Growing up, I could never have imagined that one day, I would tell the story of my life as a minimalist because, at the time, the idea of choosing to live with less was completely foreign to me.
In fact, by my twenties, I was a full-blown shopaholic and workaholic— about as far from a minimalist lifestyle as you could get!
But here I am, living proof that change is possible. Over the past decade, I have completely transformed my life. I no longer live in a constant state of exhaustion and overwhelm. Instead, I feel a deep sense of freedom and ease that for many years, I didn’t believe was possible.
Having said that, minimalism didn’t come easy for me. As you’ll soon see, it was a long and often painful journey that required learning and unlearning a lifetime of beliefs about myself and my place in the world.
If you’d like to learn more about living with less, then here is the complete story of my minimalist life.
What Is A Minimalist?
Before we get started I just want to take a moment to clarify what is a minimalist because I think there are some common misconceptions.
Contrary to popular belief, minimalism is not about living life with as few possessions as possible—or at least, this isn’t the belief I subscribe to.
Instead, my definition of minimalism is rooted in intentionality and alignment.
I define a minimalist as someone who chooses to be intentional with what they allow in their life. Most often, this refers to physical stuff but it can also refer to people, tasks, or even ideas.
Overall, the purpose of a minimalist life is to have more of what matters and less of what doesn’t. It’s that simple.
Related Post: What It Really Means To Be A Minimalist
A Tale of Too Much Stuff
Now on to my minimalist story. Let’s start at the beginning.
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 ten-year-old 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. I was an awkward Asian child in a predominantly white town and buying trendy clothes from the local mall helped me feel like I fit in (which at the time was what I wanted more than anything else in the world).
However, unlike most of the teenagers I knew, I worked all the time.
My grandparents owned a Chinese restaurant and I can’t even remember when I officially started working because it was simply part of my childhood. Hard work was normal in my family and by the time I was sixteen, I had a second job at a local pizza parlour.
I worked nearly 40 hours a week while attending high school full-time. I was constantly exhausted and I developed the dangerous mindset of believing that I deserved stuff as a reward for all my hard work.
I was still a few years away from adulthood but the seeds were planted. I was on my way to becoming a full-blown shopaholic and workaholic.
Torn Between Two Worlds
When I turned 18, I doubled down on my existing lifestyle. I moved to a new city for college and stubbornly decided that I wasn’t going to live like a student.
I refused student housing, scoffed my head at the idea of living with roommates and instead, signed a lease on a tiny studio apartment on the edge of town. I went on a shopping spree, maxing out my credit cards to furnish my new home.
And then, of course, I found two jobs so that I could afford it all. Now I was working 70+ hours a week in addition to my full-time course load. I had very few friends and almost no social life; my only real joy in life was shopping.
Then one day a chance encounter changed my life.
I had a random conversation with an overseas student at a restaurant where I was working. He told me all about his travels around the world: exploring European cities, hiking in South America, and lazing on Thai beaches.
My mind was completely blown. I had no idea that travel was a possibility for young people like me … but now, ideas were racing through my mind.
To make a very long story short, he inspired me to travel too. At 22, I sold almost everything I owned and bought a one-way plane ticket to London. I had no idea what I was doing but I ended up travelling around the world for several years, eventually moving to Australia.
It was a life-changing experience and for several years, everything I owned fit neatly into a backpack … so one would assume that this is when my life as a minimalist began.
Unfortunately, I chose a very different path.
Old Habits Die Hard
By the time I reached Australia, I’d been on the road for nearly three years. I was a newly married woman but also newly bereaved, having lost my father and brother in separate incidents that same year.
I was ten thousand miles from home and what I wanted more than anything was stability—I wanted to feel comfortable, familiar and safe—so I turned to old habits: shopping and working.
Before long, I was living in an overflowing three-bedroom apartment and working 70+ hour weeks. History was repeating itself …
Except for this time, something in my gut kept nagging at me and I felt torn. On one hand, I desperately missed travelling and the freedom I’d felt on the road.
But on the other hand, a voice in my head said, “Enough Jen!”.
I told myself that the fun was over and that it was time to be a real adult and get to work. Shopping was OK but travel was irresponsible.
For the next few years, I struggled with this inner tug of war and at one stage, I even managed escaped. I travelled around the world for another year, by myself, and returned to Australia with the intention of finally making some real changes.
But again, I didn’t. I came home and it was all the same, all over again.
So I gave in. I bought a house, I found a “better” job and resigned myself to my life. I worked more, I shopped more and as each year passed, I got better and better at ignoring that feeling in my heart that something wasn’t right.
An Introduction To A Minimalist Life
I couldn’t see it at the time but when I look back now, it’s clear to me that I was torn between two sets of beliefs.
