My Minimalist Dream

When I first began my minimalist journey, my dream was to slowly rid myself of all possessions, until I could live nomadically and carry what I owned in a single bag. I’m happy to say I achieved that when my husband and I moved to England in 2009; we drifted for several years, with the barest of essentials.

Of course, while on the road, we sometimes yearned to settle down—noisy sublets, less-than-spotless hotel rooms, and the hunt for laundry facilities can eventually take their toll. So after our daughter was born, we bought a house; to be honest, I couldn’t imagine having another housing crisis with an infant in tow. It’s not too daunting to hole up in a hotel room for a bit (or even a train station for a night) when you’re footloose, fancy-free, and have failed to find a short-stay apartment. With a baby, it’s another story.

Still, the transition to homeownership has been difficult psychologically. As much as I love our house and neighborhood, there’s something a little less exciting (for me) about knowing where we’ll be in six months. And as nice as it is to put stuff in closets, I sometimes miss living out of a suitcase. The nomadic itch has resurfaced, and I’m once again fantasizing about hitting the road. It won’t happen for awhile; my husband has a great job, and I’d prefer to wait until Plumblossom’s a little older. But it’s an idea that’s occupying my thoughts, and as such, will occupy my blog. :)

Right now, my reality is a kinder, gentler minimalism—and I’m okay with that. At the moment, this lifestyle is more comfortable for my daughter, and accommodating to friends and family. Yet I’m still compelled to explore more extreme alternatives, with an eye towards the future. I enjoy planning and pondering what we’d need as a wandering family, perhaps living in different cities and/or countries for a few months at a time, and will likely devote this month’s posts to that topic.

George Carlin famously described a house as “a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” He went on to say, “If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.”

I’ll enjoy my lovely little house, and my lovely little garden, on my lovely little lane for now. But to walk around all the time, with my husband and daughter—that’s my minimalist dream.

What’s your minimalist dream? Does it involve putting down roots, packing your bags, or something altogether different? Please share 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.}

116 comments to My Minimalist Dream

  • Kurkela

    You can run but you can never hide. From yourself. What is it that gives you no peace and makes you afraid of any roots and permanence? Could it be that those minimalists that are so very into travel are still looking for something else that they don’t have – oh the irony after trying so hard to be and not to have? Write a post on that, MM, could be very interesting.

    • Sam

      Yes, I am with you on that one Kurkela!

    • Sara

      Count me in, that’s a very good question, Kurkela, and would make an interesting topic for a post on minimalism and minimalists!

      Personally, I’m one who likes to stay and live in one place and then occasionally take little trips to places that interest me. You could never call me an adventurer, though, my comfort zone(s) are not all that wide :;

      Oh yeah, in the interest on minimalism, perhaps, I’m dropping the h from the end of my nick, here, since it’s already served its purpose.

    • Karen T.

      Very insightful question, Kurkela. As someone who is edging back from extreme minimalism, I wonder if some of my desire to “dump it all” was really a hope that I could just start over? Lots of room for discussion on that point.

      • Kurkela

        Karen, could you please tell a bit more about this …edging back from extreme minimalism… thing? It got my ears pricked immediately. You may have something going that could be very very interesting and important for me – and for others too!

    • In our case, we were (are) seeking community through moderate-to-extreme minimalism and a nomadic lifestyle.

      It seems, the more possessions we have, the bigger our houses are, the less we actually interact with each other. When we own our own garden, or swing set, we don’t go to the park. When we own lots of books, we don’t go to the library. When we own our own washing machine, we don’t go to the laundromat. When we have a state-of-the-art entertainment system, we don’t go to the movies or the concerts in the park. Community has been replaced by stuff.

      In the summer, when we live aboard, we spend way more time out in the community than inside our tiny living space. Even when we are sitting on deck, we are constantly interacting with passers-by. It was the lack of social interaction that really made it difficult to return to our house on land.

    • Henny

      This is such an interesting question.

      I think travel is definitely tied in with our desire to “escape” as well as to explore…and yes, we can never escape ourselves.
      In some ways it can be seen as commitment-phobic, to constantly want to up and off somewhere. It is a way of avoiding routines, responsibilities etc. That certainly can be appealing. It is even a way to escape being known and to embrace anonymity, with the possibility of reinventing yourself in each new place.

