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Does This Mean I'm Not a Minimalist Anymore?
The simple life is a better life
My introduction to minimalism wasn’t slow and methodical. I jumped in with both feet from 2000ft in the air. Some people decide they will start to pare down their life and simplify, but I took everything I owned and threw it in the dumpster.
It started in the early fall of 2011. I finally saved enough money to buy my tickets to move to the Philippines, so my drastic decision to move across the pond was suddenly genuine and scary.
With my bank account much lighter, a thought occurred to me: I didn’t want to have to pay extra fees to carry boxes and luggage, so why didn’t I embrace this thing called minimalism that I had been reading so much about and clear out the baggage from my life?
I divorced a few years before, so the stuffed closets of my apartment were full of boxes of papers and the other minutiae from a life better forgotten. I’d even hung on to scraps of my early childhood; there were boxes of comic books and marbles and souvenirs from a World’s Fair that I never attended.
I had about a month left until my flight, so I figured I had plenty of time to go through and get rid of everything, totally underestimating what a tremendous job it would turn out to be.
I bought a few travel items I thought I needed but never ended up using, like an international phone (it was a flip phone), and promised myself I would buy nothing else to add to my pile of things that would become my permanent companions.
A week later, I started pulling boxes from hiding places and going through them, making piles for keeping, selling, throwing away, and donating.
As one day rolled into the next, and I had been up all night reminiscing over trinkets I found wrapped in plastic and paper, I shed quite a few tears over a life that I hardly remembered. I couldn’t remember the face of the girl I shared my first kiss with, but I read her handwritten letters over and over until they finally went into the shredder.
I found countless pictures of me with people I hardly remembered, smiling with a joy that wasn’t part of my life anymore. What pictures I didn’t give to my parents went in the shredder, and I only saved a few of my family that I could use to remember that one time, at least for a picture, I almost had it all.
I spent a total of two weeks reducing my life to a ripped black suitcase, and whatever I could fit in the pockets of my laptop bag. Throwing my life away had been painful and sad, and more than once, I stopped to call someone I loved on the phone. It was a good thing too because the call to my brother would be the last time I ever talked to him.
He died a week later.
I dropped off the last of my furniture at Goodwill and gave my battered Xbox to my son so he could remember the times we sat on my stinky couch and played Left for Dead all night.
I stood in my empty apartment and cried while I said goodbye to the only life I had ever known.
That was my introduction to the practice of minimalism. I got rid of the dead weight and only kept what was useful or made me feel joy. Thankfully, it all fit in the bags I would be bringing with me to the Philippines.
Life as a Minimalist
For the next few years, I kept about the same number of possessions, only changing out the clothing I brought from the States with much cooler wearables, because the Philippines was always hot and muggy.
Later, my wife and I would gather a few more things, especially when the first child was born, but my simple ways rubbed off on my young wife, and we were mostly known for having an uncluttered house in a country where nobody gets rid of anything useful.
In 2017, we again gave ourselves a possession enema and got rid of everything, because the three of us left to live in a cooler mountain town near a volcano, and we could only take what we could carry. We only ended up staying a month, as the realities of living in a resort town hit us square in the face, and we realized our place was back home in Iloilo City.
Soon, we bought a house, filled it full of things every home needs, like appliances and furniture, and settled into life, totally forgetting our minimalist ways.
How did I forget everything I learned so quickly, and start buying things I didn’t need? My little family started to feel cramped in our small den of capitalism, and it came to a breaking point soon after our second child was born in 2019.
Every space in our house held something, and no matter how much we moved things around, we realized we didn’t have enough room for everything we owned. Our house became cluttered, and the chaos and frustration were hard on my poor mental health. I grew more agitated and irritable, as did my wife, and we knew something had to be done.
Had minimalism become just a fad for us, or could we reclaim our simple lives and revert to a clean, uncluttered, and calm lifestyle again?
On the Road Back
It was my wife, Flora, who put our feet back on the path to simplicity. All during the lockdown of 2020, we were stuck in this house that was too chaotic to be comfortable, and we fought over everything and bounced off the walls.
We both then decided that we needed to simplify, but it was Flora who helped get us there.
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Here in the Philippines, now that the lockdown is over, life hasn’t gone back to normal. We still stay at home, and instead of shopping and filling the house with food or going out to restaurants to eat, we order in everything we could want.
In our subdivision there arose a new economy of home kitchens and backyard gardens. Instead of spending our money at the big supermarkets, we spread it around locally to our neighbors who are looking for ways to support their families.
We have found a network through Facebook groups of people who cook and deliver, who sell vegetables, raise livestock, and sell fresh meat and complete meals.
This new economy has been a lifesaver, both for families like mine who work from home and don’t want to go out, and the families who have become overnight business owners and supply us with all our needs.
The other beautiful thing about the Facebook network is that my wife has discovered bartering. In the past few years, she has completely cleared out the clutter and gotten rid of the things we didn’t need, but someone else does.
We have traded watches for a month’s supply of diapers and baby clothes for vegetables and meat. Except for one room where we keep our clothing, our entire house is a minimalist paradise.
The best thing is, that Flora started trading for plants and our house and yard look like a jungle. It is so soothing and calming to sit on our patio among the plants and drink coffee while the sun comes up and goes down.
Our house is uncluttered and straightforward. We amaze the people we barter with that come into our home by how clean and spartan it looks.
And our mental health has improved because we are no longer irritated by all the shit lying around our house.
But, it’s not all perfect. We still have too many clothes and we keep a lot of toys lying around because my son who has ASD needs the stimulation and we don’t want to put him in front of smartphone screens and YouTube for his engagement.
So although our house is uncluttered, it could be better. Maybe if we had fewer toys and less stuff cluttering our WFH desks. Maybe one day we can learn to live with even less.
So maybe we shouldn’t call ourselves minimalists, because now it feels as if we overused the word and people get fatigued by it. A few years ago, everyone wanted to be a minimalist, and now, after the pandemic, it almost seems as if we have better things to worry about.
But this simple lifestyle we have created is not only allowing us to save money we would have otherwise spent on things we thought we needed to make ourselves happy, but the place we spend most of our time is a calming, simplistic oasis in a sea of clutter and chaos.
If you ask us, we think everyone should live like this. The days of unbridled and toxic capitalism are over, and it’s time we settled into the new normal with a few things that are useful and bring us joy.
Minimalism was never a fad; it is a way of life for us. It’s a way for us to manage the clutter of life and help our mental health by living in an environment that is not stressful and closed-in.
Even though we may not be minimalists in the purest sense of the word, we live our lives in a way that is truly minimal and satisfying.