As an adult, I followed the traditional path to the American Dream. As my income increased, so did the size of my living space. At one point, four of us lived in a three-bedroom house with living room and two baths.
We started out as a young couple with cheap, mostly particle board furniture. But we added to it. Then we upgraded until we had a house full of mostly teak furniture of Scandinavian design, supplemented by oak furniture and barrister bookcases.
It was way more house than we needed, even though it didn’t seem too big at the time.
After our daughter left home, we moved into a few smaller houses and then we retired. At that point, we decided to move into a motorhome to facilitate roaming around this great country, seeing the sights and enjoying their historical significance.
We sold nearly everything we owned including our house and both cars. The little bit we kept fit into a small 5′ x 5′ storeroom.
And then we traveled the countryside. Gettysburg in July is hot—I felt sorry for the soldiers who fought there wearing wool uniforms. We watched people demonstrate things like bread baking by a fire, making ropes, or building wooden boats—all those things were a fun way to learn about our country’s history.
We traveled through all of the 48 contiguous states, stopping at museums, National Parks and Monuments, living history sites, and places where we could enjoy nature.
We traveled for several years… until we decided the community we left behind was more important to us that the sights we were seeing. Yes, experiences are a great way to learn and build memories, but relationships need maintenance to be healthy and we’d been neglecting our community for too long.
We sold the motorhome and moved back home—into an apartment rather than a house. We felt freed from the need to maintain a house and we’d become used to not having a lot of space.
Somewhere along the way, we’d become used to not having the “best” furniture. So, we thought intentionally about what we actually needed in our new apartment and ordered it from IKEA to be delivered. It was the easiest move we ever made!
A one-bedroom apartment is plenty of room for us and our new furniture is particle board once again. But that works for us. We could live differently, but there’s nothing about our current living situation we want to change. This time, we chose it.
It’s taken a lot of years and we’ve covered a lot of miles, but we’ve come to realize we don’t need much and there are more important things in life than constantly needing to upgrade the size of our home or the quality of our furniture.
I know nobody gets to go back and start life over again. But here are some of the most important lessons I have learned. Maybe someone younger can learn from us:
Housing: The first house we bought was small. Just barely big enough for three of us. As the years went on, like I mentioned, we bought larger and larger houses, and fancier furnishings, and more vehicles as we attempted to reach the American Dream. Now we are retired and living in a small one-bedroom apartment with one small car. And we are happier here than we were in any of those bigger houses. It brings us joy to live with just what we actually use.
Education: Neither my husband or I went to college right out of high school. Eventually, we realized not having a degree was going to limit our career options, so my husband used his GI benefits to go to college. He worked full time and went to school half time for eight years. We saw little of each other during those years, but they led him to a career change into a field where he actually enjoyed working and where he made good money. If he had tried college right after high school, he would not have discovered his career (it wasn’t even a thing yet). Sometimes, postponing your education can be a good thing. There are plenty of non-traditional routes to a fulfilling life.
Finances: We have enough money to live well now, but that was not always the case. Discharged from the army with a three month old baby meant taking a pay cut of nearly fifty percent. We quickly learned we did not need to buy clothes—except for the growing baby… but she didn’t mind her clothes coming from a thrift shop. We learned how to eat well on cheap foods. We learned how to have fun with friends and family without a lot of expense. And, even though we can afford more now, we still have few clothes and prefer cheap entertainment. We do appreciate being able to support public television now after those early years of our daughter watching Sesame Street, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, etc. Being able to give back now in gratitude for all those who gave when we couldn’t is wonderful!
Travel: For many years, we were campers—vacationing in tents, trailers, motorhomes, and conversion vans. We even lived in a motorhome full time for three years as we explored this great country. We took ocean cruises. We traveled through Europe and England. Traveling broadens your perspective. For one thing, you realize there are many ways to live and all of them are right for someone. But, I must say, nothing beats coming back home to friends and family!
Parenting: We raised our daughter to think that different was good and that following the crowd was seldom rewarding. She resented us at times for not being as materialistic as her friends’ families were. But learning to follow her own path led her to a job that is right for her. And now she is happy to have learned to be herself. I’m proud of the lessons she learned—even though they were difficult to teach at times.
So what about you? Who are you really and what would make you happy? Probably not materialism.
Minimalism may help you discover what’s really important to you and how you’d prefer to live your life. And then, it will give you the time and money to do those things.
We’ve learned that to be true in our life—and it can be true in yours as well.