On quitting

The Minimalists’ first book of essays was free for Kindle recently and I downloaded it and read the whole thing over a weekend.  It’s a quick read.  Most of the essays contained within are available from their website but the book also features two unpublished ones, which are fantastic.

The stories of these two guys from Dayton, Ohio (not far from where I attended college), who turned their unhappy lives around by living minimally, are inspiring.  I’m routinely amazed by their stories and growth.  In Screw You, I Quit, Joshua Millburn details how he turned his back on the life that wasn’t making him happy, a life with a six-figure salary that wasn’t enough to cover his increasing debt, a life with the house and the car and the stuff that he bought to fill a void that never seemed satisfied.  Minimalism allowed him to quit his job and live his passion and mission.

This is the single most inspirational essay on minimalism I have ever read.  I encourage you to read it.  Right now, go do it.  Then come back.

Get some popcorn, now I’m going to tell you a story about me.

I’m not at a place in life where I feel comfortable quitting my job.  It’s not sucking my soul away, bit by bit.  I like my job, I like my boss, I like most of my coworkers most of the time.  It’s interesting.  But it’s not my passion, and I know that.  I don’t think I will be here forever.  It allows me to live comfortably and to pay off my student debt.  I have vague sideways dreams of downsizing my life even further and paying off the debt faster, but those are still just whispers of plans.

I did quit the life I had, though.  I quit the plans I had.  I turned my back on them, and I don’t regret it.

I have a Master’s of Education in Higher Education Administration.  I applied to at least 100 jobs over the course of a year in 2011, while I had a job as a nanny after I graduated.  At the end of 2011, I got a part-time administrative assistant job as a temp.  I was good at it.  Then I got a break.  I got a big-girl job.  I make the medium bucks now.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with my degree.  Mentors and former supervisors asked me, “Are you going to come back to higher ed?” And I told them, “I don’t know, maybe in the future, but I’m happy where I am now.”

To be honest, I don’t know if I would go back.  Working with students made me happy, and I enjoyed helping them grow and learn.  I felt like I was contributing to something greater than myself.  But I am no longer sure that education is my passion.  I’m not sure it ever was.  I quit that plan. 

I was married for almost three years.  I knew something wasn’t right very early, but I convinced myself that I wanted to succeed at marriage, that being happily married would bring my life meaning and happiness and satisfaction.  I was miserable when I was married.  I felt hopeless, and depressed, and angry — at myself, mostly.  One day, I quit.  A friend had offered me a spare room in his home and I took it.  One night, I packed up everything I used regularly and the things I couldn’t easily replace and put it all in my car and when I left for work and school that morning, I didn’t come back.

I was running.  I packed like I had one chance to get it right.  The things I took with me when I thought I might not get anything else were an interesting mix.  I took clothes and jewelry and shoes for work and for everyday wear.  I took all my school books and supplies.  I took three paintings I had done that used to hang in the apartment I shared with my husband.  I took all of the autographed 8×10 photos of Star Trek actors.  I took my paints and a pencil and a pad of canvas paper.

I would sit, quiet and contemplative, in my little room at my friend’s house, sketching and painting and feeling happy.  I painted more in that two-month separation than I had in years.

Yes, two months.  I went back.  We reconciled.  Until it happened again and I couldn’t convince myself to stay any longer.  I gave up my ideas about marital bliss being the key to happiness.  I finally broke my promises.  I left.  I quit. 

And in the months since, after the guilt and the anger and the feelings of failure mostly subsided, I have realized that it’s okay to quit.  It’s actually pretty fantastic to quit.  My life now, a simpler life, is so much happier, so much fuller, so much more, than it ever was when I was living my life for someone else.

Quitting taught me something very important: We must never, ever put our happiness in someone else’s hands.  We must find our passion, our happiness, our mission in life, and we must follow it.  To do anything less is to deny ourselves what we deserve and what the world deserves from us.

I haven’t yet nailed down my passion in life (though painting is a passion, I don’t think it’s the passion) but I agree that our mission in life must be to grow as a person and to contribute to others.  I hope that this blog is an inspiration to someone, anyone, who is trying to live a better life through simplifying.  If I inspire just one person, I will be living that mission of contribution.

Quitting my old life has allowed me to grow as a person.  I learn more about myself every day.  I strive to make real decisions to better myself.  I’m not perfect.  I have not yet made enough of a commitment to my own growth.  But the inspiration of others who have done this before me gives me strength as I continue this exciting journey.  The past year of my life has been tumultuous and full of change.  I anticipate more change in the future, but I will be much better equipped to handle it with my new outlook.

