Nov 032011

While looking over some of the most popular search phrases that brought readers to this fine blog, in between all the perverts looking for pictures of nekkid people painted up, somebody was searching to see if it was possible to become a minimalist after the age of 50. Well, no it isn’t. You are not allowed to go minimalist after 50. Once you hit the half century mark you are at your peak of earning and buying power and you are expected and required by law to spend and consume as much as possible, add to your personal debt, and die with a huge estate full of useless junk that will take your heirs years of legal and physical toil to dispose of….just kidding of course… They will never dispose of your stuff. They will just add it to their own pile as they grow older.

Ok then, all seriousness aside, you can become a minimalist at any time in your life. There are no age limits to this stuff. If anything, it is far easier to become a minimalist later in life because you have learned the hard way, through experience and over spending, that a happy and stress free life is not made through the acquisition of material things. If you are here on the Fritter or online searching for answers to the minimalist lifestyle then it means you are probably unhappy with your current lifestyle. You may have a house that even though it may be paid for by now, is still a drain on your finances and time. Every free moment is spent maintaining, repairing, or remodeling something. Perhaps you are dreading the thought of the holidays approaching which means dragging out boxes of expensive decorations that require sorting and displaying. Or you may be depressed after the first snowstorm of the year at the thought of being stuck someplace dark, cold, and depressing for the next 6 months when you could be enjoying the sunshine and warmth of a better climate. Or more likely, you are ready to do other things in your life and all that stuff is just holding you back. So, where to begin?

Luckily, the Fritter here has been there, done that, and got rid of the t-shirt. So let me give you a little rundown on what I went through and some simple steps to point you in the right direction if minimalism is what you crave. Personally, I can’t get enough minimalism. So here goes.

Let’s start with my little story. I won’t go into all the gory details, a lot of which are here on the blog in previous posts, so take some time and read over the archives, but I got serious about going minimal about 11 years ago. At the turn of the century I was making good money. I was working at a motorcycle shop as a parts manager. I owned a small house, a used truck, I had a new top of the line motorcycle in the garage every year, all the requisite stuff you would expect to find in a house, and about $65000 worth of debt…mortgage, bike payments, and the ever popular credit card. I was saving a little, life seemed good, but I was not happy. Despite having all that I was always about a month away from bankruptcy. All it would take would be the loss of that income and I would be screwed. My net worth was actually about even but the debt was crushing. The principal on the mortgage never seemed to go down. The credit card never got paid off. The motorcycle was, at the time, an important part of my life. But it was all starting to catch up. The house, while small, always needed something and I am not the type who enjoyed my days off puttering around the house or yard. It started needing more and expensive things. I despised having to waste an entire day with some house project. And when I needed to go get something for the house, it went on the credit card.
The motorcycle was a high maintenance machine too. I rode a lot and there was always an oil change or a tire needing replaced. Finally, the shit hit the fan when the business changed hands and I knew the job was in jeopardy. Sure enough, a year later it was gone. I managed to quickly find another job but at way less income and a longer commute. I sold the motorcycle and decided it was time for some real changes. I have always been a bit of a minimalist at heart and I decided that was the direction I wanted to go. At this time I was in my late 40’s by the way. So I put the house up for sale and downsized to a motorhome. When the house sold, I looked at all the stuff in the house and decided that if it didn’t fit in the motorhome it wasn’t going. I had a yard sale, did some eBay auctions and got rid of quite a bit. I did the rv thing for about 5 years, moving to the Keys and then back up to Central Florida. My last job, back in the motorcycle business was a miserable experience. So I decided to try my hand at boat living. When I made that move I looked at all the stuff in the rv, and decided if it didn’t fit in the boat it was gone. My last move earlier this year was off the boat and into the lower Keys. It was then I decided to go full tilt minimalist and reduce everything to a back pack. And I did. I own less than 100 things now. I no longer have a vehicle, just a bicycle. My computer consists of a single iPad. I own no furniture, no appliances, no crap. I have what I need, and use what I have. The only real extras I have are my two cats, who are more like family. I have no debt, and no money at the moment, but I live a very stress free life. I am living in Key West, in good health, and for the first time in a long time I am happy. I can survive on very little income, which is a good thing because at the moment I have very little income. No, I have nothing saved for retirement. Retirement is not an option. I will be doing something for as long as I am able to, which is why I run these blogs. Hopefully they will someday produce some sort of income. I want for nothing, I love where I live but wouldn’t mind doing some travel later, and I don’t feel compelled to go out and buy stuff that I really don’t need. Going minimal was the best decision I have ever made. So where should you start?

