Minimalism Gives Us Options

Yesterday, I read a great post by Frugalwoods called 19 Reasons Why Frugality Is The Best Thing That’s Ever Happened To Me. I realized as I was reading that everywhere the word frugality was used, I could easily insert minimalism instead. Which is only fitting, since to me, minimalism and frugality go hand in hand. The last reason on Mrs. Frugalwood’s list was that frugality gives you options and freedom. That’s the truth if I ever heard it! And it got me thinking about how minimalism (and frugality) have given us some pretty good options of our own.

First, a little background…

Two years ago we moved to Tennessee to help care for my mom. At the time, she was having problems breathing and had repeatedly coughed so hard that she fractured 7 vertebrae in her spine. During one of her many trips to various doctors, they found a spot on her left lung that they thought might be cancerous. To add insult to injury, through the cancer screenings she found out that she also had a genetic blood disorder that would require monthly phlebotomy. When we arrived in June 2015, we had no idea what to expect but we felt certain that the prognosis was not going to be good.

Fast forward to present day…

While still not the picture of health, my mom has much improved. The spot on her lung was not cancerous, though it is still something that will need to be monitored every 6 months. Her spine has healed and after a horrible experience with osteoporosis medication, she is eating better and taking only a calcium supplement for better bone health. She will always need to monitor her hemochromatosis (iron overload) but the phlebotomy procedures have slowed from monthly to every 12 weeks. She’s back to working 2 days a week (mostly for social interaction and spending money) and she is running a lot of her own errands these days. A few weeks ago, she even wanted to go camping with us. And we all had a blast!

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Last year, I cut my work schedule down to just 4 days per week so that I would always be available to take my mom to her doctor’s appointments on Wednesdays. For most of this year, Wednesday has been a true day off – no appointments, no errands, no obligations of any sort – and it has been really nice. We’ve hiked. We’ve picnicked. We’ve gone letterboxing. We’ve gardened. We even spent a few Wednesdays just doing nothing. It’s been great!

When I spoke about this to an acquaintance the other day, she asked, “Now that your mom is doing better, are you considering going back to work full-time?” Without missing a beat, I answered with a resounding no. A puzzled look crossed her face and I could see the wheels turning. It was the same puzzled look I received from my boss last fall when I tried to quit my job completely and I knew even before she said anything what the next question was going to be.

“How are you going to manage long term on one part-time income? Don’t you want things for yourself? Like a house someday? I thought you loved to travel? What about retirement???” 

I couldn’t help but smile at her barrage of questions. I have to admit, I love confounding people. I love watching their expression as they try to figure out how we do all that we do while only one of us works part-time (and for a non-profit organization, no less!). I especially love it when Facebook friends post comments insinuating that we must have won the lottery or retired early. It makes me feel pretty proud of us.

The truth is – we do pretty darn well living on 80% of my old income. In fact, we barely noticed a change in our lifestyle at all. We still live in our same apartment. We still eat what we want. We still go places. We still have hobbies. Heck, we even bought and paid for a newer car this year and are on track to kill two more student loans. As for wanting things for ourselves – well, the things we really want, just can’t be bought anyway. And we owe all that to minimalism.

Minimalism made it easy for us to pack up our belongings and move to Tennessee in 2015. We didn’t have a house to sell or jobs that tied us to one location. We had money saved. But most of all, we had freedom – the kind of freedom that can only come by owning your own time.

Minimalism doesn’t mean that every day is going to be a walk in the park. If you’ve followed us for a while, you probably know that coming home hasn’t been all that easy for me. There are days I still wish we were back in Florida, looking for sea turtles and sand dollars, while walking along our favorite beaches. I know that we will go back one day. But for now, our goal is to be happy where we are. Keeping our Wednesdays work-free goes a long way toward that goal. Living minimally (or frugally, if you prefer) has given us the option to work less and enjoy more time together and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in this world.

What options/freedoms has minimalism or frugality afforded you?

5 Rewards of Being Minimalist

itty bitty houseOur weekly staff meeting was about to start but the chatter had yet to die down. The topic – tiny houses. “I can’t even turn on HGTV anymore on Fridays,” Kathy said. “It’s all tiny houses and I just don’t get it.” I smiled to myself, that smile of knowing oh-so-well just what Kathy didn’t get. Living in a tiny home is an exercise in minimalism and minimalism is a hard concept for a lot of folks to grasp. It is after all, the antithesis of the American Dream. Instead of bigger and more, you have to embrace smaller and less. To confirm my thoughts, Kathy added in an exasperated voice (as if the mere thought of tiny houses might drive her to drink), “Just where would I put all my stuff?”

Tiny house or no tiny house, minimalism is not without its own rewards. We’ve found that being a minimalist has given us:

More freedom. For a long time I bought into the American Dream. I owned a house. I had a good corporate job with benefits and a career ladder. I had cars with car payments and toys with toy payments. And the whole time I felt trapped. I couldn’t play with the toys because I was too busy keeping them up. Today, we rent an apartment. We own one car. Our toys are bicycles, kayaks, and Kindles. We’ve lived in 3 states in 5 years; traveled to 6 countries and 13 states. We’ve had big adventures and small ones, but the best part of having freedom is knowing that we own every day of our lives and we can decide at any time how we want to spend them.

Less stress. Admittedly, last summer’s misadventure was one of the most stressful experiences we’ve had in recent years. That aside, having fewer responsibilities makes for a far less stressful environment. Getting rid of debt got rid of our money stress. Committing to live life on our own terms alleviated the stress of keeping up with the neighbors, as did deciding to buy only what we needed. There are still stressors in our lives but we approach them differently now, knowing that nearly everything in life is temporary and usually pales in comparison to the goals and dreams we have set for ourselves.

Greater resourcefulness. It is super easy these days to run to the store and buy whatever you need. It’s more difficult to figure out how to fill a need with what you already have. Minimalism forces you to think through problems to find creative solutions rather than buy more stuff. I think the few months we spent in the RV, fixing everything from wiring to rotted flooring, helped us reconnect with our “can do” spirit.

Increased clarity. Clearing mental clutter is equally as important as clearing physical clutter. When there’s space in the mind, an amazing thing happens – ideas begin to flow, goals and dreams take shape, and imagination blooms. I see it happening with us every day. Decisions come easier because we have a clear defining line.

Gratitude. It’s hard to be thankful when you’re not satisfied with your life or when you’re pulled in a dozen different directions by stressful obligations. Like clarity, gratitude increases when you cut the clutter. I might not always like what the day brings my way but I’m always grateful for the day itself. Lately, I also find myself being more grateful for things I once took for granted – time with my family, a good night’s sleep, and having plenty to eat.