An Accidental Minimalist
I used to have lots of stuff. All kinds of stuff. I’m pretty sure that George Carlin’s famous comedy routine about stuff was based on me. I had work stuff, personal stuff, sport stuff, household stuff, workshop stuff, school stuff – there was an endless amount of stuff. Of course I had to have somewhere to put all of my stuff, so I had a big house. And as George would say, “A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” I loved my stuff and I loved my big house… or so I thought.
Over time my stuff started to get heavy, and not just in physical terms. It weighed on my spirit, my conscience, my happiness. The stuff became clutter. It was in the way. Some of my stuff had gone unused for years. I started to feel irresponsible and wasteful. Did I really need all of this stuff?
I also started to question my choice of home. One day when cleaning, I realized I was standing in a bedroom that I hadn’t been in for over three months. The sole purpose for the room was to hold stuff I didn’t need. It was excessive.
I started to realize just how unhappy my stuff and my big home had made me. I had spent too much time, money and effort trying to keep up with the Jones’ and making choices based on what other people expected of me. It was time for a change. When my first wife and I divorced, I took the opportunity to make a long overdue move from my big house in the suburbs to an 800 square foot condo in downtown Ottawa.
It was a shock. My condo seemed small and had no room for my stuff, so I started to unload the excess. I donated clothes and furniture to good will, gave sporting goods to friends, sold items online, and recycled those items for which I couldn’t find a home.
It wasn’t easy. I was attached to my stuff. I tried to convince myself that every item had a story, a use or reason to keep it. But the reality was that most of my stuff had gone unused for months or years. I stuck to my plan and continue to purge.
In time it not only became easier to let my stuff go, it became cathartic. I felt as if a weight was being lifted off my shoulders. My small condo suddenly seemed spacious and I felt good knowing that my stuff was now with people who needed it and would use it.
I realized that living in a smaller space was not restrictive, but liberating. I didn’t have stuff weighing on me, my condo could be cleaned quickly and the cozy size made it feel like a lived in home, not a big storage space that I didn’t really use. The time I saved cleaning my small condo was spent going for walks, visiting friends and being active. And by purchasing a smaller condo vs. a big home, I could afford to live downtown, close to restaurants, parks, libraries, work, the grocery store and the gym. I walked everywhere and got to know my community rather than simply viewing it through a car window.
I was happier. I was living my life dictated by my needs and not by what I could afford.
It was then that a friend commented, “You’re quite the minimalist.” A what? I had never heard the term, so I investigated and found a description of minimalism by Leo Babauta, author of the popular blogs, Zen Habits and mnmlst. Leo writes…
Minimalism is simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much. It’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly.
So, am I a minimalist? Not on purpose. Perhaps I’m an accidental minimalist. I did make changes to my life that could be considered minimalist in nature, but I don’t aspire to be labeled a minimalist. I have simply found more happiness in… simplicity.