Real Life Minimalists: Conrad

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, Conrad tells us about the pared-down lifestyle he and his wife enjoy aboard their boat. I love how he describes time as “the great equalizer,” and shares how his minimalism helps him make the most of it. Please visit his blog to learn more.

Conrad writes:

Conrad and Roxanne

Conrad and Roxanne

Living in a country where bigger is synonymous with better, being a minimalist is a title my wife and I often kept to ourselves. Even the coolest slogans encourage upsizing: “Go Big or Go Home”, “Everything is Bigger in Texas”, “Dream Big”, “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick.”

Becoming a minimalist seemed like a step in the wrong direction.

But taking steps to minimalize our possessions allowed us to maximize our quality of life. Three years ago we quit our jobs, sold our house, furniture, cars and 99% of our possessions. We then bought a boat (we paid cash, no more debt for us) and moved aboard.

Now we live in some of the most picturesque marinas surrounded by million dollar views and million dollar homes. The marina’s supply the internet access, pay for the water, provide for garbage service and lease us a slip to park our boat all for under $300 per month.

Our 49′ motor yacht (purchase price, less than $50,000) became the perfect minimalist home for us. There is no need to outfit it with furniture, the furniture is already built into the boat. When we moved aboard it was like walking into a furnished home. The couches, end tables, lamps, beds, chest of drawers were already there. The couple we bought the boat from even left all of the pots, pans, dishes and silverware. We literally could have moved our clothes and laptops aboard and been 95% moved in.

Then we created an internet consulting business. Since our bills were very minimal we didn’t need to make a lot of money (less than $2,000/month at first). My previous job’s hour long morning commute had transformed into a 20 foot walk, usually still wearing my pajamas and sipping on hot coffee. We have no need for two cars because we work from the boat. We don’t drive much so we don’t spend much on gas. The tires need changing less often and we only need to pay insurance on one car. It’s a real eye opener when you add up all of the expenses that are directly associated to having a job.

Though we make half the money of our previous lives we have double the disposable income. But where we really go big with being minimalist is the life experiences that we can now enjoy. We no longer need to work 40 or 50 hours per week. Often times I am finished working by noon and I take off even earlier on Fridays. My wife and I have spent our extra time visiting coastal cities, learning to play the guitar, finishing her college degree, learning to speak Spanish, writing books, taking the dogs on long walks and learning the tango. Daily we literally have hours to use as we please.

Time, to me, is the only commodity in life that has real value. It’s the great equalizer and the most democratic of all things. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, famous or anonymous, black or white, fat or thin or any other differentiator that exists in the world. We all wake up each day with the same amount of time. We all have 24 hours to spend as we see fit.

The question my wife and I asked ourselves 3 years ago was, “Do we really want to spend all of our time at work so we can buy things we don’t really need?”

Yeah we’re minimalist when it comes to possessions but when it comes to getting the most out of life, we’re maximalist!

If you’re interested in our whole story, check out our book, “Own Less & Live More: a sailing adventure that takes you from the cubicle to Key West.”

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Viktoria

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 excited to share this fascinating perspective from Viktoria. Memories of her Ukrainian childhood has brought challenges to her minimalist journey; but she’s worked hard to overcome them, and is now embracing the joy and freedom of a lighter lifestyle.

Viktoria writes:

I grew up poor in the Ukraine. Please forgive my spelling mistakes.

When I came to the United States at 19, all I brought with me were the clothes I was wearing and one bag. Coming from the soviet mentality and lifestyle to the Land of plenty was overwhelming to say the least. Here is a short version of my non-minimalist lifestyle that turned into minimalism eventually.

Living in Florida I was purchasing only winter clothes because it was on sale. I was buying sale items to stock up for the rest of my life, just in case there will be no clothes available (just like in the Soviet Union).

I moved quite often for the next few years: Florida to DC, then back to Florida to attend college. I moved with me about a car load of things. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but now that I look back, I am embarrassed. When I moved to college here is what I had in my rented SUV: big TV/DVT/VCR combo, it took 3 people to lift it. Also, I had inverting equipment where you hang up-side-down. Why oh why would any college student need that. I was moving all my winter clothes and sweaters and coats driving to Miami FL! What was I thinking? Every summer I had to put all my belongings into storage because dorms were closed for the summer, every summer, as a student I hired someone to lift and drive that TV to storage and then back when school started, I did it for years. I lived in a dorm as if it was my permanent home, nesting and making it as home like as possible. I made it so much harder than it had to be.

