This is the tale of how one wee lass (me) unwittingly became a Minimalist, and how finding greater happiness through simplicity is changing my life. This is not an attempt to get anyone to hop on my bandwagon, or to pass judgement on the typical “American Dream” lifestyle. This is purely an effort to show how at first by chance, and then by design I have become a Minimalist – thus improving my own life.
There is a movement taking place in America and around the world. People are becoming tired of trying to keep up with the Joneses and of never having enough stuff. The pursuit of happiness was replaced by the need to buy things regardless of whether or not you actually need it. Perhaps the problem is a cyclical one. We are replacing happiness with things – it leaves us empty – thus making us want to shop for more to fill the void. It is a frustrating endeavor. You work and work to get money to buy things and never have time to use those things because of work.
I think I have always been a Minimalist at heart, I just didn’t have a name for it. I can remember giving lectures to the other kids on my block about the evils of corporations, the deceptiveness of marketing, and why buying Guess Jeans makes you “a sheep”. I am not lying when I tell you I was talking like this at age 10. I grew up in a wealthy, white, republican community that valued things a great deal. My family wasn’t poor, but we were not in the same tax bracket as any of our neighbors. Mom and Dad both worked, and when we were able my brother and I got jobs as well. I didn’t get a brand new car on my 16th birthday, and I didn’t have a fancy graduation gift. We didn’t have enough for extravagances, so I grew up not really caring about having any.
As I grew older it became obvious that money and the stuff you can buy with money didn’t interest me. I didn’t want to spend my life working in an office to make money to buy things that I didn’t need. Over the years I have slowly been getting rid of “stuff”. Moving helps with that. I don’t pack every little thing I have ever bought. No sir. I have a large suitcase, a backpack and a carry-on size suitcase. That’s it. If it doesn’t fit in my bags I get rid of it. This helps me from keeping clothes that are a little old, or that don’t fit anymore. I don’t own a T.V., a microwave, a coffeemaker, a smart phone, ipad, or a car. Most of our kitchen things were hand me downs, as was the bedroom stuff.
Moving back to America after 7 years was an eye opener. I didn’t have much in Prague, and I didn’t want or need much there either. But almost as soon as I stepped foot on American soil I was bombarded with pressure to conform and pressure to buy. Ads everywhere the eye can see, and on the radio more ads telling me to go out and buy this or go out and eat that. There are homeless people everywhere I look here in Austin, and there are fast food wrappers lining the streets. Our need for high-speed convenience has gotten out of hand. The reality is that we have an incredible excess in our lives and the bigger problem is that we feel we deserve it. It’s hard for me to listen to complaints of a “Great Recession” when I see so much excess. America is bigger, fatter, and more greedy than ever.
I left America because I was overwhelmed, stressed and depressed. I was looking for answers and not finding any. So I changed my perspective and that changed my life. Leaving the country was my first major step towards Minimalism. I couldn’t take much with me, so I was forced to abandon or sell all of my things. Since that first time back in 2006, I have abandoned my “stuff” at least 5 other times. I spent the last 7 years simplifying my life. There is no hand book out there for how to live minimally, so I take it day by day. I know that getting rid of clothes you haven’t worn in over a year won’t make you instantly happy, but it will set you on the path to freedom.
You can get rid of all your material possessions and still be miserable. Trimming the fat is just the first step. Once I found that getting rid of things felt good, it cleared the way for my mind to focus on more important things like health, relationships, passions, growth and travel. I want to be able to give to the world beyond myself. For that to happen the focus needs to shift. I have tried to stop buying new things (food as an exception, of course) and donate my old. When I stopped needing to buy things I suddenly had more money. I was making enough money to cut my work hours in half and still have enough to live quite comfortably. I value my time more than money. Minimalism is a set of rules you make for yourself. It’s about getting rid of the things in life that weigh you down and don’t add value to your life. Even things you have already purchased.
Minimalist (and family man) Joshua Becker explains why getting rid of the old is just as important as not buying new. “Consider this, every possession we own—whether it be a car, a t-shirt, or an extra set of China—takes up space in our lives. This can most easily be seen in a physical sense. They take up physical space. As a result, we build shelves to store them, we move them around, we sort them, we organize them, we clean them.” How many times have you scrambled around your flat trying to find a pair of socks, or the umbrella? If you can’t find your things, you might have too many things. Everything we own from paper towels to cars take up mental and physical space. Trim the fat and make space for new, exciting adventures.”