Trial By Fire: Experiencing The Freedom Of Minimalism Through Unintentional Loss

Have you ever been asked what you would grab on the way out the door if your house was on fire? In that moment of panic, what would be most important to you (other than family or pets)? What material possessions would be important enough to risk your life to save?  

In some ways, we make these choices everyday, hanging on to possessions that have lost their meaning or purpose.I recently did some cabinet modification work in the home of a customer. The work required her to clean out and reorganize her kitchen cabinets. Everything had to come out so that new pullouts could be installed and make things more accessible. We chatted during the installation - counters piled high with pots and pans, cooking utensils and small kitchen appliances. She talked about having so much stuff and naturally the conversation turned to the possibility of getting rid of some of it. There were several items she found during the clean out that she had forgotten she had owned - a juicer she no longer used and had forgotten about, a dish long hidden in the dark recesses of her cabinet, you can probably relate. Some, she admitted, needed to be gotten rid of, but as she is an avid cook and frequent entertainer, a lot of it would have to stay.

Then she told me a story. A few years ago, she and her family had made a cross country move from California. All of their belongings had been moved into their new Georgia home. And that is when lightening struck, literally. The house and everything in it was a total loss due to the resulting fire. The only personal possessions left were the clothes they were wearing and a beautiful, lace depiction of the Last Supper that had fortunately been at the framers. I can't imagine what that must have been like to live through. Where do you begin to rebuild?

She told me that people asked her at the time how she felt. Her answer was not what I expected to hear. She said she felt free. She was free of all the possessions that had been weighing her down. She didn't have to cook, clean, or maintain anything - at least for awhile. Free. I'm sure there were other emotions she must have had at the time - angst, fear, sadness, confusion, etc. But liberation was what stood out for her years later.

Of course, I wouldn't recommend the fire method of decluttering or downsizing, but it does go to demonstrate, that having all this stuff is not what makes or keeps us happy. Not in the long term. Possessions require work. We must work to acquire them in the first place and then keep on working to maintain, repair, or store them. Yes, some of this is unavoidable. There are things we need day to day, things that bring us enjoyment, or things we cherish and just can't let go. But in that panic to flee your burning house, those things we once believed we could not live without become less important, less vital to our survival. We can live with less, even if it may be difficult, and become more free in the process.

Cutting The Cord: Minimize Without Eliminating Television Viewing Options

Simple living does not mean sacrificing things you truly enjoy. It means paying attention to the place those things serve in your life and making sure you are making the best choices for the cost and use of the things that are important to you.

If you are not ready to completely give up television watching but would love to reduce expenses in that area, Roku may be for you (please note that I am not an affiliate of Roku). There are lots of options in the Roku family. Their web site does a good job explaining the service and the options. We opted to go with last year's model to save a few dollars. It is new and never used and was purchased from ebay for $80. This is a one time expense.

Before Roku, our services were through our local cable provider. We had one of those deals where the internet service, cable television service, and a phone land line are provided for one price. It wasn't so bad when we had the deal but once that ended, our monthly bill for those three services went up to $172 per month.

The only service we want to keep from our cable provider is internet service. With just this single service, our monthly cost is estimated to be $60. With Roku, there are a number of services that stream for free but to get cable channels, there is a monthly fee. The monthly fee is offered at three levels: $20, $25, or $40. We are opting to start with the lowest package for a few months. I am hoping it will be enough. If there are channels that we really miss, we can always add them later.

Making this change will save our family around $90 per month. Even though there is a one time charge for the Roku unit, it will be recovered in the first month of use. The only thing we are giving up completely is the land line, and I never wanted that anyway.

If I sound a little wishy washy on the costs per month, it is only because we just made the switch this week and I am waiting to receive bills to confirm that what I expect to be charged is what actually is charged. I will update this post if there are any surprises.

To summarize...

Cable TV = $94
Internet = $56
Land line = $22
TOTAL = $172

Internet = $60
Streaming TV = $20
TOTAL = $80

*** SAVINGS PER MONTH = $92 ***

We will reduce our expenses by more than $1000 per year by making this change. That means we can save more or work less or put that money toward other, more valuable experiences. 

