Minimalism Should Always Be a Choice

This week on his blog Becoming Minimalist, Joshua Becker brings up a subject that has been on my mind a lot lately – how the coronavirus will impact minimalism. If you have a bit of time, which you probably do right now, I’d encourage you to read it.

We are 8 years into our minimalist journey and it is very much still that – a journey. We have gone through all the usual minimalist stages – decluttering, downsizing, reassessing our finances, re-evaluating how we spend out time, etc. and still every year, we find some new way to simplify our life. Minimalism is something that we strive toward…on purpose.

Long ago, Angie and I came up with our personal definition of minimalism. It looks something like this…

We like to think that minimalism is about incorporating simplicity into your everyday life, about learning to live within your means and finding enjoyment in experiences, rather than in acquiring stuff. But most importantly, it’s about understanding yourself and what makes you happy.

I think most minimalists and aspiring minimalists feel this is a fair definition. So, bearing that in mind, let me get to the point.

In his post, Joshua Becker talks about how the economic fallout from this crisis may force people into minimalism. He and I both agree – that is not the way things should be. And that has got me thinking – if someone is forced into minimalism, is it really minimalism?

I’m inclined to think not.

This worldwide crisis has caused life to slow down and in many ways, that’s not a bad thing. We all could use a little break from the chaos that has become our lives of late – a chance to enjoy our homes, our families, our passions, and not worry about keeping up with the Joneses (because they can’t shop right now either). If out of this mess, a handful of folks start to think about what’s really important in their lives and move toward minimalism or voluntary simplicity, then that’s awesome! We welcome you to the tribe!

But when we’re talking about forced minimalism, we aren’t really talking about the people who can afford to take this time for quiet contemplation, are we? We’re talking about the many, many others who find themselves out of work, struggling to put food on the table because stocking up just wasn’t a financial option, and wondering if and how the rent will get paid this month. So yes, this crisis is forcing people into being more frugal, more careful with their resources, more minimal, if you will, but not in the way you’d want anyone to get there. Involuntary simplicity is stressful and doesn’t often lead to anything that resembles a better life.

I would love, love, love to live in a world where people buy only what they need, work only when they want to, and spend all their free time nurturing themselves, their relationships, and their communities. But in order for that – or any other version of the simple life to work – it has to be voluntary.

I do hope that this crisis is a call to those of us who have the privilege to choose a more minimal life to be a resource and an inspiration to others. Share your story. Share your tips. Share your thoughts, your fears, and your ideas. Now is the time to support and guide one another – especially those who are facing tough times – because that’s what we’re really talking about here. A crisis can’t force someone into minimalism but it can force them into debt or despair, and that’s not a road I want any of us to have to take to arrive at a simpler life.


What brought you to minimalism? What benefit does it bring to your life? Do you have an inspiring story to share with others? Just write a post and send me the link at minimalistsnextdoor@gmail.com. I’ll share the link to your story in our post next Wednesday (4/8/20).

The Longest Week Ever!

I’m about to tell you a story. It’s a story that will either sound too crazy to be true or will have you nodding your head in understanding because you’ve been there before. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most of us have lived some version of this story at least once in our lives – some, many times over. It’s the story of a week that I thought would never end!

It all began with a gig…

Earlier this month, I mentioned that I had joined a job board for retail merchandising and reset work. At that time, I was about to do my 2nd job for them and I was pretty excited about having access to a platform that would let me select jobs that fit my schedule, especially in slow months when I needed the extra income. The day of the second job, it snowed – the first snow all season – but despite my 40 mile drive, I made it to the job site at 7:45. I was the only one that did. The rest of the team came in at 10:30. The team leader made it at noon and decided on the spot that she was calling it a day at 4. The job was super easy. I worked on my own, marking down prices in a store that was closing, and I had a pleasant day. (And even though the whole store was 70% off, I didn’t buy a thing!)

When I got home, I was still feeling good, so when I received a text about another job the following week, I accepted it. This was a job that I had previously passed over half a dozen times on the board because it was 1) too far away and 2) involved a lot of detail work. I didn’t think the pay was adequate for what was required. But, like I said, I was feeling good so I completely disregarded my first inclination.

About 30 hours before the job was set to begin, we received a middle-of-the-night call from our niece. The baby was in the ER, about to be sent to the Vanderbilt. They thought he might have the flu; which is horrible anyway, but 100 times worse for him because of his heart condition. We got up early the next morning and went to pick up our 4-year-old great-niece so her mom could go to the hospital with her brother. We never thought twice about it – that’s what families do. What I did think twice about at this point was cancelling the gig. But when I checked into it, I realized I would lose “points” in their system if I did. I thought the loss of points might prevent me from getting other jobs, so I decided to stick with the plan.

