Yesterday I wrote about making room for what matters, which is of course, the root of minimalism. I mentioned that the time-mind-self aspects of making room are a little challenging for me as of late, but also that I feel fairly confident in our ability for the easier side of minimalism- letting go of stuff.
We get a lot of questions when we talk about minimalism. The first few are always a little awkward, because most people assume we mean that our house is some modern, Scandinavian-styled home with glass walls and curved-back chairs made of unfinished wood, or that I subscribe to the Japanese art of appreciating the few pieces we own, and storing them in an intricate and well-thought-out way. People are usually excited and want to know more about where we find things and who our favorite bloggers are. The truth is that we are nowhere near as cool as any of that. But we do like to have fewer things, and are always working towards living more with less stuff.
When we get down to that level, most people lose interest. That’s all? There’s no mantra to it? Why would you want to do that? I can’t identify with that. But, because most people we know are really trying to get out of debt, to save for kids going to college, and hoping to take some vacations and eventually retire, they also ask us how we make it work. Like anything, our answer is in our motivation. We don’t want stuff, we don’t like a lot of stuff, and we recognize we don’t need a lot of stuff. But for us, it goes a lot deeper than all that.
The hubs and I are millennials. (Or at least I am, and I am forcing him into this generation with me.) We grew up with parents whose mantra was “I want my kids to have a better life than I had.” They nailed it, y’all. Our fathers each grew up in considerable poverty, with both parents working their whole lives. Our mothers grew up slightly better off, but moving frequently because of their fathers’ jobs, and living modestly because their mothers didn’t work. We grew up in homes more than double the size of our grandparents’ homes. Our parents sent us to camps and took us to activities that extended well-beyond rec department baseball and school chorus. We wanted for very little, even when we had occasional hard times, and we definitely never experienced any level of poverty or even the working-class lifestyles that encompass a significant portion of our communities.
And then we started working. There are hardly words for my complete lack of preparedness for dealing with the working poor. Imagine me, as an HR manager, sitting with a single mom working a minimum wage job, for an organization that is determined to keep her weekly hours so low that she has to work 3 different minimum wage jobs, trying to explain how to create a schedule that includes time for her to get her kids to and from daycare and her multiple jobs, all while using public transportation. And then, in my naivety, encouraging this woman to “find a way” to go to college and break this awful cycle, because, after all, I was a single mom too, and I did it.
Yep, ignorant. And the hubs was worse. Here’s the deal. We had advantages of things like good schools, summer enrichment camps for things like science and writing, and participated in activities (for me, pageants) that taught us to communicate well and helped us succeed in interviews. The things that made us successful as adults weren’t things at all, they were opportunities and experiences. It took a lot of debt and financial worry for me to realize that no matter how many designer bags and shoes I had, saying “here I am, look what I’ve achieved” is a hell of a lot better than saying “here I am, look what I’ve acquired.”
The hubs has never struggled with minimalism. I remember when he first moved into my house- we were dating, but had decided that we wouldn’t be just dating for long- and he brought two plastic drawer-units into my closet. I think it took me more than a week to realize he actually moved in. I kept waiting for more stuff to arrive, and it never did. He just never had anything more than what he needed. Of course, he was also without debt and was never longing after something that might one day go on sale. I wanted to know that kind of freedom- it seemed so…uncomplicated.
Then the uncomfortable part happened. We got married. Okay, that wasn’t the uncomfortable part. But telling the truth was the uncomfortable part. I had to open up about how much credit card debt I had, how many credit cards I actually had, and how many times I’d overdrawn my checking account. I was humiliated. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I cried and cried. How was it that these women working for me were able to live on sooooo much less, and I was struggling to pay my bills? In looking at our differences, I was spending money on frivolous and ridiculous things. I had a swanky SUV, a monthly tanning membership, a regularly-maintained manicure, and fab-u-lous hair, if I do say so myself. And I was broke as a joke. Embarrassingly so.
Luckily I have a kind and gracious man who is not afraid to save me from myself. We made a plan to get out of debt (or to get me out of debt), and I made a commitment to stop spending money on nonsense and to stop keeping up the appearance of doing well. It worked well, in part because I truly hate getting my nails done, and I’m not a fan of tanning, and I can never find someone to watch my kids long enough to get my hair done anymore. I actually don’t mind wearing the clothes I already own and have owned for some time, and I have the advantage of being able to invest well in good household items, so we aren’t constantly buying replacements for things that keep breaking. And we’re still working towards having less and less. In all honesty, I had the least stress about my home when I lived in 900 square feet, and could vacuum my entire house without ever unplugging my vacuum. It was glorious. We’re a far cry from those days, but we’re working our way back toward that life, and we’ve actually found HUGE fulfillment in it.
So how do we do it? Especially when our economic demographic puts us significantly at odds with this type of lifestyle? Well, that’s to come in my next series of posts. I’ll tell you how I let go of some of my love for fancy, and still enjoy little luxuries without spending big bucks or bringing home armfuls of stuff. I’ll also tell you how we can live with 4 kids in less than 2300 sq. feet, and how we’re shooting to live in even less, plus show how our kids get in on the minimalist-action (hint: it’s easier to teach them not to get attached to stuff when they’re little…). I’ll wrap it all up with how we can watch our friends and acquaintances live it up in big ways on social media and not feel like we’re missing out, and how we beat the temptation to take all the free and discounted stuff that seems to always be offered to people with a bunch of kids and not a lot of space.
Stay tuned, friends… I think this one will be fun!