Just before I retired in 2011 I sold almost everything I owned. It wasn’t because money was tight, but because I wanted to spend my life as an adventure, traveling the world, pursuing my passions of writing and photography and most of the things I owned weren’t going to fit into that lifestyle. I didn’t intend to become a “minimalist”, but I wanted to make the most of my retirement and as it turns out, a frugal retirement was the best thing that would make things work smoothly.
I didn’t intend to become a “minimalist”, but I wanted to make the most of my retirement and it was the best thing that would make things work smoothly.
Like most people in the western world, I had spent most of my life as a blindly accumulating happy baby boomer consumer, so getting rid of almost everything was not a casual decision. I had accumulated a lot of things over the years, but I knew experiences, being creative and relationships were things that brought me true happiness; not my stuff. Yes, I could have put everything in storage, but the real problem was that at the age of fifty I had outgrown most of my possessions. The thought of a retirement filled with a lot of stuff, but a finite amount of adventures and experiences, brought me fear.
Even though it seemed like a pretty radical idea, clearly it would be better to just get rid of everything that didn’t fit into my new life, including my house. I didn’t relish the thought of overseas calls with renters and maintenance people about clogged drains and broken sprinkler systems. Even though I had carried sealed boxes of stuff from previous moves several times before, I didn’t see the point of kicking the can further down the road again either. Most of my everyday things were nice, but they didn’t fit with the adventurous vagabond lifestyle I was planning for myself.
Still, to be honest, getting rid of it all was difficult at first. After all, these were things that I had actively chosen to be in my life at one point. Even though many of them had lost much of their utility and the thrill of acquisition was long past, it was still an emotional process. For some reason, we are hardwired to believe that more is better, even if “more” is an impediment to your freedom and your happiness. Because I was determined that my retirement years were going to be rich ones filled with wondrous things, I was also determined to clean out: Even if it hurt a little bit at first.
Still to be honest, getting rid of it all was difficult at first.
I started with the storeroom and the sealed boxes. There were old computers, outdated stereo systems (that I wasn’t sure even worked) and clothes that may have been in style a decade or two earlier. Getting rid of that stuff was easiest and I simply took most of it to some charity boxes. The sealed boxes were filled with things that for the most part I intended to break out again one day, but had forgotten even existed. After getting reacquainted with these things this was a bit harder, but I reasoned that since I didn’t miss them while I had forgotten them, why keep them now?
Soon I moved on to getting rid of the things I was using at the time, but didn’t fit into my new life; spare room furniture, wall hangings, kitchen things, work clothes, garden tools, hardware, etc., etc. One exercise that I used to remove the “sting” was to ask myself, “what would be thrown in the dumpster by the people tasked with cleaning up my estate if I were to die tomorrow?” Unfortunately there a lot of things that fit that category and that made it easier. (I just recently read this article that confirms the decision) Soon, because almost everything was gone, I was eating microwave meals off of paper plates. Because I knew I was starting an exciting new chapter of life, unburdened by my former excess it felt strange and wonderful at the same time.
I was under the delusion that what I owned was far more valuable than it actually was
Many things were sold, many things were given away and many things were trashed or recycled. Even though I was being brutal in my clearing out there were a few things – special gifts, things my son had made, old pictures and small reminders of my parents and grandparents – that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of and they are still stored in a small box at a relatives house. I wasn’t trying to erase the past, just reject the fraudulent notion that happiness in retirement comes from surrounding yourself with all the stuff accumulated over the years.
Making the decision to sell almost everything brings you face to face with what the value of your things truly is and I was under the delusion that what I owned was far more valuable than it actually was. Even though I had a house full of nice furniture, a kitchen full of high end appliances and wardrobes full of clothes, it would have only taken a few years of depreciation and storage fees to make keeping those things a financial loss. (I have talked to a number of people that have had loved ones pass and after talking with an estate agent they found the value of their loved ones possessions wouldn’t even cover the expense of moving things from their house.)
I know this isn’t for everyone, but giving up everything has gained me the world.
In the end I did keep a few things and as my interests have evolved I have purchased others. Because photography is one of my passions I keep my cameras and photographic equipment up to date. Now that I am starting to experiment with video I recently bought a new computer that can handle those extra demands. Last autumn I even bought a drone that I use to make aerial photographs and videos. Clothes wear out, things break and sometimes I even buy myself a treat, but I now have a different relationship with “stuff” and ask myself some hard questions before I buy more. I am not against having things — quite the contrary, but I am an advocate of mindfully having things in your life that serve a purpose and make it better.
I know minimalism can be defined in many ways and I have just found the one that works for me. I am not even sure I am happy with the term “minimalism”. Having too much distracts and drains energy away from things that matter and I don’t feel deprived in any way. In fact having less to maintain and worry about has brought me more freedom than ever. There is less clutter in my life and an unintentional consequence is that I have more money to spend on things and experiences that matter to me.
My attitude is that minimalism isn’t about scraping by with less; it is about mindfully only allowing things into your life that add value. I know this isn’t for everyone, but giving up everything has gained me the world.