Before you have the big yard sale and start dumping everything you own on eBay, you need to stop and decide how minimal you want to go. Not everyone can go hard core minimalist like I have. Minimalism has no rules and can be whatever level you want to take it. It may be simply downsizing to a more manageable living space, starting a less stressful career, freeing yourself up to travel, or something as simple as cleaning out the garage or a closet. You may start with the intentions of living out of rucksack with just a few shirts and an iPhone, only to realize you really enjoy that comfy couch and the expresso machine you got for a gift last year. That’s ok. Keep what you use, use what you keep. It’s all a question of what you can do with out. But believe me, once you start downsizing, it can snowball fast. So be careful.

The next question is, are you doing this alone or with someone? Is a spouse involved, kids, family? It’s important to be on the same page with this decision. Downsizing is meaningless if you are throwing out stuff while the spouse is at the mall taking advantage of the holiday sales. Sit down and talk this decision over with whomever may be involved. If they are not willing or able to join in on the fun you will be in for some rough times ahead. To a lot of people, material wealth is a sign of success, (it isn’t), and they are not going to give it up willingly. Some may even get angry over your decision. While it may be easy for you to give up stuff, others may fight you to the death just to have a tv in every room or new car in the garage every year. If your family or whoever is not of the same mindset then you will have some tough decisions to make. You can downsize your own little corner of the home, but it may all be for naught if the rest of the family doesn’t follow suit. On the other hand, don’t force the issue but rather lead by example. Show them that they don’t need all that crap to enjoy life. It’s a difficult decision and one you will need to approach very carefully. Personally I have a tremendous advantage there. No wife, no kids, no brothers or sisters, I had no worries about how downsizing my lifestyle would affect others, because it doesn’t.

No matter what, before you sit down and announce that the family will be renouncing all material wealth and living in a yurt in the forest, make a plan. Decide where you eventually would like to be or what you would rather be doing and set it to a realistic timeline. You are not going from a three bedroom two bath McMansion to a pack back over night. Look at where you are now. How much debt do you have? How is your income situation? Can you realistically start a new career at the age of 50 or older? Do you have a current retirement plan that would be put in jeopardy by quitting to go travel? How long would it take to get rid of this or that? Where to start? Then project where you want to be in a year, or five years from now. Is it doable? Are you ready, willing, and able to take the minimalist plunge? Aarrrrrrrrre you surrrrrrrre? Ok then.

Step one…get rid of the debt. No matter what else you decide to keep or get rid of, no matter if you want to travel the world or sit in a Key West bar and drink all day, even if you are satisified with your current lifestyle, first and foremost, you absolutely positively must get rid of all loans. Mortgages, car loans, and especially credit cards. Nothing, and I mean nothing will impede your life and cause you stress and problems more than debt. Stop borrowing to fund a lifestyle. Sell the new car or get out from under the lease. Buy a used car for cash and run the fucking thing until the wheels fall off. It’s not a status symbol, it’s a mode of transportation. Better yet, if you are able, go car free. Ride a bicycle, use public transportation. You will be amazed how much money you save by not owning a car.
Your house is a big decision. Are you going to downsize to a smaller residence? If so, put the damn thing up sale now. Yes, I know the market is in the shitter. If you ain’t happy there get rid of it. Work out a deal with the mortgage company. Rent it out if possible. If you are keeping the place, make it a priority to pay off the mortgage as quickly as possible. And as of credit cards. Get rid of them right fucking now. Cut them up and pay off the balance as soon as you can. If you need something, pay cash. If you don’t have the cash, you don’t need it.

Did I mention get rid of all debt first?

Step two…as for physical possessions, start small and work your way up. Go grab a box or drawer full of crap that nobody uses. Sort through it and get rid of whatever you don’t use anymore. Old receipts, seriously, do you think anyone is going to demand proof you bought a paint brush and a can of varnish at the home improvement store in 2005? Remember that old cd player you bought with the extended warranty? Yeah, the paperwork on that expired 4 years ago. Get rid of it and the cd player if you still have it. (Yup, cd’s are obsolete). You must be objective when you are going through all your crap. Do you use it? Or not? There is no such thing as, “I may need this someday.”. You either use it or you don’t.

Try this experiment. If you are not sure about getting rid of something, put it in a box. Put other things in there that you are not sure of. When the box is full, date it and record what is in there on the lid, and seal it up good and tight. Put the box back in a closet or someplace out of the way. Make a note to come back over a specified time to check on the box. I use the simple criteria of one year. If I haven’t used something in a year, I don’t need it. If you come back to the box in that time and it is still sealed shut, guess what? You don’t need what is in it. Get rid of the contents and get rid of the box. We have some strange urge to fill an empty box back up so as you reduce, get rid of the stuff the stuff was, er, stuffed in. You will soon discover you have more and more empty space. As you get more empty space, don’t refill it with more stuff, start thinking about reducing the amount of space you have. Remember it is very important not to replace what you have gotten rid of, but to reduce down to only what you need and use.