Simple living is something we are embracing one step at a time. Today it is reducing a monthly expense. Yesterday, it was removing unneeded stuff from our home. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Simplify Your Personal Care

One of the first areas I changed when I became serious about simple living was my personal care. As a disclaimer, I have never been a high maintenance girl, so none of the changes felt sacrificial for me. Many of my personal care routines were done because everyone else did them, and that is one of the worst reasons to do anything.

Many of my [...] routines were done because everyone else did them,
and that is one of the worst reasons to do anything.

Hair color

I have gray hair, not totally gray, but probably 40 percent or so. I colored my hair for a while. First, I did it at home myself with help from my husband. Then, I decided that I deserved professional color and did that for a couple of years. My husband and I did not agree on the color. He wanted something natural. I argued that I did not want to pay good money to be mousy brown. I wanted something bright and wild and obviously artificial, since there was nothing natural about coloring your hair. I leaned toward red. It was a reasonable color in artificial light but when the sunlight hit it, my hair was on fire. I was stubborn about it for a while, but once my focus turned to simple living, natural became the way to go. Really and truly natural. It is a bit painful to grow out colored hair, and thankfully I am not too vain, so for now, I’m a couple inches of natural, and the rest is color. This is one process I will be glad to get to the end of. Natural hair color is absolutely the right decision for me. Saves time. Saves money. Keeps the husband happy. A triple win.

Hair Style

My hair is quite wavy. Our society is so silly. Straight haired people want curly hair. Curly haired people want straight hair. Why can we not be happy with what we are given? For years, I have blown dry the front part of my hair so that my bangs and hair that framed my face would be softer and smoother. My forehead is long so it was to cover that up a bit as well. I finally got over myself and started letting it dry naturally. It took some getting used to since I was so determined to tame the waves. Another simple living win. No more need for a hair dryer or special brush to straighten those natural waves.

Make up

Although I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, I have always worn makeup to work. I thought it made me look more polished and professional. It was a five to ten-minute routine: foundation, eye shadow, blush, mascara, and go. Always the same with the exception of subtle changes in eye shadow color over the years. One day I decided that it wasn’t really improving my looks anyway, so I just stopped. That first day or two I was a bit self-conscious, but nobody asked if I was tired or feeling bad or anything that I could trace back to a lack of makeup. I have never looked back but I also haven’t thrown out my makeup. I keep thinking that a formal occasion might convince me to pull it out again but that hasn’t happened yet. The day will come when I will let all of it go. This is another money and time saving change.

Contact Lens

Oh, I have such love/hate for contact lens. Vanity won here. I thought I was more attractive without glasses. Glasses are nerdy. I happily embrace my nerdy these days. I have been without contacts now for about a year. When I was wearing them, if the wind blew, my eyes were irritated. If there was pollen or dust in the air, my eyes were irritated. If I wore them too many hours in a day, well, you get the idea. They were great in that I did not have to adjust to the weight of glasses on my nose and ears or the loss of some peripheral vision. Now, I love my glasses. Wake up, put them on, and go. No solutions or soaking. No extra time to put them in or clean them during the day. Less expense. Less time commitment. Less hassle. Simple living. Love it.

I will never be a cover girl or beauty queen, but I can hold my own as a quirky, nerdy girl. And that makes me completely happy. Here is what I look like as I write today…

Less stuff means lower maintenance, lower expenses, and more time to focus on relationships, experiences, and all the important things that provide a richer, fuller life. A simple life happens as much within you as it does around you.

A simple life happens as much within you as it does around you.

Recognizing our Patterns

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are full of patterns of activity and behavior. Some good. Some not so good. They become ingrained, to the point we do not even realize they are there.

