Real Life Minimalists: Kris

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words (click here for details).

I think you’ll find today’s story from Kris very inspirational! She tells us how she’s pursuing a new career in human rights—and how minimalism helped make it happen. Please visit her blog, Saying Yes, to learn more.

Kris writes:

Hi! I’m Kris and I’ve been slowly minimizing for about five years now, and I made the biggest leap this summer.

Five years ago I was a frustrated lower-level marketing account manager for extended warranties. Today I’m a 39-year-old first year Ph.D. student studying solutions in human trafficking and modern-day slavery. The bug to make this change began when I first learned about these issues five years ago through contact with International Justice Mission. I’d been frustrated for 13 years with trying to claw my way up to middle management and yet still feeling empty. At the time I also had deep credit card debt, a car payment and had just taken on a mortgage. But on becoming aware of this systemic oppression and violent exploitation of the vulnerable in our world, I knew I was supposed to make a big change. I didn’t know how, or to what, but I was going to do it. It was going to happen.

I started by making a financial plan that included renting out the second bedroom in my new condo and aggressively paying off all the non-mortgage debt. While doing that, I prepared for the LSAT and GRE and investigated grad schools because my business career was not enough to break into work with a human rights NGO. I also began shedding my stuff. My debt was paid off in 14 months, after which I built up some savings to prepare me for leaving full-time work during what turned out to be the start of the recession, and I started my MPA at the local state university in 2009. I had made decisions from fear for 35 years, and I decided that this time nothing was going to stop me. I wasn’t going to let the coming of this economic transformation deter me. I’d had enough of having my dreams deterred. It was time now for faith.

During my master’s program I continued to shed possessions. I was a regular at the Good Will donation site, and also sold and gave things away. I was frustrated with still having to keep my car and mortgage and the worries associated with them until after graduation – but during grad school I’d also made my way to Nepal for a human rights volunteer stint and had a marvelous internship with International Justice Mission. Those experiences showed me that I need better research skills for the policy work I was getting into so I began looking at PhD programs. I got accepted to my dream program (miraculously) in April, in a city 800 miles from where I was living, so then I had to start planning how I was going to get rid of the condo and car for the move. After over four years of gradually moving to minimalism, I was prepared to really take the plunge this past May.

This summer I got rid of about 85 percent of what was left of my stuff. I sold my car. This week I finally closed on the sale of my condo. I now live in a little furnished studio apartment within walking distance of everything I need, and I use my trusty metro card to get around outside the neighborhood the few times I don’t choose walking. All of my belongings now fit in the back of an SUV. And I don’t miss any of that crap.

I can now focus on my spiritual life and my human rights work. By the time I finish my four years here, I’ll be able to fit my life in a couple of duffle bags and go wherever the work takes me. This would have been impossible without minimalism.

I am no longer owned by my stuff. I can’t even describe the freedom that comes with that. I am full of gratitude and wonder about the world and the possibilities inherent in it.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

{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.}

42 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Kris

  • Annabelle

    I’m so inspired by your story. What a delight to read about you on this beautiful day. Blessings as you go forth with your studies and work!!!

  • AussieGirl

    Kris, your story could not have come at a better time.

    ‘I had made decisions from fear for 35 years, and I decided that this time nothing was going to stop me.’

    This is me. Always making decisions out of fear – Always wanting to stay on the safer side of things. Always having ‘I told you so’ sitting in the back of my mind. Always being miserable about the same outcome but not having the courage to change the path.

    How did you take the plunge? The very first teency step when you told fear to just take a hike?

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kris. Many good wishes for the wonderful future that lies ahead of you!

    • The first teensy step came after I’d come out of a bad relationship. I began asking myself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” And that opened the gates. I still get terrified regularly now, and I do hit obstacles, but instead of letting those episodes of discouragement have the last word I always look for the solution and go forward anyway. Basically, I simply keep going back to that first question. :)

  • It is soooooooooooooo good the minute you realize your stuff no longer owns you. It is like the world has spun on it’s axis. Great post x

  • Sara

    Dear Kris,
    Thank you for sharing your story! I forwarded the link to IJM to a good friend of mine who is a political science major, and hope it will inspire her too.


  • I am extremely moved by Kris’ story

  • Thanks Kris for this ‘very to the point’ story! I have been following this blog for a while but my steps to real minimalist is sooooo far away. Your story and the many others before you are great inspirations to us who now stand envious of your ‘lightness’ and not letting stuffs ‘own’ you! I wish I can say the same one day!

  • Kris, you rock! Reading your story gives me shivers up my spine. So glad you are working toward helping with this problem! I am going to come check out your blog.

  • An inspiring post, Kris :)

    It is a wonderful feeling when you realise that your stuff doesn’t own you anymore. All of those frustrations, the anger, the worrying, the wanting, the consumption simply… fades away.

    Good luck with your path, Kris, and thank you for sharing :)

  • Grace

    Kris, thanks for sharing. Fear, this is the most difficult and most important thing to shed. Congratulations and good luck.

  • Kris, I absolutely LOVE your story! And may I add how jealous I am! I have dreamed for years of ditching all the stuff and moving towards my dreams. One of these days when children are grown, maybe, just maybe it will happen. Good luck on your journey!

