Real Life Minimalists: Dyed-In-The-Wool Minimalist

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 hear from Dyed-In-The-Wool Minimalist, who shares with us his long-term commitment to a pared-down lifestyle (great inspiration!).

Dyed-In-The-Wool Minimalist writes:

Dyed-In-The-Wool Minimalist

I have been a minimalist for twenty-five years.

When I was a teenager my room was not especially cluttered until my grandmother moved in with us. Having lived through the second world war, she was something of a hoarder and our house became crowded with a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff. I personally inherited my late grandfather’s collection of audio equipment, including no fewer than three reel-to-reel tape decks. Something didn’t feel right.

One day while browsing through a homewares catalogue I wondered why the rooms that it depicted looked so much better than my own. The answer was both simple and mundane: the model rooms were largely devoid of stuff. So it was that, far from being a search for inner peace or financial security, Minimalism for me was originally a simple matter of aesthetics.

I set about expunging the things I didn’t really want from my room. I didn’t find this difficult, perhaps because I am a Minimalist by nature rather than by conversion. By the time I was seventeen my room contained only a mattress on the floor, a desk with a stool (which doubled as a linen basket), a filing cabinet in which I kept my papers and clothes, and a collection of austere paper mathematical models hanging from the ceiling. A different room housed my stereo and record collection. I felt purged.

At the age of eighteen I went to university. Here my mind put into place more of the planks of my personal philosophy: I realized that I should seek experiences rather than things; I took to travelling in a big way; I went vegetarian; I stopped watching television; I developed a passion for cycling and an aversion to motor vehicles. I didn’t consciously view these decisions as Minimalist or even as being related to my preference to life without clutter. Back then I considered Minimalism to be nothing more than a school of aesthetics, albeit one that I admired.

Seven years later I emerged from my studies with a great deal of travel under my belt and very little stuff. I took a job at a software company and started earning a salary. I moved in with the wonderful person who was to become my wife. This is the stage where one might expect a confession that this is where everything went wrong and I started accumulating things. But I didn’t. My wife is not as resolutely Minimalist as I am but she is no hoarder and she was quite happy to live without a televideogram or much furniture.

Fifteen years further on, I remain a dyed-in-the wool Minimalist. While I am not as devoted as some Minimalists, I have few possessions and those I do own are all carefully considered and must earn their keep. I have not willingly watched television for two decades; my ignorance of celebrities and popular culture in general is enough to induce gasps of horrified amazement in many. I have never owned a car and I still don’t eat meat.

However, until about a year ago I was still unaware of Minimalism as a lifestyle choice subculture. Even when I met fellow real-life Minimalist Robert Wringham, I was still unaware of the likes of Leo Babauta and Miss Minimalist. It was only recently that I blundered across their blogs on the Internet and found that many others had developed a philosophy of life similar to my own. I was pleased to find that it wasn’t only Wringham and me who thought this way. However, I didn’t find the existence of this subculture to be a major revelation because I have always been quite secure about the validity of my lifestyle choices. Nevertheless, it was good to see that others were experiencing the benefits of stripping life down to the things that really matter.

So how do I fill my time without television or shopping to supposedly entertain me? I read. I travel incessantly (I wrote this article in Stockholm). I write—I have written three books and I am working on a fourth. I have learnt to speak both French and Japanese reasonably fluently. I exercise, especially by cycling and walking long distances. None of these activities requires much stuff and all of them are life-enhancing.

Now I am in my forties, I see my contemporaries burdened with obligations, cars and houses full of things they don’t need. I am glad that I chose a different path early on in life and have stuck to it ever since. I hope that at least some of the people reading this blog can do the same.

{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.}

32 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Dyed-In-The-Wool Minimalist

  • anakin

    It was a very interesing read, it’s clear to me that he lives a very simplified existence, which consists only of a few activities, yet he seems very content, awesome!
    It’s also interesting how a lot of minimalist are also vegetarian, there must be something behind this, maybe what they call ‘raised consciusness’, I don’t know.

    minimalist aesthetics is a very interesting concept as well. How some people are born with minimalistic tendencies, and how some just hoard,hoard,hoard and surround themselves with an ocean of stuff.
    It’s also interesting how in the US you’re labelled the weirdo for not knowing what honey boo boo child had for breakfast..

    interesting case study,this article.

  • Great story! My husband and I haven’t had a television for the almost 34-years we’ve been married. My hat is off to you!

  • An interesting read and you have crated a wonderfully mobile lifestyle. Our modern digital age has made such a lifestyle easier to accomplish, a laptop has amazing capabilities. Does your wife travel with you also?
    I presume you have no children at this stage.

