Real Life Minimalists: Want-To-Be-Minimalist Steve

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 pleased to feature Want-To-Be-Minimalist Steve. He tells us how he and his wife came to have too much stuff, and details their decluttering efforts as they begin their minimalist journey.

Steve writes:

I’m a 38 year old man living in Wisconsin with my wife of 16 years. I’m a manager at a large company and my wife works in the public schools. We have no children and at the moment have no pets (our 14 year old Shih Tzu just passed away a month ago). We live in a small subdivision in a small town – typical middle class Americans.

Our initial experience with minimalism began (unintentionally) shortly after we were married. We lived in a single bedroom apartment in a small town and had only the finest second hand couch, milk crate and childhood dresser furnishings. We had a nice YMCA within walking distance and that was our only luxury. We didn’t even have cable! Exercise at the YMCA, walking downtown to the library, reading our few books and listening to our combined collection of a dozen CDs was our entertainment. Our goal in life was to save $10,000 for a down payment on our first house, so we spent very little. We had very little besides each other and our health and a growing savings account. But we were extraordinarily happy!

Of course with few expenses we were able to save $10,000 surprisingly quickly despite small salaries and within 9 months we’d moved into a brand new house in Rockford, IL. Fast forward a year or two and we made an astonishing discovery. Our brand new basement was full – of junk. It was filled with the old starter couch and the plastic milk crates. It was filled with lopsided heart decorations for the wall made out of something that looked like wheat, ugly wooden shelves with lopsided heart cut outs, and ghastly silver tea sets fit for Elizabethan times – all wedding gifts. We cleared out the basement by donating or tossing, but that didn’t keep us from buying more stuff upstairs. Furniture. Computers. 1500 pound (it seemed) screw-it-together-yourself computer desks with built-in CD holders. Books. CDs. Clothes. A new Shih Tzu puppy who, despite her limitations as a dog with no job and minimal income, also managed began collecting tons of stuff. I bought a dejunking book by Don Aslett and found it fascinating, but unfortunately it didn’t slow down the rate at which we acquired “stuff” very much.

Fast forward through several houses and moves and many years to the present. We’re on our 4th house in 3 states (unfortunately it’s bigger and fancier than the two of us really need) and it has finally begun to dawn on us (after 15 years) that “stuff” does NOT equal happiness, and that too many needless and little used possessions actually lead to unhappiness. So we’re finally beginning to do something about it.  We’re blessed with a local Catholic thrift store that has a huge covered bay for dropping donations off whenever you want, and they even come get large items. So we’ve said goodbye to the duplicate set of worn out couches I had left in the living room when the new leather ones arrived (doubling it’s apparent size). We’ve said goodbye to 300 unused old Atari games, the Lionel train collection (but kept 100s of other model trains), 50 pounds of books, carloads of clothes that no longer fit, many Knickknacks. That 1500 pound computer desk is gone – replaced with a wireless keyboard and mouse on a table in the living room – our TV is our monitor now.

Despite the much emptier house, we realize that we still have way too much stuff, so we continue to de-junk and we’re making an effort to stop buying more. We both have weaknesses when it comes to shopping – books, clothing and an addiction to collectible die cast airliners are some of mine worst ones. But by tracking all expenditures using Quicken we can really see the financial impact of buying (or not buying) stuff as well as review a record of what stuff came into our lives that month. We’ve found that we can (surprise!) save huge sums of money when we’re not buying stuff we don’t need, and not burning gas driving around to hunt for treasures every weekend. But one has to be vigilant – one innocent trip into a “Supercenter” or department store or favorite internet shopping site and the dollars start flying out of the bank account and (even worse) the “stuff” starts overloading the closet shelves again. I find that this site (and Francine’s books) are an inspiration to stay on track!

{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: Victoria
  2. Real Life Minimalists: simple in france
  3. Real Life Minimalists: Janet

10 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Want-To-Be-Minimalist Steve

  • It is amazing how items and clutter make their way into our homes. Even after years of living in a minimal, simple manner, it happens to us. Just keep fighting back. Now I find those super center stores cloying and seldom go into one. Doing without turns into doing with something more valuable. I am so happy for you and your wife. You seem to be on track and doing a great job in minimal living.
    Condolences on the loss of your sweet dog. I know they become great friends and family members.

  • Steve, sounds like you’re doing great.

