Three Lies That Kept Me From Simplifying My Life

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Allison of AllisonVesterfelt.com

packing-lightly

“You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you try to put it all in a box.” —Allison Vesterfelt

It all started when a friend asked me this question: “What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about money?” My answer was: I would quit my job, move out of my apartment, sell all my things, visit all 50 States and write a book about it.

The only problem was, once I said the words out loud, I realized how much I really wanted to do it.

Was it possible? Could I simplify my possessions to only what would fit in my car, leave behind friends and family, change my buying habits, and quit many of the commitments that were cluttering up my life? Could I live out of a car for a year of my life? I wasn’t sure. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there were three main lies keeping me from simplifying my life to follow my dreams.

The lies went like this.

This is not how you do it.

At the same time I was dreaming about going on a year-long road trip, I was also shopping for a house, and telling myself (secretly) that if I went on a crazy road trip, I would never get married or have a good life. After all, this was how you do “it.” This is how you grow up and become an adult. No potential friend or husband or boss would ever take me seriously if I quit my job and sold all of my stuff.

That was moving backwards. Wasn’t it?

But where did I get the idea that buying a house and working a job I didn’t enjoy was “how you do it.” What was “it” exactly? And who was “you?” It couldn’t be me. Because I was miserable.

Once I gave up the idea that I had to follow a certain prescribed set of actions in order to look like an adult, I was released to do what I really wanted to do and become who I really wanted to be. And guess what? If I would never have gone on the road trip, I would never have met my husband—who read my story and said to himself, “I have to meet that girl. That’s hot” (his words, not mine).

People will reject me if I don’t have nice stuff.

This is a lie I’ve had to root out over and over again in my journey. It always seems to grow back. But somehow I’ve gotten the impression that unless I have pretty clothes and a nice house with a hot tub and a boat I can use to take friends out on the weekend, people will reject me.

Think for a minute about the faulty logic in this reasoning.

When I take a minute to think about the people I like the most, and the qualities I appreciate about each of them—kind, hospitable, gracious, good listener, patient—I don’t think for a single minute about the stuff they have. And if people accept me because of the stuff I have and can share with them, they don’t really accept me at all.

Simplifying my life has given me an opportunity to grow up and grow out of my deep-rooted insecurity in this area.

The truth is, when I simplified my life, I actually gained more friends, not less. And my relationships became deeper and more meaningful. I was less stressed and more fun to be around and more secure with myself, so less likely to use others for what they could give me.

Simplicity and authenticity are attractive qualities.

I won’t be able to take care of myself.

I worried that if I simplified my life, I would have to sacrifice my independence and lean on others to support me. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills or provide the things I needed to live.

But, when I allowed myself to sit down and think about it, I realized I already depended on other people for all kinds of things, and that depending on others wasn’t a bad thing. Simplifying my life gave me the opportunity to lean in to this reality, and to grow in my ability to give gifts, and to receive them.

Also, living a simple life didn’t make it more difficult for me to pay my bills or provide the things I needed. It actually made it easier. The less stuff I had, the less debt I had, and the less stressed I felt over a job I hated — the more prepared I felt to take care of myself emotionally and practically, and the less I had to depend on others to hold together my fractured pieces.

Once I realized how these thoughts and ideas had been dictating my life for so long, and counteracted them with the truth, I was able to do what I wanted to do all along. I quit my job, moved out of my apartment, and spent a year driving across the country to accomplish my life-long dream of writing a book.

Now, I’m not just Packing Light for a long road trip, I’m living my life with way less baggage.

I’ve never regretted it for a minute.

***

Allison Vesterfelt blogs at AllisonVesterfelt.com where she inspires and encourages others to live with less. Her new book, Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage is helpful and compelling. I highly recommend it to you. She is also worth following on Twitter.

Image: JamesWatkins

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

    Awesome story, Allison! I just read your article that you had written for Jeff Goins yesterday and shared it on Google+.

