Growing up, I could never have imagined that one day, I would tell the story of becoming a minimalist because, at the time, the idea of choosing to live with less was completely foreign to me.
But more about my story in a moment; first, let’s get clear about what it means to be a minimalist. If you’re not familiar with the term, I define a minimalist as someone who chooses to be intentional with what they allow in their life. Generally, this refers to “stuff” but it can also refer to people, tasks, or even ideas. Overall, the goal is to live an intentional life with more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
A minimalist mindset is a powerful tool and over the years, it has empowered me to completely change my life; I’ve reshaped how I spend my days and found the freedom to follow my dreams.
But I’ll be honest—minimalism didn’t come easy for me. As you’ll soon see, it was a long and often painful journey that begins with my story of too much stuff…
MY STORY OF TOO MUCH STUFF
I have always, always had a lot of stuff. I wasn’t raised to be particularly materialistic, but I grew up in middle-class America and I think it was hard not to be in that environment. (For some perspective, when I was a Girl Scout, we actually went camping inside the local shopping mall! We sang Kumbaya in the food court and then went shopping all night.)
Also, like many teenagers, I lacked self-confidence and buying things helped me feel like I fit in. However, I was different from a lot of other kids because I started working at a very young age. My grandparents owned a restaurant and by the time I was sixteen, I had two jobs.
I think most teenage girls love shopping, but I could do much more of it because I had more money to spend. (Working so much also made me feel like I deserved to buy things.)
Then when I was 18, I moved into my first apartment and things began to get worse. I was very independent and bullheaded at the time (some would say I still am!) and for some reason, I had it in my head that I didn’t want to live like a student.
I hated the idea of sharing an apartment filled with shabby, secondhand furniture, so much so that I was willing to work 70 hours a week to afford a nicer lifestyle (all of this on top of my full-time course load). I was only a teenager and already on my way to becoming a workaholic and shopaholic.
TORN BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
I continued down this path for several years, until a chance encounter changed my life. One day at work, I met an overseas student who told me all about his travels around the world.
It’s a long story, but the short version is he inspired me to travel too. I ended up selling or giving away almost all my possessions and then I travelled around the world for a few years, eventually moving to Australia.
Those years of my life were amazing and I was completely nomadic, travelling light with nothing but a backpack … so one would assume that this is where my simple living story might begin.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Once I reached Australia, I completely reverted back to my old ways and then some! I moved into a large, three-bedroom apartment and then drove a truck to Ikea, filling it to the brim. I started shopping obsessively, almost as if I was trying to make up for the years I’d spent on the road.
And in a way, maybe I was. I always felt torn; part of me desperately missed travelling but the other part of me couldn’t stop shopping. For most of my twenties, I went back and forth between these two sides of myself. One year, I managed to escape and did another solo trip around the world, but yet again (despite all my promises to myself) I fell into old habits when I returned.
Then I bought a house, which was supposed to make my life better, but in reality, everything just got worse. I had more space than ever but for some reason, I felt hopelessly trapped.
DISCOVERING A LIFE WITH LESS
I couldn’t see it at the time but when I look back now, it’s obvious to me that I was unhappy because I wasn’t being true to myself.
What I really wanted more than anything was freedom—to travel, to do meaningful work, to chase my dreams—but instead I had built a cage for myself. I was spending incredible amounts of money, which meant I was trapped by debt and non-existing savings. I also had the responsibility of owning so many things—the cleaning, maintenance, and storage—all of which took up considerable time and space in my life.
But at the time, I didn’t understand this. Instead, I thought I was doing all the right things: buying a home, shopping, upgrading my car, spending long hours at the office. I believed this was all part of being an adult… until sometime around 2010 when I stumbled across a few blogs about minimalism.
The first was Rowdy Kittens, a blog about living in a tiny home, and then Miss Minimalist with her countless stories about minimalism. These blogs fascinated me; I was obsessed with the stories I was reading about people living intentional, simpler lives. The concept of more—of wanting to earn more, own more, and be more—was so ingrained in my mind that the idea that you might intentionally choose to want less shocked me.
It seemed like an impossible dream, but still, I couldn’t help wondering how different my life might be without so much stuff and so many bills.
I could choose to work part-time or to do more meaningful work (instead of focusing on my paycheck); or I might have more money and time for experiences I enjoyed, like camping trips or yoga classes; or I could travel more and finally spend time with family overseas.
It sounded wonderful and I started dreaming but the reality is not much changed. It’s hard to change the habits and mindsets of a lifetime overnight; I tried to cut back and make small changes, but I wasn’t ready to let go.
I was shocked to realise the connection I felt to my stuff and I was learning that something as simple as putting a shirt in the charity bin could draw strong emotions.