Once I graduated, I bought a condo. All of the years of dreaming about decorating my own place were finally possible. Now I see that I didn’t even have a style or knew what I wanted at that time. I had it painted in Tuscan colors, with nice brown heavy furniture. It was pretty; all the walls were covered in family pictures framed in nice brown expensive wood frames. Everyone liked it, except me. I repainted the whole condo a few times. Finally, I found what I wanted, light bluish gray walls, white furniture, uncluttered easy breezy look. I sold most of my furniture and bought light airy white pieces of furniture.

I also discovered feng shui and the need for the energy to move freely. I also realized that all these family pictures were stressing me because these people were not the ones I loved, their pictures were hanging on my walls out of some unspoken obligation to display family pictures, and because I left all my family in the Ukraine and so desperately wanted to have family, but these pictures did not help, they were hurting me. All of the pictures were taken down, all that money I spent framing it was wasted, but I no longer had to look at these people. I framed just one 4×6 picture of my grandma who was my whole world to me and that picture goes with me everywhere I live, one picture in the whole condo.

So here I was in my clean furnished pretty condo. I could not stop buying decorations at different stores, each new thing was cleverer or prettier or cooler than the one I had. Christmas time, I went nuts decorating my condo lavishly. My God, the amount of money I spent on things was huge, it is so sad to think about it.

Then somehow, I don’t remember why, I bought a book “The Joy of Less” and my world changed, it was like a sip of fresh cold water in the desert. I started uncluttering my stuff. I gently let go “friends” that were not conducive to my life, I learned to say no to time wasters (still learning), I stopped buying mass produced décor and enjoy real art. I took carloads of stuff to donation centers. I didn’t realize I had so much, it’s not like my place is empty now, where was all that stuff hiding?

It was very painful to get rid of all these things, I paid so much money for it, wasted money, wasted time, it makes no sense to get rid of things that you paid for. It felt wasteful to pay so much money and then donate it. It would have never happen in the Ukraine where I was born. Growing up poor makes it very difficult letting go of things. You always have mentality that you need to stock up just in case. But I did let go.

People started worrying about my mental health when they realized I was getting rid of all these things. However, it felt good and light and clear and free. So I kept on going and reducing, uncluttering, removing. What was left, was what I needed, what I loved and what was there to support my daily life. When people would come over, I did not have to clean, it was clean 24/7. I knew where my things were. Without hundreds of pictures on the walls I could enjoy few paintings I loved.

Few years into my minimalist lifestyle I met my love. He was divorced with 3 kids and two story house. Eventually we started uncluttering his house. Things from his ex, kids’ stuff that they outgrew 10 years ago, no one knew these things were there, no one used these or needed these things, but they were there, living alongside humans, for years, taking space in every drawer, every closet, every cabinet, every room. We are not done yet, but we made a huge dent. I could see his pain when he had to let things go, I knew that pain so well. I supported him and comforted him, he let go of so much, probably easier than I did with my stuff. I am so proud of him; I guess I should be proud of myself too. I am glad I went through all that uncluttering first so I could help him do it.

Then came time for me to move in with my love, I decided to rent out my condo and get rid of most of my things that there was no space to bring into his house. You think I would not even blink and get rid of everything. Oh no, just thinking about getting rid of my small amount of furnishings and things, I felt what people feel when they lose their stuff in a house fire, I felt loss before I even lost anything. I could not believe it was happening to me, born again minimalist that was preaching to everyone how to unclutter. Then, while in pain, I started thinking about life, how we come and leave this world with nothing, about what is important to me, about my poor childhood that to this day gives me fear of not enough.

I chose love, I chose people over things, I chose freedom from things owning me, I chose life. I brought my art to his house, we found a place for all of it. I brought my clothes, my toiletries, my books and documents. His place is fully furnished; I realized I need nothing more. And if I ever do need more or move back to my condo, I can always buy what I need, this is the United States of America, not the Soviet Union; I can buy anything I want or need any time.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Jen

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 have a truly inspirational story from Jen. She tells us how her family’s minimalist philosophy has enabled them to embrace some amazing opportunities!