  • Cynthia

    Aussie Girl, I am just like you. I had to laugh because I was about to copy paste the first sentence you already have. I too base decisions out of fear and am security oriented. the next big decision I have to make is to sell the house. That is huge and irreversible and I’m scared out of my wits. It’s super cheap and practical, but it is a roadblock to what I want for my future. I have had the dream of moving back to Texas for 17 years (where I lived before) and am applying for state jobs and getting criticism from everyone about the whole thing. I feel myself backing off and living the safe route which sucks because what if they are right. So I am very security oriented, especially in this economy but it gets tiring to always live in defense of this economy. You inspire me Kris.

    • Good for you! “I feel myself backing off and living the safe route which sucks because what if they are right. So I am very security oriented, especially in this economy but it gets tiring to always live in defense of this economy.”

      Don’t let it put you off. So what if they are right? So you fail. What’s the worst the happens? So you have to start over again. We all can do that! So go for it. If they are right, so we start over. We can do this! ;)

    • Cris Perry

      Who’s life is this, theirs or yours? Go for it. If it doesn’t work out there will be another adventure for you to take.

  • wow what an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing Kris and wishing you luck.

  • Elizabeth

    Kris, you are truly and inspiration. Acting in the face of fear is called courage and you have it in spades. I will think of you often, especially when I am falling back to “safe” decisions. Best of luck to you. You are one very brave individual.

  • Amy

    Thank you, Francine, for hosting an older minimalist. And thank you, Kris, for sharing your story! I am 41, quit my job, selling almost everything. It *is* terrifying at times, but I’m going for it.

    I think there is sometimes more pressure for older people taking the minimalist path, because not only can we accrue more belongings, they can be more expensive belongings. “You’re going to get rid of that?!” “gasp!” Why, yes I am. I bought it, and I can part with it. And I bet I can buy it again – if I feel like it. I have been trying to be mindful as I part with my things. Which items are effortless to hand away? Why items cause the most angst (the damned Christmas tree – which happily went to a family with 7 children). I grieve the latter and reflect on why they meant so much to me. Now that some of those high emotional items are gone, I am feeling better. When I am in a different place after traveling for a year or so, perhaps I will buy one again. Or perhaps not!

    Kris, I completely agree with your reply to Cynthia. We go for it. If it doesn’t work this time, then we try again. And we keep trying! Each attempt will give us more depth and will get us closer to being who we really want to be.

    *hugs* and cheers to all!

  • Good for you, Amy! Definitely true – and people around you will resist if you choose a different path. I’m still encountering resistance, and some people are increasing it as they see that I’m not turning back. But, I’ve never felt as at peace with a decision. Thank you all for the encouragement!

  • What a very inspiring story! I did something similar well over a decade ago now and I do feel I have never looked back. Sure, I had a few setbacks but beccause I was convinced that this was the right path for me it enabled me to get over the bumps in the way. My mother was the worse for trying to get me to stay with the safe and the known and the well paid job that was boring me in a city that I had ceased to enjoy! I now live by the sea, I was able to become self employed with meaningful work, was able to take early retirement, and best of all, have met a very special man. So I would definitely say go for it. Just make sure you have a cushion of savings and no debt. Certainly the best decision I ever made. Before I merely existed, now I live.

  • Maria

    Thank you for this inspirational story! While reading I realised my on fears and decided to embrace them while working on letting them go. I too would love to work for a cause, for the collective good, but it seems so hard in the technocratic money-driven selfish world. My efforts for improving things at my workplace are simply not appreciated – not in this company, not with these people. The commute also frustrates me, I’d love to find a job closer to home. I’d love to work part-time so I could take better care of myself and spend more time with family.

    Kris, your courage and enthousiasm really made my day today! And what a great timing: new ideas, new powers for the New Year. Fabulous! Brilliant! Wonderful!

  • Truly inspirational… Thanks for sharing, Kris! Fear holds a lot of us back, and I’m no exception. I’m currently in search for a transit bike that will allow me to hopefully sell my car in a few years or at least become less dependent on it immediately. I kept procrastinating even though I had saved the money and moved to a perfect location… I guess fear is holding me back as well. What if it rains? What If I can’t transport all of my things by bike? What if my bike gets stolen? Can I survive without my car? But your post has inspired me. When I get home from my vacation with the family, I’m going to finally make the purchase and give it a good shot. Steps like this towards a more minimalistic life can be scary, but it needs to be done. We are so warped into thinking we can’t. It’s not true!

    • I understand the fear of getting rid of your car. But if you live in a city with public transportation and/or bike paths, it is so liberating to donate or sell your car – at least it was for me, which I did 3 1/2 years ago. Yes, I was more limited and sometimes it was inconvenient, but I would never go back to owning a car. If I need/want to take a road trip I rent a car. I have been simplifying my life for years and getting rid of the car was the biggest boost on that path. The only reason to keep it a little longer is if you need it to haul all your things to the thrift store for donation! :)

      I’ve owned my condo for a few years now and am again feeling the call of extended backpacking and/or other travel – so my fear is similar to another poster’s – making the leap of selling it and dealing with all the push-back from people who care about me and would think I’m nuts. And I’m “older” – 48 – haha. I don’t feel old at all. I feel like I’m always on the cusp of adventure and opportunity. I certainly don’t get caught up in the drama I used to let control me in my 20s and 30s.
      Why do we give fear so much power?

