Almost five years ago, my daughter Hayley and I walked into the cute little cabin we were renting for the weekend, escaping Melbourne – escaping the stress! It was a rainy, cold day in the Victorian coastal town of Lorne, and we threw our things on the couch and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The open fire was burning brightly and we were immediately cosy and warm. It was perfect! I said to Hayley “everything we would need to live could fit into this little place – and I’d be perfectly happy”. She agreed.
The cabin had a veranda with a couple of rocking chairs overlooking green hills and fields with poplar trees. It had two bedrooms, a small bathroom / laundry and a kitchen / dining / lounge area, and I think that was the moment that I decided that I wanted to become a minimalist – although I didn’t really know it at the time.
You see I had not long before ended a marriage that had me feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Trapped by my alcoholic husband. I realised one day when he was making yet another piece of furniture for the house or garden and one of my girlfriends commented that he was ‘continuing to build his nest’. I’d never thought of it that way before. Each time he behaved badly, which was pretty much daily, I would threaten that he had to leave, so he made things that he knew I would love, to make the thought of parting with these things harder and harder for me.
So the more that we accumulated the more trapped I felt. We had a large home on almost an acre of land. Outside we had a swimming pool, a gorgeous garden with ponds and a rotunda, botanical style gardens, an outdoor pizza oven and entertaining area and two large sheds. Inside we had 3 levels including an office, a billiard room with a bar and entertainment units, 3 bedrooms and a lovely lounge and dining room with the kitchen and family room and of course storage rooms. And it was bursting at the seams!
And I had an office about 15 minutes away. My business employed up to 14 people, each with a desk, computer, phone etc etc etc. Are you getting the picture? I had a lot of stuff.
The day finally came when Mr Alcoholic behaved badly for the zillionth time and I said enough is enough. So he left – well, I kicked him out!
A number of weeks later a truck came to the house to get his things. The truck was rather large and when it left it was full to the brim. I cried and cried as he’d taken all the best things and left me with anything he didn’t want. I was too exhausted to argue. But I was so glad to be moving on that it wasn’t long before I felt this enormous sense of relief. However when I looked around I still had so much stuff. I couldn’t believe how much I had accumulated and how much was left after he’d taken his truck load.
So I decided my life needed to change – and change big time. I decided to change the way I worked so I got rid of the office. Another day of crying but once again after I got used to the idea, I felt an amazing sense of relief. I restructured my business – my staff now work from their own homes and my office is my lap top. How liberating! The desks and chairs were given away (offered to my staff first) and I gave them each a computer. Running the office was very expensive and although I lost quite a bit by walking away from it, it was no longer going to be an expensive overhead.
Next step was to sell my beautiful home. I knew it was the right thing to do because although it was beautiful, there were too many unhappy memories. I could not live happily there in the future.
So when it sold I shed a few more tears. But I was free!!!! Hayley and I had our lives ahead of us to do whatever we wanted.
Did I want to buy another place after all that? I wasn’t sure. So the best decision we made was not to make any decisions. The alternative that suited us was to housesit. Housesitting was going to help us decide where we might want to live long term. By staying in different locations we’d get to know different areas, different neighbourhoods and mix with different people – and save money.
So after I got rid of as much of my “stuff” as I could at the time, I put everything else I owned into storage. That cost me $170 per month and once we started housesitting it was pretty much my only fixed expense, apart from my phone. My fixed office expenses dropped from over $5,000 per month to zero. My mortgage payments had been $2500 per month. Add on the costs of the gardener, the pool expenses, the utilities – it went on and on.
Are you beginning to see why I suddenly felt so free? I no longer all these expenses weighing me down. If business slowed down a bit it didn’t really matter too much.
I no longer felt trapped. I was trapped by a number of things and hadn’t even realised it; the bad marriage, the office, the home with all the ‘stuff’ and so many expenses.
We have since had some amazing experiences and lived in some beautiful homes and looked after some gorgeous pets.
So I hear you wondering about us not having a home base and how did we make all the housesitting slot into place? Well it didn’t always work out perfectly. After our first 8 months of housesitting we had a 3 week gap of having nowhere to live. My first thought was to get an apartment on short term rental, but we had a discussion and decided to get a bit creative with our time. So we hopped on a plane and flew to Italy for a holiday. We had 3 wonderful weeks in Lake Como, Venice, Tuscany and Positano – the best holiday ever!
And so, 5 years on, am I now the perfect minimalist? Well, not yet, but I am trying to get there. I’ve bought another house, a small one (good), and I’m still enjoying house-sitting, but I confess to still having stuff in storage (room for improvement there!). On the other hand, I’ve just finished a wonderful long European holiday, where I used only one small suitcase (good).
And now, on my way back to Australia, I’m going to explore more ways to cut down on stuff, and continue to make my life as light and free as possible.