Real Life Minimalists: Vappu from Cat's Meow

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.

Today, I’m happy to feature Vappu from Cat’s Meow. An unfortunate situation recently reduced her possessions to a single bag; but as a long-time minimalist, she’s handling it with grace. She blogs about minimalism with kids at www.lifeshouldbethecatsmeow.blogspot.com.

Vappu writes:

I’m what you would call a natural/born minimalist. Even as a kid I fancied being able to carry everything I own in a bag with me. As a student living alone, my apartment was spartan, and I have to admit I actually got rid of something I had to later replace. (It was a strainer – I forgot that I don’t necessarily need it for pasta, rice is difficult to drain without a strainer.) I had a more cluttered period when I moved in with my husband. He was not yet aware of the benefits of minimalism, and I had a difficult time adjusting to the fact that I could not control the stuff in our home and I couldn’t make it “perfect”. Cleaning days made me mad because I got frustrated that it never got the way I wanted anyway, so why bother?

After I came across the classic book “Clear your clutter with Feng Shui” by Karen Kingston, and even thought I don’t practice Feng Shui, things just clicked and my feelings were validated and finally made sense to me. My husband read the book also, interested by the reaction in me, and it had the same effect on him! That was really the start for us, even though there have been times when our home was filled to the brim it seems, like when I was in art school an painting five meter paintings in our living room, or when I learned to spin yarn and our living room was turned into craft studio for a few months!

Then we had a daughter three and half years ago. I stayed at home so much that I really had to feel calm and serene there. The only sensible thing to me was clear the home to the bare minimum. Our home was a one bedroom, 600 square foot apartment. I turned it sparse, airy, spacious and kid-safe so that she could explore freely, and best of all, it was now easy to clean and maintain. We co-slept and her toys had a designated area in the living room.

Fast forward to this spring. We lost everything we own, to a bad mold issue in our apartment. (So bad I was vomiting and nauseous for months and the doctors couldn’t find a reason.. my daughter had nosebleeds and a bad cough.. you get the picture.)We tried to save our stuff by washing in hot water etc. but in the end the only things we could keep were a couple of my favorite baking bowls and metal chairs to keep outside in the porch. It may sound hard to believe, but the stuff from our moldy apartment was so contaminated with mold toxins that it made me vomit too.

As we were already minimalist, we only had two van-fulls of stuff between the three of us. We moved to my childhood home which we are renting now from my dad. We own a grocery bag’s worth of stuff each. I have 15 pieces of clothing including shoes. I don’t ever want to buy anything expensive ever again. That used to be my thing – buy less but buy the best. Sure I will still prefer handmade and fair trade and organic – but mostly I will try to go without, and certainly not buy any luxury items. It can all be gone in a minute, and the money can be so much better spent on charity, good food, and savings to live an independent life with freedom to choose what you want to do and where you want to live. I actually really prefer not to own much of anything. This house is fully furnished and equipped, we will put some of the excess in storage because it’s not ours to donate, but otherwise we will not make much changes.

This feels like a final lesson in minimalism for me – I now really think that ownership is burdensome and that we should not own anything that we will grieve losing. And that we really do not own anything anyway, it’s all just on loan.

{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.}

Related posts:

  1. Real Life Minimalists: Shelby Gonzalez
  2. Real Life Minimalists: Katy
  3. Real Life Minimalists: Warren and Betsy Talbot

34 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Vappu from Cat’s Meow

  • Wow–what a story! It’s great that you were able to get your husband on board. I think that can be the most frustrating thing about trying to change the way you live–if you’re the only one doing it, you feel like you are fighting a losing battle. It sounds like you have committed to “thoughtful living”. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m really so happy to have my husband agree with me on living a minimalist life. I know it would cause a lot of frustration for both of use if we didn’t share this lifestyle. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • AussieGirl

    Every once in a while, a real life minimalist will come along and redefine what it means to be minimalist – You are one of them.

