Ten Things I Would Have Done Differently

October 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Twenty years ago you could not have convinced me that a life of simplicity had anything going for it. I wanted stuff and lots of it. I wanted an important job, a big house and gobs of money. These were the trappings of a life well lived, I believed.

Funny how we use the word “trappings” in that connotation… It implies “accessories,” when in reality  “trappings” are just that – a trap.

It’s overwhelming to me how much my perspective has changed. I now understand that, far from the freedoms my career promised me, I am actually a wage slave. I now realize that by signing up for a mortgage I am an indentured servant to the bank. And I also know that outsourcing my life to chefs, maids, repairmen and other so-called “experts” leaves me feeling inept and insecure rather than competent and independent.

If I had to go back and do it all again, here’s what I would do differently:

1)    I would know that I didn’t have to spend every penny I earned. I would have lived simply and saved 2/3 of my salary from the very beginning  – no matter how much I made – so that I could have enough savings to support myself.  This way I wouldn’t have so much anxiety around work, layoffs, promotions, etc. I would have made my work work for me, rather than be a slave to my jobs.

2)    I never would have signed up for a mortgage. I would have used my copious saving skills to stuff money in the mattress until I had enough to buy a house for cash. This would have required patience, but seeing how disciplined I am when I save money this would have been totally attainable for a 30 year-old me if I had done things differently.

3)    I would never have fallen into the trap of believing that I had to have the fanciest-most-expensive-everything in order for people to like me. In fact, I would have understood from the get-go that people mostly thought I was a shallow, frivolous person because of this belief.

4)    I would have spent less time shopping and more time hiking.

5)    I would have understood that it is best to buy once and forever, rather than throw out and replace poorly made items repeatedly.

6)    I would have been mindful of where and how the items I purchase are made.

7)    I would have spent more time learning about people rather than trying to impress them.

8)    I would have gone to a less expensive college and taken more time to finish. I attended an expensive private school and, although I had lots of help from my parents, I didn’t feel I could afford more than three years. I took extra classes and attended summer school so I could graduate early. I did work, but I spent all of my extra money on clothes and going out. I wish I had gone to a state school, worked full time and saved my money — and taken at least five years to finish. I started working “on my career” at age 21 and have not stopped. I’ll be 40 next year, and I feel like I missed out on some experiences because I’ve been building a totally unfulfilling career my entire adult life.

9)    I would have really edited my stuff before moving it all over the place. I’ve moved at least 12 times I can remember in the last 20 years and paid movers to schlep mountains of boxes with me. During my recent de-clutter I threw several unopened boxes in the trash and haven’t thought about what was in them once.

10)  I would have taken more yoga classes and tossed back fewer cocktails.

I’m proud of my progress (not perfection), and I’m on a path to the life I envision for myself. Every day, with the help of my family, I get closer to to freedom from my wage slavery, I embrace the little things that make my life richer, and I see even more ways to contribute positively to the people in my life and the planet. Now that I acknowledge what I could have done differently in the past, I can let it go and embrace better decisions in the future.

What have you learned by accepting your past?


What Do You Mean by “Minimalism”?

June 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

I was recently asked this question, and I found myself stumped for an answer.
I started blathering on about stuff owning me, and recycling, and then I offered my opinion about extraneous packaging, the excruciating spiritual effects of credit card debt and a few things about eating less meat and taking more hikes. I might have tossed in a non sequitur about birdwatching at one point. It was a disaster, and I think the person who asked now thinks I’m a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
So I decided I needed a definition to offer when someone asks me what all of this means. A “minimalist manifesto,” if you will, so I don’t leave my questioner more confused than ever.
With that in mind I offer you…
The Type A Minimalist Manifesto
1.     I reject the idea that striving to own more stuff, racking up debt to own more stuff and spending all my free time acquiring stuff will result in greater well-being, peace and happiness.
2.     I embrace the idea that living simply, spending wisely, respecting nature, enjoying my work and cultivating good health will result in greater well-being, peace and happiness.
3.     I have a desire to create rather than consume.
4.     I have a desire to build an orderly and uncluttered life, physically, mentally and spiritually, in order to make room for pursuits that contribute to my well-being, peace and happiness, and the well-being, peace and happiness of others.
5.     I have a desire to be mindful of the origins of the products I purchase. I accept that I am responsible for what happens to my possessions when I am done with them.
6.     I am actively cultivating a spirit of gratitude for what I do have, while de-emphasizing negative feelings about what I don’t have.
Whether you call it voluntary simplicity, simple living, de-cluttering or just your lifestyle, minimalism in all its forms means less work, less worry, less desire, less frustration, less debt and less stuff. It also means more time, more freedom, more serenity, more acceptance, more gratitude and more peace.
What is your definition of minimalism?

Mastering the Minimalist Mojo

March 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Type A Busy Bee

I’m a typical Type A career girl with all the intensity, anxiety  and need for control that the label implies.

I’ve worked my entire adult life with very little reprieve, save for the occasional vacation, relocation or unexpected layoff. My downtime never lasts long. My Type A tendencies give me the ability to sniff out work where it hides, and I usually get right back in the swing of things with very little handwringing.

After 15 years of ladder-climbing, exhausting work travel and fidgety afternoons spent in an office where my co-workers spent way more time gossiping than working (I don’t blame them — an eight-hour workday in most offices is completely superfluous, a fact about which I will blog in the future) I actively pursued a work from home position — and got it.

This was my dream come true! I’m hyper-efficient, so I knew that I could accomplish any and all work tasks quickly and on time and still have time to take long, lazy walks, drop in on that noon yoga class or — gasp — take a nap.

And it was beautiful. For about three weeks. 

The problem with being Type A is that you look at all those long, empty hours and immediately imagine them filled with work.

That’s when I started working several freelance jobs in addition to my full time work.

That was over three years ago, and these days at any given time I can have two, three or four extra gigs.

In that time, I also became a full-time stepmom for two boys, now ages 9 and 11. And while the addition of three magnificent men in my life has been a blessing beyond belief, my Type A drive was steering me toward exhaustion. Staying on top of the finances, meal planning, laundry, cleaning and still managing to get out and have some fun while working several jobs at once can be overwhelming.

Let’s add to that the goal of paying off our mortgage AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, and frankly, I was starting to lose it.

I simply can’t take on any more work, so I had to find a way to need fewer things and make more time rather than make more money.

I didn’t know it at the time, but when I started purging the closets so I’d have less laundry, when I reduced processed foods to save money and boost our health, when we began hiking and biking on weekends instead of spending money at the metrogoogle-a-polex, when I looked at the finances and eliminated unnecessary or luxury items, I was becoming a minimalist.

I’m still on this incredible journey, and, while I still stumble into my old habits, (I have four freelance contracts right now, have started a blog and am writing an e-book. Oops.), I am sincerely pursuing a life of less. The changes I’ve made have already lightened my mood, alleviated (some) of my anxieties, and have led me to discover some creative solutions and inventive methods for handling many of the difficulties of modern life.

I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you now in the hopes of starting a community of like-minded souls who can learn to let go together.

Have you considered wanting less rather than looking for more on your path to contentment? What struggles in work/life have you overcome by doing less rather than doing more?

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