This past weekend we sold most of our stuff at a yard sale, gave some things to family to keep, then donated the leftovers to charity. Yes, pretty close to everything: like 80% of what we owned! I’m now sitting on our single remaining couch (to be given to my brother in the next couple weeks) watching TV on our computer, because we don’t even own a TV anymore, The majority of our clothes – especially our former corporate attire – were donated to a mental health and addiction recovery center in town.
In a month we’re moving into our 160-square-foot vintage Airstream (plus a little bit of extra storage in the bed of our truck) and everything that’s not essential or useful for full-time camping must go. Why would anyone voluntarily live in such a small space if they had the means not to? Well, by living in a smaller space, everything costs less – utility bills, maintenance, insurance – and that extra money in our pockets can mean working fewer hours and having much more of the single thing that money can never buy: time.
As far as our current state of mind goes, we’re still processing the overwhelming implications of being nomads and the many conflicting emotions wrapped up in this rapid shedding of the things we’d spent our whole lives accumulating. When we first started sorting our belongings into “keep”, “sell”, “donate” and “trash” piles a month ago, there was an initial twinge of sadness at selling off not just what we owned, but also largely who we were for the past 30 years — one room, closet, or item at a time. We identified so much with those things we had owned. It took some time to learn to adapt to and embrace our new minimalist identities.
You are not your things. – Tyler Durden, Fight Club
We of course felt guilt when giving away gifts that family and friends bestowed upon us, but have thoughtfully re-gifted many belongings in the hopes of passing on the happiness they brought us. We’re learning to place more weight on the memories and sentiment behind them, instead of on the tangible items themselves.
There will be a box or two of our most special (and irreplaceable) keepsakes that our parents will keep for us, and also some heirloom furniture on long-term loan to family members. Most of our tools and other various home maintenance items are staying in our house while it’s rented, but there is no expensive storage unit full of lots of extra possessions that we plan on returning to.
Detaching memories and feelings from objects is very hard. We’ve been conditioned since birth to collect things and attach complicated emotions to them, just like we do with comfort foods and experiences. Advertisers tell us to buy things we didn’t even know we needed and borrow money to do it, to want what’s newer even if the old works just fine, and to engage in retail therapy when we’re feeling down. What they don’t tell you is that the less time you spend consuming, the more time you spend creating. It’s probably not a coincidence that some of the best thinkers and inventors are minimalists!
There was a time not long ago when saving up for a new gadget or “nesting” in our well-decorated and nicely-appointed house was enough to be somewhat content. We did our best to pretend we didn’t hate going to work separately 5 days a week while clinging desperately to those too-short evenings and precious weekends together. After all, we at least got to spend that time in our lovely home with the belongings we had collected to make us feel marginally better about trading our time together for a steady paycheck. Paychecks were used to buy more things, or take expensive (but short) vacations to escape the life we weren’t enjoying.
Enough time went by that the cycle needed to be broken, or else we would break — probably sooner than later. We realized our version of happiness was mostly dependent on having more time together and was actually easily attainable, merely by having less stuff to worry about and getting to approach more of our normal days like we did our vacations.
So here we are: getting rid of almost everything, opting to hoard experiences instead of stuff — and hopefully becoming minimalists for the rest of our lives. Experiences can’t be lost, broken or stolen. They don’t have to cost much, are usually environmentally responsible, and involve bringing more true joy to your own life and others’. Did I mention they never need dusting or maintenance?? A lot of work and energy goes into maintaining a relationship with all your stuff — a lot more than you’d have to manage with a head full of memories!
We realize now, in retrospect, that many of the things we owned in the pursuit of contentment actually owned us instead, and robbed us of years of happiness. As we sorted through closets full of things we hadn’t used in ages (or ever), there just wasn’t any pride left in owning those items. We actually felt guilt, resentment, remorse at their cluttered existence in our lives. Why should mere objects have such power over us? We had purchased a bigger house just to store it all, but why? I guess because that’s just what you do.
I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what’s around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting. – Paul Graham
It’s hard to learn lessons about overspending and over-accumulating when you have enough room to store it all away and forget about it. We had duplicates of items because we’d lose one somewhere in our home and just buy another. We certainly didn’t appreciate what we had, because there was just too much of it to spend time using it all. Our house started to feel like it was just a place to keep stuff — not a place to feel relaxed and content. I’ve always liked the idea of owning stuff better than I actually like buying it or using it. We’re realizing that for us at least, there is a direct correlation between stuff and freedom, and we’re choosing freedom!
So that brings us back to now: I’m sitting here looking around the half-empty rooms of our home, surprisingly feeling my nerves settle a bit with each item that leaves our possession — an object no longer a source of worry, in need of cleaning, or requiring space to keep it. With each day that passes, rather than feeling panic, I feel calmness. In the next few weeks, almost all of the rest of our belongings will be sold, donated, or rented along with the house, and we will pull everything we own on the four wheels behind us. It’s a little bit terrifying of course, but a much larger bit thrilling! I think we’re really going to like this new minimalist adventure of ours.