      I makes me think of Dido’s song “Life for Rent”.

    • Jenifer

      I would say that first, it’s not inherently a deficiency to be interested in movement and exploration. Most people aren’t built that way, but being built that way isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not as if the person *isn’t* inherently happy just because they are not doing what everyone else does.

      Secondarily, the process of minimalism has afforded me a great deal of self knowledge — what do I really need? And out of that, how do I want to live?

      While I never lived as minimally as MissM, I have lived minimally for me, and right now, I still work to live minimally while still living at my own comfort levels.

      For me, that’s a 450 sq ft beach cottage with a very tiny yard where I can have a few potted plants, line dry my clothes, and do our worm/bokashi composting and recycling (as we head toward a zero-waste home). We have a bed and dresser that my family (DH, DS, myself) share, though in our lounge — to which our bedroom is open — we also have a day bed (which will be DS’s when he transitions), two chairs and a small bench. We’re bringing in some simple shelving (garage style) to hold DS’s toys, books, and that will be our living room done. Our kitchen has a simple table and stools. We have enough cook and dining wear to suit our family’s needs (we rarely have guests). We have a “closet room” which holds our luggage, our shoes and bags from when we come in, and our coats. It’s a simple space, and it suits our needs.

      Most people don’t understand why we would “want” to live this way. But the simplicity provides us with great freedom. It takes me about an hour to clean the house and another to do the yard (weeding, sweeping, etc). It’s comfortable and warm, efficient to heat, etc. It’s work-able on so many levels. It’s easy for us to live here — there’s plenty of space, but also a great sense of family closeness. I enjoy that.

  • Aahhh… I write this as the baby sleeps, and before I read any previous comments.
    Miss Minimalist, I can relate to your thoughts towards the future. They spark something in me that I have been chewing on for some time now.
    Though I have not had the nomadic experience you recently had, I long to start… with child in tow.
    In future I see the three of us (plus future children)traveling for months on an annual basis (homeschooling allows for such spontaneous travels :-))…
    (baby wakes, nurses back to sleep)
    … while making a quaint home in the country with goats and chickens the remainder of the year.
    That’s my minimalist dream! Thanks for sharing yours – I sure look forward to hearing more about it.

  • Cathy

    Mine is not quite so minimalist. It involves a small mostly off-grid cabin which just what we need. Now my needs would include lots of canning jars and such for putting up garden bounty, but not a lot of extras in most regards. We already have small wardrobes and recently bought uniforms for our homeschooled children to downsize their clothing further. I would need a library within a reasonable visiting distance in order to keep books to a minimum.

  • My dream is to find the balance between enough stuff to be comfortable for a family of 4 without feeling stressed/overwhelmed in managing all this clutter and stuff! I want to focus my time and energy on exploring new adventures, even in our own home (reading, games, gardening) instead of organizing closets, sorting clutter and picking up endless streams of useless, broken, cheap stuff! I want my house to be easy enough to clean that I have time for what I love: riding horses, swimming, yoga, hiking, reading, etc. Pipe dream? I’ll find out.

  • Al

    I get where you’re coming from. A year ago I had realized and happily accepted the fact that my hubby and I may never make “a lot” of money but we could be comfortable and happy with what we had. This led me to purge old possessions, buy less and embrace a simpler, more modest lifestyle with the hope of someday renting a small cottage or maybe even a tiny house. When my dad made the generous offer to purchase a house and rent it to us at a low, affordable cost, it seemed unwise to refuse. So here we are in this awesome 2000 square foot house, plenty of furniture and utilitarian items. We can “store” stuff if we want, something I was loathe to do before. So after many years enjoying blogs like yours, zenhabits and rowdykittens I felt a little sad that I wouldn’t be living the minimalist dream, so I am inventing my own version. We still don’t buy lots of stuff, I don’t have tons of items on display in the house. I try to keep clothing and personal items simple. Most of all,I want to make the housekeeping, food, finances and yard maintenance as efficient, simple and sustainable as possible. We are definitely “roots” kind of people so I don’t long for a more nomadic life, but I do miss the idea of a more bare, simpler home. Anyway, I am resigned to enjoy this house and all the opportunities it will afford us over the year. One thing I’m trying to do is use it “for good”. It can be a cozy place to visit for family members or friends going thru a tough time. I may even host a small wedding here for a friend planning a wedding on a tight budget. I don’t have it all figured out but I think I can definitely make the kinder, gentler minimalist work for me and my family. Thanks for all your great posts and your candor on your life changes. very cool.