Jen writes:

Jen and her family

Jen and her family

If you saw my house, “minimalist” is not the first word that would spring to mind. Or even the tenth word. I have a family of five and all the accessories that typically come with it–clothes, books, sports equipment, school papers–along with a couple of doting (and shopping-obsessed) grandmothers. Still, I consider myself a minimalist at heart.

Like many of my peers, I have felt more and more the urge to simplify. Part of this does involve our possessions–my husband and I have been making determined efforts to reduce the clutter in our home. (This often feels like “running to stand still,” since we have not been very effective at stemming the tide of incoming items from the kids and the aforementioned grandmothers.) But the decluttering, while it makes our home considerably more pleasant, is not an end in and of itself. It works in deeper ways to add to the quality of our lives.

The first factor is money. While my husband and I have always been pretty frugal, the desire to have fewer things in our lives has made us reluctant to buy much of anything. (I wrote about our sometimes-comical frugality on our blog, How do we afford this?.)

Also, I’ve lately become increasingly conscious of the countless daily decisions that must be made in the typical 21st-century working-parent life. Social scientists have now established pretty definitively that (a) too many options makes us more stressed and less happy with our eventual choice, and (b) humans are susceptible to “decision fatigue,” meaning that having to make too many decisions–even unimportant ones–not only becomes oppressively overwhelming, but also causes our decision-making skills to decline. I think many of us feel this instinctively, but our culture always pushes the idea that when it comes to choice, “more is better”.

Luckily, minimalism can help with both of these things. The connection to money is obvious, but the connection to simplicity is equally strong. If I can reduce my wardrobe to versatile basics, deciding what to wear is simple. If I reduce the number of toys and books in my house, choosing one is much less daunting.

A couple of years ago my family and I got in our minivan and took a five-week cross-country road trip. Packed to the gills with camping equipment, snacks, books, etc., it was hardly a minimalist journey. But at the same time, our daily decisions were greatly simplified. We had already planned our route so we knew where we were going each day. We had a limited amount of food with us, so that was what we ate. (This meant a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, and sometimes lunches in the car that were composed of things like beef jerky and Triscuits. But it was what we had, so no one complained (much)–unlike at home, where with a million options it still seems impossible to find a meal that pleases everyone.) We didn’t have many clothes, so we wore whatever was clean. I had been worried that the trip would be stressful and labor-intensive (lots of driving, and tent camping with three young kids), but was surprised to discover how relaxed and happy I felt. Later I came to attribute this to the simplicity of our lives. And you know what? I didn’t really miss all those fancy meals or my large wardrobe or all the toys we had at home.

Last year we went to meet friends in Italy. I wrote on our blog about being really inspired by a quote from The Joy of Less which talked about the freedom of traveling with just a small bag. We each packed one backpack for our two weeks in Italy, and again wanted for nothing. Our trips have fueled a love of travel and exploration in all of us.

Now all of these elements are coming together. We are now about to start an 11-week adventure traveling around Central America. The money we’re saving is allowing us to fund this break. The decluttering of our house is allowing us to rent it during our absence. Our embrace of simplicity lets us look forward to 11 weeks of living with “just the basics” with a sense of excitement rather than trepidation. Our minimalist journey has been a process of making space–space that was later filled by an opportunity we hadn’t even considered.

You can learn more about our adventures at www.inthebigpicture.com.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Megan and Jeff

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, Megan and Jeff tell us how they were inspired by the tiny house movement, and share details on how they’re downsizing their living space as well as their possessions.

Megan and Jeff write:

Megan and Jeff. Photo by Tanya Rist Photography.

Megan and Jeff. (Photo Credit: Tanya Rist Photography)

In December of 2013, we found ourselves looking for a simpler life. We had a 1600 square foot house that had been full of people for exactly 1 weekend of the 3 years we had lived there. We had, however, somehow managed to fill that space with things. Megan moved to Vegas 5 years before with just suitcases to her name, and Jeff had been moving the same boxes from place to place without opening them for years. Somehow we had both managed to let the things accumulate and take over our resources: not just the money to acquire and house them, but also the time spent repairing, cleaning, and keeping track of things. While looking for (& not finding) simpler living situations for ourselves & our Standard Schnauzer, we stumbled on Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.

