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. (Note: the schedule is now full until May — but if you don’t mind waiting, feel free to send me your submission!)
This week we hear from James, who writes from upstate New York. He’s taken time off from shoveling his driveway, to share some words of wisdom about living with less in the frozen north.
My name is James, and I was born and raised in upstate New York, a place with all 4 seasons and a very long winter. It was in early 2010 that I became interested in the minimalist lifestyle, but it was during the fall that I really began aggressively cutting down on the amount of material goods I was responsible for. This is my first winter season after the massive purge, and already I can see things have started to change. I am living the dream of living lite in the frozen north, but this climate is not without its unique challenges.
One of the inescapable facts of living in a colder climate is that you just need more stuff. Shovels, boots, heavy coats, gloves, hats, brushes, insulation, the list goes on. As you become acclimated to the weather, your buying habits begin to change, stocking up with extra essentials such as food, water, batteries, blankets, and medical supplies. It may only be a 5 minute trip to the grocery store, but when it’s below zero and the winds are blowing over 40 miles per hour, you’re very happy to have an extra dozen cans of soup waiting in reserve!
This is something akin to the habits of a hibernating animal; building up fortifications and hunkering down against the long cold nights.
The problem arises when dealing with the non-essentials. With such a strong habit already ingrained in your mind to buy and save and build, it can be a little too easy to pick something up “just in case”. That line is used almost every day in stores to justify incredibly wasteful spending and accumulation, because to the cold climate mindset, spending is directly linked to surviving.
Other challenges arise in the middle of the winter as well. While it might be okay to go for a walk for fun and relaxation when it’s always over 30 degrees outside, there are entire days that can go by in deep winter when you don’t open the front door and you don’t want to! This can lead to a classic case of cabin fever, when people are trapped in the same place for too long a time with nothing to do but wait out the cold. This often causes people to compensate for their incarceration, spending more in pursuit of entertainment. We tend to accumulate new things during this time to add some variety to our surroundings, if for nothing more than to ‘buy’ a few precious weeks of difference. Even for the chronic exercise fiends among us who have to get out and stretch our legs, sometimes the easiest and only solution is an extended trip to the mall, which is not without its own perils.
But for all the challenges a minimalist faces in the middle of the snowing season, there are an equal number of benefits. One thing I’ve noticed already is that with so much less to occupy our living space, there’s finally room for all the weather-related extras. I can clearly recall last winter when the coats looked as though they were about to come cascading down on the occupant of the chair they were carefully balanced above, all the heating registers were packed with drying gloves and boots, and anything that could be stacked became part of an ever increasing number of tiny mountains on the tables. Nowadays, even with full weather gear present, I can move through any room without having to perform any elaborate feats of dexterity. Shelves that used to be packed with books now hold extra food stuffs, the corner that was host to the leaning tower of DVD’s now has a lovely coat rack, and the shoe organizer that once held all the extra crafting activities is now full of… well, shoes.
Strangely, having less seems to make it easier to not buy more. I don’t feel the same sensation of being trapped in a too small space. I can relax much easier in my own home, so I don’t need to turn to commerce and material acquisition to improve my experience.
Looking ahead, spring cleaning will be a breeze. With no inaccessible corners to collect dust and dirt, the house is cleaner and easier to maintain than ever. I am definitely planning on taking advantage of the spring cleaning mindset to get rid of even more stuff that I don’t need, thus ensuring an even simpler winter next year.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shovel the driveway. I only have to shovel half as much because we got ourselves down to a single car, and I won’t have to spend ten minutes finding and unburying the snow shovel in the garage. Of course, I may have to unbury the shovel if I left it out in the snow… again. Unfortunately, minimalism has yet to help with my being so forgetful, but at least this way there’s less left to forget!