Freedom

(Photo: Ardyiii)

A reporter once asked me, “What’s the best thing about being a minimalist”?

I answered with one word: freedom.

Really, that’s what it all boils down to for me. When my home, my schedule, and my mind are stripped free of excess, I feel completely unencumbered.

Too much stuff can enslave us in myriad ways. Physically, it can take over our homes, crowding us and our children out of precious living space. It can also drastically reduce our mobility, creating an inertia that discourages us from moving and embracing promising new opportunities.

It can also weigh on us psychologically, dragging on our spirits and energy until we feel too overwhelmed and lethargic to accomplish anything. Conversely, a decluttered room or streamlined desk does wonders for our motivation—we can think more clearly, and act more purposefully, without the visual distraction.

And finally, excess possessions can enslave us financially. Credit card debt chains us to the work-and-spend treadmill, and can impede our plans to make a career change, go back to school, or start our own business.

The good news: every time we toss (or choose not to acquire) an unnecessary item, we gain a little bit of freedom: from paying for it, storing it, cleaning it, repairing it, maintaining it, protecting it, insuring it, worrying about it, and schlepping it around.

Those little bits of freedom add up, and have a dramatic impact on our lives.

Personally, minimalism gave me the freedom to sell my house and possessions, and start a new life overseas as a digital nomad.

Minimalism has enabled me to travel the world with a tiny bag, immersing myself in the local culture instead of looking (and feeling) like a tourist.

Minimalism afforded me the financial freedom to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time writer.

Minimalism freed my heart, my mind, and my time to welcome a little bundle of joy this past winter.

Minimalism makes me see each day as full of joy and potential, rather than chores and commitments.

I’d love to know: what kind of freedom has minimalism given you? Has it enabled you to make a cross-country move, start a new hobby, pursue a degree, start a family? Please share with us 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.}

47 comments to Freedom

  • Minimalism enabled us to give up our lovely house, quit our well paying jobs, take a two thirds pay-cut and move to China with just our backpacks and two small children. With minimalism anything is possible! We have a great life now, so much free time with our children and no regrets.

  • Minimalism enabled me to spend more quality time with my loved ones. I can now listen to them without my thoughts wandering to something insignificant. And it has given me peace in my head. Less stuff makes me less worried.

  • It has given me freedom to move 19 times in my life, with minimum hassle. But now I’m settled, I seem to be accumulating more ‘things’ again. Maybe time for another purge…

  • Minimalism has allowed us to pursue living as a 1-income household. We are still not even remotely close, but year by year, as the debts fall away and our obligations become less, I feel like we’re getting there.

  • Heather

    Simple- it has allowed me to truly LIVE. I have been around the world twice and criss- crossed the USA several times. Every time I or we moved, it took me 2 days to pack up and get it done. Minimalism has also helped my career. I am more focused and I apply the basic principle in everything from how I manage my people, approach projects, to even how my office is set up for efficient functioning. My minimalist wardrobe lets me get dressed in a snap and most of all, minimalism allows me more time with my son. I look forward to what the future holds and I know I can change things quickly and easily to accomodate, instead of running away in fear.

  • Gloria

    Minimalism has allowed me to stay home with my two young boys and for my husband to pursue a career he enjoys. I can keep my home picked up despite having two little mess-makers running around. It allows us to think differently and further than we could otherwise. No mortgage, car notes, and other stuff lets us imagine different possibilities, unencumbered. It gives us peace of mind that if something should happen (job loss, disaster, etc.) we could get by on very little quite easily.

  • Couldn’t agree more with this post. Minimalism has allowed me to be free. I am currently on my 13th month of traveling the world and couldn’t have done it if I wasn’t a minimalist. I’ve been reading your blog a year before I set out on my trip and was really inspired by your minimalist tips. I really love the freedom minimalism gives. Thanks Francine for the inspiring posts!

