Everything is Bigger in Texas”, “Dream Big”, “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick.”

Becoming a minimalist seemed like a step in the wrong direction.

But taking steps to minimalize our possessions allowed us to maximize our quality of life. Three years ago we quit our jobs, sold our house, furniture, cars and 99% of our possessions. We then bought a boat (we paid cash, no more debt for us) and moved aboard.

Now we live in some of the most picturesque marinas surrounded by million dollar views and million dollar homes. The marina’s supply the internet access, pay for the water, provide for garbage service and lease us a slip to park our boat all for under $300 per month.

Our 49′ motor yacht (purchase price, less than $50,000) became the perfect minimalist home for us. There is no need to outfit it with furniture, the furniture is already built into the boat. When we moved aboard it was like walking into a furnished home. The couches, end tables, lamps, beds, chest of drawers were already there. The couple we bought the boat from even left all of the pots, pans, dishes and silverware. We literally could have moved our clothes and laptops aboard and been 95% moved in.

Then we created an internet consulting business. Since our bills were very minimal we didn’t need to make a lot of money (less than $2,000/month at first). My previous job’s hour long morning commute had transformed into a 20 foot walk, usually still wearing my pajamas and sipping on hot coffee. We have no need for two cars because we work from the boat. We don’t drive much so we don’t spend much on gas. The tires need changing less often and we only need to pay insurance on one car. It’s a real eye opener when you add up all of the expenses that are directly associated to having a job.

Though we make half the money of our previous lives we have double the disposable income. But where we really go big with being minimalist is the life experiences that we can now enjoy. We no longer need to work 40 or 50 hours per week. Often times I am finished working by noon and I take off even earlier on Fridays. My wife and I have spent our extra time visiting coastal cities, learning to play the guitar, finishing her college degree, learning to speak Spanish, writing books, taking the dogs on long walks and learning the tango. Daily we literally have hours to use as we please.

Time, to me, is the only commodity in life that has real value. It’s the great equalizer and the most democratic of all things. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, famous or anonymous, black or white, fat or thin or any other differentiator that exists in the world. We all wake up each day with the same amount of time. We all have 24 hours to spend as we see fit.

The question my wife and I asked ourselves 3 years ago was, “Do we really want to spend all of our time at work so we can buy things we don’t really need?”

Yeah we’re minimalist when it comes to possessions but when it comes to getting the most out of life, we’re maximalist!

If you’re interested in our whole story, check out our book, “Own Less & Live More: a sailing adventure that takes you from the cubicle to Key West.”

{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: Viktoria

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 excited to share this fascinating perspective from Viktoria. Memories of her Ukrainian childhood has brought challenges to her minimalist journey; but she’s worked hard to overcome them, and is now embracing the joy and freedom of a lighter lifestyle.

Viktoria writes:

I grew up poor in the Ukraine. Please forgive my spelling mistakes.

When I came to the United States at 19, all I brought with me were the clothes I was wearing and one bag. Coming from the soviet mentality and lifestyle to the Land of plenty was overwhelming to say the least. Here is a short version of my non-minimalist lifestyle that turned into minimalism eventually.

Living in Florida I was purchasing only winter clothes because it was on sale. I was buying sale items to stock up for the rest of my life, just in case there will be no clothes available (just like in the Soviet Union).

I moved quite often for the next few years: Florida to DC, then back to Florida to attend college. I moved with me about a car load of things. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but now that I look back, I am embarrassed. When I moved to college here is what I had in my rented SUV: big TV/DVT/VCR combo, it took 3 people to lift it. Also, I had inverting equipment where you hang up-side-down. Why oh why would any college student need that. I was moving all my winter clothes and sweaters and coats driving to Miami FL! What was I thinking? Every summer I had to put all my belongings into storage because dorms were closed for the summer, every summer, as a student I hired someone to lift and drive that TV to storage and then back when school started, I did it for years. I lived in a dorm as if it was my permanent home, nesting and making it as home like as possible. I made it so much harder than it had to be.

Once I graduated, I bought a condo. All of the years of dreaming about decorating my own place were finally possible. Now I see that I didn’t even have a style or knew what I wanted at that time. I had it painted in Tuscan colors, with nice brown heavy furniture. It was pretty; all the walls were covered in family pictures framed in nice brown expensive wood frames. Everyone liked it, except me. I repainted the whole condo a few times. Finally, I found what I wanted, light bluish gray walls, white furniture, uncluttered easy breezy look. I sold most of my furniture and bought light airy white pieces of furniture.

I also discovered feng shui and the need for the energy to move freely. I also realized that all these family pictures were stressing me because these people were not the ones I loved, their pictures were hanging on my walls out of some unspoken obligation to display family pictures, and because I left all my family in the Ukraine and so desperately wanted to have family, but these pictures did not help, they were hurting me. All of the pictures were taken down, all that money I spent framing it was wasted, but I no longer had to look at these people. I framed just one 4×6 picture of my grandma who was my whole world to me and that picture goes with me everywhere I live, one picture in the whole condo.