      • Although I should clarify that I am in the process of applying for jobs after returning from a year of teaching in China. If I get a job here, I will be content to dive into my life in my hometown. I just like having a backup plan, and for me that usually involves some form of travel.

      • Thanks for the motivation, Robyn! I see people like you do it every day. I suppose that while not having a car has some cons, owning one does as well. After weighing them all, it’s definitely easier for me to go without one.

        I say go for it… You’re never too old! My mother is in her fifties and next year she’s decided to lbe out of a backpack for one month while she and her cousin go backpacking through Europe. You only have one life. Go live it while people who are too afraid try to claw you back down. :) Fear can only hold us back, and what’s easy isn’t always best!

  • Sheri

    Wow! What an inspirational story. How wonderful that you are pursuing your dreams in such a meaningful way. You’ve accomplished so much in such a short time! Best of luck to you and thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • Love it! How do you choose the “real life minimalists”? Kris’s story is inspiring!

  • Anna

    I echo the posters who enjoyed this inspirational story from an ‘older’ minimalist! So much more complex and nuanced – as is life as one ages. Any stories coming from the over 50s?!

  • Debra

    I agree – I’m happy to hear from a 40ish minimalist who is changing horses midstream!

    I applaud young people who are turning away from consumerism, but how much ‘baggage’ can an 18 year old living at home really have?! They have not yet accumulated 20-30+ years of sentimental objects, furniture, household ‘necessities’ and other comforts. Moving away from these things takes a big mental shift, and can change our relationships with others and with ourselves.

    Bravo Kris – I have already passed your story on to others, and it has got me thinking about why I haven’t yet pursued some of my own dreams (I am 46).

  • Inspiring story – thanks for sharing!

  • “I am no longer owned by my stuff.”

    The moment you come to this realization is the moment life starts to become a series of opportunities for experiences, vs. the drudgery of slave-work for possession maintenance.

    Good for you Kris, being in your first year and taking bold action. I’m sure you’ve got the fire lit now and 2012 will be fantastic for you!

  • jeannie

    I only just discovered this site and I’m working my way through all the wonderful posts. So far this is easily on my short list of favorites. Thank you so much for your words, Kris.

  • Tina

    Life is the choices we make. I’d rather be known for my volunteer work and creativity than the amount of collectibles I have. My mother, never my biggest fan, finally complimented me on being so artistic and having a good eye for color. I’m glad I steadily sort and clean every day, so much goes every week and there are more cupboards to empty.

  • Tina

    My Mom’s many boxes of pictures were all scanned by my son. Some I had never seen. So much of her stuff was thrown out and recycled. I think cel phones are great because you can carry tons of data every where you go. I remember when a computer took up a whole building. Now I ask my phone questions. We truly need so little.

  • Tina

    When we chose early retirement on smaller pensions, it helped that our only debt was the mortgage. By always living on 1/2 our income, we had the freedom to do what we wanted. Now, we are going on cruises every year, Travelling to family events all over the country and doing the things that we want. We could live in an even smaller space, but we keep a guest room as there are always out of town visitors dropping in.

  • In one day, I saw among other things, an ad for a $31,000 purse and a picture of a $112,000 bracelet. I have been at weddings where I have seen in person $7000 purses and $36,000 bracelets. I am aware people fill their homes with antiques and I saw a man wearing a $17,000 watch at work. I hope these people are giving large amounts to charity. I would be very uncomfortable wearing or using something obscenely expensive. The gap between rich and poor is widening. I hope the message of non consumption is getting out there.

  • My husband offered to buy me a $3000 necklace of gold and diamonds for our 45th anniversary. I said I had no place to wear it and I don’t wear the jewelry I have. Instead, we are going to make a larger donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which is my son’s favorite charity. We already donated some money and he runs the marathon every year in support of the food bank. All my jewelry was either given to me, or I got it second hand. I have gotten Native American jewelry at museums.

  • Tina

    I have been decluttering for years. I can’t remember the last time I bought something new. I would like a new pair of black slacks because my old ones are 15 years old and kind of ratty. Next year, I will probably buy a pair of new black oxfords to wear with my slacks. Most of the things any of us have are not “one of a kind” so if we do give them away, we can get them again.

  • Tina

    I filled a big bag with craft items for my grandsons’ art teacher. They were either free or second hand. Last time I filled a bag, she asked my son if I loved crafts. If I haven’t used an object or instruction book in a year, I pass it on. Kids make greeting cards, mosaics, beading projects, and other things. I keep telling people not to buy too much gift wrap because there are so many free papers around now–the papers in shoe boxes and shipping cartons, old maps, sale papers, etc. I bought a roll of gift wrap years ago at Goodwill and only use it for small gifts. Bigger gifts are in plain paper, tissue or the comics.

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