    The funny thing about the second point you made, you’re right. No one cares. If anything, people are more likely to marvel at what little you have and they appreciate how content you are without tons of stuff.

    • Paper Doll says

      This is especially on the mission field when you visit a third world country. I have seen people in complete poverty, having so very little of what we value as the world’s goods. And YET — they are content and happy. And, yes, I do marvel.

    • Fiona Cee says

      This is true! I sort of envy my young nephew who lives his life in another country (and travels around a lot for work) pretty much with just a back pack. He’s just married a Colombian girl (he is Australian, or a ‘gringo’) and they are honeymooning around Peru. He is not stuck on stuff. Or with it!

  2. says

    “This is not how you do it” is a powerful show stopper for many. I’m glad to see you listed it here as a “lie”. When I decided to take a year off work to slow down and appreciate life, I was met with objections, largely around the concept of being the wrong thing to do because it didn’t fit the mold society requires us to fill. I’m so happy I didn’t listen. I’m so happy you didn’t believe the lie, either. Thank you for a great article.

  3. says

    I too was stopped by “This is not how you do it.” at the beginning. Sometimes being minimalist means moving in the opposite direction of society and thus in the opposite direction of your friends and family. Not getting bigger and newer things means that you can’t compare yourself anymore to anyone because they have what you don’t. But once you get over this superficial level, it is really awesome :) Yay for fulfilling your lifelong dream! I wish you the best of luck for all dreams that come after.

  4. Teresa Forrester says

    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing your life and thoughts with me. It’s encouraging to see someone give up the ‘mold’ and blaze a new trail. God Bless

  5. Tom Lynch says

    I sold my house and just about everything in it in 2004 and traveled the U.S. too for 2+ years. But I did it by taking a job as an over the road trucker. What a wonderful feeling being free of one’s possessions. It was a great Zen moment but worried my mother.

    I traveled every major road tip-to-tip and saw all 48 states in all four seasons multiple times. I took thousands of pictures from the seat of the truck as I went down the road.

    • jodell says

      wow. I use to think that owning a house made me feel safe. Now I know that is not true. I wish I could just up and travel the world and not be scared. No lie.

      • Loren says

        Tom, you are the living, breathing example of a real life Johnathan Livingston Seagull….you have given up much to gain….truth. Jodell, pick up a copy of the ook Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It will get you out of the box. Best of luck!

        • Astrid says

          Jonathan Livingston Seagull is totally amazing. What a great book to recomment. It fits well with this, in a philosophical/experiential sort of way. I need to re-read it soon!

          Downsizing also exists in this form: not-upsizing when it’s expected. I didn’t upsize when I went from being a student in a tiny apartment to working. Everyone told me I’d have to move. But why? I loved my little apartment. And I was too busy starting in the working world to tackle the process of moving. I’m happy I didn’t do it. Also financially, I’m very happy I didn’t do it.

          I never knew it (this is 20 years ago) but that falls under people telling me “this is not how you do it.” What a revellation to me now. I resisted. But I resisted because I couldn’t have complied. Necessity overruling complying.

          Now my husband and I are being told by family all the time to buy a house. We live in a nice, medium-sized flat/apartment with a very affordable rent in a very nice area of town. Why should we move and take on a big mortgage? Because “this is not how you do it”?

          For now we are ignoring these urgings from well-meaning people.

          I don’t believe owning a house will make my life better per sé. I believe it’ll make a lot of work for us – as the upkeep will be ours, and likely some renovations. I’m not hands-on. I’m a thinker. I’d rather just stay smaller sized and not have to do all that work. And we don’t need more space.

          I like where we are and I don’t like upheaval, and I don’t see the pros so much as the cons of upsizing our living arrangements.

