Real Life Minimalists: Kristen June

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.

I love this story from Kristen June. She experienced the wonderful freedom of traveling lightly, and is now living a minimalist life in Madrid.

Kristen writes:

Kristen June

When I was about 6 years old I would collect scraps of papers, beads, rocks, ribbons, and other little pieces of garbage that were precious to me. My Grandma June, vigilantly tidy and non-materialistic, taught me how to get rid of things and keep a clean space. She had me close my eyes and turn around. Then she would throw one thing away and let me look back and try to figure out what she had thrown out. If I didn’t know what it was, it was obviously not as important to me as I thought it was, and it stayed in the garbage. If I noticed what was missing, it was rescued from the garbage. We went through this process for days, slowly and meticulously. Not a lot was rescued from the garbage, and I realized it really was neither necessary nor special to me after all. I think I was actually a budding hoarder turned minimalist thanks to her.

Last year I lived out of a backpack while traveling. When you carry your own things, you tend to start out with a large backpack and upgrade to a smaller one. You really realize what a burden your things are, and how what you once deemed necessary is actually unnecessary. Most of my expensive things were stolen such as my laptop and my cellphone. I was robbed countless times, but after I had nothing more of value (except my passport and money that I hid wisely) I didn’t have to worry so much about keeping track of my things. I thought about buying a new laptop while traveling, but then I realized that it was just another thing to be stolen. While traveling in poor counties I felt embarrassed about how high maintenance my life was, and traveling light helped me to relax into the culture.

I really need to fight against the tide now that I live in the big rich city of Madrid where people love things. Oh, there are so many lovely things to buy! But then I realize that I am being manipulated because that desire to have things does not come from my soul. It’s been difficult, but I think all of my things could still fit into my one piece of luggage. Books are things that I genuinely love, but they are heavy things and cannot come with me. After reading The Alchemist by Pablo Coelho I was inspired by the idea of only having one book at a time, reading it, then exchanging it. It sounds extreme, but it actually helps me finish the books I start. I have a cat and a boyfriend, and they are also minimalists. I have almost nothing. No debt and no assets. Honestly, it scares me sometimes because I see my friends buying houses and collecting nice things, and I worry if I am being irresponsible with my life. Reading this blog made me realize there is a community out there of people like me, and it’s very encouraging. I could never give up this freedom!

{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: Deirdre
  2. Real Life Minimalists: This Tiny Asteroid
  3. Real Life Minimalists: Aspiring Minimalist

39 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Kristen June

  • I so agree with your Grandma. Although i have never done it like that I know I cannot remember half of what I de-cluttered.
    Love the book idea too, may try that in the future. I have a feeling I will read the Alchemist in the near future too

  • Elizabeth

    To live without any assets would scare the daylights out of me. You never know when a health crisis will strike.

    • Gayle

      And to that point, being truly free is to leave behind the “what ifs” and just live day to day, moment by glorious moment. Hard to do with tons of stuff and obligations.

      • Elizabeth

        I am a nurse. My patients are also just trying to make it day to glorious day. When you walk out of a hospital with bills in the tens of thousands of dollars, it can be impossible to take care of life’s basics. It’s hard to enjoy the moment when you are cold, wet, or hungry.

        I think minimalism is striving to live only with what you need. And this includes saving for your future needs.

        • Mrs Brady Old Lady

          I have a very small apartment that’s fully paid off. I was able to pay off the mortgage partially due to frugal living.
          And never mind the “what ifs”, it gives me a GREAT feeling of calm that no matter how awful my health or life will get, I have a roof over my head.

        • jenifer

          Simple enough, medical bills can be discharged in bankruptcy court. Also, it is possible for a person to work and have the asset of both income (and savings) as well as health insurance and an on-going ability to pay for medical bills, etc should that need arise AND not have any assets in terms of a house and objects.

  • “When you can no longer feel the life that YOU are, you are likely to fill up your life with things.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

    Wow. Sounds like you live a pretty extreme example of minimalism. Very nice. I live a minimalist lifestyle, but it is a goal of mine to reduce my possessions even further. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Dan @ ZenPresence.com

  • A great account of your minimalist life, Kristen. I love the way your Grandma helped you and the reasons behind your minimalism are so strong: your love of freedom and how you question the wealth and high maintenance of western life. I cannot live such a radical minimalist life but I am trying to live my version of a minimalist life. Stories like yours keep me going. Happy minimalist living!