On Friday nights for many years growing up, my family would go to the mall. My mom and dad would give me and my brother some money so we could eat dinner while they went to the restaurant there to enjoy an hour or so without kids. Every Friday, my brother and I would argue over whether we should go to Chick-Fil-A or the Orange Bowl. Most of the time I would win because I was six years older than him. Afterwards, he and I would browse the stores, looking at whatever caught our eye. There would be a designated time to meet back up with mom and dad, usually at the fountain at one end or the other. We would proceed to share what we saw, what we wanted, and do our best to convince them to buy us something. Sometimes we would get something; sometimes not. But the pattern was there. We wanted something new every single week.

The chains

As we got older and the Friday nights became fewer, Saturday shopping caught on. The girls didn’t want the guys around so much anymore anyway so mom and I would, almost without fail, pile into the car on Saturday morning, head for a mall, and usually not get home until nearly dinner time. I recall spending many an hour sitting outside dressing rooms while my mom tried on clothes. Most times, I would come away with a trinket of some sort to signify a successful day.

of patterns

Once I was in college and working a job at the same time, the shopping fell temporarily by the wayside. There just wasn’t room in the schedule. And I did not enjoy it so much alone. That was only a couple of years though, and then I got married. I was finished with school, had a nice job, and could do anything I wanted to do. What did I do? I shopped.

are too weak

On, Sundays, the newspaper came. You know, the thick newspaper full of brightly colored advertisements. Our mornings were spent culling through all the ads, setting aside the ones with potential. After lunch, we headed out, itinerary in hand. We did this every single weekend, because we thought it was fun and we needed more stuff.

to be felt

It has been only recently that I realized how the pattern from my childhood carried into my marriage. While we were having plenty of fun in the midst of it, I regret squandering away those early years of our marriage engaged in mindless consumerism.

until they are

Even as the years went by we sold our homes for the equity to pay of credit cards to get out of the consumer rut. We sought home equity loans for the house we were in. We consolidated our debt. We very much saw where we were headed, but we always thought the bandage would be enough. It did not come to an end until we were completely and without a doubt, out of money and sources for credit.

too strong

We were told more than once to consider bankruptcy, but we did not think it was fair to be so careless with our finances and then absolve ourselves of the responsibility. We did learn how to entertain ourselves for either little or no money. Looking for free stuff to do was sort of like culling through the Sunday ads. But even in all of this, it did not occur to me to want anything different. I thought I should be able to continue to buy stuff. I did learn to do without, but I still very much wanted. It did not occur to me that there was another choice. Desiring stuff, more stuff, different stuff, newer stuff; It is all I had ever known.

to be broken.*

A year or so ago I came across The Minimalists, and about the same time the tiny house movement. We had considered the option of walking away from everything a couple of times over the years, but it was more of a fleeting, fantasy thought. People didn’t really do that, did they? And now, here I was, reading about it, as though it were an acceptable thing to do. Radical. And extremely refreshing.

Be aware

I am fairly certain that had the money kept flowing, the shopping would have continued without pause. I don’t even like shopping anymore. The forced break in the pattern is one I am thankful for. It helped me to step back, to rethink, and to be open to new possibilities.

of your

While I am far from a minimalist, I have learned, without a doubt, that the stuff never made me happy and is never going to make me happy. I am enjoying going the other direction, slowly. Each week, the things that have accumulated over the years are going away. This past weekend it was ties and jewelry. Letting go is so much more fun and freeing.


Stop. Breathe. Consider what you are doing right now. Is it what you want to be doing? What do you want to do? What is holding you back? Be brave. Break. The. Pattern.

*Quote is almost from Samuel Johnson. I substituted “patterns” where he used the word “habits”

Three Tips For Successful Decluttering

There has already been a first round of decluttering throughout the house. It was the easy round. I am not generally a saver of things so there weren't layers and layers of stuff to go through. This was the round of... "When did we get this?", "What do you use this for anyway?" and, "Wow, that is really ugly". Easy peasy, that round one of clean out.

