by Kelvin Belfon
Almost 3 years ago I became an accidental minimalist. I had a major life changing event that resulted in a move from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains. It was one of the most frightening times of my life.
I arrived in Colorado in the middle of a blizzard with very limited social contacts, a small townhouse rental, one car, a wife, two children, and a moving truck loaded with stuff and no job. Having to move into a very downsized home, we tried hard to accept what seemed life failure. Our estate was supposed to grow, not minimize, right? Yet, frustrated with the chaos that quickly accumulated in our basement, we decided to purge. I sold, gifted, donated, and discarded many of my attachments.
It was during the first 48 months of purging that my thoughts about material possessions (and the past I was trying to hold on to) somehow changed…one car-load of stuff at a time. The process was an emotional one. It challenged and forced me to reprioritize certain ideals. But in the long run, the ability to say goodbye and to set free those things that represented parts of my history — my move to America, various international travels, rite of passages, expired friendships, family — in the long run, made my life better.
The following is an attempt to chronicle aspects of my minimalist evolution. I hope it helps to explain certain nuances of my journey that I have only hinted in previous posts. Oftentimes, people say that a thing is “life-changing” but without further definition, that phrase simply falls to the ground with no effect.
I hope what I’m about to share doesn’t do that. I am aware that everyone’s experience is unique and may not follow the sequence I’ve outlined here. You’re welcome to join in the conversation below and share your take on any part of this that hits home.
Psychological Development of a Minimalist
The crisis stage – “I have a problem.” There are several reasons why people embrace minimalism. For some, it starts with an innocent home de-cluttering project. For others, economic, medical or dietary issues create the impetus. For me, it was a job change and family matters. My conscious response to those two big issues is what resulted in my search for a clearer sense of purpose and happiness. At the time, the whole episode was extremely painful. But what I didn’t realize was that my “discomfort” with life opened the door to the realization that I didn’t have to continue with things “as is.” I sensed there was much more to lose if I didn’t make a bold change. The desire and courage to make the second part of my life count was what resulted in my move towards minimalism. key concept: infancy, dilemma, enlightenment
The curiosity stage – “I’m not sure what to do?” Most people want simplicity but don’t know where to begin. I needed information, so I Googled “minimizing” and “de-cluttering.” In the process, one night I landed on Zenhabits.net by Leo Babauta. Soon after, I discovered Becoming Minimalist, Courtney Carver, and Tammy Strobel. What these writers were saying was so spot on that I would stay up late nights just reading through all their stuff. They were hitting buttons inside of me and before long, I was all-in with the minimalist world. What’s more, I felt empowered to find a community of like-minded people. I wanted to share thoughts with others out there walking away from challenging pasts, and determined to go into their next phase of life as uncomplicated as possible. One thing led to another, and goinguncomplicated.com was started. key concept: hopelessness, exposure, learning
The apprehension stage – “I’m afraid to start.” Then a reality hit. How will I function without my stuff? What if I needed them later? What will people think about me? What will my family say when they visit? “Would my change stick?” These were all legitimate questions. The process of letting go can be a traumatic, and that’s the case even after you’ve done all the research and signed on to the idea. This is because our possessions are deeply personal. Many of our belongings have stories that define how we understand ourselves: our first major purchase, a wedding gift, family heirloom, a business we’ve built. key concept: worry, fear, doubt, self-definition
The releasing stage – “I’m losing control!” De-cluttering can be an empowering experience. But before that happens, a death occurs. If much of what you are is tied to a social network that you belong to, a town you’ve grown up in, an occupation or a relationship, you might feel like the world is closing in when change happens. Your situation can get even more intense if you’re faced with the real possibility of getting rid of keepsakes connected to those things, events, and people. Here’s a good approach. Start purging the stuff that’s easier to deal with in each of the following categories: clothing, books, furniture, toys, appliances, and paper. Then tackle the more sentimental pieces once you gain courage, as recommended in the KondoMarie Method. This stage can take a day or weeks, months and even years. key concepts: action, surrender, separation anxiety, grief
The disappointment stage – “What’s wrong with me?” I was happy about my de-cluttering progress. And then one day, I found myself sad and even angry about all that I seemed to have had to give up in order to carve out a path toward a better future. The overwhelming feeling of separation and loss can leave a person wondering, “When did I accumulate all this stuff?” “If only I hadn’t gone down that path, I’d be much better off than I am now.” “If I’d been a better custodian of my financial resources, things wouldn’t have ended up this way.” Or, “If I had done things differently or listened to certain people, that relationship wouldn’t be what it is today.” All these and so many other “what-ifs” have the potential of making us an emotional wreck. But we have to know that while this self-guilt is one of the worst parts of the process, it doesn’t have to have a lasting hold. You can move past it. key concept: confusion, guilt, shame, anger
The gratitude stage – “I’m thankful” There is no shame in owning material possessions. If you have them, this means that you are fortunate. So many people are “minimalist” not because they want to be but because of financial limitations and unfortunate circumstances. It’s a sobering reality. So as I decluttered my life, I had to give myself enough emotional separation from things to be able to tell the difference between what matters and what doesn’t. This stage is key. If it’s not handled well, this is where people can experience defeat and regress. Thankfully, I pushed through the overwhelming feeling that I was somehow giving up more than I had bargained for. In the end, what remained — my wife and children plus surprise twins, a new job, a new house, and many other unplanned blessings along the way — gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for the time tested possessions and obligations in my life. The “disappointment stage,” more quickly than you’d expect, can and does turn into opportunity for gratitude. key concept: appreciation, contentment, obligation
The empowerment stage – “I can live without ______” Clutter does come back. But the more I de-clutter, the easier it becomes to live life without certain accessories. I now know what it feels like to enjoy freedom from holding onto attachments that in the end aren’t worth as much as I’d thought. I’ve also noticed that my consumption habits have changed. I often find myself asking the critical questions before I commit a new purchase. I’ve also become very interested in finding creative uses for what I already have and experimenting with how to make them serve multiple functions. It’s all about being creative and repurposing. key concept: detachment, freedom, independence
The wholistic stage – “It’s a lifestyle” In my infancy as a minimalist, I was mainly focused on de-cluttering my physical world. Overtime, the simplicity ideology started spilling over into other areas of my life — finances, relationships, time management, diet and even the environment. I must admit, I am far from mastering these areas, but at least I’m on my way. Life just feels so much more in-control. key concept: mindfulness, wholeness, experiences
How about you? What emotional or cognitive changes have you experienced in your simplicity journey?