  • Paula

    Kristen,
    A very honest and inspiring reading. Thanks for sharing!

  • R

    Love how you recognized that the desire for things comes from outside yourself and not from within your own soul.

  • Sarah

    very impressive. I am slowly feeling my way towards a more minimalist lifestyle. The amount of stuff I have thrown away already is quite staggering, but I still have so far to go! The strange thing is that even though I’ve been doing this for a few months, getting rid of each little thing still hurts – but then once it’s gone I no longer even remember about it. Your post has given me me my next dose of motivation!

  • Catherine

    Kristen, I love that your cat is a minimalist too. Some people buy so much junk for their pets, as though trying to turn them into mass consumers too!

  • Exactly! Many of my friends are trading their freedom for stuff as well. It’s a choice we make…though sometimes people don’t even bother to really think about it. I’d be less worried about accumulating a lot of assets and just make sure that you don’t accumulate any debt. Some people seem like they’re in a positive cash position because they have so many nice things when they’re actually in a negative position. Being debt free is real freedom to me. Oh and your grandma sounds cool! :) Have fun on your travels!!!

  • Minimalist Housewife

    I loved reading this! What an exciting life have the opportunity to travel and live abroad! My inlaws look at me like I’m crazy for getting rid of so much (I think it might actually cause them pain)…. They are always worrying about the “what ifs” of the future. I hope to teach my daughter as your grandma did. However, she doesn’t seem to have attachment to much yet!

  • Sky

    Smart Grandma! How wonderful to live in Madrid and….I’m so glad your cat is minimalist :)

  • I love the story about your grandma and how she was intentional about teaching you to let go of material things. So many parents/grandparents bog their children/grandchildren down with stuff and then expect them to cherish everything. My husband and I are committed to raising our two boys simply and teaching them to hold on to things lightly.

  • Crissy

    “that desire to have things does not come from my soul.” this made me smile. Becoming a minimalist has been a work in progress for me, as I’m sure it is for most. One of my difficult areas to tackle has been books, I have so many and am constantly aqquiring more! Reading them and then giving them away is a good idea but I tend to form emotional attachments with the ones that truly touch me. I’ve tried the electronic reader as well but did not take a liking to it. Like I said, work in progress!

  • People who are busy filling their lives with things won’t be any happier for it in a few years. It all comes to weigh down on you sooner than later!

  • Sarah

    As another former child hoarder (literally tubs of collected rocks, quarter machine toys, ribbons, etc.) I can definitely identify! The day I finally realized I did not and was never going to remember what all that junk once signified was liberating… almost all went in the trash. I still have a lot of sentimental items, but I’m gradually cutting back and I’ve even gotten my family involved.

    Cats are great minimalists… mine’s favorite toys are ice cubes – they melt when he’s done and there’s no storage! The only downside is when you find one of the icy puddles with your bare foot. :P

  • Thanks for sharing, Kristen. I especially enjoyed the tale of the little game your grandma would play with you. My grandma is also a minimalist in her own way and I think the vision of her always cleared countertops in the kitchen is something I strive for!

  • Kris, I loved your warming story. I completely identify with the things that you say, such as “that desire to have things does not come from my soul” and I feel that words like these aren’t uttered enough in todays world.

    I’m really interested in checking out the alchemist now. What I usually do is never buy books, I just rent one at a time from the library. That way I only ever have one book in my possession so I don’t get distracted by trying to collect them or wanting to start too many at one time!

    Your cat being minimalist is a true inspiration to feline-kind! :)

  • I agree with the others, smart grandma! She was giving you the biggest gift :)
    Once you become a minimalist and stop consuming so much, and once you have lived in poor countries— well, the materialism in our culture seems so appalling. I have intentionally raised my daughter to question this from the beginning..

  • breid

    buyING is the opportune word here as most do not own to much of anything. billy

  • Super duper loved your post!!

    & I love that you mentioned about the community here, I totally agree :)

    Great to hear your story, thank you for sharing! :)

  • Amy

    What a great post Kristen. I was especially interested when you mentioned being embarrassed by your high maintenance life while in poor countries. I only wish you had provided specific examples. I am curious and would love to have heard your thoughts regarding the juxtaposition of your life and the lives in those countries. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kristen, I adored this post! The idea of living in Madrid with little more than loved ones and a camera appeals to me very much! I too find that travel is one of the best ways of reminding ourselves what we can live without. I love the feeling of weightlessness and freedome that comes with travelling with a carry on suitcase. Best wishes to you.