In the midst of playing with the little one, checking on the baby, and trying to prep for the next day, my mom sent a text that said, “I’m thinking about going through my drawer to see what I have to take. I just can’t take this anymore.” I immediately put on my shoes and coat and headed for the car, thinking she was talking about doing something drastic. She has never been suicidal, but lately she has been depressed, dealing with a milestone birthday and the winter blues, so I wanted to be safe rather than sorry. I texted back, “Don’t do anything. I’m on my way.” As I was flying down the road, I got another text. “You don’t need to come over here right now. There’s nothing you can do for my headache. I’m just going to lie down.” Apparently the first part of her original text – the one about having a migraine – had not come through.

Relieved, but frazzled, I headed back home. At this point, I once again considered cancelling the gig. And once again, I talked myself out of it.

Around 8 PM, my mom texted again that she had a snack bag for the little one if I wanted to come by and get it. Yes, it was 8 PM and I knew I needed to go to bed in an hour, but nevertheless, I went over to get the snack bag. The little one went with me and we stayed just long enough for Nanny to give her 4 pieces of candy! Needless to say, she was riding a sugar high at bed time and it was midnight before we all fell asleep. I knew I needed to be out the door by 6 AM to meet my sister. I had made arrangements with her to pick up the little one at the job site. (She lives nearby and was going to pick up my niece at the hospital later that day anyway.)

As we were getting ready the next morning, my mom called. She was beside herself. She didn’t want us to go because it was pouring down rain and she had a bad feeling about me driving 70 miles in the rain. Again, I considered cancelling. I didn’t have the same feeling she had about our safety, but I did have a niggling feeling that the day was not going to go as planned. But once again, I didn’t listen.

My sister met me on time and I went in search of the team I was supposed to be working with. All of the supplies were there but the team leader had no clue what we were supposed to do with them. She had been called in at the last minute when the scheduled team leader called out. After an hour and a half of saying “I just don’t know what to do”, she finally called her manager and the job was cancelled. At 9:30 in the morning, after driving an hour and a half with a preschooler in the pouring rain to get to this all-important gig, it was cancelled! But the story doesn’t end there…

I realized on my way home, right after I pulled up to the gas pump, that I had left my wallet at home. The fuel gauge said that I had 58 miles worth of fuel. I knew I wasn’t going to make it. In the age of technology, I figured I’d just download GooglePay, find a station that took it, and get gas. Except, my phone doesn’t work with GooglePay. So, I called my sister. She was on her way to Vanderbilt and I just happened to catch her right before she got on the highway. Two minutes later and I would have been stranded (at least until I drove myself out of gas and called roadside assistance).

When I finally got home, I collapsed on the couch. My body was starting to ache and my throat was hurting. I knew it wasn’t the flu, since they had diagnosed the baby with the Rhinovirus, so I chalked it off. I figured even my stressed immune system was good enough to fight a common cold. It wasn’t. The next day I was down for the count! Which meant that I didn’t get to go check on my mom, like I usually do.

When I did get there the following day, she was sick too. Like the baby, she has a compromised immune system so things like the common cold can be really bad. We went from the doctor’s office to the ER and I ended up spending two nights on her couch, making sure she took her medication and got enough fluids. Today, she is doing much better, but me…I’m typing this with one hand while holding my 452nd Kleenex of the day in the other.

And while I was sick or tending the sick…I missed the free heart health screening at Kroger, a meeting about a potential new project that I can do from the comfort of my own home, and Valentine’s Day! Not that we go all out for a commercial holiday, but I didn’t even get to wake up and have coffee with the love of my life that day. I didn’t even get home until 3 PM the next day!

Now, if ever there was a moral to this story, I’m going to venture a guess that the Universe was trying to remind me to always listen to my inner voice and STOP CHASING DOLLARS! I even wrote that down in January as one of our rules/goals for this year…and yet…

The job paid me a fee of $50 for showing up, even though I did not get to work. Counting my drive time, the time I spent standing around the store, and the hour it took to figure out how to pay for gas, I made about $8/hour that day. I traded time with my great-niece for $8/hour. I traded my peace of mind for $8/hour. I traded being available when my family needed me for $8/hour. You don’t have to be a financial genius to know that wasn’t smart.

Cancelling the job probably wouldn’t have prevented me from getting sick but it would have saved me a lot of time and more than a few headaches and it would have kept me aligned with my own priorities, which is what really matters in the first place. The last thing that I want from this new life we’re trying to build is stress, missed opportunities, and the inability to be where I’m needed because of a job. The next time I have a long week, I want it to be because our life is so full of peace and happiness that time just seems to stand still.