Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Allison Fallon.
It started about four years ago, my journey with minimalism. I was single at the time, living in Portland, Oregon.
Looking back, I don’t think I would have called it minimalism. But I would have told you that, at some point, I looked around my life and realized I had collected a lot of stuff and that I would never really be able to pursue what mattered most to me if I wasn’t able to let go of my physical possessions.
Actually, I would have emphasized, it wasn’t just my possessions, but the way I thought about them.
At first, I resisted this notion. I worried giving up my stuff would make me seem flighty and immature, and I especially worried that would mean I would never get married. I was in my late twenties at the time and I was convinced no guy would take me seriously without a good job and a house full of nice things. This was just one of the many toxic thoughts that was keeping me trapped.
Meanwhile, in another part of the country, my now-husband was on his own journey with minimalism. Though we didn’t know each other yet, he was realizing, like I was, that his physical possessions weren’t doing for him what he thought they would. And he was challenging himself to let them go.
By the time we met each other, we were knee-deep in questions about how life was meaningful beyond our physical stuff.
We were prepared, in this really beautiful way, to continue asking those questions together.
For the past several years, my husband and I have been experimenting. I say “experimenting” because it has been a process for us to figure out how much stuff is too much stuff, how much is too little, and where a healthy balance lies for us in each different season. But the most beautiful part of this journey is this: even when we’ve erred on one side or the other, the journey has been incredibly rewarding.
We’ve lost a lot of stuff along the way, but we don’t miss it.
Here’s what we’ve gained:
1. Peace of mind.
I didn’t realize how much I worried about my stuff until I let it all go, and suddenly I had mental and emotional energy again. It’s a similar feeling to letting go of bitterness you’ve been harboring for a long time. You don’t even realize you are holding it, and then you let it go, and suddenly realize—you’re free.
This is how it has felt to let go of my stuff. At first, the idea (like forgiveness) seems horrific. How could I give up these clothes, or these fancy pillows, or this box of letters?! They were so important to me. But then, I let them go, and after six months, I could hardly remember why I ever needed them so much. I found so much peace in letting go.
2. Impulse control.
If you would have asked me five years ago, I would have told you ‘impulse aisles’ were designed for people just like me. How I said it would have been important, too (“just like me”) because I assumed that I was just the “type” of person who didn’t have control over her impulses. Little did I know that having control over my impulses wasn’t an issue of personality or temperament, but of discipline.
Ever since I stopped buying stuff, the most amazing thing has happened. I have walk-away power. I can walk into Target, or to a grocery store, and only buy the things I need, or walk out empty-handed if they don’t have what I was looking for. I know that sounds simple, but it translates to a sense of control over much bigger areas of my life as well.
3. Health and happiness.
I’m actually healthier and happier since I’ve lived with less stuff. Probably because I sleep more, work less, and feel less stress about money.
4. Freedom to pursue my dreams.
In the past few years I’ve been able to pursue the things that really matter to me because I’m not bogged down by things like car payments, a job I hate (but that pays my bills); and because I’m not so attached to my physical possessions that I’m unwilling to put them in a storage unit for a couple of months, or ditch them and get different ones later.
For me, this has meant I’ve been able to travel, write a book, develop friendships, spend more time with my husband, work on projects I care about, and spend time at a non-profit in my area that gives me joy and satisfies my spirit. What could this kind of freedom mean for you?
5. A more nuanced understanding of “responsibility.”
I used to think I couldn’t give up most of what I owned—and I certainly couldn’t quit my full-time job—because it wouldn’t be “responsible.” But as I began to give up my possessions, I realized that I had a really skewed view of what responsibility was and what it meant. I thought buying a certain kind of laundry detergent was more “responsible” than buying another.
What I’m learning is that responsibility looks different for everyone, and that part of being responsible is knowing how to care for your spiritual and emotional self, which transcend the physical. What if part of being “responsible,” in other words, is listening to your spirit when it tells you, each morning as you drive to work, or as you look at the clutter in your house, that it is suffocating?
6. Extra cash.
I used to think I barely made enough money to pay my bills. I lived pretty much paycheck to paycheck. But it’s amazing how much room we found in our budget when we realized we could live without cable, internet, or gym memberships. We also share a car (that we own outright) and don’t have any credit cards.
The exact decisions we’ve made wouldn’t work for everyone, but what we’ve learned is that there is often room in our budgets we didn’t realize was there, and when we gave up the things we didn’t really want in the first place, we were able to collect invaluable experiences we never would have been able to afford otherwise.
7. Once in a lifetime experiences.
We’re always trying to curate experiences, so we travel all the time—to conferences, to weddings, to vacations, or just to visit friends. When one of us goes on a work trip, the other often comes. We love to try new restaurants, explore new places, and be generous with friends. We host people at our apartment in Nashville often, and sometimes even fly friends in. We spend money on classes, books, and experiments.
We take a small part of our paychecks each month and set it aside to curate experiences that will be memorable. We never regret spending money on experience.
It’s amazing how scared I was when my life was centered around all of my stuff. I would actually have recurring nightmares about my stuff (which my dad, who is a clinical psychologist, assures me was about more than just physical stuff, but about what physical stuff represented to me). Regardless, I can hardly believe I created such a sense of security around physical possessions.
Since I gave up my stuff, I’m amazed at the sense of courage I’ve found.
Because my stuff does not define me, I am able to take more risks for things that really matter.
9. A developed sense of self.
For a long time I thought that what I owned said something about me, and maybe in a way, it does. But the way I felt like it said something about me was this: If I owned a couch from Pottery Barn, that meant I had really made it. When I could stop buying my furniture at IKEA, then I’d really be an adult.
Now, that thought seems so ludicrous to me (and sad, and demeaning). But I think what I felt was that what I owned was a reflection of my self-worth. And now, thanks to the fact that I don’t have a couch from Pottery Barn, and never have, my self worth comes from somewhere much deeper and more secure. You can’t put a price on that.
10. Better relationships.
It’s no surprise that with more courage, a better understanding of myself (my real self), less anxiety, more freedom and greater discipline that my relationships have improved dramatically. My friendships are richer and more satisfying. I fight with my husband less. I’m less likely to end up in a toxic relationship that steals all of my energy. It’s easier for me to let silly things go that don’t matter—because I understand what matters now.
My life isn’t perfect, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been, more satisfied than I ever was before. I would never go back.