  • Love your grandma’s game! I still do the same thing to myself by putting together bags or boxes of things for donation and then hiding them for a few months. If I don’t go back for something, it’s gone!

  • I must say I love the idea of having one book and reading it through properly! Whilst I have downsized from 200/300 books over a period of time and try to stick to no more than 25/30 books at a time before giving some away, I think I would find it hard to do this as I like to have two or three books on the go at any one time, and I read a lot, and fast! It is my main relaxation. But it has been very freeing and liberating not to have so many books and to only need a couple of small shelves to house the ones I do have. I can definitely recommend it (especially as I have to move house soon!).

  • Mrs. C

    Your friends are not buying security when the purchase a home and fill it with things…..they are enslaving themselves to debt! And, should they ever want/need to move on, they will find themselves burdened with stuff that must be dealt with first…

    It is much more “secure” to live debt free and simply…the less $$$ you spend on stuff the more cash “assets” you keep!!!

    We are just learning this the hard way…..and late in life! Thanks so much for sharing your story. Love the one book at a time rule, need to incorporate that one into my life!

  • stephen

    Hi Kris. I loved your story except for the bit about no assets. Cash in the bank is an asset. A pile of cash allows you to take minimalism further because you can throw the “what ifs” away knowing you could always get them again if you needed to.

    Not buying stuff is so pleasurable knowing you could but choose not to. I have to fight the smug feeling.

    I’m glad you had such a wonderful grandmother.

  • runi

    Of course, for most of us, if we have less stuff and buy less stuff, we’ll have more assets in the bank. So it’s win-win even if we don’t go all the way :)

  • Mikey's mom

    Kristin, did you buy a laptop when you got back home? I am wondering if you stayed away from having a cellphone and computer going forward. (and if so, how in the world you read this blog, lol)

  • Henny

    Kristen, your story is so inspiring. I wasn’t really raised minimalist (quite the reverse) so the story of your Grandma’s game is especially intriguing. I talk to my kids about “things” and I hope some of it gets through, but they are still very young and get caught up in the excitement of stuff, as almost all young people do.

    I’m with Stephen on the “no assets,” but I’m hoping you just meant material assets, and that you do in fact have some cash reserve, however modest. Always a good thing in these times, even for a minimalist :)

  • Kristen June

    @Mikey’s mom, I have a laptop and a cellphone now. Although I do not have an internet contract or a cell phone contract. Those contracts are the stressful and expensive part of owning a laptop/cellphone. I use free wifi, and my cell phone is pay per minute.

    @Henry, I do not have a large cash reserve, but I try to keep enough money for a plane ticket home. I would not feel weighed down by a huge cash reserve, but alas, that’s not a burden I’ve had to deal with. :)

    Thank you all for your kind comments. xoxox

  • Annabelle

    I love your story! Thank you so dearly for sharing it! Yes, there is a community of HAPPY people who are not into things, own little, have money in the bank and are debt free!

    Enjoy Madrid!

  • I love how your grandmother made a game out of it rather than making you choose what to get rid of. I bet more people would learn the lesson of what’s important if presented with this approach.

  • Putu

    Kristen, My boyfriend and I have the same experience. When we traveled to poorer countries, I had 2 large suitcases and my bf had 1 suitcase and a backpack. I believe it was because I look richer than them, we were robbed and lost many expensive things. Also, I had terrible problems at the airports too. It was a ‘hard slap” for me and realize how important it is to practice simple and minimalist living.
    In my opinion, there is nothing strange for being minimalist. It is such a wonderful way of living, that we have more time to enjoy ‘living things’ rather than ‘things’.

    That is a wonderful post, Kristen. Thank you for sharing. :)

  • Tina

    I love your book and your website and I read the letters you get. My husband and I took a cruise recently and we took only carryon luggage. Many of the other people aboard took suitcases the size of life rafts. I think it really affects the way we have been able to stay in smaller places and travel cheaper and easier by not taking so much luggage.
    We raised our kids and then took early retirement because we didn’t keep up with the Joneses.

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