There was a part of me that wanted desperately to be a “successful” woman with a big home and a fancy job and all the things that I’m sure my grandparents dreamed of when they packed up their entires lives and emigrated to America.
My grandparents worked 365 days a year, every year until they retired in their late 60’s. Who was I to complain about a 70-hour workweek when I had so much good fortune in my life?
Yet … I felt trapped and disillusioned. I wanted something more out of life but to be honest, I had no idea where or how to begin looking.
After all, where was I going to go? I had a mortgage, a car loan, a mountain of credit card debt and a hundred pairs of shoes to look after (and the rest of my crap). There was no time, money, energy or space for me to even consider my options, so I stayed stuck.
Then one day, I randomly stumbled across a few blogs about minimalism.
These blogs fascinated me and I became obsessed with the stories I was reading of 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.
I tried to imagine what my life might look like as a minimalist but it felt like an impossible dream.
Still, I couldn’t help wondering how different my life would be without so much stuff and so many bills. The possibilities were endless: I could work less, I could choose a new career (based on my interests instead of my payscale), I could go on more adventures, I could finally take yoga classes, I could travel, visit family, paint … the list went on and on.
I decided to give minimalism a try …
But real talk—not much changed. I did a few rounds of decluttering but I didn’t accomplish very much. I was still shopping, I was still working crazy hours, I was still in debt.
Turns out it’s hard to change the habits and mindsets of a lifetime. I wanted something different but I also wasn’t really ready to let go. Even something as simple as decluttering an old t-shirt felt painful and sometimes it just felt easier to continue on with my old way of living.
Learning How to Be A Minimalist
This continued for several years—I was fascinated by minimalism and I kept experimenting with decluttering but I was unable to make any significant long-term changes.
I felt pretty stuck and to be 100% honest with you, there was a part of me that started to wonder if minimalism was really worth pursuing.
Fortunately, (although it didn’t feel like a good fortune at the time!) a series of events happened that changed the course of my life as a minimalist.
It’s another long story but I turned 30 and my life started to fall apart. Within a six month period, my marriage ended, I sold most of my belongings, I gave up my home, I quit my job, and I crash-landed on my mother’s couch.
It was chaotic and stressful but at the same time, I knew it was a rare opportunity. All of the stuff that had held me down was suddenly gone. I was starting over and my future was laid out before me.
It was time to ask myself, “What kind of life do I really want for myself?”.
I started to really explore my values and dreams, as well as my fears and insecurities— and this self-reflection was the missing piece of the puzzle.
Finally, everything fell into place. I realised that minimalism was a tool to help me achieve my dreams. I stopped viewing minimalism as a restrictive lifestyle and instead as a choice to live the life I want most.
I began to unravel my sense of self from my productivity and my possessions. I was learning how to be a minimalist—from the inside out—and finally, everything began to change.
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 that as they wear out, I’m not replacing them.
I own stuff—my husband collects records, I have art supplies, and my daughter has toys—but we all live comfortable in a 660 square foot apartment.
I broke a life-long addiction to mindless shopping and I no longer waste entire afternoons browsing the shops. I go weeks and sometimes even months without buying anything new and it’s not hard to do.
Over the course of nearly a decade, I’ve gone from working full-time at a job I hate, to working part-time by choice, to finally being self-employed and setting my own terms. Minimalism has definitely made a huge impact on my career path.
But you know what? Despite all these outward changes, the things that really strikes me about my life as a minimalist is the way I feel.
There a lightness of spirit, a sense of hope, and a feeling of freedom and ease that I can feel in my bones. Life’s not perfect by any means but I’m actually living my life—good and bad—instead of numbing myself in the shops and in the office.
I feel like I’m finally able to move through the world as my true self.
How to Live With Less + Write Your Own Minimalist Story
If my story has inspired you to learn more about how to be a minimalist, then here are a few tips to get started.
First, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter and get your free copy of Mindful Decluttering, my free 18-page decluttering guide and workbook. It will help you overcome the mental and practical challenges of simplifying.
Next, take some time to understand why your life is busy and cluttered in the first place. I also recommend learning more about your core values—because the more you know about what matters to you, the easier it is to see what doesn’t.
Finally, check out one of these popular posts for further inspiration:
- Getting Started with Minimalism: 5 Things Not to Do + What to Do Instead
- 17 Heart-Centred Ways to Simplify Your Life
- Are you overwhelmed by your closet? Then check out this Simple Guide to a Simple Wardrobe or tour my minimalist wardrobe for inspiration.
- 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), 20 Ways I Simplified My Life
- And don’t forget to get your free copy of Mindful Decluttering by clicking here or subscribing below!
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