2017 marks 15 years since I began a long, sometimes difficult, but always rewarding move towards a minimalist lifestyle. Back in 2002 I was living in a house which I owned, and owed money on. I had credit card debt, motorcycle loans, and had even bought a second piece of property, namely a rv lot in Cudjoe Key. I had a good paying job and was even putting some money away but I knew things were not going to last. The job was about to vanish, thanks to a change of ownership at the dealership where I was working. I was fed up with home ownership and had my eye on heading south to the Keys. I had discovered some websites talking about downsizing, getting rid of stuff, and as I read said sites, I knew I had finally found what I was looking for.
It took about 10 long years of cutting back to get close to where I wanted to be. I managed to divest myself of the properties, (the Keys rv lot did not work out as planned). I got rid of most of my debt but every once in a while another loan or credit card would sneak in. But I kept at it.
I downsized from the house to an rv, to renting a house, to another rv, and finally to my first boat in Key Largo in 2008. Even then I knew I wanted to downsize further. Another round of debt, as I borrowed heavily to start up a small paddle board business, held me back but in the end, about 6 years ago, I sold it, polished off the credit card, sold the jeep, and headed for Key West.
I lived on two more boats in the Conch Republic, managing to stay out of debt finally, and downsizing wherever I could. Two things kept me on the boat and rooted in one place, namely KC and Charley. These two little eating machines remained by my side until I lost them both 2 years ago. It was rough and still hurts to this day but I moved on.
I sold the boat, a mixed feeling as I did, despite all the trials and tribulations, really enjoy boat living, but it was not to be then. When I walked away all I had was my trusty Serbag, a few bits of clothes, my iPhone, and MacAir. It was costly, but I had finally achieved the level of minimalism I had been striving for, and have been there ever since.
While I miss the two little companions, and sometimes long to be back on a boat, I don’t regret getting rid of everything, especially the debt. The day I paid off the last credit card was a day I will never forget. I cannot express in simple words, how liberating and exciting it was to no longer owe money to some faceless, soulless corporate warlord. Being debt free, more than anything else enabled me to realize some big life long dreams, one of which is sitting here in Maui, writing this blog. If you have never been debt free, I highly recommend it. You will be amazed at how more better life is when you don’t owe money to anyone. Try it and see for yourself.
As for all the, ‘things’ I got rid of, the house, the motorcycles, the collection of crap I acquired as I moved through life, I miss none of it. Sure, there are times where having a house would be nice, or riding around the country has some appeal, but it’s not worth the cost to obtain these things nor is it worth it, at least not to me to accept the responsibility of ownership. I may change my mind over time but now, I want for nothing more than what fits into my canvas bag.
All these years of downsizing has put me into a new mindset. Used to be, if I wanted something, and could afford it, and sometimes, even if I couldn’t, I would go out and buy it. No thinking it over, no worries about how to pay for it, no concerns over where to keep it and take care of it. I just bought.
Now? I question every single purchase I make no matter how small. From groceries to replacing a piece of clothing to upgrading my iPhone. (I didn’t, choosing to keep the iPhone 5s in favor of spending $700 on the iPhone 7. A story for another post). Before I buy anything I ask myself:
- Do I need this or do I just want it?
- What will it do for me?
- What value does it hold?
- Is it portable enough?
- Can I find a cheaper alternative?
- Can I afford it?
It’s almost an obsession now with me to not buy anything more than what I need and use. Things which would merely add some convenience rather than be actually useful are passed on. I also look to what I will be doing down the road and if said thing will be affected. For example:
I’ve been looking at maybe purchasing another bicycle. The wrecks I had back in Key West weaned me off two wheeled transportation but I get the itch because I see so many people riding around the island. I use the bus to get to where I need to go, but a bike would provide me transport to places the bus does not go, on my own schedule, and of course provide some sort of exercise which would not be a bad thing. But…
I’m only willing to spend up to $100 for a bike. Not a big deal as there are good deals all the time online. I’ll have to maintain it, meaning tubes, tires, etc. I’ll need a lock, lights, maybe a rack. And looking down the road, I will most likely have to leave the room when the landlord’s son returns from college for the summer. Just 4 months away. Why spend the money on a bike I will use for only 4 months then have to either store someplace, sell, or abandon. So, for the moment, I walk or take the bus. When I get back in the fall, or find another place, maybe then, maybe not.
As you can see, my minimalist mindset prevents me from just randomly spending money on something which may or may not have some value and usefulness, but not enough to go through with the purchase. It could all change if a really good deal happens to come along, but if I don’t get a bike, it’s no loss.
I go through this process on nearly everything I buy. It can be almost maddening to someone who doesn’t think in minimalist terms but trust me, it didn’t happen overnight. The more I downsized over the years, the more this attitude took root. The result is simple. I have no debts, very few possession of which all are replaceable, and I have the freedom to travel and do things which I had no ability to do when I was in debt and owned a bunch of crap. Exactly what I have been striving for since 2002.
Minimalism is not for everyone. I know I attracted more then a few readers to this here blog with my minimalist rants and I will continue to rant in the future. Not everyone can live out of a bag with a dozen pieces of clothing and a couple electronic devices. For me, it’s a near perfect lifestyle. I’m not concerned about maintenance of my things. I don’t have to worry about leaving things behind when I travel. If I lost everything, say do to fire, flood, storm, or ex girlfriend, it could all be replaced in a matter of days.
For everyone else, if you are looking to downsize, by all means, do so, but do only to the point where you are comfortable. Don’t deliberately get rid of stuff just for the sake of getting rid of it. If the things you own have value, by all means, keep them. Just don’t get carried away. The biggest thing is to eliminate the debt. Once you have achieved said elimination you will find a whole new world opening up for you. Then you can decide more better what to keep and what to get rid of.
Someday, I may go backwards and add more things to my life. Perhaps back on another boat or get an rv and travel the country. I’ve eyeing up the cheap land and off the grid places down on the Big Island. No doubt there is another ball of fur and claws out there someplace waiting to pounce back into my life, causing some changes. Anything could happen and probably will. At least now, with all this minimalist experience and mindset, I will be more better prepared for what ever comes next.
The decisions I made to downsize were some of the best I ever made. If I had any regrets, it is I hadn’t downsized earlier in my life. It would have saved me a whole lot of money and worry. But, can’t change the past, only the future. And right now, the future looks minimal, and good.