People can and do live in approximately 10% of what we live with now? Cool!

We happened upon the last day of a great sale on tickets to their upcoming Las Vegas workshop and decided that would be our Christmas present to each other–investigating a different future. By the time the workshop came, we were mid-move to a 1200 sf house. After our 2 day workshop, we were both “all in.” This was part of the simpler life we had been looking for! Not long after, The Minimalists were stopping in Vegas on their 100 city tour–Megan and a friend had an amazing experience! Their book, Everything That Remains, was an amazing inspiration. To clearly understand that how we choose to spend our time everyday is a direct reflection of our priorities, was hard, but gratifying. We wanted to build a life that reflected those priorities. We began investigating both the Tiny House (& the movement of incredible people behind them) and the downsizing that would require.

Fast forward to today:

We are building a modified Linden (roomtosparetinyhouse.com), have founded a Las Vegas Tiny House Meetup Group, & have downsized so many of our things that much of our 1200 sf house is empty. Drawers & closets are empty, shelves & open areas have much more space. It’s freeing & causes an incredible feeling of accomplishment. It’s not always been easy, but what we have gained instead of those things are beyond measure: new friends, skills, self-knowledge. Jeff remembers me telling him on the drive home after meeting BA from A Bed Over My Head, “I’ve found my tribe!”

Because we’ve been so open about our journey, our friends and family understand that we don’t want or need physical gifts. Much of what we have downsized we have passed onto someone that wanted or needed to use that item now. It makes us feel much better knowing that the people around us are benefitting from something that we’re benefitting from at the same time. We tend to gift consumables and experiences our loved ones can share. So much of the reaction we’ve gotten is one of solidarity and support. If this last year is an indication of how the rest of our minimalist journey will be, we are both excited to see what possibilities we can continue to open for ourselves in future.

Thank you to everyone that has shared their stories here as well: we always look forward to reading the Monday Minimalist piece on miss minimalist. Each one opens up another aspect of what we might be able to do next or differently to get closer to our goal: simple and fulfilling living. Send us a message if you find yourself near Las Vegas, or if you want to connect electronically–we love to make like-minded friends!

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Becca

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 have a wonderful contribution from Becca. She’s one year into her minimalist journey, and shares with us her challenges and triumphs along the way—as well as the joy and peace a simpler lifestyle has brought her.

Becca writes:

I began my journey to minimalism/simple living in March of 2014. My family and I had a very rough year with two significant deaths that radically changed my perspective on, well, everything as they often do. I knew my life was heading in a completely different direction, but was ready for it all the same, although I truly didn’t know how or where to begin. After discovering the tiny house movement, which lead to many other facets of simplified living including minimalism, I decided to begin the process. For some reason, I really felt inside that this is was what I was supposed to do. My plan was to get my finances in order, purge my possessions, quit my job, sell my house, then move back to my hometown to be closer to family.

In regards to the finances, I attended a free budgeting course at a local credit union which was very helpful. It basically followed the principles of the Dave Ramsey method. I had credit card debt and this allowed me to pay it off fairly quickly. I also eliminated anything I could that was not a necessity like cable TV and also buying anything that was not a necessity. If I needed clothing, it came from Goodwill and if I needed a book or movie, it came from my local library. I was able to save more money then I could have imagined in doing this.

As for purging, I donated most everything. For most things, I didn’t have a problem in letting go. I would forget them as soon as I dropped them off it seemed, but for others it was a bit harder. I would tell myself that maybe, just maybe I could hold onto it and see if it could be used at some point even though I knew that in reality it wasn’t so. Part of this process was changing my thoughts and old beliefs about possessions and how they affected me or made me feel. In the long run I figured out that having all these possessions did not and still do not bring me satisfaction. It can only come from within myself. It is based on the individual. No one can tell you what to keep and what to let go of. Only you can decide that.