  • Sara

    Oops, my attempt at a smiley took a wrong turn it seems… ;)

  • Hi Kurkela – you could turn that around and say ‘Why are you so insecure that you need roots and permanence?’ Humans have been nomadic for a very long time….those minimalists who travel may be finding peace in their own way. We’re all different – thankfully!

    • Yes, I agree. Francine’s point is that she has tried this kind of life, she likes it, it suits her. For various reasons, becoming a mother the biggest one, she has decided to settle. But there does not need to be some deep, psychological need to want to be on the road again. She just plain likes it! And she would probably say that being a minimalist, carrying no debt or baggage, allowed her to make that very life changing decision in a thought through, considered and responsible fashion.

    • Kurkela

      You know there is actually a curse in some countries which go along the lines of “may you never have roots, peace and a place of your own”. Feng shui says a person must find a place to live, then find a place to stand on and imagine he/she has put out roots, and every time he/she feels not so good, it is advised to stand on the same place and remember the roots, so the Earth knows and you know where you belong. And the Bible says “bloom where you are planted” (my stress on the “planted”). And there are numerous folk tales about people who went around looking for treasures, and then they came home and found out that the treasures were there at their home all along. Could it be there’s something there?
      Of course, for each his/her own.
      I always want to travel very badly when I get tired and need to get away from everybody (Oh let me get away from it all) :)

      • Karen T.

        It’s not that I disagree with your point, Kurkela, but it’s not the Bible that says “bloom where you’re planted.” That’s a useful (and possibly wise) old saying, but you won’t find it in the Bible. Just saying.

      • Kurkela

        1 Corinthians 7:7-24. It doesn’t say “bloom where you’re planted”, but that’s the gist of what it does say. At least every Bible study says so. Just saying :)

      • Kurkela

        Just remembered something else. Very commonly and widely used. When we are young we do all kinds of things, and then comes the time when we are asked: when are you going to SETTLE DOWN and raise a family? Settle down for a family. Isn’t it where the roots for the people come from? A place for children to settle and feel at home. And when the children have grown up and flown the nest (ah, another one – a nest, settled-down thing), we can travel again – if we choose to. If not, the children come to us and say “oh, there’s no place like home” (well, that’s another one), and they feel happy there’s a place they always can come back to (another one).

        • Laura

          Ah, but home is where the heart is! I homeschooled my two sons (they are now grown and in their own lives). We traveled frequently, and moved around much. No matter where we meet up – a cabin in Vermont for a holiday reunion, Paris for Thanksgiving – it doesn’t matter. It is the joy of joining together once again, breaking bread, and laughing and reminiscing about old times ,while catching one another up on current lives, and sharing dreams for the future.

          Each of my sons live somewhat nomadically, with one son being transferred to different cities 2-3 times per year for work, the other working different continents at different times, in his work as a conservationist.

          That said – our times together are DELIGHTFUL, and very much invoke a sense of HOME. It truly is, in my opinion, where the heart it?

      • I think home is where the people we are in close relationship to are… places and light company are all subject to change – weather we are the ones moving or not.

      • Interesting thought…I think, though, in the past “roots” involved people much more than they do now. You had connections in your hometown, a place and a role. Now we’re just barricaded in our large houses, with all of our possessions. Having a place to belong is important, because we have a place where we fit in, with everyone else. This is why we want to have a home port next summer.

        But it’s something a lot of people in suburbia lack, sadly.

      • Jenifer

        What you feel, though, is not universally applicable.

        Foremost, there is a both-and situation. Humans have always been nomadic, joined different communities than their communities of origin, and travelled and visited between groups. It’s even part of our ancient history.

