I started moving towards minimalism before I even realized I had stepped foot on the trailhead.
A few years ago, I started getting really into tiny houses, just because I liked the idea of living small, having all your belongings around you, not spread out stringing your mind and worries with them. I saw living small as simple freedom. In my backyard I had a shed I had built my freshman year of high school for beers and poker with my friends. One day in the early Chicago spring of my senior year I can remember looking out at it and thinking ‘I’ve got a damn tiny house right there.’
Soon there after I began the process of converting the simple plywood and lumber box into a livable space (a story I will tell another time). After a month or two it was move in ready, and I had to start the unexpectedly harder process of picking which of my belongings to bring into ‘The Barn’.
Up until that point in my life I had lived far from the pursuit of simplicity. I spent my young years chasing gadgets and gear and clothing, hanging on to each item as long as I could. In reality my bedroom and the rest of the basement was full of things I didn’t need, but was grateful to have.
The more I got into tiny homes and the idea of living in my own, the more I wanted to separate from all that stuff. Rather than sit down and go through it, I took a few of my favorite shirts, pants, books, and other memento into the barn with me, leaving the rest sitting idle and unused down in the basement.
I lived out that summer in the old poker shed at the edge of my backyard and, other than going down to grab a shirt every now and then, the majority of my belongings spent the summer collecting dust. I realized that there was a bigger problem I needed to address, but I was going off to school so I just applied the same philosophy as I did for the barn; take with me what I like.
I was only away at school for a few weeks before I came home to do some reevaluating of my life and its direction, but while there I didn’t think about all the excess I had left at home. I was too busy with the excess I had there at school. Yes, I couldn’t believe it either, but somehow, even when only having brought what I ‘liked,’ I had more than I needed.
Anyways, I moved back home, threw everything in my room, and just ignored it as the cold Chicago winter approached. I kept myself busy with a dream I had to bike cross country that summer (another story I will tell later); working 3 jobs, spending hours researching, planning, and training in the dark early mornings.
In the spring, however, I was forced to face my problem of excess face to face. Around the same time as I came up with the idea to move out to the barn the year before, I had knee surgery and all the things that had occupied me earlier that year were gone. Instead I spent my time split between my bed and my couch. I really started to have a problem with all my unnecessary, unused belongings.
I remember sitting in my bed looking into my open closet at the heaps of clothes and overflowing drawers stocked from years of never throwing a thing out. It drove me crazy. Maybe I became a bit obsessive, but, for whatever reason, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else when surrounded by clutter. I tried putting things away, organizing, tidying up, but I always ended up back where I started; feeling drowned by all the things and possessions I held on to.
One day I had enough. I decided to do something about it; a big ole purge. I hobbled around my room getting rid of what I thought was excess. At first it was easy, tossing t-shirts from little league or middle school events into the goodwill pile, and paper from school years past into the trash. But, after a week, all I had to show for it was two half full plastic bags full of my shit. I donated what I could and threw the rest out. At the time, I actually felt pretty accomplished.
Just a month or two later I was having that same drowning in clutter feeling. The bike trip was approaching and I just decided to give it my best minimalistic effort. Although I was riding all the way to Los Angeles, I ended up packing my bike with less than I had the year prior, when I rode from Seattle to Portland, a much shorter journey.
On the trip I kept in mind all that I had sitting back at home and only allowed myself to buy what I absolutely needed. Even so, at the halfway point of the ride in Amarillo, Texas, both my riding partner and I ended up shipping about 10 pounds of gear and clothes off to our destination in LA. We found we were carrying things we simply didn’t need, and all that extra weight was starting to take its toll. We finished up the rest of the 60 day trip with only the absolute necessities, and I realized then just how little I could actually live on.
Once in LA we got a ride up to Santa Barbara where I spent a month living in my compadre’s apartment with only the gear from the trip and a few extra necessities my mom shipped out (new shoes, sweatshirt, etc.).
Living with so little, not just on the road as a traveling vagabond, but actually in society, I knew it was time to make a full hearted effort at simplifying my possessions, and ultimately my life. I had discovered that the more you own, not only does it weigh you down physically, but also mentally and emotionally. As I prepared to come home I knew I had a month before I was to head back to school, so I made a plan.
With some advice from a decluttering book I lightly skimmed at my sisters place in Santa Monica, I developed a philosophy; keep only which brings me happiness and/or productivity.
When I arrived home 3 weeks ago I immediately got to work, first starting with the easiest group of shit; clothes. I laid out every piece of clothing I had, separated into categories, and went through, piece by piece, deciding whether it was worth keeping or not. Many times a shirt or a pair of shorts would evoke a memory or an emotion, and my mind would start coming up with reasons to keep it, but I always remembered how little I had lived with on the road and in California. Most of the time I ended up realizing I didn’t need nor did I really want it.
I finished with 5 large bags completely full, and a much, much more empty closet. Happy and proud I moved on to the tougher items, such as books and mementos, with vigor, going forward swift and strong. It took a few weeks but in the end I now find myself sitting on my bed looking around at my clean, decluttered, simple room feeling happy and relieved.
I know I am young, and I know I didn’t have much to begin with in terms of today’s excess society, but I am proud and I feel much simpler. I am bringing almost all of my belongings to school for the true start of my higher education and yet I am still bringing substantially less than I did last year.
I believe living a simple life with only what you need is crucial to happiness and success as it leaves room for other, more meaningful, non-materialistic pursuits.
A simple life though, a minimalistic life, is a process, and I have been working towards it for a while. I know I will continue to keep working, always keeping my belongings in check, recognizing what is important to me.
The more you own, the less you live.