Quitting my job was a bit harder. I knew that it had to be done, but it did not ease the stress or anxiety of it. I had been there for seven years and thought that I would remain there indefinitely. Everyone hated to see me go and were quite shocked when I made the announcement that I was leaving, but by that point I had made up my mind and my heart. There was no going back. My last day was only nine short weeks ago, but feels much longer. Do I miss it? Some of the people that I had gotten close to over the years, yes, but surprisingly not much else I have to say. My job took up most of my time during the week. The hours were mostly long and the days so often hectic. Then there was the commute which always ended with sitting in traffic for way too long. I would come home in the evening and be utterly exhausted, not wanting any contact with the outside world. Spending too much time sitting in a fog on the couch surfing the internet to pass the time until I went to sleep, got up, and did the whole routine all over again. Two days off just really was not enough for me to recharge. I had made the job my main focus which is not surprising. I had to pay my bills and that was that. But in doing that, I had lost sight of what truly makes me tick. Who was I? Where was I going? What were my likes or dislikes? I could not say for sure because I honestly did not know.

The house I am now selling is my first house. At 950 sq feet, it is not large by America’s standards, but too large for me I realized. I did not use the extra bedroom, bathroom, or dining room which caused me to rethink how much space I really needed to be comfortable. Now that the house was basically cleaned out I could see that it wasn’t as much as I origionally thought. I spent the last two years fixing it up unaware at the time that I was just to turn around and sell it, but I’m glad that I did. It was certainly a learning experience as I did most of the work myself, Google becoming my closest friend. I will miss the house in some ways, but not the maintenance and the worry it almost always seemed to cause me. I’m not saying that owning a home is a bad thing, I would encourage anyone that desires that to feel free to make it happen. For myself and this period in my life though, I desire simple. I felt that a mortgage made me feel trapped and I didn’t want that feeling any longer. I currently live with my mom in my hometown. She lives upstairs and I live downstairs. Now some people may be thinking this is actually a step backwards for an almost 35 year woman, but for me not so much. I’ve lived with my mom for a large portion of my life when I think about it, so it doesn’t seem like an odd thing to me. We get along wonderfully and she does her thing and I do mine. Plus, we have each other to lean on if needed which was much more difficult when I was living two hours away. Will I stay here forever? Probably not. I will eventually move on, but for now I’m happy here. I have what I need and nothing more.

I can tell you now from experience how much lighter, focused, more peaceful, happier, and free I feel with less. I am eating better, sleeping better, and taking care of myself better. Taking some time off from working has also helped. I can’t imagine going back to old ways and habits. Even though I have gotten rid of a large amount of stuff and moved to a smaller space, I am still finding things to get rid of. The best part is, realizing that I really don’t need to own that much or have a huge space to maintain joy in my life. Connecting with family and friends and creating experiences that lead to great memories is what truly counts. This is what I strive for in the new year and beyond. There were some people who were not as receptive as I would have hoped during this process, but I knew this was a probability. At the end of the day, remaining true to myself is the greatest act of self love I could have ever committed. This new life does not and will not fit everyone, but suits me just fine.

So, now after all this do I know where I am or where I’m going? Well, not exactly, but I can say that each day I feel like I’m getting a bit closer. It’s wonderful to have found not only the courage, but also opportunity to find out.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Betsy

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 Betsy, who tells us how her travels inspired her minimalist journey. Please visit her blog to read more about her experiences.

Betsy writes:

Betsy

Betsy

Hello friends. My name is Betsy Ramser Jaime and I blog weekly at www.betsyramser.com. In January 2013, I embarked on an 11 month 11 country mission trip around the world. During that year I lived out of a Osprey Ariel 75 backpack and a Patagonia day back. A few years before this trip I had been a business & fashion student living in NYC so everything that I was doing was a complete departure from what I was accustomed to. A huge step outside my comfort zone.

Although difficult at first (and strenuous on my petite 108 pound frame) I came to enjoy the simplicity of the backpacker lifestyle. I found a joy in really appreciating the items I owned but was no longer so attached to my clothes and “stuff” that I couldn’t let go of things.

Prior to 2013, I always really feared losing my luggage. The thought of being without my beloved clothes, shoes, and accessories was horrifying to me. However, once I started living out of a backpack, I came to realize that I valued the experiences so much more than any single possession that I owned.

I wanted the travels and adventure more than anything I had left at home. I remember sitting outside our home in Uganda and thinking that I couldn’t even remember most of what I had left behind.

During my year of travels I actually met and fell in love with the man who is now my husband. We both returned to the U.S. in December 2013 and came to a mutual decision that we wanted to downsize our lifestyles. Although we were both in our mid twenties and didn’t own too much between us, we still wanted to start our marriage living with less.