So here I was in my clean furnished pretty condo. I could not stop buying decorations at different stores, each new thing was cleverer or prettier or cooler than the one I had. Christmas time, I went nuts decorating my condo lavishly. My God, the amount of money I spent on things was huge, it is so sad to think about it.

Then somehow, I don’t remember why, I bought a book “The Joy of Less” and my world changed, it was like a sip of fresh cold water in the desert. I started uncluttering my stuff. I gently let go “friends” that were not conducive to my life, I learned to say no to time wasters (still learning), I stopped buying mass produced décor and enjoy real art. I took carloads of stuff to donation centers. I didn’t realize I had so much, it’s not like my place is empty now, where was all that stuff hiding?

It was very painful to get rid of all these things, I paid so much money for it, wasted money, wasted time, it makes no sense to get rid of things that you paid for. It felt wasteful to pay so much money and then donate it. It would have never happen in the Ukraine where I was born. Growing up poor makes it very difficult letting go of things. You always have mentality that you need to stock up just in case. But I did let go.

People started worrying about my mental health when they realized I was getting rid of all these things. However, it felt good and light and clear and free. So I kept on going and reducing, uncluttering, removing. What was left, was what I needed, what I loved and what was there to support my daily life. When people would come over, I did not have to clean, it was clean 24/7. I knew where my things were. Without hundreds of pictures on the walls I could enjoy few paintings I loved.

Few years into my minimalist lifestyle I met my love. He was divorced with 3 kids and two story house. Eventually we started uncluttering his house. Things from his ex, kids’ stuff that they outgrew 10 years ago, no one knew these things were there, no one used these or needed these things, but they were there, living alongside humans, for years, taking space in every drawer, every closet, every cabinet, every room. We are not done yet, but we made a huge dent. I could see his pain when he had to let things go, I knew that pain so well. I supported him and comforted him, he let go of so much, probably easier than I did with my stuff. I am so proud of him; I guess I should be proud of myself too. I am glad I went through all that uncluttering first so I could help him do it.

Then came time for me to move in with my love, I decided to rent out my condo and get rid of most of my things that there was no space to bring into his house. You think I would not even blink and get rid of everything. Oh no, just thinking about getting rid of my small amount of furnishings and things, I felt what people feel when they lose their stuff in a house fire, I felt loss before I even lost anything. I could not believe it was happening to me, born again minimalist that was preaching to everyone how to unclutter. Then, while in pain, I started thinking about life, how we come and leave this world with nothing, about what is important to me, about my poor childhood that to this day gives me fear of not enough.

I chose love, I chose people over things, I chose freedom from things owning me, I chose life. I brought my art to his house, we found a place for all of it. I brought my clothes, my toiletries, my books and documents. His place is fully furnished; I realized I need nothing more. And if I ever do need more or move back to my condo, I can always buy what I need, this is the United States of America, not the Soviet Union; I can buy anything I want or need any time.

{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: Jen

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 truly inspirational story from Jen. She tells us how her family’s minimalist philosophy has enabled them to embrace some amazing opportunities!

Jen writes:

Jen and her family

Jen and her family

If you saw my house, “minimalist” is not the first word that would spring to mind. Or even the tenth word. I have a family of five and all the accessories that typically come with it–clothes, books, sports equipment, school papers–along with a couple of doting (and shopping-obsessed) grandmothers. Still, I consider myself a minimalist at heart.

Like many of my peers, I have felt more and more the urge to simplify. Part of this does involve our possessions–my husband and I have been making determined efforts to reduce the clutter in our home. (This often feels like “running to stand still,” since we have not been very effective at stemming the tide of incoming items from the kids and the aforementioned grandmothers.) But the decluttering, while it makes our home considerably more pleasant, is not an end in and of itself. It works in deeper ways to add to the quality of our lives.

The first factor is money. While my husband and I have always been pretty frugal, the desire to have fewer things in our lives has made us reluctant to buy much of anything. (I wrote about our sometimes-comical frugality on our blog, How do we afford this?.)

Also, I’ve lately become increasingly conscious of the countless daily decisions that must be made in the typical 21st-century working-parent life. Social scientists have now established pretty definitively that (a) too many options makes us more stressed and less happy with our eventual choice, and (b) humans are susceptible to “decision fatigue,” meaning that having to make too many decisions–even unimportant ones–not only becomes oppressively overwhelming, but also causes our decision-making skills to decline. I think many of us feel this instinctively, but our culture always pushes the idea that when it comes to choice, “more is better”.

