Something happens across social media when I share tips or advice for simplifying. People get mad. Not all the time of course, and let’s face it, sometimes I may say things a little too crass. #notperfect The reality is, a lot of us are really attached to our possessions and having someone even suggest that they could let go of them can be really triggering for some. It can pose a threat to their sense of security. People assume that because I have detached myself from my belongings I am somehow heartless, or cruel. If I don’t store away all of my family member’s most prized possessions, I must not really love them. Of course, I see my reality in a completely different light. That’s why I would like to share with you, 5 life experiences that made me minimalist…just to clear the air.
Losing my dad to his alcoholism
By the time I was 19 I had lost my dad to his alcoholism 3 times. Around the age of 12 he spent the entire summer in the hospital in a coma due to excessive drinking. He came out of the hospital with a colostomy bag, Type 2 Diabetes, and a bald spot on the back of his head. No one told me the cause for all of this.
The second time I lost my dad (and my little brother) was Christmas Eve when I was 14. After Dad got out of the hospital, he was so fun to be around for about a year. After that, things began shifting. His behavior became erratic and unpredictable. As I entered high school, my schedule got busier and I wasn’t making it to our every other weekend visits as often. Now that I am a parent myself, I can only imagine how much that hurt him. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the words to express his hurt and instead turned his anger toward me.
He took his hurt out on me at the Christmas dinner table in the form of screaming and shaming. My grandparents and baby brother watched. The last thing he said to me was, “Don’t bother coming around here anymore.” He took my baby brother from the table and drove away.
Call me crazy, but returning to school and listening to people talk about the gifts they received during their amazing Christmas vacation just didn’t seem to matter much. I had just lost a huge chunk of my heart and presents were the furthest thing from my mind.
Finally, Dad’s alcoholism took him for good just 5 years after our Christmas dinner. I sat in his hospital room, staring at his lifeless body and thinking, He let an inanimate object control him. He was in control of picking up that bottle and he chose that over me. I will never do that. My grandmother left the hospital room with her head hanging and whispered under her breath, “What a waste.”
A waste of a life. How much more horrifying than anything else. At that point in my life I had wasted money, and yes, possessions. There were things that sat in the back of my closet untouched. Birthday gifts I never wanted, but had been purchased because someone felt obligated to buy for me. None of these wasted items seemed to matter when compared with the horrific idea of having wasted ones life caring too much about something that we were meant to possess…not that was meant to possess us.
Getting everything I ever wanted
I can proudly say, I never let a drink get a hold over me, just like I had promised myself the day my dad died. I did however turn to bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and shopping to ease my bad days. My closet quickly filled with the latest trends, purchases from the clearance rack and 2 new pairs of shoes per month. (I was part of an online shoe membership — that was every girl’s dream, right?) PS I created a digital course for others who are struggling with shopping addiction.
By the time I was 27 I had officially gotten everything I had ever wanted. We had a happy family, I was a size 0, my wardrobe was filled with clothing, shoes and accessories, and we officially closed on a 3,400 square foot house in our dream neighborhood. Ahh perfect, right? Not so much.
I very quickly, even before we moved in, felt my inner voice speak up — OK, I actually don’t have a voice, it’s more of a knowing. My inner knowing was saying to me, This feels wrong. This feels off. This feels…kind of gross.
The materialism and excess of it all seemed to go against everything I really was. I had just gotten so caught up in going after what everyone told me I should want rather than figuring out for myself what that was. As you may know, I eventually learned to trust my knowing, and this led to the selling of our house 2 years later.
Being with my grandma when she passed
My grandma passed away late one Tuesday night as she and I sat alone together in her room at her assisted living facility. By that point, it has been years since I hosted the Estate Sale for my grandparent’s house, and Grammy had always made it clear she was so much happier maintaining a smaller space.
I looked around her room at the photos on the walls, and flipped through her black and white photo albums. Everything seemed so much simpler in black and white. I couldn’t help but notice that in color your eye could be pulled in 1,000 different directions. You could notice something or someone standing in the background just as easily as you could see the main subject of the photo itself. With black and white it was different, it was simpler. You saw the photo for what it was. No distractions.
I longed for that kind of simplicity in my life.
When my grandma took her last breath, I took the rings from her fingers, because my aunt had asked me to do this in order to ensure they were safe with family. Even though I knew this was a reasonable action now that she was gone, I can’t deny it felt gross. About 20 minutes later my aunt and uncle flooded the room and instructed me to take whatever I wanted of my grandma’s possessions because everything else would be given to their church. For the life of me I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to claim anything. Then, my eye caught the frog lamp still lighting the room. It had been the only light on with Grammy and I as she took her last breath just like it had been the only light on during the mornings we’d spend together, alone in her living room, when I was a kid.
I took only the frog lamp, gave the rings to my aunt, and vowed to only take black and white photos for a year.
My son’s mysterious illness
We were already in the process of downsizing our house when my step dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and my son fell mysteriously ill. Because it was around the holidays, we chose to take our house off of the market temporarily in order to maintain some peace and enjoyment with our kids at Christmas time.
Two weeks after Christmas my son had his first of many hospital visits until he was finally admitted at the end of January and had fallen into a coma-like state. He had developed a brain and spinal cord infection known as ADEM. At the time doctors didn’t know what it was.
After finally being admitted to the hospital nearly 2 weeks after his initial doctor visit, my son went through a myriad of procedures like brain scans, injections, medication, and MRI’s. This was all done in order to try and stay ahead of the disease that had rapidly progressed. For days we watched and prayed as he made minimal progress. It wasn’t until we heard word that his brain was getting worse that I fell to my knees harder than ever and began praying and asking for prayers from those who had been following his journey on Facebook. That night, my son got out of bed for the first time in weeks.
In the days after we left the hospital, our relator touched base with me, assuming we had come to our senses and no longer wanted to downsize our home. (I mean, who would want to do that with 3 kids?!) Even though we had a schedule filled with rehabilitation appointments, I boldly told him to get our house back on the market ASAP.
Now more than ever we had gained clarity about what mattered the most in our lives and a big house and all the stuff inside of it didn’t matter at all. We had our health, we had each other and that was all that mattered.
Watching my step dad sell all of his possessions
As I mentioned above, just before my son fell ill, we heard word that my step dad, the man who raised me, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. That summer, 6 months after his brain surgery, I spent Father’s Day watching him sell all of his possessions at a garage sale.
Fishing and hunting gear, tool boxes, clothes, and furniture all went out the door as he sat watching it all go. In a few weeks, he would be moving out west, where he had always hoped to retire, in order to be closer to his biological daughters. He didn’t need any of this stuff anymore, and if anything it was currently holding him back.
This had been a theme I noticed play out during the loss of people in my life. My dad, my grandfather and now my step dad had been given a terminal diagnosis and began detaching from their earthly possessions.
I can’t say for sure what goes through a person’s mind when you’ve been given a death sentence, but I can only imagine it gives you that kind of clarity about what really matters. In order to live out his final years (what he believed was only months at the time), my step dad let go of 90% of his belongings in order to get himself to where he wanted to be before his time on earth was up.
I choose stuff last
While every story is unique and different, these are mine and they are why I have fancied myself a minimalist for the last 10 years.
Another person may have translated these experiences differently, or had a completely different outcome. Some people have similar life experiences and they cling to their things even more in hopes of finding consistency and comfort. My approach has always been an embracing of the fact that life is not consistent and that nothing is permanent. I believe that in trying to create permanence I would only be fooling myself.
My time will come when I am leaving behind everything I once owned, those I love, and whatever it was I did with my time here. Out of those 3, only 2 really matter to me.