 Now that round two is underway, I am doing my best to apply thoughtful intention to decluttering, which certainly means that round two won't be the last round. There is no rigid schedule. Every couple of weeks, I take on a small section of the house and take away what is no longer needed. This weekend, it was a couple of kitchen cabinets. First, up, the dishes.

This is what it looked like when I started. This cabinet is not over full or junky. There are four people living in my household. Do we need 24 plates, 17 bowls, 26 saucers, and 8 small containers. No, we do not. If I were a true minimalist, we would keep four of each item. And, maybe someday, that will be the case. For now, the goal is to simplify and cut back to what we need, with the definition of what we need changing over time as we embrace simpler living.

After cleaning out this cabinet, the top shelf sat empty. There was another cabinet nearby that was feeling unorganized and cluttered. I cleaned it out, too, which meant the mixing bowls and pie plates were reassigned to the top shelf of this cabinet. The after clean out counts are: 11 plates, 11 bowls, 12 saucers, and 5 small containers. That is half of what was there before. Those counts are still high. Here is why.  First, I know we are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, which puts me in a mental place of more for that occasion. Second, those yellow dishes are the dishes I ate off of as a child. Even though I don't need so many, I want to keep the set intact. When it is time to let them go, they will all go as a set. The last reason is that I have a dishwasher and use it. We can empty out all of the plates and bowls before the dishwasher is full enough to run.

If you want to simplify and declutter but are nervous or insecure about getting rid of too much, too fast, try these tips.

1) Clean out in phases. 
First, clear out the obvious, easy stuff. On the second round, consider how much you really need, along with how long it has been since you used it. Give time between rounds of cleaning out to enjoy the results of less stuff. I have not attempted a third round yet, but my thought are that this will be the round of separating the emotional attachment from the physical stuff. The yellow dishes from my childhood are an example of when that will come into play.

2) Clean out one small space at a time. 
It would overwhelm me to clean out my entire home over a few days. It would be physically tiring and emotionally challenging. If you share some of those feelings, take it one room at a time, or one kitchen cabinet at a time. For me, the mindset of simplifying and cleaning out is always there and an ongoing project. I like the positive reinforcement of simplifying on a continuous basis. 

3) Enjoy the small victories.
It makes me smile every time I take a bowl from the cabinet. It is easier to find things, to put away things, and to clean things. The process is as fun as the end result. Enjoy every moment of making a better, simpler life for yourself.

Color Is Free

Seen while transporting teens
My interest in minimalism and simple living started with The Minimalists. I wish I could remember exactly how I first came across them. It may have been through their first Ted talk. Once I was exposed to the concept, I jumped in and read all that I could. There are three go to blogs that feed my soul for simple living. They are:

It seems to be common for minimalism sites to display primarily in black and white and gray. I understand the concept. Minimalist in every way. I am okay with that, but lately, it seems to be perpetuated in every aspect of minimalism I see. 

Color is free and beautiful and expressive. I want a simple life. I want less stuff and more experiences. I want more intentional relationships. I want more joy. Creativity. Peace. So many positive things that happen as a result of focusing on the things that matter. And in all of that I want as much big bold color as I can get. So, it won't be all black and white and gray here. 

It will be a minimalist life with maximalist (is that a real word!?) color. Those two can happily live in harmony together.

Sunset on the drive home

Getting Started

Let’s be honest here. I live in a house that is over 2000 square feet. I have more than $50,000 dollars in debt, and that does not include my mortgage. I have an awesome family that includes four children. I work a full time job. Does that description sound anything like someone who is a minimalist or a proponent of simple living? No, it does not. Not even close.

Some of us learn lessons early in life while others learn later. Call me a slow learner. It took a long time for me to understand that my choices were my own to make. There were lots of years of being buried under the status quo and expectations of others and the materialistic American dream and apple pie and all of that noise and mostly nonsense.

Now, I wake up every day thankful and full or purpose. I want you to join me and keep me accountable. I want to share with you the process of moving to a slower, simpler, more purposeful life. In things, in thoughts, in life.

We are going to get a little better every day. Happy is right here, right now. Perhaps that sign should say "happier ever after".