Luckily, minimalism can help with both of these things. The connection to money is obvious, but the connection to simplicity is equally strong. If I can reduce my wardrobe to versatile basics, deciding what to wear is simple. If I reduce the number of toys and books in my house, choosing one is much less daunting.

A couple of years ago my family and I got in our minivan and took a five-week cross-country road trip. Packed to the gills with camping equipment, snacks, books, etc., it was hardly a minimalist journey. But at the same time, our daily decisions were greatly simplified. We had already planned our route so we knew where we were going each day. We had a limited amount of food with us, so that was what we ate. (This meant a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, and sometimes lunches in the car that were composed of things like beef jerky and Triscuits. But it was what we had, so no one complained (much)–unlike at home, where with a million options it still seems impossible to find a meal that pleases everyone.) We didn’t have many clothes, so we wore whatever was clean. I had been worried that the trip would be stressful and labor-intensive (lots of driving, and tent camping with three young kids), but was surprised to discover how relaxed and happy I felt. Later I came to attribute this to the simplicity of our lives. And you know what? I didn’t really miss all those fancy meals or my large wardrobe or all the toys we had at home.

Last year we went to meet friends in Italy. I wrote on our blog about being really inspired by a quote from The Joy of Less which talked about the freedom of traveling with just a small bag. We each packed one backpack for our two weeks in Italy, and again wanted for nothing. Our trips have fueled a love of travel and exploration in all of us.

Now all of these elements are coming together. We are now about to start an 11-week adventure traveling around Central America. The money we’re saving is allowing us to fund this break. The decluttering of our house is allowing us to rent it during our absence. Our embrace of simplicity lets us look forward to 11 weeks of living with “just the basics” with a sense of excitement rather than trepidation. Our minimalist journey has been a process of making space–space that was later filled by an opportunity we hadn’t even considered.

You can learn more about our adventures at www.inthebigpicture.com.

{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: Megan and Jeff

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, Megan and Jeff tell us how they were inspired by the tiny house movement, and share details on how they’re downsizing their living space as well as their possessions.

Megan and Jeff write:

Megan and Jeff. Photo by Tanya Rist Photography.

Megan and Jeff. (Photo Credit: Tanya Rist Photography)

In December of 2013, we found ourselves looking for a simpler life. We had a 1600 square foot house that had been full of people for exactly 1 weekend of the 3 years we had lived there. We had, however, somehow managed to fill that space with things. Megan moved to Vegas 5 years before with just suitcases to her name, and Jeff had been moving the same boxes from place to place without opening them for years. Somehow we had both managed to let the things accumulate and take over our resources: not just the money to acquire and house them, but also the time spent repairing, cleaning, and keeping track of things. While looking for (& not finding) simpler living situations for ourselves & our Standard Schnauzer, we stumbled on Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.

People can and do live in approximately 10% of what we live with now? Cool!

We happened upon the last day of a great sale on tickets to their upcoming Las Vegas workshop and decided that would be our Christmas present to each other–investigating a different future. By the time the workshop came, we were mid-move to a 1200 sf house. After our 2 day workshop, we were both “all in.” This was part of the simpler life we had been looking for! Not long after, The Minimalists were stopping in Vegas on their 100 city tour–Megan and a friend had an amazing experience! Their book, Everything That Remains, was an amazing inspiration. To clearly understand that how we choose to spend our time everyday is a direct reflection of our priorities, was hard, but gratifying. We wanted to build a life that reflected those priorities. We began investigating both the Tiny House (& the movement of incredible people behind them) and the downsizing that would require.

Fast forward to today:

We are building a modified Linden (roomtosparetinyhouse.com), have founded a Las Vegas Tiny House Meetup Group, & have downsized so many of our things that much of our 1200 sf house is empty. Drawers & closets are empty, shelves & open areas have much more space. It’s freeing & causes an incredible feeling of accomplishment. It’s not always been easy, but what we have gained instead of those things are beyond measure: new friends, skills, self-knowledge. Jeff remembers me telling him on the drive home after meeting BA from A Bed Over My Head, “I’ve found my tribe!”

Because we’ve been so open about our journey, our friends and family understand that we don’t want or need physical gifts. Much of what we have downsized we have passed onto someone that wanted or needed to use that item now. It makes us feel much better knowing that the people around us are benefitting from something that we’re benefitting from at the same time. We tend to gift consumables and experiences our loved ones can share. So much of the reaction we’ve gotten is one of solidarity and support. If this last year is an indication of how the rest of our minimalist journey will be, we are both excited to see what possibilities we can continue to open for ourselves in future.

Thank you to everyone that has shared their stories here as well: we always look forward to reading the Monday Minimalist piece on miss minimalist. Each one opens up another aspect of what we might be able to do next or differently to get closer to our goal: simple and fulfilling living. Send us a message if you find yourself near Las Vegas, or if you want to connect electronically–we love to make like-minded friends!

{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.}