  • Julie

    Inspiring! Loved reading this…

  • When you described your grandmother and what happened as a result of moving her into your home, it brought up real feelings. My partner and I have been consolidating our two homes for the last two years. He sold his larger home and moved everything into storage (the same storage that contains his shop and many “toys”).

    We’re attempting to squeeze our two lives into the 1,123 sq foot home I brought to the party and it’s hard. We’re trying to end up with no storage costs and only keep the things we really love and use. Both of us are sacrificing by letting go of things we want to keep but can’t justify because there just isn’t enough room.

    As for your story, I love how you knew so young who you were and then simply lived in alignment with that. I’m sure there was resistance from family and friends along the way. But you obviously didn’t let that sway your actions. Regardless of what it is trying to tell us (minimalism, adventure, stay single, etc.), we should all strive to listen to our inner voice and work to live a life that truly makes us happy.

    Congratulations on a life well lived!

  • Cindy

    Love this post. TV is the one thing I haven’t removed from my life and would love to. My elderly mother lives with me now and would have a very difficult time without TV. So I won’t just remove it. That said, I just need to not be pulled into watching it with her. Any suggestions on how to break the habit of nighttime TV when I just sit there with her to sit there and be with her?

    • Diane

      Cindy, whenever I used to visit my grandmother, she would be watchintg tv as well and kept it on during my visit. However, it’s more difficult for you since she lives with you. She is blessed to have you to stay with, so enjoy the time with her even if it includes tv viewing. I’m sure it makes her very happy to have you sitting with her — enjoy the time. My last grandparent passed away when I was 33 and I miss all four very much. Time goes by far too quicly!

  • Your story is refreshing. It is nice to know some people choose a simple life from a young age. It is also wonderful to hear others live just fine without television and all the social junk. At the checkout counters, I see magazines touting people I don’t recognize doing things I cannot conceive of and am even more convinced we can live an unplugged life. Enjoy your travels. Perhaps I will run across you someone one day.

  • Diane

    What a terrific post! I love your statement “I have not willingly watched television for two decades; my ignorance of celebrities and popular culture in general is enough to induce gasps of horrified amazement…” I have a tv but no cable thus no shows (have exercise and movie dvds)and haven’t watched tv in just over 10 years. I’ve heard about the Kardashians but have never seen them (Honey Boo Boo as well) and don’t want to know anything about them. Friends and co-workers talk about the shows they watch and I am so relieved to be clueless. People gasps when they find out I don’t have cable, a home computer or Internet, ipod/pad/phone, etc. I have a basic cell phone which costs me $100 per year and allows 27 minutes per month. It’s never turned on and I rarely use it. When the minutes add up, I use it to make my long distance calls thus avoiding having to pay using my home phone. It’s not easy living in a high tech materialistic world. Your post has inspired me — I’ll reread each time I get laughed at for “not keeping up”. My co-worker recently told me I “should follow the herd” to which I replied “if you follow a herd, you end up walking in herd doo doo!” Let us know where we can get copies of your books.

  • mary

    Can we get the titles of the books he wrote?

  • Heather

    WOW!!! It’s awesome to hear from lifelong minimalists. Our stories are similar as I never knew what a minimalist was. I just lived. : )

  • Erin

    Wonderful post. Can I just put out a call to others out there like myself, though, who have children and a spouse who are not minimalists (not hoarders either, thank God), to please share your stories here as well? I know you’re out there and would love to hear how you’ve handled it. I guess I could post too at some point, though I don’t write a blog. I love these stories, but the vast majority of them are either very young adults, singles, or childless couples, and almost all of you seem to be able to easily pack up and go wherever you want to. I’m a born minimalist who didn’t know it until later in life. I am married to a wonderful man with two kids. My husband is a police officer, so we can’t just pick up and travel the world like many of you do, earning a living wherever you choose to stay. I do love these stories, but I just can’t relate, and am on the verge of unsubscribing to Miss Minimalist, which I really don’t want to do.

    • kathy

      Erin! So glad to read your comment, because my life is almost a mirror image of yours. Two kids and a police officer husband, none of whom are minimalists. They are not hoarders or anything like that, but we do have a houseful of stuff. Still, I consider my family to be reasonable when it comes to consuming. We haven’t moved into a bigger house because we needed more room, like SO many of my friends, and my boys (14 and 17) share a bedroom, even though we have a third bedroom.

      It sounds like maybe you and I just want to lead more of a clutter-free life rather than a hardcore minimalist life. I have a TV, and I won’t give it up because I enjoy it. I’ve got books and scrapbooking stuff, and clothes that I love and maybe a few more shoes than I actually need. My boys have their things that they love as well. The stuff that I am trying to declutter consists of old toys, old video games, outgrown books, too many clothes, too many decorations, things that were bought for some reason that we can’t remember, etc. I’m working on all of that slowly, and each little piece I get rid of brings me some sense of satisfaction. But I’m not going to quit my job and stop spending money and save every cent I make because that’s simply not realistic for our lives. My older son will be in college next year, and that costs money. Because I don’t want him to be bogged down with debt when he graduates, my husband and I continue to work and save toward paying for school. We can’t even think of traveling the world till both boys are out of college and we can retire, which isn’t for another 10 years.