  • Yes…. freedom :) Great post thanks, reminding me to get back in gear on cutting down!

  • I tend to get frustrated when I read blanket statements about minimalism. As I have been a purger/minimalist nearly my entire life, it has been a coping mechanism for me. I have yet to experience freedom from minimalism as I still feel the weight and burden of daily chores and commitments. What I would need to purge from my life in order to find that freedom is socially gauche (would mean leaving my children). I really wish converted minimalists could look at minimalism through other lenses to see that minimalism is not a cure-all.

    • Jane

      To look at minimalism through other lenses is short of impossible. Each person can only give his or her own opinion based upon his or her own situation. People can be empathetic yes, and to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” can’t even be taken too literal either.
      I for one have experienced freedom by greatly reducing my errant spending habits & selling off my unused worldly possessions. I was able to quit my old career & start my own biz. By having less stuff in my house – my cleaning time is easy-peasy quick. So in my case – cutting out excesses gave me freedom.
      Yep I still have obligations to attend to, but that’s just part of living a daily life. Even folks off the grid have obligations to find food, water, shelter, etc. The basic hierarchy of needs is in itself an obligation or chore or commitments if you will. Everything above that is all self-induced & thus can be tinkered with or even eliminated.
      As far as you leaving your children in order to gain freedom – as bad as it sounds – it can be done if that’s what you really want/need. There are plenty of kids in the foster system & are being raised by extended families as opposed to their own parents – some for the benefit of the kids & probably some for the benefit of the parents. I can think of a few folks I’ve met over the years who probably shouldn’t have had kids & everyone would have been better off had someone cut the ties & went their own way.

      • Where’s the harm in perspective taking?! If anything, it helps us gain understanding, empathy, etc. If we never put ourselves in another’s shoes, think of what would still be happening–racism, sexism, etc. (in much larger amounts…not to say these don’t exist at all). I’m a firm believer that hearing other people’s experiences help give a better picture versus just drinking the Kool Aid and selling it to everyone else with the ignorance to believe this is a cure for all.

        As for the foster care…are you serious? Do you know anything about the foster system here?! That was a pretty brash statement to make. Yes, I do technically have options, but none of them are for the best of our children. There are no relatives that would be a good match, and we’d NEVER put them through the foster system. Plus, The Hubs would never give them up either. This is my issue to deal with freedom v. motherhood, but the answer is not the drop them off with anyone route as you suggest. It’s called being an adult and making sacrifices. Does it suck? Yes. But sometimes one has to suffer for the good of many. Such is life.

        My point with my comment was to show that minimalism is not the same for all and to suggest that it will work for all is ignorant. I want to show others that just getting rid of stuff and not buying more is not the answer to many people’s mental demons. That’s it.

        • Jane O.

          I’d like to chime in to what Megyn@MinimalistMommi is saying.
          So many websites claim that getting rid of stuff is a panacea to modern day woes: too much stuff, commitments, and chores equal overwhelm. And although getting rid of physical items/toxic relationships/commitments that no longer hold our passion as a way of sifting the ‘good’ from the ‘best’ in life (it has certainly helped me), she is stating that minimalism in and of itself isn’t the answer.
          Minimalism can’t build relationships. It can’t help you find your life’s purpose. It can’t make all your personality imperfections disappear.
          In short, MINIMALISM ISN’T THE END; it’s the beginning of clearing out all the mental ‘junk’, which is probably the scariest challenge of all.
          Jane O.

          • Dinah Gray

            I think that our accumulation of possessions and even obligations is a way of filling a void in our lives. When we empty out all the stuff that has no meaning in our lives, we find ourselves facing that same void. That void still needs something to fill it.

            Perhaps becoming minimalist is a bit like backpacking. When you finally get to camp and take off that 30 – 40 lb backpack you feel as light as air. After a time, you no longer have that feeling. Getting rid of stuff, be it obligations of physical items makes a person feel like you just took off that 30 lb pack. If you have been minimalist all your life, that sensation may have faded. However, you still aren’t carrying around that extra 30 lbs. and would feel more burdened if you were.

