Broad Minds Think Small – Part II: Starting Fresh

(Read Part I of the minimalist adventure here.)

The night of the robbery was the first night of my life as a minimalist. The Wal-Mart was open 24 hours and we had nowhere else to go. Walking the aisles, feeling weightless, I realized the absurdity of all the needless things that people came to buy there every day. Plastic action figures and BPA-laden water bottles filled entire shelves. Hundreds of years from now I’d be dead, and the plastic bottles would still be sitting in a South American dump or floating in an ocean garbage patch.

How’s that for perspective?

Maybe by this point I’ve almost gotten you convinced. You’ve looked around at things in your house. The dead potted plants, the old souvenirs, and a bunch of electronic gear you don’t use anymore have been put out the door. You’ve gone through your closet and gotten rid of the clothing that you never wear. Books? Take them to a dealer. With a library card you can be as literate and unburdened as you want.

If You’re a beginner and intimidated by the prospect of getting rid of stuff, take your time. The downscaling process can be daunting, so start small?you don’t need to throw stuff away or sell everything of value just yet. If you have storage space, put away things that you don’t use. Leave them out of sight for a month or two to see if you miss them. If you can make do with seven t-shirts, you won’t need the dozen others that you put away. The same goes for shoes. And the same for kitchen gadgets. A good way to get priorities straight is to look around your home and decide what you would grab if the place were burning down. I would grab my journals and laptop.

Now the space around you looks bigger. The walls are brighter. You can see the carpet. While you were clearing the place up you realized how well this coincides with the season. It is spring cleaning time after all. Earth Day this weekend will have nothing on you. Since You’re already on the path, get rid of the pizza boxes that have been sitting in the kitchen for a month, and all the other ?just in case? containers. Cleaning up takes a lot less time once the extras are out of the picture.

This is beginning to feel good. You feel healthy, awake, and seem to have things under control. Now go over to your computer. Minimalism can go digital, too. If You’re a writer like I am, You’re bound to have early stage documents that just never made it further than your hard drive. Get rid of them. New ideas have room to grow when we rid ourselves of old ones.

Finally, go to your garage. Do you have a vehicle that requires too much maintenance for the amount of time you spend using it? How much money do you shell out on insurance every month, money that you could be using for a car sharing service? Because I live on the temperate West Coast, I’ve recently given up my car for a motorcycle, which saves a lot of money on insurance, maintenance, and fuel. To top that off, the emissions output is significantly lower.

By this point everything in your life is getting streamlined. You realize that you don’t need as much room anymore, and that moving is simple when you only have a few possessions. What about economizing a bit by moving into a house with friends? Take a room each; the rent will become almost nominal, no matter where you live.

With all that money you just saved, you can now treat yourself. Can you think of anything you’ve always wanted to do but never got around to doing? Now is the time to go skydiving or wine tasting. You can easily afford it. And no, gathering experiences does not count as hoarding.

It is also time to use your money on some fine goods. Did I just say that? I sure did. While you can almost certainly make do with some of the good things you spared from your previously congested life, it may be a good time to look at some new, longer-lasting gear. We all need things, just not too many. You’ve saved money by paring down on cumbersome one-purpose items, so now is the time to get creative and do some research on high-quality footwear, clothing, and other multi-purpose pieces. In my place there are no blankets; I simply use my sleeping bag. It will come with me when I go, and it won’t require a special comforter storage bag. Interestingly, there is an entire industry directed toward minimalists. It is up to you, though, to make sure you don’t get caught up in the gear game again. Simply stick with what you need.

Minimalism is not just for the student. Once you get into it, there’s a high chance that you’ll see the benefits and begin to enjoy it. Keeping your stuff to a minimum means competing with yourself. It also means that you will begin to measure yourself, and what you deem to be satisfying, in a new way.

You will also find common ground with some interesting people. A Google search will bring up innovators from all over the world, people who know that small is the new big. Jay Shafer, who has been pushing the benefits of small houses since 1997, is just one example. He is an excellent model of someone who has built his life and career around going small. The bottom line is, living as a minimalist is possible and is being done.

The post-robbery part of our trip was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was actually easier to travel with nothing. We arrived at my parents? place in Vancouver a week later on December 22. We had new thrift store jackets, but that was it. My back was light and empty. My brain was full.

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