          • Loren says

            Wow Astrid! Well Said. You have achieved the great overcoming of “the sheep” all following each other blindly, never questioning …..why?
            It’s a funny little word that puts the breaks on actions that could lead to more square footage, more stress, more hours at the job, more arguments with husband/wife and a lot off LESS…time with kids, time to relax, time to travel, time to just think a simple, pure thought. When we were considering buying a house we talked with neighbors who had purchased a home at the “urging” to live the “dream”. They told us that they hadn’t been on a vacation since they bought the house, as every last dollar and minutes in the day were consumed “feeding” the house……new roof, landscaping, furnace dies, etc….If you don’t have more square footage, you don’t need as much to fill, maintain or even money to pay for it. Inner contentment and mastery is the only way to peace. Not the next Bigger Thing. Well Said!

          • says

            I enjoyed your comment too Astrid. It’s all kinda weird. Everyone tells us it should be done a certain way, but deep down you know what you’re doing is right. I think the more we exercise listening to our own drummer, the easier it becomes to recognize.

  6. Rodney says

    “Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”

    – Henry David Thoreau, in “Walden”

  7. Alex says

    I really liked the article, but I’m not convinced of the third point at all. I guess you could sleep in your car, but the cost of food and gas would still be there, especially if you’re driving a lot every day. I don’t see how you could do this without some source of income.

  8. says

    These are all so TRUE! I think the first two are the ones that catch you when you are fairly young and the last one is the one that trips you up when you get to mid-life. People at that age (mine) are constantly worried about health and how to take care of themselves (and will they ever retire) and as you say, seem to fear a more simple life as though it were a sacrifice–instead of filled with numerous advantages. I can’t tell you how many people my age seem to fear ending up on the street and homeless. Where does that come from? As long as I have decent health–I know I can always get a job and both get by and be happy. I think far too many people are terrified that if they didn’t have a bunch of “stuff” they wouldn’t be anyone or anything at all…and maybe that’s the FOURTH BIG LIE which is: You are nothing more than the quality and quantity of your stuff. Thanks for your thought provoking post…. ~Kathy

    • Shelly K. says

      I love what you added “and maybe that’s the FOURTH BIG LIE which is: You are nothing more than the quality and quantity of your stuff.”
      What a truth that is. So many people define their self worth based on what they can possess and how great society thinks it is.

  9. says

    Okay, the fundamentals of your article are great…but I want to hear the story that goes with this line:

    If I would never have gone on the road trip, I would never have met my husband—who read my story and said to himself, “I have to meet that girl. That’s hot”

    Now that will be some story! Cheers on living a life that brings you joy :)

  10. says

    So excited for your minimalism journey! My bf and I are doing the same… We rented out the condos, sold everything, put some stuff at our parents and we are travelling for a year on the pan-American highway. Saving up for this trip and going without certain stuff made us realize how little we actually need. I hope you are able to fulfill all your dreams of travel and finding someone to share the journey with. Namaste…

    • dragonfly328 says

      Hey – don’t leave the stuff with your parents!! They may want to unclutter their lives too! If you aren’t needing it – get rid of it!

  11. Kristi says

    Allison, I can relate to living life the way you think it’s supposed to go. I recently let go of that image of what my life is supposed to look like and am trying to get a better vision of what I WANT my life to look like. I’ve spent years putting others ahead of me thinking their happiness was worth more than mine. But I decided life is too long to be so unhappy just to keep others happy. And right now, the freedom of minimalism suits my last nerve just fine!

  12. says

    Interesting article, strikes a sweet spot in my current life.

    I’ve left everything behind and move to the States. Only to realize that the answers I was looking for, could have been found back home, but I couldn’t figure it out, had I not came here to realize that.

    Once you move out of your comfort zone, you start realizing the true reality, without the shadows of empathic connection to the current one.

    • Loren says

      You are a brave soul my friend. Many dream,but never have the guts to follow thru. Even if you only gain an understanding, it changes your entire perspective and even if you move back, you see things with new eyes. Best of luck to you.