      In the meantime, I read these stories for inspiration but have to look at the realistic side of things and apply some of the principles of minimalism to my life in a way that makes sense for me. I do realize that experiences are more valuable than things, and I am trying to instill that idea into my sons’ heads, and they kind of get it. And we have sacrificed material things so we could take some kick-ass vacations, which has been good for all of us. Also, I will continue to declutter one room at a time, and I will think very carefully about bringing stuff back into my home. But that’s all about I can muster for now.

      I think that Mr. Dyed-in-the-Wool up there is lucky that his wife didn’t want children, or maybe she did and he convinced her otherwise. I don’t know, but I can say with certainty that if he did have children, his story would be quite different indeed.

    • I guess all of us moms and dads are just busy taking care of the kiddos, eh? :) When I first found minimalism, I was all ready to sell everything I had and move into a van. It spoke to the vagabond wanderer inside me. However, that’s not practical with 4 kids. My husband works as a principal year-round so we don’t have the luxury of working on the road while touring the country in a camper. Once I let go of the extreme minimalist lifestyle idea (extreme for us in our situation, mind you), I felt much more peace. I let go of the “no clutter anywhere at any time” ideal, and have settled into a comfortable minimalism. I have a few things out for display, and when I get tired of them, I’ll change them or do without for a while. My kids have toys, honestly, not many, though most often they’ll play with blankets, couch cushions, and other random items. I’m not sentimental when it comes to toys, baby clothes, school papers- it has to be pretty neat to keep it. However, we have storage space in our house, and I’m not afraid to use it! When things go on sale I know we’ll be using, I stock up. I get enough back-to-school school supplies to last all year, fill gift bags for presents, and donate for Christmas shoeboxes. I consider myself to be a larger part frugal and a lesser part minimal, I suppose. It can stick around if it serves a purpose. Not necessarily right now or even in the next few months. My 3 girls are all 16 months apart, so naturally I’m saving clothes to pass on, even though they’ll sit in storage boxes between uses. I’ve started a blog- not much- but it gives you a few ideas of how it works for us.

    • Erin

      Thanks Kathy and Sarah for sharing. I really appreciate it. I realize that the image in my head of how I want to live will not be possible until my kids have grown and moved on and it’s just me and my husband. I’ve decluttered my own things and maintained a sort of minimalism for myself. I’ve gently encouraged my husband to let go of some things while respecting his need to keep truly important items. I’ve never pushed or nagged him in any way. With my kids I’ve been slightly more proactive in an effort to help them develop healthy attitudes toward material objects. If they insist that all 10 of their stuffed animals are important, then I insist that they treat those 10 animals as special, i.e. don’t leave them piled in a heap on the floor – display them with care. My daughter now spontaneously declutters her room periodically without me saying anything at all. I rarely buy anything unless I absolutely love it AND it is functional. I have never liked knick knacks or walls covered in photos, so our home is far more minimalist-looking than most people I know. I have never liked shopping for anything, even for myself, and never could understand the “retail therapy” some people talk about. I’m moving toward spending more money on experiences and less on toys/gifts for the kids, if I can convince grandparents to go along with it. I do what I can with what I’ve got!

    • Heather

      Erin, I submitted my update. I have been featured before. I am ALMOST 40 ;) and have a young child and husband. We live a normal life in the burbs. I hope my story helps. Thanks. :)

  • Diane

    Kathy, your statement “But I’m not going to quit my job and stop spending money and save every cent I make because that’s simply not realistic for our lives” pretty much applies I think to most of the bloggers on this site. I don’t have children, however, I do have to work for another four years in order to get a decent pension (so I can’t up and leave). Both my parents have dementia and are in a retirement residence so I can’t just up and leave them (even for a promotion in another govt dept in another city) nor can I travel extensively for long periods of time. But I can keep things simple by spending less (i.e. borrow books, dvds and cds from the library), using my work computer rather than have one at home, and only buying things I really need. You are on the right track by decluttering one room at a time. Minimalism isn’t about never spending money on things and having nothing; it’s just finding that comfortable spot where you have the things you love and use and don’t desire any more. I think it’s great that you are working to pay for your boys’ college education. My parents didn’t so I eventually got a B.A. when I was 45 via distance education while working at a full-time job!

