Why I Became a Minimalist
Embracing a minimalist lifestyle.
About a decade ago I received bad news from a doctor. As I sat in the exam room, the doctor told me I had few options. He said I could move towards life in a wheelchair, go through significant surgeries, or stick with the current state of things and that I will progressively become worse. I felt like my life was in a really bad place.
Difficult medical prognoses aren’t something new to me. I’ve spent my entire life receiving bad news. As a child, I was an experiment: chopped up, physically manipulated, and dumped to the side. Doctors treated me with archaic methods that left nearly everyone extremely disabled.
This visit to the doctor sent me into a spiral and as a father of three incredible children, I began to panic. What do I do now? What if I can’t work and support my family? What do we do about all of our debt? What if I can’t walk my daughters down the aisle if they choose to get married? What if I can’t play with my son?
At the time, my life wasn’t exactly where I hoped and it wasn’t just my health. I disliked my work life, had six figures of debt, mostly student loans, and I wasn’t living the life I desired.
How do you think I initially responded? I want to tell you that I immediately responded with power, that I embraced minimalism, built my stage, and I made my greatest weakness–what has haunted me, scarred me, ruined periods of my life, made me an outcast and visibly different, fills me with uncertainty, leaves me immobile and much more–now my super power. I didn’t do any of that…at least not yet. That came later. Instead, I sat around and felt bad for myself.
It gets worse, my best friend and biggest supporter, my grandmother, died. Here I am with my own beautiful family, yet I am utterly lost.
My spiral continued. I read stacks of self-help books and even read about near-death experiences because dammit, at least there’s hope for a better life on the other side. I was desperate and spiraling.
I can’t say there was a certain day when everything began moving in a positive direction. But I do know that I worked to discover what I really wanted from life. I knew I really wanted to participate in building a better world and that I would use my skills of storytelling and my own experiences as my contribution. Just thinking about this goal was the first step to my rebirth.
But how do I reach this goal? I am in debt, miserable at work, declining health, and I have a family to support.
I discovered the idea of minimalism years ago in college. My instructor handed me Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Thoreau writes,
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Thoreau did exactly that and provided his template of how he led a minimalist lifestyle seeking to do what he deemed essential. I fantasized about his lifestyle. My encounters with minimalism picked up after the 2008 crash. Minimalism was receiving more attention because minimalism offered an anecdote to the plague of debt that helped cause the crash. I began to dive into minimalist writings and I began to view minimalism as a tool to get me focused on the essential and out of debt. I now had a way out of my mess.
What is essential to my life?
I found three things essential to my life:
- I need to provide for my family and this includes living in a safe environment with opportunities and having as much time as possible to experience life together.
- I want to share transformative stories, especially adaptive stories.
- I want to live my own story of adventure and perseverance. I want my children to see a parent that is striving for better despite challenges. All the other stuff can go. This includes houses, couches, closets full of clothes, shelves full of books, extra vehicles, keepsakes, toxic relationships, and a bunch of other stuff.
As I practiced minimalism and developed my own minimalist lifestyle, our family embraced their own forms of minimalism. This includes our three kids. We decluttered our lives in our own ways and moved to a much smaller home 2,000 miles across the United States, to a place full of sunshine and adventure.
I used three specific minimalist practices: spending less, focusing on the essential, and decluttering. My form of minimalism took shape based upon the fact that I was in a crisis, things weren’t working and I needed a system that could move me towards a life I love living. These three specific minimalist practices were easy to understand, tough to implement, and helped me realize my goal. But know this, minimalism is but just one tool of many tools I used to improve my position.
I received many benefits from incorporating minimalism and these include:
1. Spending less gives me more. I now need to work less, have less financial worries, and more time and energy.
Imagine a life where you release yourself from having to compete in the race to accumulate the latest and greatest? I removed myself from this race and no longer do I focus on home size, upgrades, new cars, wardrobes and all that other stuff. I now focus on experiences and relationships. I still have a comfortable home that suits our family and I don’t overextend myself.
If my health should get worse, I am financially prepared because of my minimalist approach towards finances. Now, I am not only completely debt free but I have also set myself up for a good future.
Additionally, by spending less, I am consuming less.
2. Saying no to commitments allows me to say yes to my goals. By minimizing things such as social commitments, relationships, volunteering, spending time on social media and more, I have more time and energy to focus on the things I find essential. This includes spending time with my family, creating, and adventuring outside. Time and energy are precious resources. Control how you expend these two resources.
3. Decluttering improved my space and mind. With a decluttered home, it’s easier for me to navigate and maintain my house. On a bad day, my mobility isn’t great and having less rooms and stuff to navigate and maintain makes my life easier. By getting rid of stuff, I began to feel less distracted in my space and I felt like I had room to create. As my space became decluttered, my mind did too. Read more about decluttering HERE.
4. I am happier. I was once a passenger letting life drive me; now I am the driver. Life already provides us challenges and in my case I do face significant challenges, yet I am fulfilled. I have the time and energy to chase exactly what I want to do in this life. Similarly, I have time to focus on my health and this includes training for athletic goals, time to focus on recovery, and more. I’m good with not having a McMansion, a new vehicle, and the latest in devices if it means I get more time to adventure with my family.
This is how I became a minimalist.
I really believe that if minimalism can work for me, then it can work for you. I don’t believe minimalism on its own is a cure for my challenges, but rather a very useful tool I rely on as I approach life. What do you think? Is minimalism something worth incorporating in your life?