    • I’m a born purger/ minimalist also. But I still wasn’t free of WANTING stuff and acquiring it. I wanted to get stuff but I didn’t want to have it.. I still used material stuff to try to better my self esteem, to find myself, to project an ideal personality. “Finding” minimalism helped me really realize that I do not want to acquire stuff and that I am not my stuff. Freedom is not having no responsibilities at all, but contentment with your life and the situation you are in, as well as inner peace of knowing you are doing the right thing.

      • jennifer

        Yes Pony Rider this is what becoming a minimalist has meant to me. I am FREE.

      • “Freedom is not having no responsibilities at all, but contentment with your life and the situation you are in, as well as inner peace of knowing you are doing the right thing.”

        That’s the thing… there’s not much I actually want in my life. The only thing I want to acquire is my own life and career, not stuff. However, I can’t find contentment in my current situation because it is so far removed from that which I envisioned and worked towards. And that’s what I’m getting at…not focusing on acquiring or purging items is not the answer to these questions. You can completely ignore “stuff” and still be imprisoned.

        • Jane

          “However, I can’t find contentment in my current situation because it is so far removed from that which I envisioned and worked towards. ”

          “What I would need to purge from my life in order to find that freedom is socially gauche (would mean leaving my children).”

          Meygn, it sounds as if the mommi (sic) part is the thorn in the side no? You sound a bit trapped (opposite of freedom by some definitions) with your choice of words. Maybe I’m gleaning more into your comments than need be…but it sures sounds to me as if you aren’t so keen on the mommy part.

          You didn’t say that your marriage was an issue or finances or not living in Bali as being the problem, but you did zero in on the kid part. That is why I made mention that not everyone is meant to be a parent or even likes it once the die has been cast so to speak.. The old “just because you can have kids doesn’t mean you should” may not even apply in your case…but it was worth mentioning since you mentioned leaving the children was what it would take to find freedom.
          Everything ok in your world? Anything we can help with or lend a shoulder / ear for?

          • Jane, thank you for your thoughtful response and offer for support!

            To answer your question in short, I never wanted kids, but pregnancy is never 100% avoidable if you’re sexually active unfortunately. You’d have your analysis completely correct–our kids are definitely the thorn in my side at this point my life. I’m currently in the process of getting over the stress, anger, frustration, and resentment I feel because I didn’t make other choices (too religious at that point to have an abortion, and no one took me seriously when I brought up adoption while pregnant with the 1st). It’s one of those “I’ve made my bed, and now I have to lie in it” scenarios. Hopefully that gives you a better understanding as to my position on minimalism and current struggles. :)

            • Jane

              Megyn, full disclosure – I never had kids. Never even crossed my mind not even once to have kids. The BEST birthday gift I gave myself was to get my tubes electrosurg tied off when I turned 30. Haven’t regretted that decision at all! I knew early on that having kids would have been pure hell for me/on me. It was never an issue of selfishness – it was knowing what I didn’t want – which was to be tethered to all that goes with having kids.
              I spent more time & thought into NOT having kids than most of peers did In having kids. When the rest of my friends were off tending to their offsprings – I was off living a most extraordinary life free of but a few committments like work – but even then I worked in a career that allowed me a very flexible schedule. I’m 45 now & am still unencumbered by much of anything. It’s been great!
              Counterpoint – my cousin & her then husband had 2 kids. My cuz only had the kids because well – it was expected & it seemed like what she was supposed to do. So she did & hated it. She held in & on for as long as she could but it was killing her spirit & she was miserable. Her husband was dull as beige & her life was centered around those 2 kids (who are now over 18 so I can say – they were & still are colossal brats). Anyways, she left. Had she stayed – she would have probably died a young death. She & her beige husband got divorced & she gave him full custody of the kids. Man oh man did she get railroaded by just about everyone for that decision. Except me & a few other open-minded relatives & friends. The catty old hens in the family talked smack about her any chance they could & discused for hours how unfit she was as a decent human being & how those 2 kids need their mother & how selfish she is, etc. Lemme tell you – those 2 kids went on to do just fine (despite being colossal brats). My cousin knew that by staying it would have been worse on everyone involved. It took some courage for her to realize she was not cut out for motherhood. So she left. I kept up with her on the downlow so not to piss off the other family members (i.e. people like my Mom) who felt she was horrible. She didn’t just disappear without a trace or stop all contact with the kids – but she relocated to another state. It took her some time to adjust & get over the self-imposed guilt…but eventually she made peace with her past. And once she did that – did she shine like a new penny. She made a mistake by having kids & knew it. Yes she should have stayed by societies rules – but she was helplessly miserable & probably would have killed herself.
              So what about the kids – that’s what everyone fretted & worried over – they are fine. Brats yes, but fine.

