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.