I’ve been on a journey. As I’ve walked down the path of life, I’ve gradually shed my attachment to unnecessary material possessions. I used to think minimalism meant I couldn’t own anything, but then I discovered what minimalism meant to me.
Several years ago, I was stumbling down one of life’s many trails. I was often lost during these years; the path was obscured by the volume of gear I insisted on carrying with me.
Not only was it difficult for me to see where I was going, it was also challenging to find the mental and physical energy to put one foot in front of the other. My backpack was stuffed with possessions. When I ran out of room in my backpack, I strapped a bag to my chest and stuffed it until it threatened to burst. I was weighed down and felt the burden of my possessions digging into my shoulders, trying to bring me to my knees.
I amassed possessions in two ways. I purchased the things I thought would imbue me with happiness, and I refrained from letting go of the things I thought I might need in the future. I was convinced the things I owned directly correlated to my happiness, but I wasn’t happy. I purchased more things to fill the void in my life. I told myself that the right purchase would lead me to a trail with a beautiful lookout point. I would buy something, and life would reward me with a stunning waterfall view.
When the high of the purchase wore off, I bought something else in a desperate attempt to find these lookout points and avoid the dissatisfaction of life. Moments of happiness were purchased on credit and I racked up massive debt in my desperate attempt search for the elusive burst of dopamine.
When I couldn’t stuff anything else into my bags, I began carrying extra gear by hand. I could barely maintain my grip on these new things. I trudged along a trail I couldn’t see, tripping and stumbling. When I tried to make camp, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what I owned. I had to find a place to put my possessions and often I would pull items from my bags I didn’t even realize I owned. My muscles were sore from and my mind was tired.
About four years ago I decided I needed a change. I was immediately overwhelmed and felt anxiety course through me at the very thought of discarding one of my possessions. I spent months evaluating the items I carried in my hands, I wasn’t anywhere near ready to examine the things in my bags.
First, I needed to change my mindset. I listened to a few podcasts on minimalism and watched the documentary The Minimalist. The main takeaway which helped assuage my anxiety was I didn’t need to get rid of everything, instead I needed to keep what brought me value.
I looked at my possessions. As an example, I had over 60 shirts—some from high school. I felt the anxiety creeping up and my mind conjured images of some enormous construction project I was going to be a part of where I might need some sacrificial shirts. Fortunately, my rational mind kicked in and I was able to set aside 30 shirts to let go. I still had over 30 shirts at this point, not very minimalist of me, but it was a tiny step in the direction I wanted to go.
I continued to do this with the rest of my possessions. I still owned a lot of things, but my hands were now free, and my pack felt lighter. My stress levels decreased because I could see glimpses of the trail. When I saw the trail, I realized how much I’d been missing by only searching for the scenic lookout points. The trail of life is beautiful on its own.
I continued to evaluate my possessions over the months and years. I also stopped buying new things. My initial reaction to removing items from my pack was ‘look at all the room I have in here now for new things’. I forced myself to wait a week before making any new, non-essential, purchase and I always asked what value I thought it would bring me. Most of the time I ended up not buying the item I thought I wanted because I realized I didn’t want the thing; I wanted the thrill of the purchase.
My pack continued to lighten, and I began finding happiness in the items I had with me. I purged the things that didn’t bring me value which left me with things I appreciated. I experienced an unintended benefit of downsizing and changing my mentality towards purchases. I was able to stop living paycheck to paycheck. I have a whole post planned for the financial journey I’ve been on along with a budget template I created.
My journey to minimalism continues to evolve. My home isn’t empty. I still own books, tools, and backpacking gear but each item means something to me. The lack of tangible clutter allows me to see the path I’m on. The path is beautiful, and I’m excited every day to see what life will reveal to me as I continue to traverse it.