As for actually getting rid of stuff, you have many choices. One, toss it out. If it is broken, no longer functions, or has no use, throw it out. Make the garbage man earn that hernia.
Two, sell it. eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, yard sales, there are many ways to convert stuff to cash. Get creative and don’t get too pricey. What may have a certain value to you may not be the same value to the buyer. Remember the intent is to get rid of stuff. Be realistic when selling stuff and never turn down a fair offer.
Three, give it away. Got a neighbor who is always borrowing that weedeater? Let him have the damn thing. If you need to use it, borrow it from him. Let him deal with maintaining it.

If you are over 50 chances are pretty good you have kids. Chances are also pretty good they will all end up with your stuff when you are gone. So why wait until then? If you are going to leave them stuff what better time than the present to let them take it? It saves them having to contest a will, fight over who gets what, and you clean out more stuff you don’t need. And again, if you need it, you know where to find it.

Collectibles, antiques, and other things of genuine value are tricky. The actual value of such things is very subjective. You may think that collection of NASCAR memorial plates is worth thousands. It is only if you can find some schmuck with thousands of dollars who thinks so to. Be careful when it comes to this sort of thing. I dragged several boxes of football and motorcycle memorabilia around for years thinking it was worth something. It wasn’t. Don’t get too attached to collectibles. As for antiques or perhaps things like family heirlooms, consider a donation to a local museum or such. Old military memorabilia, grandma’s sewing machine, old posters, maybe be better off displayed some place where they can be seen and appreciated. You could loan them out to an office or a restaurant for decoration if you want to hang onto them. Get creative.

Items with sentimental value are another tough one. Since I have no family and no heirs, anything I have with sentimental value will be worthless when I am gone. Nobody will give a shit fifty years from now that I saved some pictures and some pins from a cross country motorcycle trip I took in 1998. Hell, nobody gives a shit now. If you want to keep that sort of thing there is no problem with that. Just remember it is more stuff to keep track of. I have the memories of all the stuff I did in my life. I don’t care if nobody else knows about it. And I am pretty sure they won’t care either.

With the advent of the digital age, one of the best things to come along is the ability to digitize almost all your papers, photos, and documents. A good scanner and a Dropbox account will enable you to convert all your paper documents into a digital format and store them online. There they will be safe from fire or theft and you can access them at any time. Just getting rid of the paper will be a major step in reducing the clutter and mess of all your stuff.

Being over 50 your priorities in life will start to change. Health matters will become more important. Maintaining an income after you are unable to work will be very important. Worrying about all your stuff should not be something you will need to worry about later in life. So if you are thinking about a minimalist lifestyle at this stage in your life, good for you. At the age of 50 nearly 1/3 of your life is gone. Time to start doing some of the things you always dreamed about. Travel, start a new career with less stress, learn new things. All of which is possible and much easier if you are not bogged down by possessions and debt.
As I said earlier, going minimalist was the best decision I have made in years. At 57 I am looking forward to the future and not concerning myself with maintaining a lifestyle or consuming to live. I am living where I have always dreamed of living with the freedom to pretty much do whatever I chose. I let the youngun’s determine who the fastest rat is in the rat race. I am not concerned with the price of gas, the cost of a loan, or which shirt to wear everyday. While a minimalist lifestyle is not for everyone, I do suggest everyone give it a test drive just to see what is like. If material possessions are your thing, go for it. You can have it. I’ll sit back with my iPad, my backpack, and wave as you go by.

I’ll be continuing to blog about my minimalist adventures here on the Fritter with tips, advice, and snarky stories. Read through some of the archives and check out the links page for other blogs from other minimalists. They inspired me to do a lot of what I do today. And if you have a question or can offer some advice on your own minimalist quest, throw it up on the comments section. I would love to hear other stories. But don’t just rely on my advice or the advice of others. Determine where you want to be in a minimalist lifestyle and then achieve that goal. Everyone is a little different. Even if there is 7 billion of us. Thanks for stopping by and if you found any value in this post, please spread the word.

Capt. Fritter

Did I mention get rid of all your debt? Just making’ sure.

  3 Responses to “Minimalism after 50…”

  1. We were both past sixty when we started down the minimalist path then continued very successfully. So, yes, it can be done after fifty; way after.

  2. I started 2-3 years ago – before I ever heard of minimalism. I’m 56 now, and have a ways to go – still paying down the debt, getting rid of stuff, & figuring it out. My original intent wasn’t to live a minimalist life, but the journey evolves & that seems to be where I’m heading. Don’t know yet if I’ll end up living out of a backpack, or if my material needs will reach a different level of simplicity. I love blogs like this – I’m always looking to be inspired by someone who has negotiated the challenges of changing a life at 50+ – or really any age..

    • Thanks for the feedback. Sound like you are on the right path. Minimalism is different for everyone. Just decide what the comfort level is for you and go for it.