What do we get from a minimalist philosophy? Practically nothing.
And that’s the point – to evolve from overabundance to desired scarcity. The freedom from excess and shallow desires to a lifestyle which values time over everything else. Most of all, the emergence from stress to peace.
In 2011, we were served with a foreclosure notice on our home with seemingly no way out. Years of trying to finance our mother’s care as she struggled with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, coupled with a crippling recession, had finally taken its toll on our once successful business and forced us to face the fact we could sustain running in deficit no more. A year prior to the foreclosure notice we had entered Chase Bank’s mortgage modification program only to be turned down after numerous delays, lost paperwork, pointless phone calls, and endless demands for financial data. Exhausted, we prepared to walk away from our home after 15 years and rebuild our lives from square one. I’d be disingenuous if I said we weren’t to blame for our dire circumstances; the descent into financial chaos was foreseeable and preventable and yet we deluded ourselves into thinking we’d jump the chasm of debt we created and scramble over the financial hump if we could just, if we could just, if we could just…
But “just” never materialized. In a few short weeks we would potentially be homeless, practically broke, and without our possessions, with which we’d surely have to either part ways or put into storage until better circumstances. It was the scariest moment of our 20-plus years relationship (maybe our entire lives), and yet, we’d never felt more liberated. The fight to hold on to our possessions was lost, but we were free; our credit rating destroyed, but with it our financial burdens as well; our status as givers to our community and families in tatters, but our openness to receiving unlocked; our stress and anxiety over losing our things ravaging our pride, yet the defeat teaching us to revisit humility and the value of those possessions. And it was in that soul crushing foreclosure notice that we finally learned to let go. Let go of the attachment to our house and the mountain of stuff we’d accumulated, let go of the notion that our things represented who we were and are; and let go of the notion that pushes us to reach for more, more, more.
In that moment we became minimalists.
If asked when we were happiest, as a couple, we could almost throw darts at a board covering the years between 1988 and now and point to that time frame as being the prime of our relationship. However, if really pressed to pick a particular period during which we were truly happy it would be when we first met, then lived together in our tiny one bedroom apartment on Ocean Front Avenue, in Venice Beach, California. And when I say “tiny,” I mean barely 350 square feet of living space, our bedroom barely able to accommodate a double bed. We had no closets, a kitchen with a two person dining table, and a living room that squeezed in a couch, television, and modest desk. It was Spartan living at its finest, to be sure, but what it lacked in space it more than compensated in spectacular scenery, looking out unobstructed to the Pacific Ocean and Venice boardwalk, where the sun set each evening in a spectacular show of color and light. The price for this idyllic view? $650.00 per month, which included parking. With such a low monthly overhead, we barely had to work to enjoy a life so full of joy, it still seems like a dream that never happened.
The years following our modest beginnings are no less fruitful and happy; however, they lacked one ingredient that our initial living situation provided in ample amount – freedom. Just one year after we moved a mere block away from the beach (an exodus that would continue five years later with the purchase of our house a mile further inland), we purchased a new car and entered the world of car payments. Then another car. This led to better employment, with more hours and more money, and with increased income came more stuff. Lots more. We bought a new bed, upgraded our respective wardrobes, acquired new furniture, and kept up with the latest kitchen gadgetry. Over time, electronics entered the picture, as well as an entirely new category of goods related to our decision to become parents. One could observe that our habits were the personification of the American ideal of consumerism.
Until it isn’t.
Which brings us back to 2011 and our unfortunate housing situation. With no avenues left to pursue, we simply let go of everything we’d accumulated and embraced the alternative – a new direction that would show itself as each moment played out, in real time. In more “new age” terms, we decided to let the universe decide our fate, allowing options to present themselves rather than self-creating and trusting our instincts to follow the signs, so to speak, back to prosperity. Not a prosperity of material wealth, but one of emotional connections, freedom from commitment, low financial requirements, and more reliance on the present than the future.
It’s difficult to describe what came next without stretching the bounds of believability, but I’ll leave that concern to those with more cynical temperaments to decide. Within two days of the foreclosure notice being affixed to our door, a lawyer friend called simply to say hello and then sent us on a whirlwind of paperwork, resulting in our home staying in our possession and its mortgage dropping by almost a third. This financial relief allowed us to find suitable care for our mother without any financial assistance on our part, and we found our footing with a reboot of our business and a decision to have Alicia enter the workforce via Whole Foods, a job in which she is adored. Our amazing community rallied around us and helped in ways that bring tears to my eyes as I type these words. Remember the ending of “It’s A Wonderful Life?” It had nothing on the generosity of the people around us.
I then set about reducing our material overabundance, which included selling, giving away, and disposing of over two thirds of everything we’d accumulated over the past quarter century. Just some of the mountain of stuff banished from our closets and elsewhere included furniture of all sorts, four video cameras, four printers (we kept one only), three still cameras, two full dish sets, four beds’ worth of sheets, piles of books, a literal ton of paperwork, a massage table, an entire country’s worth of clothing, and on and on. We’ve detailed many of these steps in other articles on this site, of course, and thankfully, we’ve had guidance through (digital) books and minimalism gurus such as Leo Babauta and Ryan Nickodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn (aka The Minimalists).
The results have been nothing short of miraculous. Our home is clean (and easy to clean), our financial situation on solid footing, and our most precious resource – our time – has once again become plentiful and passionate. For this freedom alone, the journey into minimalism has been our most profound undertaking and we are thankful for nothing.