  13. Loren says

    Kudos to You Allison!! You have the right spirit and don’t come across as contrived. I like how you are being true to your feelings and letting go of the doubting voices, as they are usualyy connected with our parents, whom may have been too stern or idealistic to really have thought or lived outside the normal box that people usually use to trap themselves in their “this is how an adult should act…” What a load of BS!!
    This is a great article that forces us to examine our dance with happiness and feeding the flames of our spirits to let them burn even brighter than we once thought possible. Your words are very refreshing. Thank You.

  14. says

    Ah, I know this feeling well. I did the same thing but I quit my job. sold everything, and traveled the world (still traveling). Those lies we tell ourselves are so powerful. The fear we feel! The resistance!! The “I can’t do this because it isn’t a normal thing to do.” Yet doing these unconventional things make our lives so colorful. Kudos to you Allison.

  15. says

    I’ve been working on simplifying my life for nearly a year now, but I still really struggle with the last point you make. I am working a job I’m not too fond of right now, but I fear that if I walk away from it I won’t be able to help provide for my family and my child will suffer for my selfishness if I don’t bring in enough money. Any thoughts on how to reframe that?

    • Loren says

      Hey Sarah, It can seem scary trying to put your beliefs into motion. I have found that the best way to leap off of a boat when you are in the middle of the ocean is to NOT jump into the sea, but rather look for a boat that you can leap onto. What I am saying is that while you are at your current job, you can start to plot your escape. Let’s say you make 20k a year, but you have to drive x number of miles and eat food on the run. Now let’s say you really want to start a blog & sell antiques on ebay, because you love hunting for items at yard sales and thrift stores. After figuring out what it costs you to drive x number of miles each day and spend on food, clothing for work, daycare for the kids while you work etc, you should deduct all of these things from your paycheck to see what you are really making at your current job each week…ex $400 check minus $80 gas, $50 food on the run $120 daycare 30 work clothing leaves you with what you are really earning …..
      in this case $120. Now, THIS is how much you really need to make per week to survive in your current lifestyle. Now lets’ say you use only $30 for gas $0 daycare, $0 food on the run & finally $0 on work clothing…you are now starting to see how much you would have to make between blogging & Antiques on ebay per week…about $150. But it doesn’t have to stop there. If you use a bicycle,$0 gas Sell the car (+ 5,000 into Savings), unplug electric items when not in use will knock down power bill by 30-40% costs. Before you know it, you are living more and spending less, stressing less & feeling more ON PURPOSE. You might just have to start to get things ready, while you bide your time at current job. Eventually the opportunity will come (let’s say someone offers you a part time gig working at the thrift store making $120-200/week) and you start selling some items on ebay and average $120-300 per week. Before you know it, you will want less hours at current job to concentrate your efforts on more fulfilling NEW activities. It will feel less like work and more like living…just give yourself permission to imagine where you could be by this time next year and slowly make it happen. I went from being a full time Manager (hated my job, grinding teeth in sleep, stressed out all of the time) to a Guitar Teacher/ Band Member/ Vintage Toy & Comic Dealer…..WAY BETTER!!! I’m Happier and sleep much better…and you can too…Good Luck!

  16. Tara says

    I was so terrified of leaving my job and moving to a new city that I delayed for a year having anxiety attacks the whole time… then after I finally took the leap and did it, it was easy and I couldn’t remember what I was so anxious about. Looking forward to the next leap already.

  17. Maren says

    Great article! I can totally relate, a dream I’ve had to move to British Columbia is finally coming true. I let the lies stop me and I let people talk me out if it for many years. I’ve simplified to the back of my truck and leave in two weeks.

  18. says

    I remember my husband watching his friend drive off with our dressers. That’s when it hit him that we were really selling our stuff. It was hard to leave our families and friends, and we got homesick sometimes.
    We traveled and lived out of our van for a year, connecting with people we would never have met any other way. That experience strengthened our marriage and popped us out of the “right way” to do things. Like Allison, I’m so grateful for the experience, and I highly recommend it!

  19. Marya says

    The simple life is beautiful; but I believe that having a house is a must for a comfortable life; a house with the minimum furnitures as possible. To travel is interesting but there are certain times we need the safety and stability of possessing a house.