TIME FOR REAL CHANGE
This continued for several years; I was fascinated by minimalism but unable to actually apply it to my life.
I was stuck until the end of 2012 when I experienced complete upheaval in my personal life and my minimalist story really began. Within a six month period, I moved across Australia, travelled to Europe, ended a long-term relationship, and then moved back to the States into my mum’s house. (And to make things more complicated, I started a new, long-distance relationship.
It was chaotic and stressful but at the same time, I knew it was a rare opportunity. I was starting over and my future was laid out before me. It was time to ask myself, “What do I want my life to look like?”
Fortunately, I’d been learning a lot about my values and exploring what really mattered most to me. I’d come to realise that what I wanted most in life was to feel loved, to be healthy, to have freedom, to create and learn, and to explore our beautiful world.
Finally, everything fell into place. I realised that minimalism was a tool to help me achieve all these things. I stopped viewing minimalism as a restrictive lifestyle and instead as a choice to live the life I want most.
If you’d like to learn more about this mindset, then I invite you to get your free copy of Mindful Decluttering by subscribing below. Mindful Decluttering is a guide and workbook where I share step-by-step how I finally cleared the clutter from my life. It includes practical advice, personal stories, and a troubleshooting guide to help you overcome your decluttering challenges!
WHAT DOES LIFE AS A MINIMALIST LOOK LIKE?
Minimalists, like all people, come in different shapes and sizes. My life is extremely different from how it used to be, but I don’t consider myself an extreme minimalist.
I don’t count my possessions, but I know that my wardrobe is smaller than most. I still own a few too many pairs of shoes, but I’m finding as they wear out, I’m not replacing them.
All my other bits and bobs – journals, books, art supplies, sentimental items I can’t part with – fit in 2 small boxes. My linen (bedding, pillows, towels) all fit in a big bag. My partner has a record collection, so this takes up some space but it brings us a lot of joy, and we own camping gear, laptops, and a few other electronics.
I’ve been living in furnished flats for the past few years, so I only own a few pieces of furniture – x 2 simple frame bookshelves, a towel rack, a coat rack. These items, along with about another box of odds and ends, will be donated in a few months when we head off on our next adventure.
Speaking of flats, for the past 2 years I lived in a studio with a shared kitchen/bathroom. At the moment, I’m renting a room with a friend. I sold my house a few months ago (I had been renting it out) and I drive a small, older model car.
(2018 Update: Things have changed a lot since I originally wrote this post. Three years later and I’m married, we have a daughter and we’ve upgraded to a two-bedroom flat. Our home is just over 660 sqft (which feels huge for us!) and we own furniture now—but I still consider myself a minimalist. Remember, minimalism isn’t defined by how many things you own; instead, it’s about the intention behind your choices.)
RELATED POST: What It Really Means to Be a Minimalist
HOW MINIMALISM HAS CHANGED MY LIFE
So what does this all mean for my lifestyle? How has my life changed?
In two years, I’ve gone from being in debt and living paycheck to paycheck, to living off 25% of my wage. I’ve saved an emergency fund for the first time in my life (at 34!)
But to be clear, I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a frugal person. When I really need or want something, I buy it. I enjoy drinks with friends, overseas trips, and probably a few too many meals out. But what I have given up is mindless purchases; now I spend with intention. I feel like I know myself better and I don’t buy things to try and suit a lifestyle I don’t have.
Now that I’m comfortable living with less and I’ve created some financial breathing space, I’ve started to apply minimalist principles to how I spend my time. Earlier this year, I left my full time job to work as a professional office temp. This means I don’t have security but I have the freedom to choose my hours and spend more time working on passion projects (like this blog!). (2019 update: This blog is now my full-time job!)
When you need less and have less tying you down, it’s easier to try new things and go to new places. I have some incredible dreams for my future that would have been impossible to imagine before minimalism.
The number one gift minimalism has given me is freedom; financial freedom, freedom to spend more time doing what I love, and freedom to take chances and chase my dreams.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MINIMALISM?
If my story has inspired you to learn more about minimalism, then here are some resources to help you kickstart your journey.
- Are you overwhelmed by your closet? Then check out this Simple Guide to a Simple Wardrobe.
- Are you just getting started with minimalism? Then take note of these Five Things Not To Do.
- If you’re struggling with minimalism, here are 6 Tips to Help You Make Sustainable Change and 6 Gentle Reminders About Minimalism to help you get back on track.
- Finally, you might find inspiration in one of these lists: Minimalism Do’s and Don’ts + 15 Things to Declutter (That Aren’t Things)
- And don’t forget to get your free copy of Mindful Decluttering by clicking here or subscribing below!
Thank you for reading and welcome to Simply + Fiercely. This site is dedicated to helping women build lives they love through simple + intentional living. Find out more here.