Becoming Minimalist: Heather’s Story

A while back, Becoming Minimalist used to feature stories of readers and their specific personal journeys into minimalism… some of their stories even ended up in our book, Simplify. Their stories encouraged us, challenged us, and reminded us of the importance of the journey.

And even though we have long since ended the series, a number of stories have trickled in over the years as readers have stumbled across our Share Your Story page hidden deep in the archives. Some of the stories are too good to keep to ourselves. So we’ve decided to post five – one every day this week. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have.

Heather’s Story

I’m new to the idea of minimalism. I grew up in a house that was full of stuff — family heirlooms (especially furniture) from my great-great-grandmother, great-grandmother, and grandmother filled our house. When a family friend (who had no children) passed away in 2005, my mother was the one who took on the task of going through her things and selling the house. A lot of those things ended up coming to our house.

That isn’t to say we bought a lot of things. My mother was very frugal and stretched every dollar that came into our home. I wore hand-me-downs from her friends’ older daughters, and she wore the same jeans for well over a decade. We didn’t go on shopping sprees — things just came in and didn’t leave. It wasn’t the sort of thing you see on “Hoarders” or even “Clean House”, by any means, but it was still hard to clean with all that stuff around.

Fast forward 5 years:

At 25 (and single), I bought a 60-year-old, 1,200 sq ft house with two bedrooms, a large kitchen, roomy bathroom, and a beautiful living room that spanned the front of the house — 8 windows let in tons of natural light all day.

And then, as homeowners typically do, I proceeded to fill it – every room with more and more stuff.

When I was recalled to the Army for deployment, it took the movers over 4 hours to pack up my house. Tons of papers, left over from my 4 years in the Army and never shreded. Seventeen boxes containing some 600 books. Boxes and boxes of clothes, most of which were left from my “skinny” days 3 years earlier. Kitchen appliances and dishes that I almost never used… You get the idea.

I was embarrassed that one person had accumulated so much stuff and resolved to deal with it when I got home.

After spending a year dragging the excess stuff issued to me by the Army (3 duffel bags, one very large rolling duffel bag, and a large rucksack) through 5 different states and then to two different places in Afghanistan, I became more determined to simplify my life when I got home. Half of the stuff I’d been forced to haul around had never been used, and my living space was an 8 x 8 sq ft room. The deployment showed me how little I really need to get by, both in terms of stuff and in terms of space.

I returned home from Afghanistan in June 2011. At first, it was pretty easy. After moving into an apartment, my furniture consisted of a cot in the bedroom, a plastic tub I used as a table, and a folding chair. But then the movers brought my stuff. And it filled over half of my living room.

Slowly and deliberately I went through the boxes. I read It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh to bouy my resolve when it wavered.

It’s been six months now since I moved in, and I just unpacked the last box. I came across The Joy of Less and Inspiration to Declutter a few days ago. I’ve taken several bags of books that I’ll never read (or reread) to my favorite used bookstore for credit. I’ve parted with all but 6 of my absolute favorite Barbie dolls; the rest have either been listed on Amazon or donated to Goodwill. I’m going to tackle my closets (again) tonight.

I still have a long way to go, but with every box or bag that leaves the house, I feel happier and more free — and that alone is worth more than all the stuff in the world!

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Its a freeing feeling when you realize you’ve just gotten rid of something you didn’t really want or need. It makes you realize just how much wasted time, money, and worry goes into our possessions.

    P.S. Welcome home, and thank you for your service!!

  2. says

    I love these stories. They inspire me. I’m a singe mom living in a 1200 sq. ft. apartment with my daughter and I’m working on decluttering and going minimalist. We just finished her room and today I’m starting on the kitchen. Thank you for the inspiration to stay committed to this.

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing your story Heather! My family is also working through things relatives have left. It’s quite the process. Best of luck as the decluttering continues! Thank you for your service as well!

  4. says

    First, thank you for your service! Second, I can totally relate to you growing up stories. Growing up and even now I buy very little, but it is so easy to hang on to what I never needed to ‘adopt’ in the first place.

    Thanks for sharing your story! The Joy of Less is a great book, I will have to look up the others you mentioned.

  5. Heather says

    It really does, and the fact that most things I “couldn’t live without” before just don’t mean as much to me post-deployment is a big help. That deployment really rearranged my priorities: my cats, my family, my friends, and my faith are the most important things in my life now, and I’m working hard to get things in order so that I can devoted my limited off time to playing with my cats instead of cleaning house.

    I pared down my DVDs by 1/3 this afternoon. I’m finding it surprisingly easy to get rid of things when I put three items side-by-side and ask “Which one means most to me/do I use most/like most/wear most?” I keep the one and the rest go to the donation box – no cheating and keeping two. : ) My apartment is starting to look much more organized. I’m going to keep working on it and hope to have it done in the next two weeks. Decluttering — just as good as chocolate! ^_^

    Lorilee — I found “It’s All Too Much” to be a wonderful, extremely motivating book. I hope you’ll agree! : )

  6. Lynne says

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, and it kind of sparked something inside of me.
    I sometimes wonder if the reason I got so cluttered is due to the fact I grew up in a very poor household and didn’t have much? Is my compulsion to surround myself with belongings somehow in direct response to having nothing? Am I trying to convince myself that I can afford stuff now so life is therefore better?
    When I say I’m cluttered I’m in no way a problem hoarder. I just see things, i.e. appliances, and think “Oh – I really need that!” and add it to my collection. Same with cushions, throws, pot plants, recipe books. Everything has its place and yet they don’t add to my quality of living.
    I am in the process of clearing stuff out. It’s an ongoing thing and I’ve been doing it for a year now. I’m greatly hindered by my lovely family who seem to bring things into the house as quickly as I remove things.

  7. Heather says

    Lynne-

    Could be. My family wasn’t dirt poor — at least, not in my mind at the time. Of course, looking back and discussing things with my mother now, I know we really were quite poor. I just never thought about it, I guess. Keeping “perfectly good” stuff was just what we did. Perhaps part of my clutter issue is that I never saw it as clutter, because lots of tchotchkes were the norm at my mom’s, but now that I’m really looking at it as “just stuff”, I see it as unwelcome dust collectors.

    I know what you mean about being cluttered-yet-not-“Hoarders”-type-cluttered. My real clutter point is clothing, specifically my old uniforms. I don’t want to donate them to a thrift store, since I know that somebody will think they’re making a fashion statement by wearing an ACU jacket or trousers. It’s a massive pet peeve of mine (and when I say “massive”, I mean MASSIVE). In the end, I keep them just so they won’t be part of some emo kid’s new “non-conformist” outfit. : P

  8. Fiona says

    Wow! I love that she shared her story with us, what a treat!

    And what an amazing journey from such a huge house to a room with backpacks … and of course a continuing journey of redefining what we need and want in our space.

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