    This:

    “This feels like a final lesson in minimalism for me – I now really think that ownership is burdensome and that we should not own anything that we will grieve losing. And that we really do not own anything anyway, it’s all just on loan.”

    .. Is awesome.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Sarah

    I’m sorry you lost nearly everything, it must’ve been a shock! Even to minimalists.

    Your story as a whole is inspirational, however, and sounds to me like you’re one of the lucky few who have known what they want for a long time already. Glad you shared!

    • Losing the stuff wasn’t really that bad, because of the attitude we already had towards stuff.. There were a few things we felt bad about (like a wall rug my grandparents made by hand for our wedding, and which we chose to keep in storage, to see if some years later we would tolerate it.. which I’m not too hopeful about – or we can give it to a relative).
      Way worse was realizing how our options to find a suitable new home were suddenly very limited. We had started to have problems with not only mold, but also very new homes, because they off-gas toxic fumes for years.. How would we know that the new home would be healthy? We were so lucky in how things worked out for us.

  • Minna

    How great to see one of my all-time-favorite-bloggers here telling her story! I just wanted to say hi! -The one who is still struggling on her path to minimalism.

  • “And that we really do not own anything anyway, it’s all just on loan.”

    SO TRUE! I remember when I first realized that no one really owns their homes. It’s just being borrowed and at some point ends up being “owned” by someone else. 

    Nothing is ours forever because we don’t last forever. It’s a little sad, but also really freeing. 

    Thanks for sharing your story Vappu!

  • Grace

    Vappu-
    This is my favorite post so far. I truly agree that “it is all on loan”. I checked out your blog. I will be returning often to it. It’s lovely. I do not want to own anything that would come between me and another human being. I want to live life simply and fully.

    • Thanks so much for the compliment!
      That’s also very good “I don’t want to own anything that would come between me and another human being”. A good example is inheritances- wouldn’t it be great if everyone had this attitude? They would ask everyone else first, if they would like to have something, instead trying to grab for themselves first. I’m so glad to say we have not disagreed about one single thing being inherited in our family..

  • Tanya

    It’s really easy to make rice without a strainer – Heat saucepan, add 1 cup of rice and a pinch of salt, pour in 2 cups of boiling water and bring to the boil, cover and reduce to a low temperature. 15 mins for white rice, 40 mins for brown. Don’t use easy-cook and don’t lift the lid. Voila, perfect rice and no water to strain out.

  • Lindsey UK

    Vappu, thanks for this lovely post! I’ve just subscribed to your blog :)

    That mould situation sounds horrid, I hope you’re all well now? You have a beautiful attitude to life, what a fine example for your daughter.

    *Tanya* – thanks for the rice advice, I’m going to try it tonight!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, and welcome to read my blog!

      It was really bad, honestly. I felt so bad knowing my daughter had lived among mold toxins since she before she was born! But it got worse just before Christmas last year.

      The stress of finding a new place was a bit overwhelming, since we had just started to look at a small house to buy. We now realized that it would be very hard to find a healthy enough home for us, and know which one was not! Building our own seemed impossibly stressful in that situation, as we were already exhausted and sick.

      I’m so grateful to my dad who not only took us in, but then gave the house to us to live in, after we saw that it didn’t make us sick.

  • Sarah

    This is my favourite guest minimalist post so far. I think you have a really interesting perspective on minimalism and possessions. I especially like your observation that our so-called ‘possessions’ are on loan.
    Your post has given me a motivational boost in assessing (yet again) what I can get rid of. I find there is a perpetual war going on inside me, between the me that wants to own almost nothing and the me that is a magpie for attractive things. Both sides seem very strong but I know that the former is the road to contentment!

    • Wow what a compliment, thank you so much!
      My problem has been wanting extremely little, but having to settle to live with somewhat more, due to having a family, and wanting to be hospitable to friends and family. It’s also a responsibility issue – I would love it we could just rent this house forever from my dad, but I know we have to take responsibility for it, it would not be fair to have my dad assume all the responsibility, and us just enjoying the benefits :) Also, my issue has been what I mentioned, having very little but really nice, perfect things. I cared too much about what kind of stuff I had. It was still too materialistic!