            • Heather

              Megyn, I can only say my friend to enjoy life as best you can right now, make plans, do something to move forward and know that time will change things. I stink with any better advice. But I so understand.

            • Dinah Gray

              Regret and anger when slow cooked are a recipe for bitterness. And bitterness is a debilitating form of mental clutter. I am well equated with bitterness and regret to say that I have harbored this heavy load before, to the detriment of myself and those around me.
              I come from a family that embraces bitterness. It causes my father sleepless nights as the bitterness of anger keeps him awake and my sister to erode away her marriage, which currently hangs on by a thread.
              There is a choice to make: embrace bitterness and regret, or embrace the children and let go of regret and bitterness of a circumstance that cannot be changed.
              Potential cycle of parent bitterness: parent feel s regret and bitterness , the children pick up on this and act out towards the parent, parent feels more bitter and regretful because the kids are so much trouble, children act out more due to parents rejection of them, and the cycle goes around and around.
              You have the power to make a different path.
              The very best thing you can do for your children is genuinely enjoy their company.
              The second best thing is to train your children in the behavior that you need them to have and they need you to show them. I am the parent of a 5 year old. I rarely have to discipline, since the beginning we trained my daughter to obey us by consistently rewarding the desirable behavior and make undesirable behavior unrewarding and unproductive. When she does something I don’t think she should, I do not get angry at her, but take a look instead at myself. Sometimes I have been too lazy at correcting something or sometimes she is doing something I do myself. At the risk of receiving criticism since this kind of parenting is out of fashion, I am a fan of the old fashioned parenting of “No Greater Joy”. Our daughter is our joy and we love her company. We like her as a person. How awesome it has to be to be genuinely liked by your parents, I know I wasn’t. She has given hope to our friends who are wary of having children. She is not 100% perfect, but neither are we.

    • Sarah

      How about giving up the role of a perfect mother or wife etc., Megyn? Would it change your life for the better, what do you think? That’s what I’ve done, although in my case it’s stepmom and wife, worker and such. It’s not easy, it’s usually far easier giving up stuff, but I feel it’s preferable to having to give up your family or run away entirely. That’s what I’d have to do, if I didn’t evaluate my ‘duties’(including my every-day roles in life) regularly. Don’t lose heart, I hope you find your freedom!

  • Jane

    It allowed me to quit my career & focus on my homelife. M husband is in a career he loves & one that allows him to work remotely as well.
    As far as the house goes – parring down & selling off most unused stuff has made housecleaning a quick & easy thing.

  • Jason

    Minimalism is indeed all about freedom for me. I am coming upon the culmination of a 2 year process where I have severely pared down my possessions, simplified my schedule, and gotten rid of all my debt. In just 3 weeks, my house will be sold and I will be able to do that which I have longed to do all my life–quit my full time job to pursue my passion. By the end of this year, the life that was once a distant dream will in fact become my reality.

