Real Life Minimalists: Chris

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

This week we have an inspiring contribution from Chris, who explains the steps she’s taken to simplify her life and reduce her carbon footprint.

Chris writes:

Although I’m late to minimalism I’m a work in progress. I’ve been on the outskirts of it for years, telling my friends and children not to buy Christmas, birthday, etc. presents; if they had to “buy” me something they could make a donation to Heifer International or a charity of their choice.

I was the first person in the county we lived in to drive a Prius, and believe you me, I was the brunt of many unpleasant comments and jokes, until of course, the price of gasoline went through the roof. I retired in 2010 and we were lucky enough to sell our very large house in upstate New York, most of our possessions, and moved to a much smaller home in Florida (1,000 sq ft).

I’ve made a concerted effort to scale down everything about our lives. When we purchased our home we put in solar hot water and the most energy efficient air conditioning system available at the time to keep our monthly expenses. All of our appliances were energy star to conserve energy (which I am a huge believer in). I can’t think of the last time I purchased new clothing; I get all of my clothes now at local thrift stores, much to the chagrin of my relatives and family.

Although my husband doesn’t quite share my enthusiasm for minimalism, I have to say he’s come a long way; he realizes, for the most part, that a lot of things don’t have to be purchased new to be useful. I’m working hard to improve our health in a more non-traditional way by taking herbal medicine classes which already is paying off by decreased prescription costs. This year we planted a vegetable garden, but this is definitely a learning process for us as we are so not used to gardening in the heat of Florida, but I now know a few things not to do next year when we plant it again.

We will never live in a “tiny house” or be looked at as experts in the field, but I want us to be role models for our children and their children. I would like to at least be a positive topic of discussion with our family and neighbors when they discuss our quirkiness and make them think twice about living a life of unadulterated consumption and thinking about their carbon footprint – as I said, I’m a work in progress.

{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.}

23 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Chris

  • You sound such a fascinating person. It is funny I have been interested in herbal medicine and foraging, but only recently saw it it terms of saving money as well.

  • Mrs Brady Old Lady

    You are amazing, a true Minimalist Pioneer.

  • Well you are definitely on the right path! i think the best way to influence others it by example, not by preaching. I think that when people see you happy, calm and content with less, they will start to wonder if there’s something in it after all…
    We moved to my dad’s house and have a garden. There’s a small vegetable patch, I will make it bigger for next year. Now it’s only carrots and mint mostly :) We have a huge apple tree and two smaller ones, and several berry bushes and rhubarb. They make enough juice (as well as jam and such) so that I no longer need to buy juice from the store. That could easily be a thousand euros saved, since we mostly bought fresh squeezed and organic juices and my husband and daughter are big juice drinkers.
    But it’s also so much healthier and more satisfying to drink your own organic juice!

  • Cindy

    I too am retired and have scaled back from the large home in a southern California beach community with millions of people going non-stop in millions of cars to buy millions of dollars worth of stuff, to a small, wonderful home in a beautiful mountain community in southern Utah. I have been de-cluttering ever since I moved 7 years ago. I support a local CSA and pick up my fresh picked produce one a week there. I also grow herbs and a few veggies. It has created a wonderful feeling of freedom for me to scale back, assess, appreciate, and take life in moment by moment. Good luck to us both!

  • Hey Chris! I have wondered (and written) about whether minimalism equals environmentalism. I think there is a strong correlation. We minimalists take the first of the 3Rs (REDUCE) quite seriously! :) I also agree with Bea from the blog Zero Waste Home that is should be REFUSE, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost). Much better for us (and the Earth) to not have to deal with stuff in the first place!

    • Debbie

      I got into minimalism from an article about Bea & her Zero Waste Home. I think the environmental impact (or lack of) is huge for minimalists. I wish I could remember it better — when the recession first hit in 2008, I was reading an article about a 6.7% reduction in pollution (sadly, I remember the 6.7 figure but not sure if it was carbon emissions, or general pollution). I love the concepts of the Zero Waste Home and especially the minimalism aspects of it.

  • Barbara

    “I get all of my clothes now at local thrift stores, much to the chagrin of my relatives and family.” Why is it that family and friends often have this attitude towards thriftiness and minimalism? Is it that they want us to spend money unnecessarily too so they don’t feel so guilty? Are they jealous? I think it’s great what you’re doing!

    • I totally agree with what you said, Barbara! Others always seem so “concerned” when people they know make a conscious choice to live more simply. Why? I also don’t know! :)

      Great post, Chris, I enjoyed reading about your journey!

  • I appreciate your comment about your husband in regards to minimalism.

    I too wish my wife could see things more the way I do in that regards, but amongst her friends she’s considered frugal.

    For instance, she insists on a house keeper, and I don’t work. And I’d gladly clean our house. Not only would we save $90/week, but a lot of things would not go missing around the house.

  • Layla

    The herbal medicine thing sounds interesting… it speaks to the eagerness of doctors to write prescriptions rather than look into other changes the patient could make (even changing their diet and habits). I guess it’s a complex topic full of impatient patients, lack of education on the public’s part, pharmaceutical companies, and maybe even the way doctors are taught (I don’t know.)

