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.
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!