        Why humans do this comes from a variety of impulses. Yes, some of them are simply excitement, and others are to get away from things (sometimes for good reasons — ie, fleeing oppression — sometimes for not-so-good reasons — ie, wanting to flee from oneself). But sometimes it’s just what it is that people do, and some people might be more prone to it than others.

        There’s a name for it: free spirits. These are the people who — across histories and cultures — just seems to never “settle down” or do what it commonly expected of them. I happen to be one of those people.

        I also happen to be a home body, family oriented, and have a lot of community connections. I also happen to be a loner (or introvert who needs a lot of time for herself).

        Like most people, you could pick any single attribute of who I am and use the bible or old proverbs to criticize me and tell me that I’m deficient as a human being because I’m not following the social norms or conventions around something.

        But the reality is that I am actually *very* happy with myself (with no desire to escape who I am), and overall very happy with my life. Where and when I am not happy, I do seek ways to improve my situation.

        Sometimes that means digging deep and facing some hard realities. Other times, it means simply making some minor adjustments to how I do things. And most of the time, it just means letting go of something (not necessarily an object).

        In my own life, moving to a new country was a great freedom — all of that reinvention stuff — but it’s also made me more of who I am (and I value that person). It has provided us with opportunities that didn’t exist in the country where we came from — better for ourselves and for our son. Living minimally — in a small beach cottage — affords us a lovely lifestyle that’s comfortable, free, and easy.

        And we travel, too. We enjoy what we learn when we travel — about ourselves, about other people. We just enjoy it.

        So, we are different. We are minimalists. I don’t know why I was made this way, btu I am. I am happy living simply and efficiently which affords me a nice lifestyle. How is that at all a “curse?”

  • Karen (Scotland)

    I think Kurkela asks an interesting question. I’m always curious why people are so desperate to travel but I assume they are just as curious why I would be so satisfied to stay home!

    Maybe stay-homers are more easily satisfied? It’s not that those who travel are disatisfied, as such; it’s just that they need more from life than a settled home can offer?

    At this stage in my life, I am happy with the health of my family, the comfort of my home, the company of friends and family. I’m in a quiet stage of life (young kids) so I feel less need for enriching experiences. Holding tickle contests against my six year old and watching my two year old proudly show off her shiny new wellies (to everyone) is keeping me happy enough just now.

    Do travellers feel boredom if stuck in one place? It’s something I don’t understand as I find everyday life as fascinating as I find it mundane…

    Often, when I’m away (on holiday – I do leave the abode occasionally), I feel like I’m wasting time. That I should be home getting on with stuff. Maybe minimalism will change me – once the stuff is gone or done, that feeling will pass and I’ll be able to travel peacefully again.

    Karen (Scotland)

    • Laura

      Curiosity. A love for this great and beautiful earth with endless peoples and places in it. An opportunity to discover the diversity with which humankind has expressed itself, first-hand. The newness of everyday, as opposed to dull routine. The joy of finding you can connect and re-connect, over and over again. The intensity of friendships built ‘on the road’ where you find you can instantly bond with a stranger over camp coffee, and within half an hour be talking of the deepest topics humans explore, whereas people in their everyday lives in town tend to put up masks and not open up to you as honestly and sincerely. I find life on the road more open, more honest, more sincere – it isn’t about me, I am the same wherever I am – but fellow journeyers are open. It is also partly likely due to the freedom from stress. When one is free of worries over mortgage, keeping up with the joneses, and comparing oneself to another (much more common in settled areas/lives), one is instead comfortable going deep into topics such as life, the universe, and everything. EVERY DAY I experience deeply philosophical conversations and wonderfully eye opening experiences, whereas when I am settled too long and know ‘locals’ they start to complain about everyday things or gossip. When a local encounters a traveler, they instead open up, as gossip and complaints wno’t mean anything.

      My experience is a far richer engagement with everyone, when you are living as a traveler.

