Updated on August 6, 2016
I’ve been thinking about the concept of belongings & their direct relationship to freedom. If we own a lot of stuff, we tend to need a large property to store them in, we may need storage lockers or overflow storage elsewhere, we may even find ourselves needing to move house just to accommodate our belongings.
For a long time I was following that pattern. The first few times I moved house as an adult I only needed the space in a car to transfer my belongings, as time went on that car became a few car trips, then small transit vans and finally large removal vans. At the same time, the size of my property was also increasing. We started out in a tiny 1 bedroom top floor apartment which was owned by family, sparsely furnished and housing only our most important possessions (which at the time where are only possessions).
Our next apartment was even smaller, it was essentially two rooms in a converted Victorian house in Manchester, which had both been split in two, giving us a small living room & galley kitchen downstairs, a small spiral staircase in the living room went up to a small bedroom and tiny bathroom. We physically couldn’t fit much into that space & as a result we had the bare essential items. We didn’t feel deprived & the rent was so cheap. Our bikes were locked in the communal hallway & as the rent was so cheap, we really did exactly what we wanted with our lives.
Fast forward a few years and we progressed to a bigger 1 bedroom apartment, then onwards to a 2 bedroom house, then to a 3 bedroom house before finally moving into a 4 bedroom town house with garage and driveway. We haven’t had children and our core belongings haven’t changed. We still value our computers, cooking equipment, books and media centre, but the space had allowed us to accrue a load of extras. We had extra seating in the living room in the form of massive armchairs & sofas (for guests). We had a huge dining table to seat 6 people (we are still a family of 2). A garage full of rarely used tools, a spare bedroom, another bedroom used as a dressing room. Another bedroom used as a study and 3 bathrooms. Things where completely out of control. We where earning more money than when we lived in that first 1 bedroom apartment but we had next to no disposable income, the rent was almost triple & we had run up debts.
At this time a very close friend of mine was emigrating to New Zealand. He had been travelling for around a year and had seen a lot of Europe and ended up over in Australia & NZ. While in New Zealand he had made some good contacts & did some voluntary work at a maker space. He had decided to take up an offer of employment at the maker space in Wellington & with a bit of planning was ready to go. I was really sad to see him go, we have been close friends forever but this move was a positive step for him & the lessons learned helped me inadvertently.
On the morning he was leaving, I offered to take him to the train station to start his long journey to a new life on the other side of the globe. When picking him up I was shocked & intrigued by the fact he only had his travelling backpack & a small hold all. I don’t know why, but I expected this move to be like all of my moves. Surely all of his stuff was being shipped over. That wasn’t the case, he was literally starting a new life with only the things he could carry.
For some reason that really resonated with me.
I guess we both had similar upbringings & we both seem to have an issue with being tied to anything for too long. Be that work, a location or a routine. We always seem to change things up & make drastic moves or changes. He has always been a bit of a minimalist. Never owning much stuff, never buying into the latest crap. He even held off buying a mobile phone for years & always seemed to have money. Probably, because while we were busy buying rubbish, he was saving.
Suddenly I realised that if he could start a new life with only his most important & personal items, I could slim down my life to a much more manageable level & start to downsize property & belongings. It didn’t take long.
Within a few months I’d given notice on our 4 bedroom house, sold my fancy car, sold off a ton of the extras we had acquired, donated most of my clothing & started culling every aspect of my life. Within a few months everything was sold, the house was gone & we filled a small 80sqft storage unit with our entire life. We moved in with family for a year to clear off the debts we had run up over 10 years of ‘maximum-ism’. Each day we paid off a bit of debt & regained some of our old spirit. After a year, we had paid off almost £18K & bought a tiny 11 year old Fiat Panda car. It was the start of a new chapter in our life.
The next step was to move to a new property. We found a lovely church conversion in Cornwall which was 350 miles away from where we lived. Within a month we had moved in. It’s a modest two bedroom property. One bedroom is our work office and the smaller room is our actual bedroom. It has one bathroom, one living room & a kitchen.
We are still on our Minimalism journey. Just last week I bought a kindle so I could start to give away my physical book collection & move to a much lighter digital library. All of my music is digitised & we only use streaming services for movies now so no DVD’s. I do most of my work (including writing these posts) on an old Thinkpad X200 laptop I got on eBay for £50. Before it would have been the latest & greatest Macbook. This U-turn was life changing & in part I need to thank my friend for showing me the true value of stuff in your life & how it can hold you back. If he could make a new life in a new country without all the trappings of his old life, so can I.
Minimalism is definitely something I would recommend if you have itchy feet & constantly like to be on the move. My boredom threshold is quite low & routine while useful, tends to stifle me. I like to change things up constantly. Becoming minimalist allows me to do this with much more ease. When we moved down to Cornwall I still felt like we had too many belongings. We filled a van & the panda to get down here. It’s definitely a work in progress & I would expect that most minimalists are in constant review of their belongings. We are still sorting & downsizing & we aim to pay off all remaining debts & move to Amsterdam in the next 12 months. Following in the footsteps of my friend, we may not move with just a backpack and hold all, but it certainly won’t be any more than what we can fit in the car. This prospect really excites me.
The friend in question is still one of my closest, we talk often on Skype & Whatsapp & I’m hoping as my downsizing & simple living continues, I’ll be able to afford the air fare to go & see him in his new surroundings. We haven’t seen each other since that morning at the Train Station & it would be great to see inside each others lives again. To meet his new friends & family. The day is fast approaching when that will become reality. He also currently works at a micro brewery in Wellington, so that can only mean good times, right?
If you are new to Minimalism, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below. If you are experienced, why not share some of your best advice with new readers.