Saturday, October 26, 2019

How Minimalism Made Me a Better Person

There are lots of articles out there about how minimalism can make your life better. You can have more time, more money, and more happiness. But can minimalism make you a better person? I think so. Here’s how it’s made me a better person with my health, my outlook on life, my freedom, and much more. I'm also including tips on how it can do the same for you.

Some quick tips…

I want to give some context about how even a little bit of minimalism can change your life for the better.

If you haven’t already, check out 3 Lifesaving Ways Minimalism Can Change You. This post is about 3 key areas someone’s life can be ruined: health, money, and relationships. I go through the ways that life with “too much” can make things worse, and how minimalism can help you be better.

If you’re interested in how minimalism has changed my life personally, take a minute to read 6 Ways Minimalism Changed My Life. Then, come on back here to see how being more minimalist can make you a better person.

My life before minimalism

I think I was a pretty typical American. I worked a lot, and my goals were always to make more money so I could better pay for the lifestyle I wanted. I wanted to own a big house, a nice car, and lots of stuff that I thought would make me happy.

I’m (now) embarrassed to say that I often shopped for the cheapest clothes possible at the big box stores, AKA “fast fashion” outlets like Forever 21, PayLess Shoes, and Old Navy. Places where the materials are flimsy and they’re usually made overseas by underpaid factory workers.

I thought I was getting the biggest bang for my buck because I could buy lots of clothing and shoes cheaply. But they weren’t built to last—they’d be falling apart by the end of the season.

As a lover of cooking, I also wanted all the kitchen gadgets. We had a food processor, blender, electric oil fryer, bread maker, panini maker, etc. Not to mention we had 2 sets of all the normal kitchen stuff from when Ryan and I combined households.

When we bought the house we upgraded everything: cabinets, flooring, appliances, and landscaping. Of course, with a bigger house, we also needed more furniture. We furnished and decorated every room completely, even though we barely used most of the space.

Ryan was the collector of knick-knacks, artwork, and furniture. There were never enough display cases for all his little treasures.

Meanwhile, besides the kitchen and clothing, my collections were of creative projects. A sewing machine, fabric, and patterns I was going to use someday when I had the time. Arts and crafts supplies that sat collecting dust; containers of acrylic and oil paints that dried up from years of sitting partially used.

We both had long commutes and busy schedules. I also had a lot of health problems, which were mostly undiagnosed at that point. So it often felt like our whole lives were about going to work so we could make money, then coming home exhausted to a place we barely saw but spent all our time paying for.

And although I worked in healthcare, I often felt like I wasn’t doing enough to make a positive change in the world. But I had no extra money to give to anyone else, and no time or energy to participate in any volunteer work. So the extent of our charity was donating old stuff to thrift stores (after we were sure we couldn’t sell it). Our attitude was often “We can barely take care of ourselves. How can we help anyone else?”

We also never saw family or friends, because we’d moved away from all of them to be able to afford a nicer house. They rarely came to see us, and visiting them wasn’t often in the budget. Our guest bedroom got used 3 times in 4+ years.

Looking back, I feel pretty annoyed and disgusted about my old life. So much money was spent on stuff that we didn’t even have time to enjoy. I barely saw my husband because we both worked so much and had opposite schedules. The whole thing just didn’t make any sense.

I realize what I did was in ignorance, and we were just trying to get by the best way we knew how. But I also feel like we should have known better. We should have been better.

Something had to change, and minimalism was the way

It wasn’t until my health problems got really bad that we changed things. Ryan and I leveraged every last cent we had to buy an RV and a truck to tow it. We ruthlessly sold off everything we didn’t need through Craigslist ads and garage sales every weekend for months to help pay for our new life.

This was a big change and something my husband had resisted for a long time because he thought he needed his stuff. I was less resistant, but I still had way too much stuff. It took us a long time to get rid of everything.

99% of our excess stuff got sold or donated. And once we started RVing, we realized we didn’t miss any of it.

And yes, we still had to make money, but having an RV meant our expenses went way down. Our first year of RV park rent cost less than 2 months’ worth of mortgage in our old house!

