Real Life Minimalists: Cindy Ann

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 an inspirational story from Cindy Ann. When she and her husband became empty-nesters, they got rid of the nest—and are now enjoying the wonderful freedom of a minimalist lifestyle! Read more of her story on her blog.

Cindy Ann writes:

Cindy Ann

Cindy Ann

My husband and I are 59 and 56, respectively. We’ve been together 42 years. We have two grown children. We have IT jobs. He just got transferred to another city. We move in three weeks.

Picture a suburban house full of decades worth of stuff.

One of my co-workers asked if we had started packing yet.

There is nothing to pack.

I store my off-season clothes in my suitcase. We only have enough dishes for one day’s worth of meals. We have no books, DVDs or holiday decorations.

We no longer have that suburban house full of decades of accumulated stuff.

As soon as they could, our kids high-tailed it out of upstate NY headed for the West coast and we got left behind, staring across a huge, empty dining room table at each other. We had a three-bedroom home with a full walk-up attic, finished basement, screen porch and a one-car garage. There might have been some stuff laying around in all of it. Just a little bit of stuff.

Since our skill set was pretty mobile and we had a nice house to sell, we decided not to sit around waiting for them to come visit us. So, we commenced to empty the house. We started with the attic and basement. The garage was basically full of yard tools (snowblower, etc) that were going to stay with the house, so that only needed to be tidied up.

We did the easy stuff first. There was a yard sale or two. No price tags, just haggling. Nothing was allowed back in the house at the end of the day. We used Freecycle and brought bags to the Salvation Army. Once we emptied the storage areas, we started on the kids’ rooms. Some furniture found new homes with family members. We emptied their rooms, gave the walls a fresh coat of white paint and kept on going. We moved downstairs to the dining room and taped off a 7′ square section on the living room floor to be filled with boxes to move with us to a small apartment. More furniture left and more paint was applied.

By the time the house was ready to be put on the market, the upstairs, attic and basement were completely empty and the living room had a futon, rocking chair and a small stack of boxes. The dining room had a bed and a few boxes of clothes. The real estate agent didn’t like it that way, but it sold in two weeks. We were off!!

That was six years ago. Since then we have lived in cities in tiny downtown apartments and on our sailboat for a year and a half cruise up and down the US East coast and Bahamas. We’re in working mode now and excited to try out yet another new city. We keep one small car so we can enjoy weekends on the boat and weekdays in town. There’s no attic, no yard, no useless stuff and no worries. Our evenings are spent playing (we’re learning to rock climb) or volunteering, instead of caring for a house.

Life is wonderful!
And simple.
And open to possibilities.
And easy to move to the next city.

I am indebted to these authors—Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, Larry and Lin Pardey, Leo Babauta, Joshua Becker, and Miss Minimalist, of course!—without whom I would still be sitting at that dining room table, waiting for my kids to visit me, staring out at an overgrown lawn.

{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.}

20 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Cindy Ann

  • Janetta

    Wow, just wow! You are an inspiration!

  • Alix

    Fantastic story, thanks for sharing!

  • Helen

    Hi Cindy Ann

    What a great post. I love how you taped out a section of floor into which your boxes had to fit.


  • Gail

    I’m not as minimalist with possessions as Cindy Ann, but I agree whole heartedly with her well articulated ideas.

  • Flor

    Your story put a smile on my face early this morning. I too and my husband are empty nesters, and on our way to a life free of possessions. Stories like this only strengthens my resolve . Thanks!

  • Kathy

    Great story! Thank you for sharing. I like how you were able to seize the opportunity and reinvent your lives!

  • Sandy

    What a great post! Already visited her blog and added it to my favorites list! Very inspiring.

  • What a liberation ! Thats beautiful ! Thanks for sharing.

  • Kate

    I don’t think I heard the whole story, love it, one day maybe I will get there.

  • Stacy

    This is what I want! I want to be free to spend a year in Patagonia, Eastern Europe, Wahington DC…wherever the desire takes me and my husband. I don’t want to be tied down by memories of years past. I want to look forward to making new memories. I would really like to know how you and your husband came to this decision together. Was one of you more into it than the other? What influenced this change besides the kids leaving?

    • Stacy, some of the backstory is that my grandparents lived in a travel trailer for 20+ years and I adored camping with them as a kid. My husband brought the sailboat into the equation and that took some convincing on his part. It’s a lot of discussion and dreaming and reading aloud adventure books (he reads while I prep dinner). Do it. Just do it.

  • Linda

    What an inspiration! Loved the story.

  • Tina

    I think stuff expands to fill the space available if you let it. I’ve seen 4 bedroom houses with full basements fill up with clutter. There is no reason to hold on to sheets that don’t fit the beds in your house. Or long expired coupons. Or trashy souvenirs from long ago vacations. Sometimes I visit a friend and would love to throw out 20 or 30 pieces of junk from each room but I can’t do that.

  • Tina

    14 years ago we moved from a small 3 BR house with attic and basement to our condo. We got rid of a lot of stuff. The most stuff we have now is my mother’s book collection, since she is in a nursing home. We have less furniture, fewer sheets and towels, and a lot less clothing. Our out of season clothes are in our small suitcases in our storage space. If we moved, we would get a 1 BR condo and get rid of more things.

  • Laurie J.

    Like the first person said: Wow, just wow! I am so impressed. You are truly making the most of your lives. I sometimes dabble with the same thoughts…but so far, just thoughts!

  • Martina

    “…without whom I would still be sitting at that dining room table, waiting for my kids to visit me, staring out at an overgrown lawn.”

    A beautiful, inspiring story..

  • The best empty nest story ever!

  • Karen T.

    Wow! Your life sounds wonderful! My husband and I are also recent empty nesters, but we live in California and our kids live within an hour drive! We’ve downsized to a 2-bedroom apartment and love it. The second bedroom is probably extraneous, but my husband isn’t ready to go smaller. We’ve really pared down, but not as much as you have. You’re a great inspiration, Cindy Ann. I’m going to go check out your blog now.

  • Tina

    We are always getting rid of stuff. My mom died and I’ve gotten rid of her books and clothes. I have helped others declutter their spaces. My kids live close and we see them quite often. I sold a whole set of silver ware and gave away a lot of dishes. Now I have more dishes to give away.

  • I never buy craft supplies new. Either they are free or second hand. I give classes on living with less. One was about all the jewelry you can make out of paper, dental floss, etc. People don’t think of taking something apart and using it again in a different way.

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