To me, minimalism means clearing out the clutter of my life to make room for the important things. Some of the important things in my life include periods of solitude, reading, travelling, walking and hiking, spending time with friends and family, and volunteering. I also like the work I do in seniors’ care, so I often put in extra hours.
When I was married, I lived in a large 3,000 square-foot home in middle-class St. Albert, a bedroom community outside of Edmonton, Alberta. Weekends were spent cleaning and doing yard work (shovelling snow in winter), making purchases to better decorate the home, and organizing. Spring cleaning, fall cleaning, preparations for birthdays and holidays, busy, busy, busy. There were only three of us in the house. If I was in the downstairs living room, I could be completely disassociated with Mimi watching television in the upstairs bonus room and George hanging out in her bedroom.
Was this the life I signed up for? Middle class house in a middle class neighbourhood, with middle-class friends, two cars, and a household of possessions designed to impress visiting friends, but which only caused me to feel like a slave? It wasn’t long before I started waking up in the middle of the night pacing in front of the windows like a caged tiger.
When Mimi and I split up, I took only my clothes and a few personal items. (Note that Mimi, George, and I all have a great relationship with one another; it wasn’t an awful breakup at all). I went back to the house several times afterward to clean up possessions I had accumulated over the years – nine full-sized shelves filled to capacity with books (all of which I actually read), 350 items in my bobble head collection (what was I thinking?), and five large boxes of trophies I had won in sports and other competitions since I was a child. The books I sold and donated and the bobble heads went to the Salvation Army at Christmas. The trophies were tougher to part with. My soccer buddies said I was crazy to dump them – “Those trophies represent your life of sports and competition! You must keep them and give them to your grandchildren!” I stressed about it for a while. In the big house, I had built a shelving unit across an entire wall in the basement, where I had displayed these records of my achievement. When I showed them to visitors, I got the sense that nobody really cared. I realized my legacy was not going to be these physical representations of my successes. I would be remembered for how I treated people, for how I made them feel. “I remember him because he had lots of trophies,” was said by, well, no one. “I remember him as being a kind and gentle man”, is more common. And more meaningful.
So I took all of my trophies and laid them out on the living room floor in my new condo. I invited George over to see them and I shared some stories about the ones that were more meaningful to me. I took some pictures of them and then stripped the name plates from them. I threw out the name plates and donated the trophies. It was liberating beyond expression.
Later, in a moment of reflection, I deleted the photos of my trophies. The only records of those accomplishments now lay with the organizations that presented those awards.
Ditching most of my possessions has left me free to seize opportunities that would have been difficult to grab hold of living in a big house with a big mortgage and lots of possessions.
Recently, I seized just such an opportunity. I relocated to Rocky Mountain House from Edmonton, Alberta, to work for a non-profit. I accepted the position on a Friday, threw everything I owned into my car (it actually ended up taking three carloads to bring everything I owned to Rocky), and by Monday I had taken over the lease of an apartment. I started my first day of work that morning.
No delay because of a move. No moving expenses. Simple transition.
My apartment is partially furnished. It has a bed, desk, two chairs, a kitchen table, and a comfy chair. It is all I need.
All of my clothes fit in one closet. My books fit in there too.
My lifestyle is simple. I have no TV. If there’s something I am really keen on watching, such as World Cup soccer, I head down to the local pub. It’s more fun there anyway because I meet interesting people who can become quite passionate about their favourite teams. I read books (especially love my e-reader) and follow blogs online. I like crossword puzzles and sometimes get inspired to write. Most of the time, when I’m not working, I’m out walking or hiking. I love my solitude when I can get it. I volunteer on the Board of the Alberta Caregivers Association. I eat a vegetarian diet and cook most of my food myself. I hang out with my friends.
I drive an older model car (2002), which is paid off. It’s a simple sedan with no extras, except for remote lock. No air conditioning, no automatic windows, no heated seats, no reverse camera. It needs a new passenger-side mirror that was broken in a parking lot hit-and-run, but I don’t want to pay the $650 to get it fixed. The car meets my needs; I’m not in competition with the Joneses, so I don’t need to impress anyone with a better looking vehicle.
I spend less than I earn. I am debt free now, so my savings go toward helping others, a retirement fund, and some future projects I am planning. Once the basic needs are met, I don’t see a reason to live a more expensive lifestyle, just because the earnings are there. Doing so just traps people in a lifestyle that offers no flexibility. When the higher income is required to just meet the daily lifestyle needs, there is no opportunity to explore work options in another industry or to simply take time off to explore volunteering or travel opportunities. Probably most of us can live on a lot less than we currently earn. It’s just a matter of priorities.
Some people might find my lifestyle a bit boring. I don’t pay for expensive vacations, I don’t pay the exorbitant costs of downhill skiing, I only golf once or twice a year with my soccer buddies, and I don’t have expensive hobbies. That’s OK, my lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
On the other hand, I enjoy plenty of outdoor adventures that are free; often I only have to pay for the gas to drive myself to an adventure. I camp out in a tent or sleep in my car in the mountains instead of paying $150+ per night for accommodations, only to have a bed to sleep in. It just doesn’t make sense to me to spend so much on so little when a tent and my car are so comfortable and my options so much more flexible.
I’m enjoying my minimalist life. I enjoy living life slowly. And because my income requirements are so small, I have freedom about where I choose to work, which makes the work I’m doing so much more enjoyable. I’m not a slave to it. I do it because I love it. There is much I want to accomplish in Rocky with my work. There will be change, but it will happen slowly, so I’ll be here in this rural town for a while.
I live a life of quality, not quantity. There just isn’t any way for me to go back to my old lifestyle.