Plus, our house was out in the boonies because it was cheaper to live there. It was far away from the “good” jobs in the bigger cities. Having an RV with cheap space rent was possible to live right next to our jobs. Suddenly, commutes went from 90 minutes (one-way) to 20 minutes. We were also much closer to better healthcare, and I finally started getting the help I needed to get better.

With better healthcare, it was discovered I needed surgery. It helped a lot with some of my symptoms and made me realize how much my lifestyle had contributed to my deterioration. Before the surgery I was in so much pain I could only walk a few feet at a time, and very slowly. My body had literally forced me to stop working and slow down.

How being minimalist changed me

My illness made me realize I needed to not only take better care of myself but contribute more to the rest of the world. I knew I wasn’t the only person out there who was suffering emotionally, physically and financially from the consumerist lifestyle.

Six weeks after surgery, I walked a 5K for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer fundraiser in Tempe, AZ in 2011. I did it in honor of friends and family members diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a great feeling not only to be physically able to walk but also to raise money for a good cause.

Those 6 weeks recovering from surgery were not idle, either. While I was resting I was also busy on another project. By the end of my recovery, I’d crocheted 6 blankets to donate to Project Linus.

My volunteerism was fulfilling in so many ways. There was nothing like seeing the impact that my service made on other people. The more people I was able to help, the more I wanted to do. Since then I’ve kept up the tradition of volunteering and/or donating to charities that I believe in every year.

But it wasn’t just about helping people I’d never met. In 2012 we moved back to California. Our low-cost RV lifestyle meant we could finally afford to live in the bay area again, close to my family and friends. My brother and his wife just had their first child, and we spent lots of time helping to take care of her and watch her grow up. We were also around for the birth of my nephew a few years later. They only know us as well as they do because we were willing to downsize our stuff and financial responsibilities.

At work, I felt like I was more compassionate with my patients because I had less to worry about myself. Having fewer responsibilities and financial issues over my head allowed me to focus on what was right in front of me—people who had it worse than me and needed my help.

Then starting in 2017, my mom’s health took a turn for the worse. Thanks to our nomadic lifestyle we were able to spend 4 months with her that summer, then another 4 months in 2018.

Since then she had to move in with us, and it means we took some pretty big financial and emotional risks to make it happen. While it was stressful, I’m grateful that we were in a place that we could help her at all.

I know for a fact that if we still owned a house in Arizona, we would not be able to help her. We would both have to be at work all day to pay our mortgage, and she would not get the care or companionship she needs.

If we had an apartment, we might be able to make it work. But it would still cost more than our RV lifestyle and she might still be left alone for a good portion of the day.

So the bottom line is that by releasing our attachments to traditional ideas about housing, possessions, and money in general, we have more room in our lives for compassion, volunteerism, and love.

It’s more fulfilling because the gifts you receive from giving to others are worth so much more. Earning money at a job, owning a nice house and buying things for myself never gave me this sense of purpose.

How can you be better?

As I’ve said many times, being more minimalist is accessible to everyone, regardless of your level of wellness or income. You can take small steps in any area of your life. By removing excess, you can eliminate emotional emptiness and replace it with fullness in your heart.

To make it easier on yourself, I recommend picking an area of your life that you know is too complicated, but you don’t have a huge emotional attachment to it. For example, maybe you recently lost weight and have a bunch of clothes that don’t fit anymore, but you haven’t gotten around to doing something with them. Pack them up and donate them. Be done with it. I guarantee you will feel lighter for it.

Or maybe you’re paying for a subscription to a magazine that you never have time to read. Take a few minutes right now and cancel it.

Maybe your commute takes a bunch of time. Can you take public transportation instead of driving? That way, at least you can spend your commute time doing something better than staring at tail lights in front of you. You could use the time to read or learn a new language through an audio program.

You could even use the time to work on a side hustle to get you out of debt, and eventually, leave your job so you don’t have to commute anymore! Think about how many hours each week you could devote to more productive endeavors if you didn’t have to drive to and from work.

Just think about all the things you could do to improve yourself and your life if you broke the shackles that your possessions and financial responsibilities have on you.

If you're stuck and need more help making life simpler…

I’m also here to help with any questions you have. Feel free to contact me!