  • Chris,

    Collard greens grow like weeds down here, if you haven’t heard :)

    Wendy in St. Pete

  • Hi Chris! Good for you! It does take courage to do what you know is right, even if family and friends think you are quirky. Like another poster mentioned, leading by example is a good way to influence others. It sounds like you are on a wonderful path!! My goals are to start an herb garden (taking small steps) and to start composting!! I’ve been de-cluttering the last couple of years and love it whenever I can drop a load off at Goodwill! Ahhhh!

  • Azualao

    How do people handle partners who want to hold onto things? Even when it’s MY OWN PERSONAL junk in question, my partner anxiously says, “Are you sure? We could use that maybe. I might like to use that [never has in 12 years]. We were going to redo the back yard, it might be good for that. Really, you’re getting rid of that [piece of clothing that doesn’t fit]? I gave it to you.”

    I don’t want to stiff-arm him, but dang…

  • megan

    I loved your post Chis. It’s great how you combine minimalism and being environmentally friendly. I’m on a journey of finding ways to not only declutter but consider the environment in the process. I’ve also had the weird looks and comments from friends and family but it does make them reflect on their own lives. I’ve been a herbalist/nutritionist long before i got into minimalism so i’m used to the raised eyebrows with the use of my remedies however it is gaining huge popularity these days here in Australia. Azualao i know exactly what you mean because my husband also gets anxious when i am purging my own stuff! He manages to put a sentimental spin on everything!

  • Laura

    Speaking of the Prius, I’d love to see a post about minimalist, but responsible car care. Maybe also on minimalist, but responsible medical care. Any comments on suspicious mole checks (and/or removal).

  • Angie Hall

    Chris, what a wonderful post! Thanks for helping to remind me that I can be an example to my children. Before beginning my road to minimalism, and as a stay-at-home mom, I found that I spent most of my day picking up after the kids and gathering all of their clutter all over the house. I was constantly getting on them to take ownership of their toys, books, DVDs, etc. Then it hit me one day…they see my own spaces (hobby room, bedroom, kitchen) littered with clutter. No wonder my pleas to clean up their act was falling on deaf ears. I want to be a good example to my children in every way, and teaching them that things don’t bring happiness is critical. I don’t want them to have the burden of never being satisfied and always pursing the next and newest big thing.

  • Mims

    Very inspiring post! Living by example spreads like rings on water, it may go slowly, it might happen fast, some things will have to trickle down through generations. I also think that minimalism and minimizing your carbon footprint go very well hand in hand(though that does not by any means imply that all minimalists are environmentally conscious and vice versa). In my experience emphasizing the cost benefits of minimizing your carbon footprint works very well with many who would maybe otherwise think it “queer”, my father being a good example. I started by showing him how mych money I sawed every year thanks to energy saving lamps and my new fridge (energy class AAA, bought because the old one died), now he is way ahead me in certain areas, last month he installed an environmentally friendly water cleaning system that will have paid itself off within 5 years. He no longer sees sustainable choices as “fringe” or queer, well, not all of them at least :)

  • Tina

    We live in a 1600 square foot condo. A lot of empty nesters are living in very large homes to have room for hobbies and collections. When we bought this condo I would have bought one a little smaller but my husband wanted one much bigger so we compromised. We are within walking distance of public transportation. I would think minimalism would really be the wave of the future but then I see people are still buying the large houses which are expensive to heat and cool and require a car to get anywhere.

  • Tina

    In 13 years of living in our condo on the outskirts of Chicago, we have never turned on the heat. Because there are apts above and below, as well as on both sides and we have only south facing windows, it is a great energy saver. We don’t use the A/C unless it is above 80 and humid so our summer bills are maybe $35 a month. We have talked to people who pay hundreds of dollars a month to heat and cool their places. We have 1 car and are close to public transportation and a huge public library.

  • Tina

    I continue to find ways to re-use things. I have a Swiffer handle but put a rag on the end and after a few uses I wash the rag. You can cut up an old towel and make lots of reusable Swiffer pads.

  • Tina

    One thing I like to do is propagate my houseplants and give the resulting clones as gifts. I had a jade plant and now I have 4 so I am giving one away. Once, I had so many small houseplants I used them for party favors, planted in used yogurt containers and wrapped in junk mail.

  • I have given 2 big bags of craft supplies to the local YMCA for their summer camp. I had gotten the supplies used and picked out what I wanted. I gave some china to the local museum for their receptions, then took a pile of magazines and books to the library. I find being a minsumer takes vigilance. When friends comment on my gray hair I say I don’t like the smell of beauty salons.

  • My friend bought 11 pairs of new slacks for a 10 day cruise. I took 2 pairs for a week. But then, I don’t own 11 pairs of slacks even counting the ones I only wear in winter. I am the only minimalist among my friends. But I notice more women are letting their hair go gray, which is good for the environment, too.

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