  • Minimalist Housewife

    Minimalism has allowed me to stay home with my daughter and enjoy her at every age. We were able to adjust our expectations of what we need, which allowed me to stop working. Since our house is small and uncluttered, it doesn’t take much time or effort to keep it clean. I recently received a comment from someone about how nice it is I can just spontaneously go do something with my daughter instead of worrying about my house. I think many people see the benefits of living simply.

  • The theme of my blog is “live free”. The biggest freedom of all for me is an inner feeling of contentment and peace, of not being constantly tormented by wants and lusts of “must-have possessions” or career advancements, fame, money, and so on.
    Of course freedom from debt, job I hate, and of burdening possessions is part of the minimalist freedom.

  • Becs

    Thanks Francine for reappearing on Twitter. This was my way of keeping up with your blogs. With the absence of your regular inspiration, I notice my motivation had slipped but reading your Huffington Post blog has renewed my enthusiasm again!

  • Michele

    Great post and reminder – the greatest luxury available is time and the freedom to enjoy it!

  • megan

    I agree that minimalism isn’t the answer to all our problems but i have found it to make life in general so much easier. I am a stay at home mum now with home business and found motherhood difficult emotionally however minimalism has made my life so much less complicated and made me realize that even raising a child can be made a lot more simpler than the world would have us think. I try to apply minimalism to most areas of my life, (although working on expanding love/relationships)and that to me is the point of it, as i minimize the unimportant, i have more time/energy for the more important and that is freedom.

  • Apple

    Minimalism enabled me and my husband to change careers. Also, it made me realise that I always have time for things that are high on my priority-list. :)

  • Bruce

    The minimalism mindset allowed me to sell the house and all the trappings, buy a camper, quit my job, and travel full time around our wonderful country, only working when needed or volunteering at something that I like..

  • Minimalism made it possible for me to single-parent four children on a part-time salary. The kids have many luxuries available like music lessons and international travel. I have been a role model for them to ask themselves “What do I really want?” and then do the work to make it happen.

  • Kimberly

    What should I do when husband does not share the same interest in becoming minimalist ? I have been trying to purge/ de-clutter many many of my possession but husband sometimes brought stuff back and hid from me. Not to mention, he’s the type that displays things out in the open and does not put things away. It drives me insane. Any tips/ advices?

    • Chantelle

      Hi Kimberly,
      My husband is the more minimalist in our marriage. From my perspective, for what it’s worth, I think what’s useful is a gentle combination of
      1) letting the other person know what you really prefer, and how it impacts you (my husband finds it hard to have mental clarity with too much stuff around); and
      2) letting them know that the way you arrange your house is less important to you than your relationship with them! My husband would live with me in clutter and mess if he had to – which has made me want to become a minimalist :)

  • Caroline

    I moved abroad to study. I also talked about how minimalism helped me in my addmission essay.

  • Philippa

    Freedom from mental clutter I think, although I am still clearing stuff out of the house. I don’t want to travel for months, move to the countryside or change my life very much at all. But I want to live in a place that feels calm, where all my clothes fit me and everything has a place it can be put away. Already I have done more reading, making, playing with my daughter. And reading some pretty negative old school reports about me today it was a relief to just bin them and move on.

  • I love this post :)

    Freedom to do what I love and enjoy the most – yes! (but then perhaps I have simple pleasures?)

    Easier, with regards to cleaning & chores & less distractions – most definitely :)

  • Jose

    You gain freedom without the stuffs weighing you down, thats true, however, I don’t understand how one can give up a car that can will give you freedom not taking away?

    • Chantelle

      Having not had a car, I’m probably not one to comment but… I feel free without a car. I feel particularly free when other people I know are in traffic :)
      That said, I have access to public transport. It’s far from perfect, and it takes longer much of the time, but I feel free in those times on trains to do what I want – to read, to talk on the phone, to rest or be present.

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