Maybe one day soon I will be able to leave my day job to welcome a life of passion, but for now I am content to pay down my student debt as a drone.  As long as I make time for passion.  I must make time for passion.

The clutter of broken promises

This post is inspired by a recent post on Miss Minimalist.

In her post, she describes a baby swing that she purchased because it promised to make her fussy baby nap.  Though she is a die-hard “minsumerist,” she wasted no time parting with her money to buy this swing, this promise of peace while her baby slept peacefully.  Except her baby did not sleep.  Uh-oh.

That swing made a promise to her and it fell short of that promise.

What about the promises we make to our stuff? Or the promises we make to ourselves when we buy the stuff that plagues us?

I have an easel.  Priced at $45 at an estate sale, I took it home for $20.  Oh, the things I was going to paint.  And I have yet to do so, after owning the easel for months.  It didn’t make any promises to me… it’s just an easel.  I guess it promised to hold whatever canvas I put upon it, and it will be able to keep that promise.  But I promised it I would use it and love it and paint upon it.  I promised it a place of honor in my new flat (which it has, even if I never use it). I promised myself I would paint more with this easel.  I have not painted anything in several months.

If you find yourself surrounded by the clutter of broken promises, evaluate them.  What is the promise?  Who made it?  Who broke it?  Can the promise be kept? If not, maybe it’s time to let go of the promise.

If you find yourself considering a new item, evaluate those promises too.
What is this item promising to do?  Can you have that need met elsewhere?  Are you, say, buying an easel, or a new pair of running shoes, when you haven’t been doing any painting or running? Those things won’t make you an artist or an athlete.  In this instance, I think it’s better to work with what you have for now to make sure whatever promises you or your potential stuff make can be kept.

Many promises begin with good intentions.  And it is okay to realize you can’t keep a promise.  But we must be better stewards of our stuff and our lives and our promises and try not to make those we cannot keep (both to people and to stuff)!  We must also beware the pretty promises that stuff makes when it wants to make its new home with us.

Have you made any unkept promises to your stuff?

The bare necessities

I have a confession.

I am a Disney junkie.  My sister and I clean our rooms to Disney music.  The soundtrack to Tarzan gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it.  I am physically incapable of remaining quiet during a viewing of a Disney movie.

It’s pretty bad.

While I was driving home from work listening to my Disney station on Pandora (don’t judge me), “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book played.  I have known this song my whole life but one stanza stood out to me as I drove and sang along:

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you

You got your minimalism in my Disney! No, you got your Disney in my minimalism!

I think this little snippet of a silly song from a children’s movie has some great observations that apply to daily life in 2012.  People covet and want and need to need new things.  But when we realize that our lives are no worse for not having the stuff in our lives, we stop needing to need, and we’re happy with what we have.

Have any song lyrics or images surprised you like this?

What I am looking for

I came across a quote from Helen Keller that really resonated with my new minimalist philosophy:

What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.

This quote is a wonderful reminder of why I need to continue shedding the physical “stuff” around me and where my focus should really be.  All I need to be happy is contained within myself.

I am coming to realize that I don’t need anything but me.  I enjoy having things, certainly — paint, computer, music, good food — but if my house burnt down and I lost everything, I could get new paint, a new computer, etc. and pick up where I left off, because it — that proverbial it we’re all searching for — has been right here the whole time.

We are not what we own.  We can’t be.  Then who are we when what we own is gone?

Minimalism allows me to be me, because I no longer have anything to hide behind.

Nothing lacking

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu

I think this is a great quote to describe my rebirth into a minimalist lifestyle.  I had been carrying around so much stuff for so long, and I was so wrapped up in the things I would need when I moved out on my own, that when I realized I didn’t need all that stuff to be happy, healthy, or productive, it was like seeing for the first time.  I found that it was so easy to cast off things I had been carrying around for years, and I was surprised at how good it felt to shed so many physical objects and my intangible need to need.

I realized that I already had what I needed — and much, much more than I needed.  By being content with the things I already have, and by getting rid of the things I don’t need, I’m much less stressed than I used to be.  I have a long way to go, but I am sure I will continue on this minimalist journey.  It feels too good — I can’t imagine going back to clutter.

I think Lao Tzu had it right — by being content with what I have, rejoicing in the way things are, and realizing that there is nothing lacking, I feel like I have more than I ever did before.

What are some of your favorite minimalist words to live by?