  • Truer words, etc. You never really own anything, and you can’t take it with you. Sometimes you have to face losing everything for that to really sink in, but once it has, it changes you for life – your priorities, your values, your beliefs.

    Bravo to you for facing poor health and loss and coming out with a positive attitude!

  • Nicola B

    Clear your Clutter With Feng Shui was the trigger for my first major declutter when I was a teenager…pretty sure that my room was still quite full of stuff, but I do remember getting rid of lots of paper junk and so on.

    I’m not quite a natural minimalist, but I could do without most of the stuff I own, if I could keep the boyfriend, the pets, some knitting equipment and clothes. Plus the Kindle for reading, although really I could go to the library…

    • It’s a classic :)
      I should look into a Kindle..
      Our library building here quite likely has mold issues too (those are so common here :( ) since we got symptoms from the books we borrowed from there… Which sucks, because I’d like to get books for our daughter from the library!!

      • Nicola B

        Kindles are great- the screen is really nice to read, almost like a real book. It’s black and white though, so if pictures are vital to the book it doesn’t really work on Kindle.
        If you have an iPad or pretty much any other portable computer thing you can get the app for free on that- which saves you buying a Kindle!

        Definitely no mould :)

        Is there a reason the mould situation is so common? Is it the climate, or the way buildings are constructed?

        • Kathy

          The Kindle Fire is in color and has Wi-Fi access and is much cheaper than the iPad. I got one for my birthday/anniversary and I love it! I can use it like a mini computer, but it’s not always easy to type on if you need to do much typing.

  • Interrobang

    Vappu, I read your story and I am impressed by the love you shower on your family and community, by your determination and last, but not least imagination.
    Of course one doesn’t want to buy expensive items if they can find something cheaper. But there is a caveat here. I still believe that it is a good idea to pay attention to the price – quality ratio. I bought low quality/cheap stuff thinking that I would use it for a limited period of time and I ended up buying the same item again in a few days. I don’t advocate buying the most expensive item on the shelf, but I always ask myself if it would be safe/healthy to use a certain item, what would be the impact on the environment, would I be able to repurpose/upcycle it?

  • I definitely agree with you! I have a set of guidelines for acquiring anything new (actually I’m writing a blog post about it now ;) ) and one of them is that when I buy something new, it should be sustainable, fair trade, and of good quality, locally made if possible. I am not going to start buying the cheapest things I can find, no way, because there are so many other factors to consider when making purchases. By “expensive” I meant expensive beyond what the item should realistically cost if it is made sustainably and of good quality. I mean the kind of expensive, where you pay for a brand name, status, design or cool factor ;)
    Thanks for pointing this out, I should have made this point in my post.

  • Eve

    Thank you for sharing, Sarah actually wrote something very similar to what I was going to write. You have helped me with assessing the rest of my belongings as I was getting “stuck” after being on this journey for a while now.
    I love these guest posts because you think you have read everything and along comes a fantastic one to help you think diffidently.
    Thank you so much. It was just what I needed right now.
    I shall also be visiting your blog.

    Eve

  • I discover so many great blogs through this feature on miss minimalist – I love it, especially when the minimalists are parents. I have so much to learn from them.

  • Henny

    Hi Vappu,

    I just discovered your post here and have been exploring your lovely blog. Thank you! You are such an inspiration. I keep thinking about various posts as I have spent the day whittling down our possessions. It feels wonderful.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your post about “satisficers” and “maximizers” too – I am a satisficer in many ways, but I do enjoy unleashing my maximizer tendencies too, especially when it comes to health and food related things, so that is something that is helpful to be conscious about.

    I also thought a lot about your post about why we buy, and found it really useful to consider from your perspective. I certainly buy things that I feel express a certain part of my character, like I can somehow “own” those qualities, and when you put it like that it just seemed so unnecessary! Thank you.

    Henny

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