Through our experiences around the world, we had both adopted a mindset and philosophy of minimalism and simplicity. The next step for us was to replicate that philosophy in each tangible area of our life.

A second, more practical reason for the changes was that my husband had decided to go back to school. We didn’t want to take out student loans to pay for his schooling and came to the decision that we preferred to live simplistically and frugally and put the money that we would save towards paying his tuition each semester.

We went through each room of our home and gathered bag after bag of items for Goodwill. Although it might seem silly, there was so much freedom from decluttering and letting go of our possessions.

During the decluttering process, we let go of things that had not been used in at least a year. We took it one room at a time: wardrobe, closets, kitchen, bedroom, office, etc.

We continuously go around the house and closets each month and find a new bag of things to give away. We are constantly re-evaluating and letting go of more.

While I feel as though I have what I need, I no longer need to spend so much of my free time shopping. In fact, I decided to stop shopping for an entire year from September 2014 until September 2015. So far, I am so happy with each of the changes we’ve made.

Overall, since making these alterations to our lifestyle we have such a sense of peace and joy in our lives. We still have so much to figure out but we don’t find our happiness in comparing ourselves or our lifestyle to those around us but by staying true to ourselves.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Melissa

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 meet Melissa, who tells us how her family’s new home inspired them to embrace a minimalist lifestyle.

 

Melissa & family

Melissa & family

Melissa writes:

My husband and I began our minimalist journey last year when we bought our first house. When we walked into the solid log home, we fell in love. It was staged minimally for showing, and we adored how the gorgeous wood walls and architecture took center stage. We knew that filling it with all of our belongings would destroy that beauty.

In the month before we moved in, we took load after load of items to Goodwill. We realized that once we got rid of the stuff, we no longer needed storage furniture for it. We gave away dressers, shelving units, storage containers, and hutches. Our belongings were at least a thousand pounds lighter on move-in day.

Our new house includes a 1600 square foot garage. Yes, larger than many houses! When friends visit, they exclaim over the empty space and suggest things we could buy to fill it. But we see potential in the space, not in the items that we could store in it. It is a space where my husband can spread out his woodworking tools during a project. It can become a playground when our daughter wants to run, dance, and cartwheel during cold or rainy weather. We can do messy crafts, exercise, and play party games. We want to use that space to do things rather than to own things.

Six months after our move, we are as in-love with our new home as ever, and we owe much of that to our commitment to minimalism. We stick to a rule of “one item in, one item out,” and we often tip the scale drastically towards “out.” We have a donation box in the house that we add to daily. Other than the dresser that my husband and I share and a dresser for our daughter, we stick to the storage that the house provides: closets and cabinets, many of which have empty space. We have not added a single shelf, and there is nothing under the beds. After experimenting with a season of Project 333, I now dress full-time with a capsule wardrobe, which has been a liberating experience.

More than a reduction in belongings, discovering minimalism has launched a monumental change in our lifestyle. We no longer shop mindlessly, we don’t browse, and we don’t expose ourselves to advertising. We allow our own experiences tell us what we need in our lives instead of outside forces telling us what we should want. We have formed the habit of routinely questioning an item’s usefulness in our lives, and getting rid of it if it doesn’t serve us. When we are able to eliminate the unnecessary, we feel freer, lighter, and healthier, as if our lives are trees and we have pruned off the dead branches. Too much stuff is a burden we don’t ever want to bear again!

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Gene

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, Gene shares the details of his minimalist journey with us—and a wonderful photo that radiates the joy and freedom of a simplified life!

Gene writes:

Gene

Gene

Like so many people I had accumulated plenty of stuff. Ok, to be fair much of it was junk. As George Carlin is famous for pointing out, when it’s yours its “stuff” but when it is somebody else’s its “junk”. As in “Move your ‘junk’, I need a place for my ‘stuff’”. But I eventually realized that much of my “stuff” was in fact just “junk”.

Well, shortly after my divorce I discovered a TV show called “Hoarders”. My ex had taken most of her “junk” and so any mess that remained was entirely mine. The pattern was always the same, I would watch a half hour of the show and then hit pause and spend the next 90 minutes cleaning and sorting and purging. Anything I could do to distance my home from the one I just saw on TV made me feel just a bit better. Now in all fairness I was never a ‘hoarder’ but I do now recognize that I gained a certain amount of ‘comfort’ from having “stuff”…err I mean “junk”. My floors were mostly visible and if you came into my place with a shovel you wouldn’t discover any dead cats or raccoons. But admittedly my place was a bit cluttered. And so too did my life also feel a bit cluttered and encumbered.

