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.
I love the idea of the “American Dream.” Even though I am not American, I appreciate the idea of a life and opportunity that allows for health, a home, family, and the ability to pursue your happiness. However, I feel the idea has ballooned into a type of “Hyde” to the former “Jekyll”. Now, people don’t just want a house, they want 3,000 sqft with a yard the size of a small park. People spend millions of dollars on “health” products each year, including diet products, plastic surgery, supplements… and yet we are less healthy than ever. We pursue our dreams in terms of work – which is really just the pursuit (for most) of wealth – which leads us to work the longest hours we’ve ever worked. In turn, we see our families less and let other people raise them for us. Our kids are not allowed to just be kids anymore – they are scheduled each and every day.
It’s exhausting to think about. I realize that my portrait above does not apply to everyone. There are many people out there who are able to achieve balance and are able to accept where they are in life and live within their means. But overall, the trend is unmistakable. Yet, are we happier? I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to realize that the simple life may just be a better life altogether.
A “simple” life does not mean one has to go without. The truth is, our expectations are so out of whack we don’t even realize it. How did it become normal to have more than one or two televisions per household? Do we all really need more than one computer? One cell phone? What about more than three or four pairs of shoes?
This weekend I went through my closet in preparing for spring and summer (they say it’s coming, although looking out my window now I feel they are lying to me). As I went through my clothes, bringing summer ones out of storage, I was amazed at how many items I actually had. I made an inventory of the essential pieces a wardrobe should have (a white collared shirt, black pants, jeans, etc.). I was able to check off most things. I realized that all this time I had been thinking that I needed new summer clothes, but the reality is that I don’t need anything!
Ironically, the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic was on TV while I was doing this – very apropos right now I might add – and I recognized some of myself in her character (albeit not that extreme!). I was suddenly ashamed, but also liberated. I didn’t actually NEED anything! Ok, so the truth is that I actually needed a few things – but these are things I actually needed – i.e. underwear. So, today, armed with a list and budgeted amounts I was set to pay for each item (yes, I am a nerd), I went out and purchased only the things I NEEDED. It’s weird to say but I have never shopped this way before, other than for groceries. It was really fun and I didn’t feel guilty at all!
I know that the “American Dream” is basically an idealistic myth – most households are not the typical nuclear family with a dog named Max and a white picket fence, but the foundation and values of the idea resonate with me. I just want a nice home (I said nice, not HUGE or expensive), a reliable car, nice clothes (again, stylish doesn’t necessarily mean expensive), and a happy, healthy family. I’ll be honest, scaling down isn’t easy for me to do – I am used to a pretty comfortable life. But I also realize that to have the things I want (i.e. a family I can raise myself), I have to get used to being satisfied and more content. I need to stop always wanting more (and I have to also admit that it is EXHAUSTING to always want more). In fact, one of the foundations of the American Dream is “freedom from want”. I know that the actual meaning is freedom from wanting the necessities of life, but today, it means freedom to accept and be O.K. with where you are, right now.