From the time I was born, I’ve lived with less. But, I haven’t always been a minimalist.
My sister and I were raised by a single mom. My father paid child support, however, my mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Therefore, there usually wasn’t much money available for the basics, let alone any extras.
As a child, I was forced into “minimalism” by way of poverty.
Poverty-induced minimalism is nothing like the minimalist “lifestyle” which is popular today. Growing up, I was not concerned with wearing fewer, “quality” clothes (made only in America). Instead, I was grateful for hand-me-downs that fit. Keeping the clothes clean was another matter. My family didn’t make the environmentally conscious decision to upgrade to an energy efficient washing machine. We were lucky enough to (occasionally) be able to bring our dirty laundry to the laundry mat. When I was older (age 10) we got our first washing machine. We had to keep it outside because there was no room for it inside our trailer. We didn’t have a garage or shed, so we installed it at the rear of the trailer on the ground. I hated when that thing would get wet. I would be electrocuted whenever I tried to use it!
As a child, I had very few toys. I can’t remember a single instance when my mother bought me any. The toys I did have were sent to me from my father. And my mother would take the credit. One Christmas, my sister and I received more presents than we had ever seen. At first, I thought they were from my mother, but I later found out my father’s family had sent them. I treasured those toys because I knew I might not get any more.
One day, my mother was angry with us because we failed to clean up our room. In a fit of rage, she threw away all of my toys. She didn’t just threaten to do it. She actually threw all of my toys in the trash outside. I ran outside and tried to save some of my favorites. But, she wouldn’t allow it.
My mother told me to leave when I was 13. I packed all that I owned into a black garbage bag (except my hampster) and left to live with my aunt and uncle. Most minimalists would be proud to have so few belongings. I was angry. I resented my sparse upbringing. Mostly because it lacked what was truly important-love.
I learned to depend only on myself and what I could do for me.
As soon as I was old enough, I got a job. The money I earned from that job (and others after) was spent on satisfying my desires. Once the rent and electricity were paid, any remaining funds were quickly spent on going out to eat, clothes (and shoes), and getting my hair done.
When the money from my paycheck ran out, I turned to my college loans and later to credit cards in order to fund the life I was quickly growing accustomed to. I never said “no” to myself. If I wanted something, I bought it with little thought of the consequences.
I had replaced people with things. My fortress was secure.
In time, I met my future husband. I wish I could say that falling in love with my husband taught me how to love people more than things, but it didn’t. I continued buying stuff to make myself feel good. Only, now I had someone else to shop for! As a result, the debt continued to grow.
I would use shopping as therapy, to escape reality, as a form of entertainment. It felt good to buy things for myself and others. Nevermind that I was going deep into debt to do so. I thought that was what people needed from me.
Soon, our first son was born and I quit my job to stay home with him. You’d think the simplicity of a baby and the reduced income would have been enough to change my rampant consumerism. Nope. In fact, things got even worse. I suffered from postpartum depression for a couple of years after the birth of my first son. My depression caused me to self-medicate with shopping. I wanted to be able to provide my baby with everything he needed. I didn’t realize at the time that all he needed was me.
As the years flew by, we added two more children to our family. We moved multiple times within our home state and eventually moved cross-country. With each move, I was able to purge increasing amounts of stuff. However, the reason for my purging was not because I’d had a minimalist epiphany; it was because I didn’t want to have to transport and unpack all of our stuff!
Over time, despite my pre-move purging, our family would somehow manage to accumulate even more than we’d started with.
I was growing tired of the neverending cycle of bringing stuff into our increasingly crowded home. The kids had so many toys, they had a hard time deciding what to play with. I would spend my days “organizing” (ie. moving stuff around) and getting nowhere. I was becoming more and more overwhelmed and exhausted.
And then, in the midst of the mess, I had a “come to Jesus” moment. No really, I came to Jesus. And I am convinced that Jesus was a minimalist.
It was through my faith in Jesus that I finally realized I needed to love people instead of things. I forgave the people in my past that needed forgiving (including myself). I started praying for my family. Instead of shopping for people, I started serving them.
Once I began walking the path of minimalism, I started wondering if anyone else felt the same way I did. Surprisingly enough, quite a few people did. I started devouring the blogs written by fellow minimalists including:
Through reading these blogs and many others, I learned that my preconceived notions of what it means to be a minimalist were all wrong. I mistakenly believed that to be considered a minimalist, you had to be unmarried (or married without children), travel the world with everything you own in a backpack, and exist in furniture-less dwellings staring at stark white walls with only an iPad to keep you company.
Thank goodness I was wrong!
I continue to discover that minimalism is what you make of it. You can own as much or as little as you want so long as your possessions serve you, not the other way around. No one is going to count what you own!
I choose to keep my personal belongings to a minimum in order to reduce distractions and keep me focused on what is truly important… relationships. But I still enjoy sipping coffee from my favorite mug, snuggling up with a soft, fuzzy blanket and reading a good book (or blog) on my iPad. Yes, I am one of those minimalists who owns an iPad!
Who knows where my minimalist journey will take me? I may end up traveling the world with a backpack or downsizing to a tiny house. No matter where I end up, I will no longer be held back by “things”. As long as I am surrounded by the people I love and who love me, that’s all I truly need.