Minimalism Suits Us

Our home in 1992 following Brett’s retirement and the delivery of our household goods from Japan. We had So. Much. Stuff.

Brett and I were talking this past week about when he retired from the navy in 1992, and how much stuff we had back then. Up until his final tour in Japan we had always lived fairly simply and had never acquired or accumulated much because we only had a very small weight allowance for moving our household goods. During the second year of our last tour, when we were in Japan, Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise also we received a huge increase in our household goods weight allowance. My reaction to that was to shop incessantly.

Shopping was my primary form of recreation while we were living in Japan. Beyond Brett’s income, I made good money teaching English conversation, and I did nothing with my earnings but buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. I attended every monthly bazaar, hit all the local shops and stores, took shopping tours, and visited monthly antique sales held at Japanese shrines. We came home with an assortment of 15 antique tansu (Japanese chests), loads of antique porcelain, antique kimonos, and tons other things that I had convinced myself we couldn’t leave Japan without owning. Looking back, there probably wasn’t a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. I didn’t know what I really wanted so I bought everything.

I believe our first wakeup call to minimalism came when our household goods shipment from Japan failed to arrive back in the U.S. on time, and we were told it could no be located anywhere in the system, that it was lost. Deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever was our first emotion.

But something changed in both of us as we waited for news about our shipment. We also began to admit to feeling somewhat liberated by the thought of not owning all those things. I began to question why I had ever wanted to buy and own so much stuff, and realized the thrill had been in the hunt, not the owning. I felt deep, searing pain whenever I thought about losing photo albums and other personal and truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever. For everything else however, I discovered I felt no real attachment whatsoever. What I wanted was our simple, uncluttered life back again.

We have spent the last 30 years divesting ourselves of all those Japan things. We have enjoyed them while they were with us, but the sale of the items has financed countless adventures, vacations, and other undertakings. Selling some of the items helped get us through some difficult financial times and helped fund the girls’ adoptions, payed off debt, got us to Hawaii, and launched our last Big Adventure. Selling the remaining items now is helping us save for our next adventure.

Brett and discovered during our travels that we were very satisfied living with only what we could fit in our suitcases. What we carried with us in those suitcases was enough, and it was the experiences we shared that made us happy and filled us up, not the things we owned.

Minimalism fits the nomadic life we crave now as we work toward an even more minimal lifestyle. Nothing we have sold over the years has been missed, and the same is true now. We are eager to divest ourselves of more, and the fewer things we have in our apartment these days, the happier we seem to become. Our daughters will go through their and our things this Christmas, and take back with them the items they want to keep. Almost everything else we own will eventually go, and in the end we will keep only what can be packed into a suitcase and taken to our daughter’s home for storage. We don’t need anything else.

Maybe this final turn toward minimalism is a function of aging, maybe it’s heredity, at least for me. Who knows? When I was young my grandmother always let me go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things any more, even though she already lived simply. My mother also got rid of most of her possessions and downsized when she got older. She would rather have traveled than maintained or worried about a lot of stuff, which is where we’re at now as well. I used to call Brett the “king of the packrats” as he used to hold onto everything, but he has also fully embraced minimalism these days and has a small footprint.

Whatever the reason, as the time passes the less both of us want to own and maintain. It’s an adventure for both of us as we learn what we no longer need or want, and what it’s time to give up. We remain a bit surprised by how well we like living with less, how easily we adapt, and we are looking forward to future of living out of a suitcase once again, this time with nothing left behind to tie us down.

8 thoughts on “Minimalism Suits Us

  1. It’s good to have examples of people thinning out their belongings as they age. My mom is doing and has done that. Maybe because her mom didn’t, and my mom and her siblings had to clear her stuff after she died. My mom has given things to each kid and grandkid that she thinks they will enjoy or that they have loved over the years. It’s inspiring.

    And I can completely relate to enjoying the hunt more than the actual owning of “stuff”. Now that we have moved and done some downsizing, I’m still drawn to certain things, but realistically do not need or have room for them. So we’re just enjoying what we have. And my DH too has become more willing to unpack his packrat belongings. LOL.

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    1. I do think watching my grandmother and mother downsize helped me get to where I am now. But, going through a couple of estate sales back in Portland was an eyeopener and a big motivation now to get rid of things so our kids don’t have to later. I keep reminding the girls to bring big suitcases in December.

      The hunt in Japan was so much a part of what we collected. There was a monthly bazaar over at the nearby army base with antique dealers set up out in front and everything else inside the gym – I NEVER left there empty handed! Shrine sales, kimono sales, or a walk through the Japanese equivalent of Target always was an adventure – I still am using things I found in those places. It was just a never ending shopping spree the whole time we were there.

      Brett giving up his packrat ways will stand as one of the true miracles of the 21st century.

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  2. it’s good that your shopping sprees eventually helped meet so many financial needs of your family. (And hopefully you were able to sell all those items for as much or more than you paid for them!).

    We are not minimalists by a long shot, although since moving to a smaller house, we have gotten rid of lots of stuff. I am a sucker for seasonal decor, and after bringing out my fall things this week, the new rule in our house is NO MORE FALL STUFF! I did set aside quite a few items that will be donated. though.
    I would like to get down to two bins for each season, but that may not be realistic just yet!

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    1. Looking back, it really is surprising how much all that shopping we did in Japan has helped us out through the years. The things we have these days were the most special, and I’m more about new people getting to love and enjoy them than I am making money off of them.

      Addy – I used to have ALL the seasonal decor! There was a shop in Japan that sold Fitz & Floyd seconds and I had every season/holiday covered for years. I have only a small box these days, and only decorate (minimally) at Christmas.

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  3. People often refer to my home as being minimalist, which cracks me up – we have plenty of stuff! The key is that we also have a lot of open space, and I have no desire whatsover to fill it. More stuff means more dusting, and I’m adverse to anything in my home that will make for more work. My outside is the same. I like it like that, and have no plans to change a thing other than swapping items out from time to time.

    Another advantage is that I know what every item in my home is, and where it ‘lives.’ I never have to go searching for things, because everything is visible and in its proper space, even if that’s a cupboard shelf ar a cabinet drawer.

    I loathe clutter!

    Laura, I do love that your beautiful Asian style was on display as far back as the 90’s. I inherited some beautiful Asian pieces from my mother-in-law, and they are timeless in addition to beautiful, which I love. And they blend beautifully with my coastal style.

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    1. I laughed when I read your comment on dusting because that’s exactly how I feel! Dusting is my least favorite chore of all, and once I (finally) figured out that less stuff meant less dusting there was no stopping me.

      I love that everything we have now is used regularly (other than a few Christmas ornaments in the closet). I am so with you about clutter!

      The Asian (mostly Japanese) things are so beautiful, but they are very niche items. I used to want more than what we paid, but now I only want to get what I paid for them more than 20 years ago, and have them go to someone who will love them as much as we have.

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  4. It’s funny how we go through different phases – young and free of stuff, accumulation, releasing stuff.

    All the Japanese antiques would have been lovely. A different kind of lovely from the freedom to move – but lovely nonetheless.

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    1. We really got into accumulating things for a while, especially after the girls joined us. We had gotten rid of quite a bit of the stuff we had carried back from Japan at that point, but then started adding all sorts of other new things. The wake-up call came when we moved from our first Portland house to our second – where did all the STUFF come from? We’ve been in serious downsizing mode ever since.

      We have received much enjoyment from our Japanese antiques over the years, but it’s time for someone else to enjoy them now. I wish our kids wanted them, but it’s not their style (neither are the Chinese antiques).

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