Becoming Minimalist: Joanna’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 enjoyed receiving them.

Joanna’s Story

I had the luck in my life to learn the value of having just the right amount of things early in my life. Part of it comes from the fact that I was born in communist Poland – even though the communism ended just as I was starting school. My parents and grandparents, born just before or during WWII, lived their whole lives in a country and time where you bought whatever you could find, because you could be sure, that when you needed e.g. a new iron, they would be missing from shops. They are not hoarders, but they loved having and buying stuff “just in case.” My parents also taught me to use things (like the mentioned iron) until they broke down and could not be repaired.

My family was always relatively wealthy, so I had almost everything I wanted. But luckily, my parents also taught me the value of saving money, so I was never the one for impulsive buying.

On the other hand, my husband comes from a much poorer family. When he first started having money of his own, he used it to buy all kinds of stuff. He even used to say that he has the money to spend the money. That made me very uneasy. Luckily for me, at this time, he lived in a crowded dorm, so he quickly learned the value of having less things around. Not being able to sleep in your bed because of all the stuff laying on it does that to you.

When we were 20, we rented our first apartment not far from my parents. As a result, I had the comfort of leaving most things there and every now and then I took a backpack full of books or clothes to my new home. We moved once more with our friends – this time to live longer in one place and get married.

Until I found the right set of cutlery, dishes, cups, linens and so on we had mostly hand-me-downs from both families. At this point, some of the lessons from my early life turned on. I couldn’t get rid of the old stuff… I held on to most of it “just in case.” To make things worse, my parents took all my old stuff to my new house. We bought new cupboards and shelves, but they were always full. We felt stuck, forgetting what we had already learned years earlier and sinking in things, especially since our son was beginning to crawl and get into everything.

One day, about a year ago, a friend of mine was moving in with her fiancé. They used to live in a rented, fully-furnished apartment and now they had bare walls. She felt scared thinking about all the money she would have to spend on necessary things, especially with the wedding coming. In a spur-of-the-moment, without even thinking, I offered her all my old dishes, cups, bowls and some kitchen utensils that I had just lying around. She was really happy to get them (even though they were clearly old and used) and, deep-down, I was happy that I didn’t have to throw them away but could give them a new life.

Some time later, another friend sent me the Minimalists’ essay on giving and receiving gifts. And my eyes opened. That was exactly what I felt about most of the gifts. I read more deeply, and decided to really clean out our home. Some may say that it was a stupid idea, as I was pregnant with our second child, but it actually made a lot of sense. Letting go of many things in my home and really thinking about practicality of baby-stuff allowed me not to drown in it again. And having less clutter around our home has allowed me to focus more time and energy on what’s most important in my life right now.

That being said, I found that the most difficult part is not to let clutter re-enter your home. Another saying by my husband, “You can’t win against entropy.” But I always reply, “But you can still fight the good fight.”

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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  1. says

    I understand the mindset that you can inherit from your family. My grandparents grew up as young adults during the Great Depression, and they handed down philosophies of use and need that have influenced my parents and me to this day. Some of them are good ideas–use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without. But the flip side is the tendency to “hang on” to something “just in case.” I have to fight that in myself–asking myself, “When was the last time I used this? What would happen if I needed it again but didn’t have it? Oh, the world wouldn’t end? Hmmmm…..”

  2. says

    I think my Dad suffered from the “just in case” mindset and the “I have money, therefore I must spend money” mindset. After getting divorced and living in limbo with his parents for a few years, he got his own apartment and proceeded to fill it up with all manners of useless things. A man whose cooking skills were limited to ramen noodles and microwave dinners still felt a need for a china cabinet and multiple sets of china!

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