Real Life Minimalists: Kathryn

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 we have a compelling story from Kathryn, who explains how some volunteer work changed her perspective on possessions. Visit her blog to learn more about her current endeavor, urban farming.

Kathryn writes:

My first steps into minimalism happened when I did a semester abroad working in an orphanage in Iasi, Romania. I remember feeling as if there was no way I could possibly pack enough for 3 months, yet when I arrived I realized these few things I had were more than so many of these children would ever possess. I played with and held developmentally delayed infants and children who would never be able to walk or sit up or feed themselves. I visited an apartment of 6 children with a rotation of caretakers. They would never have a mother, or a family. All their toys and clothes were donations. We worked in the hospitals as well. The hospitals are different in Romania. It is the parents job to attend to the children while they undergo treatments. Often the parents have other children to care for at home, far away in the country. Sometimes the children are orphaned, or abandoned. I visited infants in the hospital who only were held or had their diapers changed when we came to do it. We brought pacifiers, clothes, diapers, and blankets each time as well as love and human contact.

That semester was life changing in so many ways. As soon as I got home I started paring down my possessions. Even years later I am still finding things I can live without and letting go. My personal items are much fewer and the ones I still have are the most important to me. Now I have a family and a home and some of the things that come along with that, and sometimes it feels overwhelming. I am trying to raise my family with a focus on the people in our lives, instead of letting how much we own (or don’t want to own) get in the way of relationships. One of my daughters LOVES having things, so it takes some balancing to fill all of our different needs.

Through learning about my true priorities, I am opening up so many opportunities. Right now I am building a self-sufficient mini farm in the city. My daughters call it the “farm in our backyard.” I’ve been dabbling in blogging about urban farming at Our lot is 1/10th of an acre with a 900 square foot home on it. We currently have a garden in raised beds, berries, and some fruit trees. We have 8 hens for eggs and two Nigerian Dwarf goats for milk. Next year we plan to incorporate rabbits and an aquaponic system as well as expand the garden. I’m starting to learn how to forage for wild greens. We have such an abundance in such a small space!

Our home is a hub for learning and living and I attribute that to living with fewer physical items and less emphasis on having and getting. Our focus is learning and doing. Sometimes that looks messy; it’s a fluid process with things coming in and out of our lives. Letting go of things leaves room in life for good experiences.

{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: Kathryn

  • Helen

    Kathryn, what a special person you are, I was truly humbled to read about your time in Romania. How sad for those children especially when I think of the mountain of stuff my own children have and have just added to with Christmas and a birthday.

    You have really inpsired me to get sorting…today!

    Thank you and Happy new year


  • It sounds like you are on a path for a beautiful life. Attachment to things brings fear and greed and gets in the way of so many possibilities. As discussed here, our circumstances account for less than 10% of our happiness once our basic needs are met.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

  • Deb E

    Loved this phrase: ” less emphasis on having and getting. Our focus is learning and doing.” I think this sums up a better life so well! Great article.

  • Thanks for sharing. I have a friend who works in Africa and has most of her belongings in storage in the U.S. Every time she comes home she gives away more of them, realizing she doesn’t need them anymore. Like your experience in Romania, she has seen stark poverty and it has changed her priorities forever and for the better!

  • Ahsha

    Kathryn, your post made me cry and cheer. I so wish we all could do more to relieve suffering in this world. Then I cheered because we are doing that by reducing what we feel we need in our lives. Therefore one less child is in a sweatshop making clothing for us. We free up time from cleaning and caring for stuff so we can plant gardens, teach children and love people. You are in such a wonderful place and I am thrilled for you. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

  • Wow, what a story. Like Ahsha, I also cried for the situation of orphaned Romanian children- but cheered for all you did for them. I also loved your account of what you are currently doing in your life to embrace the power of less (and it’s so cool that you have goats!). Your story goes right to the heart of why people, not possessions, are important.

  • Ariel

    I don’t know how long ago you went to Romania, but would you be able to send me information about working at this orphanage? I work in hospitals now and I would LOVE to go and help there.

  • I went through my college, the program email is Even if you weren’t able to do this program they could probably help you find some other way to help.

  • Kathryn – a truly inspiring story. Sometimes minimalism can seem almost self indulgent especially when it centres on owning limited but good quality items. It is so difficult not to resist the pressure of more when living in a rich society but you prove it can be done. Good luck with your self sufficiency and your blog :)

  • runi

    Kathryn: What a beautiful essay. It also made me think.

  • Thank you Kathryn for sharing your wonderful story. It’s inspiring that you took those tragedies and turned them into positive action for yourself.

    I particularly enjoyed ‘…less emphasis on having and getting. Our focus is learning and doing’ and ‘Letting go of things leaves room in life for good experiences.’

    You are an inspiring role model for your children, and I hope you continue to enjoy your life’s journey.

  • Thank you for sharing. I think the emphasis on all the *stuff* in our culture seems ridiculous when we consider what is going on in the rest of the world. Good for you, for bringing those values and that awareness home!

    On a side note, I love you blog! Obviously, growing and raising animals isn’t practical for us, living on the boat in the summer, but I am trying to get more “homesteady,” self-sufficient practices into our lifestyle.

  • Amy

    Kathryn, I loved your story. You are a kindred spirit. I too went to Romania, just before I got married- 11 years ago now, and we did a camp with kids from an orphanage. I fell in love with one little girl in particular and I still have a pic of her and I up in my house. I never went to the orphanage, but seeing those children even outside of that setting, it was clear how little love had been in their lives.

    I too have a family and we have a mini farm with goats (ours are LaMancha) and laying hens. Thank you for sharing your heart and how your travels still impact you. I think it’s amazing how a few weeks impact me still today. I hope I never forget.

  • What a great story, Kathryn! I love that your desire for minimalism came from an experience of service to others. Having less stuff in your life seems to free up time and energy to be in service to others as well. Blessings on your journey!

  • Yay for you and your blog, Kathryn! I am finding the post about ‘Fridge Free Living’ most inspiring.

    “Our focus is learning and doing”…. In my experience, this attitude is the ultimate cure for both boredom AND busyness!

    Thanks for sharing your story. :)

  • Anna D.

    The part about the babies only getting human-contact from their diaper changes really struck a cord with me: I am a mom to a toddler and could not imagine NOT cuddling him every chance I get. Sometimes people don’t get why I “get rid” of so much stuff, but it’s stories like this that really put what’s important in life into focus- people first, always.

  • Tina

    Too much stuff–is that a first world problem others aspire to? Keep giving away and sorting a drawer or a shelf at a time. Shopping doesn’t solve any problems.

  • Tina

    Trying to live as I would want others to live. Using less of everything. Having one car. Much less meat. WOuld like to go meatless but my DH comes from a family who owned a chain of butcher shops and no meat for a whole week seems odd to him. I went vegetarian for 4 years by eating soy or egg every time he had meat. Taking public transportation. Buying no hobby supplies or books except second hand.

  • Tina

    Having less of everything means we could downsize if we had to. Right now, 1600 sq ft. seems a little large, but our guest room does get used. We will see what the future brings.

  • We live in a south facing condo on the 4th floor of a 9 story building. In the 16 years we’ve been here, we have never turned on the heat. Even in Midwestern winters, we are insulated. Since we live in an area with good public transportation, we can take the bus or train to a lot of places.

  • Tina

    Many things are given to me. Clothing, craft items, magazines, plants, and dishes. I try to just keep what I need and pass on the rest. I feel I am saving things from the landfill.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>