  20. says

    I think its best to have a house or an apartment if one has children living at home . This is a great time to start taking mini trips eg. during summer holidays or breaks. And you can start practising a minimalist lifestyle . Later on when the kids have flown the nest one can travel the whole world(maybe even with that one backpack).So you can start preparing your mini trip right now!!

  21. Carol says

    This artical is great and actually confirmed many of my beliefs. I’ve accomplished a few of these things and have more in my plans. I’m 68, this summer I got on the back of a motorcycle with very few belongings and took a 1000+ miles trip. At age 52, without any prior planning, just a strong belief that I could survive and enjoy it, I retired from a good job that I disliked. I am a survivor!!! Now I’m removing, by one means or another, all my stuff but the bare minimum. Almost free, almost free at last. I have a new car, that trip sounds wonderful, even if the first part is just in Georgia!

  22. kristinfrederick says

    Yes, I feel the same way except I actually LOVED my job. Life had a way of forcing me to seriously think about my priorities and what really matters. Your sites stories have been such a blessing to me. I am proud to teach my children/grandchildren to learn a different way which in turn will continue.Hopefully to the point of less landfills, pollution, gottahaveitnow attitude, consumerism, etc. . . . .

  23. says

    “It all started when a friend asked me this question: “What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about money?”

    Last year, I quit my job and started a web series based on this question. It was something I really couldn’t answer for myself, so I decided to ask others. In turn, the process of meeting and interviewing people has helped me get closer to understanding what I want.

    My girlfriend and I have been slowly streamlining our lives, so everything written here is relateable. This spring, we’ll be moving into an RV and taking the next steps in our minimalist, experience-based journey.

    You can find the series at: FindingWhatsNext.com or by searching for it on Youtube.

    Thanks!

  24. linda says

    Did that for 4 1/2 yrs in my early 30’s as crew on small sailing yachts around Cental America and the Caribbean. You do not have to own a yacht or even know how to sail. You may have to share food expenses until you learn. You will meet people who know nothing BUT minimalist lives and are very happy. That includes locals everywhere and other cruising folk. There is a whole subculture of people doing this. So glad I experienced it, it changed me forever. Have been back in the midwest now since ’85, am a married homeowner, parent of a teen adopted from foster care, even a landlord. Securely retired and looking to dowsize and travel by rv, bicycle, other modes with my husband on extended trips. We have never fallen into the consumerist trap or keeping up with the jones’s…we keep, fix and reuse stuff for years, which is why we can now afford to do what we want once our teen is safely launched out of the nest.

  25. Marion GEORGE says

    I love this idea of becoming minimalist and really know it would be a good thing, but at the same time I find the thought of it a bit scary. I’m 74 years old and am the ‘carer’ for my 84 year old husband who has asbestosis. We’ve always had an attitude of living a simple life and have never felt we had to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. You could say we are ‘Hunter Gatherers’ , making things and making do, rather than clamouring for the latest and greatest of anything, really. We live in a country area and our water is free as we have no access to town water supply, so we’re self-sufficient with rain-water tanks, we don’t pay for heating as we’ve got a wood-burning slow-combustion fire and we’ve grown our own trees on our 5 acre plot specifically for firewood. Also we have Solar panels on the roof and so we get no bill for our electricity. It’s a lovely way to live, but I’d be very happy to discard heaps of the ‘stuff’ we’ve accumulated over more than a half a century. I don’t know where to start !!!

    • sabrina says

      hi marian,

      have you looked at ebay or craigslist to help with downsizing? you MUST be cautious with craigslist if people are coming to your home, and i would recommend meeting in a public venue if you can.

      or, are there second-hand or consignment businesses locally? i met a man who owns his own curated consignment store when i first moved to town, and he said that if items were large enough or there was a big enough selection, he or his partner would be willing to travel out for a look. maybe there is someone like that near you.

      the other thing you could do is look for a “caregiver” type of person who could help. i have a friend who was hired as a caregiver for a woman who was overloaded with things (actually, she was a hoarder) and my friend was tasked with helping her purge her items.

      best of luck to you!