  • Hi! I just wanted to stop by and say hello. I’m reading your book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, on my ipad and I just wanted to tell you that you’re inspiring me in my own minimalist journey. I’m going to keep track of my progress on my new blog (the goal is to find/keep the right lifestyle, job, material things, people, hobbies…I have many. Too many and this needs to change). I will remain anonymous for as long as possible because I plan to leave my job when I find the right career. Thank you for sharing your story, it’s helping me a lot. :)

  • sophie

    The best compromise is possibly living in a home on wheels. Then you have the permanence of a place but the freedom to move anytime. And it is quite difficult to accumulate stuff in a limited space.

  • Teresa Brown

    I’m starting my minimalist journey at age 18. I’m purging my life of all the stuff that’s been weighing me down and holding me back. I’m getting rid of old stuff from my childhood that I’ll never need again. I don’t think I ever desire to live out of a suitcase, but I would like to get rid of most of the stuff I don’t need anymore, especially books (but that is a challenge). Mostly I’m trying to get rid of all the stuff that brings to mind bad experiences and memories and just keep things that bring me joy.

    • Teresa,

      So wonderful that you are only 18 and already on this minimalist journey! I wish I had the sense and insight when I was your age. Yes, focus on the joy and surround yourself with wonderful people! All the best to you! Mindy

  • Philippa

    My minimalist dream is to have a lot less stuff and either pay off our mortgage (big sacrifices or a looong time involved there, although it wasn’t an extravagant buy) or sell the house and move somewhere where we will owe less or nothing. I’m working on both bit by bit. I do have a little private dream about travelling, working remotely etc., but it’s really just a mental escape fantasy as it wouldn’t work for us as a family at all. So pretty basic really!

  • Philippa

    Incidentally, I loved what one of your guest posters said about her family doing a weekend clean for an hour and that getting it done because they didn’t have piles of stuff. That is definitely my aim!

  • Eva

    I moved every 5 years growing up, and since I became an adult, I moved every year at least once (except for a 3 year span in college), and I have lived all over the US, though mostly on the West Coast. I’m now 31. The last year since I graduated from college, my husband and I, along with our toddler who is now 2 1/2, have been trying to figure out where we want to live. We knew we didn’t want to stay in Georgia, where we went to college, but we had no idea where to go, so we got rid of most of our stuff and tried living in Ecuador for three months, but eventually we realized we weren’t making much progress with freelancing, and I decided I wanted to have a career that involves going to a job in a company (my husband is an artist who plans to stay home with our daughter). When we got back to the US, we moved west, spending three months in Phoenix (during the winter), and finally decided to move to Seattle. We both love the coast, want to be in the western US, and love the idea of living in a city where you can walk outside your door and be somewhere. I just got a job in a city that’s part of the Seattle metro, right on Puget Sound, and there is an art community there, so we have decided to move downtown.

    I have been thinking a lot the past year about the idea of home. I really could not look back on my life and say I have anywhere I’m from, or any sense of where home might be. I did live in Washington from ages 1-6, and this area does feel more like home than anywhere else I’ve lived. I have been longing to be able to finally feel settled and to feel free to form relationships that I’m not going to move away from in a few months.

    We have been living in a travel trailer for the last 6 months, and while that has provided a bit of continuity in the last couple moves, I can tell my daughter is getting really sick of it. She simply does not have enough room to play, and I cannot imagine how hard this will be for her when it starts raining and being too cold to play outside.

    So I think my dream right now is to have a minimalist apartment downtown with plenty of space for my daughter to play. I can see where the temptation is to have a bigger apartment that costs more money, and I’m so grateful for my minimalist training that allows me to realize I don’t need all that, I can be very grateful for a small apartment that will still be at least three times as big as the space I’m living in now. And in reading the comments on this blog, I am thinking that I may want to consider being in one area for a long time so my daughter can have more continuity than I had.

  • Francine, you’re an adventurer! For us, adventuring is as important as breathing. Yes, there are changes that children bring with them, but you will love taking Plumblossom on your adventures when she is older.

    When my Jelly Bean was a baby, we stayed at home a lot, or did mini-adventures like road trips, camping, and renting a cabin. (It was especially difficult to do anything big, with her in and out of the hospital).

    But, at age 5, she did very well living aboard for 91 days this summer, and she had a rather difficult time (just like the rest of us) adjusting to life back at home. We do some things differently, like bringing toys and spending a lot of time at the playground, but that really just makes it more fun.