I was always thrifty but I sometimes mistook buying a ‘bargain’ as the less expensive option even when really buying nothing at all would have saved me even more money. For example, after I had started down my minimalist path I was dragged at midnight on Thanksgiving to Best Buy. I needed nothing but when I saw a $7 panini maker I knew I had to have it. The little voice on my shoulder that was reminding me of my commitment to simplicity was beaten down by the old voice that couldn’t turn down a bargain. Well long story short – I don’t think I made more then 4 panini sandwiches with the darned thing before I decided it needed to go with the rest of the “stuff” to Goodwill.

I live in a major city where I can get away without having a car which further simplifies my life. Walking, biking, public transit, ZipCar and Uber meet most of my transportation needs.

I have pared down my belongings donating or throwing away things that no longer added any value to my life.

Books that wont be read again go to the library donation bin or to friends. I had once viewed overflowing book cases as a sort of intellectual trophy case to be displayed. No more.

All my many hundreds of CDs and DVDs have been put into sleeve binders. This act alone generated several garbage bags full of cases and created a surprising amount of space in my living room. In addition all my CDs have been ripped to MP3 and have also been uploaded to iTunes Match.

I have pared down my wardrobe as well. Clothes that I don’t ever wear I take on vacation. Why? Well I wear them one last time and then throw them away. No dirty laundry to bring back home with me. Although my friends have inquired why I tend to wear tacky or torn shirts in the photos from Disney World that I post on Facebook.

Now when I buy something I always ask myself if I need it.

I do allow myself a little retail therapy but I try to keep it to stuff that is small and functional. For example – I just the other day read an article that mentioned what the author described as the “worlds best mechanical pencil”. I found it online and bought it. OK, over $30 for a pencil might sound silly. But the thing really is a joy to write with and I wont be tripping over it.

And it’s not just stuff. I have tried to simplify other areas of my life as well. Fewer distractions so I can work towards focusing on those things that really do matter in my life. And the money that I save from buying stuff can go towards having experiences. And barring early onset of dementia those memories will far outlast my “stuff”.

I can say there are many purchases in my life that I regret. But there is not a single vacation or beer with friends that I would trade the memory of for any sort of refund.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Abbie

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, Abbie shares an honest, thought-provoking perspective on the psychological aspects behind her decluttering. I’m sure many of us can relate to the issues of control and finding balance.

Abbie writes:

My grandparents saved because of their experiences with economic struggle. My parents saved because they were taught not to waste anything – one could use that or need it in the future, best to keep it until then. I saved because if you get rid of that, someone’s feelings will be hurt.

You know those boxes you have? The ones you are going to go through, when you have enough time? Everytime I moved, they moved and brought their friends.

Control issues do not stop once one is no longer a toddler. Control is one of the most important things we all deal with every day; control of ourselves, our actions, our environment. I lost control when I took the winter lay-off from work. I lost control when my partner lost control of their emotions. I lost control when I didn’t have the money to get into town from where we live. I lost control when the anhedonia took over.

“Wouldn’t it be easier if the cat was dead?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if my partner died?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if I had no family or friends to complicate my life?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if I were dead?”

Maybe. But not really.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to not have so many thoughts swirling around my head?”

Yes.

What do you like about walking into hotel rooms? Why do you feel drawn to them? Sure, they appear clean and your hands did not need to do it. But it’s more than that. Your *stuff* isn’t there. Not physically. Not emotionally.

This was my starting point. I refused to reach my next milestone birthday without trying to let go of at least some of my physical clutter. I’ve been working on my emotional clutter since my early 20s. It was time to work on the physical; to peel away that which covers to find that which matters.

In the last three years, we have had many changes in our lives. We moved from 165m2 with a single car garage, in a town, to 48m2 with a small shed, 45 minutes from the city. We went from not too much stuff to quite a full house – and it wasn’t just the things.

