As a cash strapped mother with 3 active boys, I became skilled at finding the clothes and household items we needed at my local thrift shop. I’m fortunate to have a very nice shop close to home. This little shop kept our family afloat through some really lean years… a long financial winter where we struggled through pay-cuts and college tuition. I became so adept at frugal living during those years that I began writing a little subscription newsletter I called Living Simply. To me, “living simply” and “frugal” were synonymous. I didn’t have a clue.
I traded a lot of cash for thrift shop finds over the years, sometimes for needs. Usually for greeds. Thrift shops are a minefield for impulse buyers. Once, a friend said she thought we were well-off because of the expensive clothes I wore. I remember her shock as I told her I had only spent $7 on my beautiful suit. What a feeling! I realized I could have it all for less and no one would be the wiser! So, my thrift shop and garage sale habit continued. I bought some. I donated some back. But I didn’t really notice the gradual accumulation of stuff over time.
Fast forward about 15 years… Taking one or two classes at a time, I finally finished my BA in Middle Eastern and Islamic History, earned a Paralegal Certificate, and finished a Master’s degree in Intelligence Analysis. I worked hard. I mean really hard. I graduated with honors because I was certain my security and happiness would be found in a good salary and middle-class lifestyle. But I sacrificed soooo much time with my husband and kids it makes my head spin. I finally landed my dream job, which required that I commute to another city for work during the week. When moving day arrived, we stuffed a moving-truck full to furnish my weekday apartment and the thought struck me…
I had enough STUFF for TWO houses crammed into ONE!
No wonder we had no money to make memories together!! I had taken an entire household’s worth of stuff OUT of my home, and it barely made a dent. Sure, there were a few spaces less claustrophobic than others, but the disturbing fact remained. As we loaded that truck, I felt a troubling sense of unease. My level of overconsumption was laid bare, and I realized I had become a stranger to my own values. I had strayed from my former path of simplicity. Somewhere along the way, I had lost true north and stumbled off course.
Less is More. In the months leading up to my move, my ex-husband, Jeff, happened upon a documentary entitled, The Minimalists. I had been complaining about the number of clothes I had to sort when Jeff mentioned I might find the segment on fashion interesting. I sat and watched the whole documentary and felt a tangled web of emotions afterward. I felt angry. I felt manipulated. I felt guilty for wasting so much of our family’s limited resources. And I realized I had traded the opportunity for memorable experiences with my husband and kids for… junk.
I also realized that with dream job in hand, I didn’t want my life to be defined by overconsumption. I wanted to live intentionally, according to my faith, my desire to give abundantly, and to tread lightly in ecological balance with the earth. It finally dawned on me that frugality and minimalism are two very different things, but they work hand in hand. The next day I signed on to Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist website and started exploring this strange new (to me) teaching on Minimalism. Later in my journey, I joined his online Uncluttered course for the encouragement of kindred spirits.
Trail Markers. Over the subsequent months I spent my days sorting and purging the accumulated clutter in both house and apartment. Layer by layer, I started whittling my belongings down to only things that add value to my life. I knew I was on the right path when my teenage son came home from school and said, “Wow. It feels so open and bright in here.” I asked, “What part of the house are you talking about?” He replied, “”Oh, it’s not just one area. It’s the whole house.” (Yes!!!)
Now, I’ve rediscovered my life’s treasures buried beneath the stuff:
- I have more to spend on experiences and with my family
- The siren call of advertising and shopping is losing its grip
- My goals have expanded to include the needs of the poor
- I consume less so my ecological footprint is quite small
- I live intentionally with healthy margins
- My visual field is clearing and I feel inspired to pursue my passions again. At core, I’m a wildlife artist ————–>
In short, my once overstuffed, self-centered life is becoming mercifully minimalist. It’s been a life-changing journey, and it all began with a single step, a single decision to really consider the path I was on, turn a 180, and move against the flow.
Merciful Minimal™ is my travel journal, a guide marking my trail on the path to minimalism. No two paths are the same, so yours will look different than mine. And that’s ok. My hope is that others will find encouragement to embark on their own journey to owning less through these pages. Traveling together, we can help each other stay the course.