I wrote this post a number of years ago and recently updated it for 2018.
I’m not sure when I first encountered the concepts of minimalism and living small but I think it was very early in my college experience. I attended a small, private (and rather narrowly minded) university in Southern California and it was there I discovered the historical accounts of the Essenes, Hindu mystics, and Buddhist monks who took voluntary vows of poverty to live with less.
By all accounts, theirs were lives of deprivation and yet I was strangely drawn to their lifestyles. It was decades later after I’d accumulated a huge house full of stuff, that I was able to appreciate the simplicity of living with less.
Like many middle-aged men with families, I, too, thought a fancier car, a bigger house, and more money could address the unhappiness I felt with my life. My various attempts to quell my unease resulted in purchasing items I didn’t need on credit and running up about $5,000 in consumer debt. With some help from my parents, I was able to get out from under the weight of that debt. It taught me a powerful lesson.
If I can’t afford it outright, I won’t buy it.
With the exception of educational debt, I’ve not entered into a long-term consumer debt agreement since. Even today, I have only a few credit cards, all with very low credit limits…and this is by design. Believe me, it takes a lot of persuading to get a credit card company to set a lower limit unless you have credit score issues.
I am pretty much debt averse; My BMW motorcycle is paid for, as is my car, a 2006 Ford Escape. My monthly expenses are minimal compared to those of the households in my area here in Orange County, California.
For years I compared myself with others because of not being a homeowner. My parents, siblings, and just about everyone I’ve ever known (even two of my four adult children) owns their own home. It used to cause me no little amount of suffering.
It wasn’t until I started reading Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the poetry of Walt Whitman that I began to understand those who’d chosen to live life deliberately – a life that was an alternative to living the lifestyle of consumerism and owning more for more’s sake- that I started my own journey.
Minimalism Is the New Black
About 10 or 11 years ago I started reading more about modern minimalism. I read blogs about owning less and living lightly. It seemed that minimalism was rapidly becoming the new black. Owning less, including property, suddenly became cool.
Steve Jobs was a multimillionaire and yet he chose to live simply without furniture and relatively few possessions. Even with a fortune at his disposal, he chose to live smaller and lighter.
I started following individuals like Colin Wright, Leo Babauta, and others who embraced the same ethic. They were enjoying life, living it fully while deliberately living a smaller life, owning less, and focusing on the truly important. I, too, wanted to own less and live more lightly.
Though I call myself a minimalist, I feel I still have too much in my life. I’ll go through phases where I’ll purge my house of unnecessary items and it still seems as if the backlog of crap is endless. I get disheartened and stop. But then I’ll start again. I’ve not yet attained that same level of light living as some of my friends, but I know that it’s where the journey will take me.
Minimalist Living is a Journey
The journey toward becoming minimalist is exactly that. It’s a journey. It’s one that requires constant vigilance to keep from giving in to impulse buys, opening credit card accounts to gain sky miles and travel points, or spending lavishly on the latest new gadgets, especially Apple gadgets (my weakness). I have to remind myself that I’m still on this journey and it’s not over until it’s over.
It’s not about owning 100, or 200 possessions. I really don’t care about the number of things I own. I prefer to own a few quality things, instead of lots of affordable things. I don’t think reaching any numerical goal is as important as being on the minimalist journey itself.
I’m on a minimalist path to achieve two objectives: 1) to rid myself of the extraneous, and more importantly, 2) to focus on the essential and the freedom that accompanies a lighter footprint.
The essentials are all I really need and I will remind myself of that tomorrow, the next day, and the anytime when I again begin purging my extraneous possession in order to find the level of living small that suits me.