  • cynthia

    This was originally put on the wrong post, so re doing. Like you Dyed in the Wool, I don’t own a TV, love to cycle, don’t know or care much about the entertainment world and have to tolerate the inevitable gasps. I also don’t care for motorized vehicles, travel and love to read. I’m a vegetarian and own few possessions. Although my story comes from a different path, at 50, I finally feel like me (after raising 3 kids). I seek experiences and find contentment in long walks, nature and letting the hustle and bustle go by. I’ve never owned a cell phone and don’t plan on it. It’s nice to know there are intelligent people like you living as your authentic self before knowing the label “minimalism”. Thank you for letting us know there are others like us out there.

  • cynthia

    I might add that I was a minimalist before, during and after raising my kids, but when they left it was easier. I didn’t feel I should impose it on them. Now I’ve been able to pick up where I left off with traveling and love my spare apt. Life is good!

  • Jim King

    I’m not sure why having a TV is such a problem – unless self-control is the problem and you feel you’d be watching it too much. I have one, but it’s in a room in the basement which has helped limit its use. I don’t know, I just don’t see how having one is such a bad thing from a Minimalist perspective.

    • kathy

      Maybe because TV can be such a time suck, and also because TV advertisements and programs do have a way of making you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t have a large house or all of the latest clothes or gadgets. And I will admit that I have gotten sucked in to TV shows that I later end up regretting spending my valuable time watching. But, there are some good programs that I like to watch, and I’m not prepared to give that up. And since the invention of DVR, I rarely see commercials, so at least I’m not subjecting myself to the relentless advertising to consume more.

    • Diane

      Television isn’t the problem; it just depends on the type of person who is doing the viewing. I know someone who will channel surf for hours and never stay on one show (makes me dizzy to watch). Or others who sit glued to it watching the most stupid and juvenile programmes. It is addictive to some and it’s unfortunate because they are wasting their lives watching others live theirs. My mother raised us with no tv and I don’t watch it unless I’m at someone’s home (and have no choice!).

  • Emma

    Thanks for sharing the stories.
    I had to google honey boo boo child as I had no idea what people were talking about. Poor child.

  • Wonderful post Dyed-In-The-Wool Minimalist, thank you for sharing!

    I am a few steps of being a minimalist, but I am a simplicist, if that’s even a word, and like you, fell into that lifestyle on my own rather being “converted”.

    I do enjoy TV though and while I do not get involved in reality shows or celebrity culture, there are a bunch of shows that I love to watch.

    That being said, it all comes down to what works best for each of us.

    Take care and thanks again for the inspiration. All the best.


  • mrs Brady Old Lady

    Whenever somebody tells me about some tv programme/series they’ve watched, I always say “I’ve heard of that programme/series, I’ve not found the fime to watch it but I’m told it’s very good”.
    Nobody freaks out, nobody gets annoyed.

  • Tina

    I am still finding things to recycle and give away. It requires vigilance to stop junk mail at the door. I have some shirts I got from my son which I am going to pass on because they require ironing and I don’t iron. My husband wants to buy more furniture, I don’t know why, but I told him if he bought 2 new pieces he would have to give up 3. I love reading your older posts.

  • Tina

    I reread this and got a kick out of Ahsha’s comment about the tabloids. I don’t know who those people are, either. There are whole days and evenings when the TV doesn’t get turned on. my grown kids come over and we play word games. My son writes for an online magazine in addition to his regular job and my other son gives tours of Chicago in addition to his regular job. My daughter leads a therapy group besides her full time job. Plenty of ways to keep busy without shopping or TV.

  • Tina

    I teach art classes at our local park district during the summer and on school day’s off. I try to use up whatever is on hand. When my kids were young, we made many things out of cardboard boxes, paper, and bits and pieces of other recycling. I still don’t buy any craft supplies except glue or tape. An artist friend makes huge sculptures out of paper mâché. Just the thing for old newspapers.

  • Tina

    I am 66. When I was in college I didn’t want to buy clothes. My roommates were appalled. I mostly wore jeans and T shirts and made myself 2 dresses. When I worked, whether full time or part time, dress was always casual so I never had many clothes. Now I have very few clothes but a lot of warm clothes because we never turn the heat on in the winter. We let the sun shine in our south facing windows. My plants grow and our home is warmer. We don’t know who the celebrities are unless my daughter gives me a passed on copy of People magazine.

  • Tina

    My daughter and DIL were using a term I had never heard to describe an on line dating phenomenon. I like this site because I have no idea who most celebrities are.

  • Tina

    My home is full of plants. I am giving away 60 of them in December when I am teaching a class. All the containers are recycled or reused. I helped a friend declutter yesterday. We filled her recycling bin with papers and I brought some home to shred. I have 2 more big bags for Goodwill and more dishes for my friend’s church rummage sale. In warm weather, my plants go on the balcony. Winter in Chicago would kill all of them.

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