My Minimalism Story by Debbie Smith

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.

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How a power outage made for special memories

What are memories all about? They are about experiences. Not about the “things” we own. They are about the special relationships we have with the people we love.

Our family, friends and pets.
It’s about the sharing of meals and happy occasions.
It’s about the cricket game in the backyard.
It’s about the family holidays.
Think about your most precious memories.
Are they centred around possessions or experiences?

One thing I clearly remember as a kid was when we had a power outage – usually during a summer storm in Melbourne. At first we’d think what a nuisance it would be without lights and TV. Once it didn’t come back on again after 10 or 15 minutes, we’d start to hunt for the candles and work out ways to ‘ make do’ without one of our ‘essential services’.

We had to find other ways to amuse ourselves. Generally a card or a board game would do the trick and of course everyone would join in as there was nothing else to do. Once we really got stuck into the spirit of the game we we’re generally disappointed once the power came back on. So it wasn’t unusual for us to pretend it hadn’t and continue our game in the candle light.

How good- a memory from a time with out one of the basics. I bet others have similar good memories of power blackouts.

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12 Credit cards. Is that too many?

shoppingCredit Cards – how many do you have? I had 12! I’m gradually getting rid of them. I just cancelled one that I hadn’t used for months and months. I received an invoice for the 12 month renewal – $89. And because I was away I didn’t make the payment so copped a $30 late payment fee. Because of that they took away some of my frequent flyer points. But I could reinstate them – for a fee! Fees, fees and more fees.   Enough!

Apart from taking up too much room in your wallet, they are expensive and a trap!

How easy is it to spend money these days? You can spend on line and Tap and Pay at the shops mean that you feel no pain at all when making purchases. No pain and no thinking. We no longer even need to remember our pin for purchases under $100! No pain until you get your credit card statement and realise that all those taps add up!

What message does this send to kids?  They no longer see their parents handing over cash in the shops. So how on earth can they have any concept of the cost of living unless you actively teach them.

As a lesson in spending, how about only spending cash for a couple of weeks. No cards at all. Handing over all that cash when at the supermarket would certainly be a good lesson. I bet if we had to do that we would all spend a lot less. The act of going to the bank and taking out the cash makes you look at it – feel it and know it is real. Would you spend it more carefully? Imagine you are at the supermarket with only $20 left. You either have to go to the bank and get some more or make do with what you can get for $20. Could you make do? Obviously it depends on a lot of things but I know I would if I had to.

Just think – if you usually spend $300 per week on the home – groceries, drinks, pharmacy etc. When you pay with a card you are far more likely to spend more because you are not seeing it disappear from your account until you get your statement at the end of the month. If you have cash in your pocket you will simply be far more aware of every dollar you are spending. You will be more careful.

And as a minimalist you will be aware of not adding more “stuff’ to the pantry or fridge as “just in case” items. How many “just in case” items are stuck at the back of the pantry with use by dates from 2 or more years ago. Guilty? I know I have been and everyone I know has been at some point.

 

 

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What is minimalism?

 

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff. We tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves. Want to own a car or a house? Great, have at it! Want to raise a family and have a career? If these things are important to you, then that’s wonderful. Minimalism simply allows you to make these decisions more consciously, more deliberately.

 

 

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Unloading the stuff! It’s not easy.

 

Although I have been going on about living as a minimalist I have to confess that I am a long way from being a true minimalist.

I have just gone through the painstaking task of tossing a whole lot of stuff that I have either had in storage or have had in boxes under the house.  I know that I have not missed a lot of these things so I thought that going through them and tossing everything out would be a breeze. Not so!

I feel like I have been tossing away my past – a part of me. And it hurts!

I have thrown out a lot of books – business books, novels and other bits and pieces. Looking at each one evokes memories in me of certain times in my life. A novel that I bought whilst on holidays. Looking at it immediately brings back the memory of the holiday and of standing in the book store chatting to the lovely woman trying to decide which book to buy. A struggle to get rid of it, not because it was a great book, but because I never got to finish it. But will I read it now? Too late – I’ve tossed it. Someone else should enjoy it.

Each of the business books brings back memories of particular times in my business life – times of much enthusiasm and success. I used to read lots of inspiring business books, how-to books, or psychological books. All great but I know I don’t want my life to go back to those times. Not in the same way anyway. So – someone else can read them. Off to the op shop they go.

Most of the books I now read are on my iPad. Being a minimalist, I don’t need actual books that take up so much space. I have lots of books on my I pad and it never gets any heavier or fatter!

And clothes. I have tossed things that I would normally keep.

I have to say that it’s not an easy process. In fact it’s really hard. However I know that once these things have gone I won’t give them a second thought.

 

 

 

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How do you know if you are a chronic hoarder?

 

hoarderIs this picture familiar?

Do you find it impossible to throw anything away?

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The Mexican Fisherman

A businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large Yellowfin Tuna. The businessman complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while.

Depositphotos_40685663_original-682x1024The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time? The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos; I have a full and busy life, señor.” The businessman scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and I could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City where you would run your expanding enterprise.” The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?” To which the businessman replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then, señor?” The businessman laughed and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.” “Millions, señor? Then what?” The businessman said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.” The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, “Isn’t that what I’m doing right now?”

 

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