  26. says

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!!!!

    Great post that I can’t wait to share and after reading all the comments above it seems that all the people who follow through on their dreams like yourself achieve successful results by being a failure!

    By that I mean they fail to be conditioned by society’s views of what should or shouldn’t be and decide to map their own route to happiness!

    Congratulations Alison on failing to be indoctrinated by the Borg!

    David

  27. says

    What a great article! I can especially relate to #1. We sold everything and moved to England with 4 suitcases while our friends were buying houses and having kids. We moved back to the States two years later and fell back into the trap. Bought a house that was way too big for 2 people and filled it with stuff. We’re now back to a small apartment with very few possessions at the ages of 35 and 40. We feared it would appear to people as though we were moving backwards but we’re happier than ever.

  28. Yaz says

    Great story, however, only applies to people with no responsibilities and no children, if i was to rely on others to put food on the table and clothe my children they would be hungry and cold, we have a minimalist life, I chose to show my children that life is about living not owning things and they prosper from that, but I have to say this post is geared towards the singles or couples, not the people with children, responsibilities etc that have already made lives and are looking to find a different lifestyle that gives them more fulfilment, kind of missed the boat for me on this one which is why I will no longer follow you, thanks for all the other advice

    • Kimberly says

      You’d stop following because this one particular article didn’t apply to you at this point in your life? Talk about missing the boat!

    • Carole says

      There are few articles I read that hit it 100% of the time. It’s about taking what works for you and applying it (or not). This particular article doesn’t even come close for me. That’s okay.

      Chances are that your idea of minimalism and mine probably differ. My ideas certainly are not the same as the author of this article.

      Like with anything else in life, it’s about taking away what you can.

      Discontinuing following a blog due to one article seems extreme.

  29. Mary says

    I love this article. I e been minimalist to some degree since my early 20s.

    One way I’m different is that I want nice things. But not just for the sake of having nice things. Rather, those things I need and use and want to have should be the best quality I can afford. We cook a lot, so my kitchen tools and appliances need to be high quality. We choose to have a large home library, so we want strong, good looking bookcases.

    That said, each item is a conscious choice, carefully considered. I love to travel, but as I get older, I also love the comfort of my home….all 700 square feet of it.

  30. says

    I agree, a great message for those who can do it, but for those with life responsibilities (not talking debt here), it’s not generally possible to sell everything and travel the states or the world. Would I like to? Sure. Is it possible? Not really. Not at this time. If I were single, in a heartbeat.

    My husband and I do live with a lot less ‘stuff’ than the majority of Americans. Both of our cars are over ten years old. We live in a small house by the standards of today (1500 sq ft). We don’t have the boat and all of the other toys that many feel the need to acquire. For us, those things are unnecessary.

    My husband actually likes his job. And I like mine.

    Do we still have clutter? Sure we do, but we’re working on releasing it out into the universe. lol

    I disagree about the following….There are few articles I read that hits it 100% of the time. It’s about taking what works for you and applying it (or not). This particular article doesn’t even come close for me. That’s okay. It’s not a reason to stop following the blog. Your idea about minimalism probably isn’t the same as mine. And it’s certainly not the same as the author of this article. Chances are we’ve all got our own ideas about what it entails, and that’s normal. We’re all different.

    Like with anything else in life, it’s about taking away what you can.

  31. says

    This really spoke to me, especially the “People will reject me if I don’t have nice stuff” part. I am trying (and failing, and then succeeding, and then failing again … endless cycle) to live minimally but then the comfort for material goods to “fit in” with whomever I think I need to fit in with, or whatever I want to feel a part of, gets the better of me. I am finding though that over time it’s not the “stuff” that make me who I am, so I try to keep with that sentiment.

    I really love that travel and exploration fuelled you to live minimally too. Nothing beats travel!

    Thanks once again for this post – it was a great read!

    xxx

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