  • Lisa

    As many of the comments suggest, perhaps the journey is an “inner” journey for awhile…getting to know the depth of a place, not just the surface, and getting to know yourself within a specific context. Being “planted”, leaves energy to look inward, as less thought and time must be spent on survival basics.

    That said, material minimalism is so freeing, it is important to keep that thread going as well!!!

  • megan

    I don’t think we all have to fit into the same mold and just because someone has a desire to travel more than the next person, doesn’t mean they are necessarily running from anything. Some people are born explorers while others love a quiet familiar dwelling. Sometimes we go through phases also. It’s great that dreams are free and thank God we are all unique.

  • Using minimalism as a tool to freedom has probably made the transition into the house much easier. You’ll be able to do some traveling with your family later on. It sounds like fun.

    I just completed my first round of decluttering and I already feel a difference. Excited to see what’s underneath the stuff after it’s been cleared away. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Helen

    Interesting to read how one adapts and also to look at the essence, at what is underlying. I live in a house that is far more than 700 square feet, although a post about such an apartment is what lured me to minimalism. I own the house and have gone back and forth, fantasizing about a cottage and making peace with what I have. I realize that I do not need to fill every nook and cranny. And that the house does not need to tyrannize my behavior. If I lived in a small place and spent lots of time walking and being out and about, it is the latter that matters. I can do that from my current house. What matters is the connections with others and pursuing interests (which I have pared down along with belongings).

  • Minimalist Housewife

    My long term minimalist dream is to have a small, simple home with only what we need. I want to have an active, simple, fun life with close friends around. I would like to spend summers and holidays traveling, living abroad and seeing the world. I would like to continue having only one vehicle (none would be better depending where we live). Lastly, I would like to be debt free!

  • Azulao

    My minimalist dream would be to have No Fear. Since I have stuff — nice house, possessions, etc. — a lot of my actions are dictated by the need to support all of that. I am afraid of what would happen if I lost my job, afraid of earthquakes, afraid of losing my husband (which would break my heart in little pieces, but losing my house and such because of the loss of his income would make it that much worse), afraid of getting sick and…. you see.

    So, I don’t know what I would dream of doing if I didn’t have to worry about all my Stuff — maybe nothing much. But at least I wouldn’t be afraid, and that would be a darn good place to start.

    • Kim

      Thank you, Azulao. That’s my dream as well. I like the idea of creating serenity from the inside out. ♥

    • Jenifer

      I think that this is not about ‘stuff’ so much as how you feel about the stuff you have.

      We live in earth quake country, and i do not have this fear. if the house goes, it goes. If we don’t have work, we figure it out — sell, move, whatever needs to happen.

      I’m not attached to these things — even though all of them are wonderful and I take good care of my things so that they last.

      But at the end of the day, I’ll be ok even if everything gets destroyed.

  • anet

    just last night i was watching a movie and the narrator said :

    “nomads value their freedom of movemet so much that they believe houses are graves of the living”

    Some people like to put down roots.
    Some people like to be on the move.

    I’m one of the latter, but I love meeting those of the former group while I’m out traveling.

  • Herbie

    Dear Ms Minimalist,

    Have you considered the option of roaming around in your house? This summer we had to sleep in the attic, because our bed broke down & took some time to repair. Actually it was kinda fun, felt like sleeping in another home.
    With your amount of possesions, you could move into the living room one day, and live in another room the next. Would that help your itch?

  • My minimalist dream is to move from Orlando, FL. to Portland, OR and build a small (700 – 800 sq. ft) Cob House is a semi-rural spot close to the city.

    Then rent out this unique dwelling for a few months out of the year while I travel, and do my work from around the globe!

    The very architecture of this type of house lends itself to a minimalist feel.

  • Thank you for these thought provoking comments. It make me realise what a very ‘un-nomadic’ life I have and still lead. I have a earning to travel and yet…it is lovely to have roots too.

    I think society will change in its view of being ‘settled’. With more people becoming ‘laptop’ entrepreneurs (eg both my sons and myself) there will be less reason to stay in one place due to a job. Anyway, interesting times…

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