Living as the partner of someone with PTSD is not necessarily easy. They need a lot of space to spread out their thoughts so they can rifle through them and try to make the raging torrent of emotion make sense. Because of the lack of emotional control and stability, their physical environment suffers too. The depression and anxiety tell them so many lies that they start to believe these lies. My partner “stacks things big,” then feels overwhelmed by being surrounded by them and, after a short while, gives up.

I started to feel like I was drowning in the emotions and physical possessions in our house. Thank goodness I’ve been through the counselling I have so when I recognized my own distress, I understood that I can only control my own belongings and my own actions. That is when the purge started. I was still trying to “manage” my partner’s emotions and responses but that is a tale for another time.

Clothes that may fit in at a nebulous future date? Donated.
Books that will “someday” get read? Traded for credit.
Owning 7 sets of sheets for one bed and 3 sets of blankets? Extras to the Humane Society.
Fabric, wool, and notions, bought on spec, in case I someday care about sewing or knitting? To the charity store.
Extra chairs? Burned.
Too many bookcases? Found new homes.

As I took back control of myself and my own space, it became easier to let go of trying to shore up my partner’s emotions. My partner took to purging belongings on good days so that when the bad days come back around, there were less physical things that felt like suffocation. We worked together to let go of those “ideal self” pictures with all the hobbies and projects. I do not buy on speculation and my partner and I work together to limit the projects we bring into our lives.

It is an ongoing process. I have, in some ways, swung too far. On bad days, I sometimes try to get rid of everything. This is where living in partnership comes in handy. My partner talks me down, just like I do for them on their bad days.

I’m still working on finding balance.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Samantha

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 Samantha, who explains how selling their home has enabled her and her husband to live more intentionally and pursue their dreams. Please visit her blog to read more of her writing.

Samantha writes:

Samantha

Samantha

It didn’t take me long after buying our house to see how our materialism was eating away at our priorities.

Our spare time, energy and money were spent paying for, maintaining, cleaning and making plans for an edifice to live in. It seemed unnecessary and wasteful. And I didn’t like what it was doing to my marriage or to my soul.

My husband and I had dreamt of buying our first house. And while many suffered during the housing crisis, as first-time homebuyers, we benefited from it. We bought our house at a good price and a great interest rate. We saw lots of room for improvement and imagined the fat check we’d get someday when we’d sell our house in an improved market.

But I soon felt restless about owning this home. This house was a reflection of the life I was living. And I didn’t like the look of it.

I was pursuing the American Dream unintentionally. I was going to school for public relations. And a year after buying our home, I landed a good first job in marketing. I was succeeding in every possible way. At least that’s the way it looked. But that’s not how it felt.

I wasn’t grateful for the new job I had. I wasn’t grateful for the beautiful character home I lived in. I was becoming very restless with the way I was living my life and I knew I needed to make a change.

And I did change.

I left my job and pursued my dream of being a writer.

I started getting rid of all of my stuff. Slowly, but steadily. I didn’t know it yet, and I certainly had no goal of becoming one, but I was turning into a minimalist. Not to follow some trend or save money or anything like that. It just seemed a natural response to what was going on in my heart and my mind. I was weeding out the stuff in my life I felt was holding me back from living the life I wanted.

And yet there was this house. My husband and I no longer wanted to own a home. It wasn’t worth it to us. It was more expensive to maintain a home than we’d imagined. On top of that, our priorities had changed over the three years we owned the home and we no longer desired the space or autonomy owning a home brought.

Instead of this home being a haven of peace and a sanctuary for us, it was a constant reminder of how much time, money and energy we’d spent maintaining and cleaning it.

And we wanted out.

We breathed new life into our dream of moving across the country just to try living somewhere different. It’s something we’d always wanted to do. Finding out some family and friends were moving out of state was the catalyst for us pursuing our dream. So we put our house up for sale.

We sold our home this summer. We’re moving out of state in two months. And we have no plans of buying a home again.

Selling our home and moving out of state are two of the ways we are choosing to live life more intentionally, which requires us to minimize the stuff in our lives that doesn’t matter so much.

Today, we’re weeding out that which holds us back from pursuing what matters most to us. That means living with less stuff. That means choosing more risks and less security. It means making choices intentionally and not operating out of habit.

And it doesn’t feel like I’m giving up anything at all. It feels like I’m gaining a whole lot more. And I am.

{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.}