Broad Minds Think Small – Cluttered to the Bone

This feature originally appeared April 13, 2012, in issue 2014.

The Jeep had been stolen, Reno finally admitted. Natalie and I were halfway across America by that point. We had been thumbing our way across the continent, our last hurrah as reckless teenagers. Reno and Penny had picked us up in Fox Creek, Arizona?a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, but with less sex appeal.

On day four with our new desperado friends, we drove into Forrest City, Arkansas. Natalie and I left our duffle bag in the car to go into a Wal-Mart to use the washroom. Reno and Penny were going to a gas station to ask directions. When we came out, the car was gone.

It was a chilly December night. The snow had begun to fall. We stood on the concrete, Natalie and I, the flakes coming down around us, the empty white lines of the parking lot stretching out like a field. We were 3,500 kilometres from home. In our pockets we had our wallets with ID, but no money. We had one cotton sweater between us.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Have you ever lost everything you thought you needed? Have you ever cleaned up your desk and found it easier to think? Have you ever gone on vacation and only used three out of the ten t-shirts you packed? When I was little, I used to wonder about the cartoon characters who set off on their adventures with nothing but a bundle tied to a stick. Where was the rest of their stuff?

Hello. My name is Max. I’m a 24-year-old student. My favourite color is green. And I am a minimalist.

A minimalist is someone who wants as few objects as possible. If this is you, you are the opposite of a hoarder. You will never be one of those TV types who lives alone with 27 felines in a massive house full of furniture left behind by three dead spouses. As I write this, I sit in the bedroom of my tiny basement suite. In the room there is a desk and a mattress. On the desk sits my laptop. There are two duffle bags full of clothing and essentials, like my passport. There is a closet that holds a few shoes and my tent. In a corner there is a pile of beat-up wooden furniture that is about to make its way to the alley. It took me an hour to move into this place (it was furnished). The move was completed when my girlfriend brought over a knife and fork from her place. She insisted, although I do fairly well with a metal camping spoon and my Leatherman pocketknife. Every day I commute on the Canada Line, the same line that goes past my regular stop and on to Vancouver International. In an instant I could be gone. In an hour, I could be on a flight to anywhere.

How do you become a minimalist? Like everything worthwhile, it takes time (except in those instances when You’re suddenly stranded in Arkansas without a toothbrush). You don’t have to throw a Molotov cocktail into your house and call it a day. Minimizing, keeping output high and intake low, is a lifestyle?something you do every day. And It’s very rewarding.

As a student, especially at a place like AU, where the nature of the institution attracts flexible, DIY types, minimizing is a ticket to good grades. Less clutter is guaranteed to boost your concentration. It’s also a money saver: Fewer payments on fewer big toys means more liquid assets, which means tons of flexibility. Honduras on a whim, here you go.

For a starter guide to minimizing, look below. It’s not an extensive list (that wouldn’t be very minimalistic of me). But It’s a sampling, and downsizing is easy and fun to figure out once you get started.

1. Get rid of something every day. This does not have to be wasteful. Give things to charity or thrift stores, or sell them at consignment shops and in classified advertisements. Kijiji will be your friend.

2. Digitalize your life. Banking and bill paying can all be done online. School notes, homework, and music can all be kept exclusively on a laptop. Only print out the essentials.

3. Spend money on experiences. Go bungee jumping instead of shopping. Attend an event or get involved with a community group. It doesn’t have to be a book club: Join a rock-climbing gym or take a carpentry class. You might even learn something?a rich alternative to owning another pair of blue suede shoes.

4. Move to a new place. This is a good way to start out fresh. Look for a furnished apartment so you don’t have to go through borrowing a friend’s truck every time you move.

5. Ditch the TV. This could go in with Step 1, but It’s such a big item that it deserves its own number. All our clocks are ticking. Every time we sit down in front of the boob tube, we’re inadvertently watching other people have adventurous, enriching, glamorous lives, while cheating ourselves out of the same experience. If you knew ahead of time that tomorrow afternoon a shoddy plywood construction tunnel would leave you crushed under a fallen pile of bricks, would you really be thinking about another House rerun or would you be doing things that mattered? Spend your time?and your money?on your dreams.

Standing in the parking lot with Natalie, I felt something lift from my shoulders. It was a mystifying sensation: a revelation. We had nothing. But we were still okay. I stood there frozen in my spot, not from the wind but from the freedom. Natalie was swearing a blue streak. Late-night shoppers looked at us. I swore and said something to make her feel better, pretending to be upset. But I was trying to stop myself from smiling. What we would do now, where we would go, I had no idea. But there was nothing tying me down, either. By the wrenching away of everything I had, my life had suddenly started.

(Read the continuation here.)