One nasty side effect of our obsession with stuff is that pesky little thing called debt. Oh yes, that four letter word that follows us around and doesn’t ever go away. Consumer debt practically fuels American society, and over and over we’re told that in order to be good little American boys and girls who help their country, we have to buy buy buy. Of course, if we can’t afford to actually pay for everything (because who can?) then we charge it. How convenient!
In my case, debt was my middle name. Ever since my early adult years, I remember using credit to get whatever I wanted. At one point, it became a fact of life – if there were things I wanted, I used credit to get them. Simple as that. And the sad thing us that for many years I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that philosophy. In fact, I really didn’t *think* of it, or consider it a way of life. But it was slowly killing me from the inside out, forcing me to work jobs I hated more than anything, and making me thoroughly miserable in the process. I became a greedy, needy consumer. I wanted more. I would buy something new, feel that rush for a day or two (literally), and then start itching for something new. And it certainly didn’t help matters that my “thing” was tech and gadgets; we all know those are not cheap! But it seemed like a rut I could not get myself out of.
Years ago I discovered the “simple living movement” and it instantly felt like something I would like to try. Just reading about how these people had discovered a way to live mindfully and without tons of material possessions was very interesting. But the main thing is that they seemed genuinely HAPPY. They did not look deprived, sad, or jaded. Instead, they looked alive and full of purpose. How refreshing. For several years I dabbled in simplicity, buying books and magazines about it (there I go buying stuff again!) and trying to live a simple life. For a while, it (sort of) worked.
Then, I discovered STORAGE! Wow! Now I could have tons of stuff and it was okay, as long as it was all neatly stowed away in color-coded boxes and bins with neat little labels. Who cared if you used any of it, just keep it nicely organized and you’re good to go. But there was a problem: I was still in debt and getting deeper. Something was not working. Something had to change.
I kept looking. And I discovered this website called Zen Habits by a blogger from Guam named Leo Babauta. Although I found it via Google while looking for something totally unrelated, as soon as I started exploring this site, something clicked. There was a wealth of information on all kinds of ways to live simply AND embrace minimalism and mindful living. Just reading his life story (which I recommend you do) was a real eye-opener. Here was a man who completely turned his life around and he was telling everybody how he did it. For free! And he had these amazing guest bloggers and great commenters and the breadth of knowledge everywhere was just insane. I took it all in and started to see a different path that was indeed possible for me. It s not easy and it required some hard choices, but it was what I needed and wanted. I started to follow him and those bloggers he recommended, and before I knew it I was reading about minimalism and thinking it was the greatest invention in the history of humankind. It was then when it became clear: if I pared down my material possessions to just those things that were really important to me, I could then start working towards digging myself out of the hole I was in, and start making different life choices to reach my goals and my dreams in life. How simple yet how powerful.
I started paring down, purging stuff, pulling out boxes that been sealed for years (yes, years) and began the process of streamlining my life. In the midst of this process, I began to not WANT to accumulate stuff. These things that I used to want to have, became things that were heavy and would weigh down my life if I kept them. It’s hard to describe how this happened, but it was a shift in my mental perception of material things and my need for them. Reading about all the incredibly brave people who had quit their jobs and traveled the world and wrote books and were living their lives on their own terms, just made it even more desirable for me, because it was clear that it was attainable, it was doable. If they could do it, why not me? I think that’s when I started calling myself a minimalist. It’s not a “label” as such, but a daily reminder to myself that life is too short to waste on banal crap that will never make me happy, and it also makes me accountable for my actions. People who know me know how I feel now, and if I slip, they will take me to task, and that’s okay. It keeps me real.
The main conduit to my becoming debt-free was selling my car. I finally took the plunge into becoming car-free (NOT car-less) in November 2010 and it’s a classic case of “why didn’t I do this sooner?”. I will go into full details in a later post, but this is what set the ball rolling, so to speak, and allowed me to pay off 3 credit cards in one fell swoop and start me on my quest to become completely debt-free. By this time next month, if all goes as planned, I should be fully debt-free except for my student loans, and those will definitely be dealt with soon. I feel free already, finally able to breathe. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s also a little sad because I can’t help but think of the years I wasted away wallowing in debt and feeling sorry for myself while mindlessly buying more useless crap. But the past is gone, and the future is bright. I feel really good about my life now, because I am on my way to creating the life I want (and deserve) and not what society says I should do with my life.