I recently fulfilled a life-long dream when I moved into a van with my husband, Mat.
It may sound like a weird dream — a life in a tiny space without running water, a toilet, or even a fridge. But if you had met me when I was a kid, my uncluttered dream would come as no surprise.
I grew up reading (and re-reading) the Little House on the Prairie books, imagining that one day I too would live in a small home, travel to wild places, and publish stories about my adventures just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I carried this dream with me through my school years and went on a 4-month trip to Scotland to volunteer on organic farms as soon as I earned my degree. It was an addicting experience. I planned another volunteer farming trip to Nova Scotia as soon as I got home.
I felt like I was finally living my dream life.
Then, just a few weeks before flying to Nova Scotia, I went on a date and fell in love with the man who is now my husband. It felt impossibly hard to leave my new love behind and stick with my travel plans, but I did it. I met a ton of people and learned valuable lessons on the Nova Scotia farm, but I couldn’t bear to be apart from Mat for long and I ultimately cut my trip short to move back to Ottawa.
Somehow, five years went by in the blink of an eye and my dream of a nomadic lifestyle writing stories was buried beneath the more practical, responsible goals of day-to-day life.
Mat and I moved from a 1-bedroom apartment to a 2-bedroom one. Then we bought a 4-bedroom home. We’d find better jobs to cover the increased costs that came with each move and I slowly transformed into an overworked, stressed out employee working long hours for a paycheck. My lifestyle was no longer in sync with what my true self desired — simplicity.
We realized that there were other people out there who felt overwhelmed and they chose to simplify their lives by living in smaller spaces, owning less stuff, and spending less money.
They used different words to describe their lifestyle — minimalism, downshifting, voluntary simplicity — but their journeys all shared a common thread. By getting rid of the excess in their lives, these people were able to prioritize what was important to them.
I was inspired by their stories and started to believe that it might be possible for me to shed the life I didn’t want and rediscover that feeling of rightness I’d experienced when I was traveling in my early 20’s.
Mat and I made the difficult decision to sell our house so that we wouldn’t need our stressful jobs anymore and would have more time to do what we loved.
Sounds easy, right? Not even close.
Downsizing was an extremely emotional process. We had to look at every single item in our house and figure out what to do with it. Diving into minimalist living can be scary at first, especially when you think about the people who take it to the extreme and only own 15 things. But that’s not the only way to be a minimalist. I chose to keep the belongings that were meaningful to me — photo albums, paintings, journals, and a short stack of my favorite books.
Whenever it got hard, Mat and I reminded ourselves that our freedom was more important than whatever item we were holding.
In less than 5 months, we got rid of almost everything we owned, renovated and sold our house, and quit our jobs. We were finally free to explore new ways of living!
Sometimes people ask me what they should keep or get rid of and I tell them to be honest with themselves so that they don’t get rid of things that they really care about. Achieving minimalism is a unique process for everyone. While some people might choose to get rid of all their clothes and wear the same thing every day so that they spend less money and do less laundry, others might be passionate about fashion and choose to keep their wardrobe because it adds value to their lives and makes them feel good.
Though I certainly don’t think everyone should sell their homes and quit their jobs, I do believe that minimalism is a universal tool than can help anyone discover what’s most important to them.
We can’t all have more, but we can all have less.
Giving up everything I had helped me rediscover my true self, introduced travel back into my life, and gave me more time to spend with family and friends. Minimalism made my childhood dreams a reality, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
Photo courtesy of author