  • SteveC

    Thanks for the comments! I go to China a lot for work and surprisingly the same exact chain of “Supercenters” with everyday low prices is there too – I was at the opening day of a second Supercenter in Changzhou,China (CROWDED)! I was in my Wisconsin store this evening after work, but I managed to pass on the cheap “Black Friday” movies and leave with only the bananas I wanted. But you’re right Ahsha, it is a fight and I don’t always win!

  • kathy

    Steve, I am a little further along than you are in your journey, but not by much. The hardest part for me wasn’t parting with stuff, but wanting to replace it with new stuff. I have a difficult coworker, and on days where he really annoys me, I would run across the street to the store and buy myself a new piece of clothing because I felt like I “earned” it. Then in the fall, as I was switching over from summer to winter clothes, I realized I had so many clothes I couldn’t possibly wear them all in one season. So that was my impetus for getting rid of stuff. And in the process, I realized that if I wasn’t spending money every week on some piece of cheap clothing, then I could get something of high quality and not have to look for sales. Also, I just accepted the fact that I don’t NEED anything else. I guess all of this is to say that the urge to buy will soon pass. I was recently in a drugstore to pick up a prescription, and normally, I’d come out with $70 worth of stuff — toiletries, magazines, makeup — but this time it was different. As I walked to the counter to get my prescription, I could not think of a single additional thing I wanted or needed.

    Good luck in your journey and keep us posted!

  • Susan

    I love your description of looking around after many years and realizing you are accumulating too much. I can relate. After a few years of decluttering I now appreciate space more than stuff for the most part. And I realized that one important disincentive for acquiring more stuff is the energy involved in getting rid of it. Good luck and I hope the shopping bug is (mostly)conquered soon.

  • Marja

    I agree with Kathy: “The hardest part for me wasn’t parting with stuff, but wanting to replace it with new stuff”. I went through a brutal prcess of decluttering old, fusty stuff a few years ago…only to replace it over time with “modern” stuff as the months progressed! The initial decluttering was really hard for me – we grew up with nothing, so I imagine the “hoarding” switch tripped in me when I could start affording ‘stuff’. What annoyed me most was that I succeeded in getting shot of so much stuff, only to replace it with other clutter! I think for a lot of us, decluttering and living the minimalist lifestyle can be a difficult ongoing process. Again, I find myself in the situation where I have more clothes than I could possibly wear! Luckily, I am not in any debt, but I am angry at how much money ic ould have saved!!!

  • SteveC

    I think getting (and remaining) minimalist will be a major challenge for my wife and I. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying things – as long as the item will be used and loved. We recently replaced our 17 year old well-worn dining table with a custom Amish-made beauty. The old table went to charity who sold it for $75 (I know, I shouldn’t have been in the thrift store to see that it sold!). The new table is used 2-3 Times a day and looks great, simple, elegant. A good purchase. The last three dress shirt bargains that I didn’t need with the tags still on that eat up closet space – not. I’m re-reading the The Joy of Less now – I need a refresher! :)

  • Angie Martin Hall

    Steve, I LOVED your story. It was quite funny, too. What? Your dog doesn’t have a job? Loser…just kidding. But your story reminded me of my own..four houses, and all the stuff we accumulated over 20 years to fill them. We’ve been in downsize mode now for a year, and my husband and I just stopped and stood in the middle of House 4′s basement, and said, “Wow! This feels good.” …to let it all go. We have space now, to dance, to play, to hang out with one another without tripping over all that stuff, and our unemployed lab-beagle named Max.

  • Way to go Steve! When I moved several months ago, I also came to the realization that I had too much stuff. It really puts things into perspective when you have to relocate and haul all of your things. I’m still in the process of donating clothes. I still don’t where all the pieces I’ve kept. Minimalism puts things into perspective and cuts out the fluff. I’m a huge fan! Cheers.

  • Lizzy W

    I have had minimalist tendencies as far back as I can remember. However, when I was pregnant, I bought LOTS of clothes, so many that I never got to wear them all. I have never been able to fathom out why I had this blip – was it my hormones?! LOL! To this day, I am still angry at the money I wasted, especially as I was not working at the time (my husband and I had just relocated with his job). I gifted everything to a charity shop but – bizarrely – they were reluctant to take maternity wear! Surely there must be women who would consider going to a charity shop to get their maternity clothing?

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