How (And Why) Do You Transition from a "Normal" Life to One with Just 134 Items?
This is how it happened
Simple + Straightforward is a weekly letter filled with essays, tips, and ideas to live life more simply and intentionally. This is a public post so feel free to share with friends and family you think would enjoy a dose of simplicity every Friday.
I’ve been asked a LOT about how in the world I went from a three-bedroomed suburban house-dweller to jettisoning almost everything until I was left with only what would fit in a suitcase.
It’s not a particularly “normal” thing to do, I’ll admit. Especially as I was 35 when I did it.
Seeing as so many of you on this list have come off the back of my Becoming Minimalist guest post Here’s What It’s Like to Own Just 134 Items in the World, I thought it might be a fun thing to talk about this beautiful summer Friday. How do you make that sort of transition? Was it worth it?
Should you be doing the same (spoiler alert: only if you want to)?
It wasn’t a quick decision
I didn’t wake up one morning and think hey, wouldn’t it be nifty to give away all my shiz.
The process was slow.
Here’s how it went.
You start by never feeling quite at home in your own country. You’ve always wanted to live abroad but have never found a way to do it. So you put it to the back of your mind and get on with your “real” life.
In 2013, you become the youngest wine merchant in the country, converting an old nail salon in a small British seaside town. You call it Vino Vero which means Real Wine in Italian and Spanish. The name had to be in a different language because you’re obsessed with mainland Europe, particularly the idea of one day living there. NO. Stop it. Put that thought to the back of your mind.
In 2014, you watch The Minimalists’ TED talk which throws you into a decluttering frenzy. You discover you quite like the minimalist lifestyle, particularly the bit where your bank balance grows. This happens to be super helpful because you’re living on $300 a month (after bills) because your business is fledgling and no one knows you exist yet.
After a while, your wine store is doing OK. More than OK in fact - people kinda like it. And thanks to discovering minimalism, you’ve broken almost all your poor spending habits so your savings start to grow.
Like everyone around you, you’re obsessed with the idea of buying a house. Eventually, you manage to buy one on foreclosure for 30% less than market value. It’s a doer-upper and you slowly bash it into shape on the tiniest budget imaginable.
You bumble along for a few years. All is fine - good in fact - and you’re immensely grateful for that. Not every business thrives, not every house turns out to be a winner.
But you can’t quite shake that niggling feeling that you’re not meant to be doing this with your life. You’re spending more and more time abroad visiting winemakers, harvesting grapes, and generally avoiding being in the UK. But that’s normal, right? It has absolutely nothing to do with your deep-seated desire to live abroad. You buried that long ago. Right??
The Brexit vote happens. You acknowledge then what you have known for a long, long time. Britain isn’t where you want to be anymore. You and your husband vow that night - you don’t know when or exactly how, but one way or another, you’re outta there.
It takes 3 more years of planning. You toy with the idea of running the wine business from abroad, but a nervous breakdown followed by months of deep depression makes you realize it’s time to let it go.
You find the perfect buyer for your store (that may be just one sentence but it was probably the hardest part of this whole shebang).
You know you want to long-term travel - you’ve known this since you were 16 even if you’ve only just found the cajones to act on it - and you’re finally putting your plan into action. But you um and ah over how to do practically do this. Do you rent your house or sell it? Do you put all your stuff in storage or do you sell the lot?
Thanks to those 6 years of minimalism, you don’t have much stuff hanging about your house and what you do have is largely old, second-hand or past its prime. You know your future is no longer in the UK so you decide to jettison (almost) of it and sell the house.
A clean slate.
The dining room table you spent two days sanding down and making from scratch goes to a friend. The artwork you curated over many years is given to friends, customers and family. The books are sent to a charity store. But the pizza oven, dutch oven, chef’s knife, and recipe books stay. You know your priorities.
The shop sells. The house sells. You pack up what you have - with a couple of boxes and that all-important pizza oven loaned to a friend for future use.
You close the door of your house for the last time on a cold October morning, dragging your suitcase with the few items that made the cut to the train station, then the airport, then in an airplane headed towards Spain. This is all you take with you, for two people:
You won’t lie, the process wasn’t easy. You’re leaving everything you’ve ever known, you’re starting at the bottom rung of your new chosen career as a writer. But you know that not doing this would always have left you wondering the big ol’ what if?
At least now you’re going to find out for yourself.
When life becomes more important than stuff
When I write out this process in just under 800 words, it seems so…simple.
But big life upheavals are never simple. They’re emotional, they’re filled with doubt and worry and a niggling feeling you’re doing the wrong thing. Especially if what you want is counter to what you “should be doing” with your life.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. How many items you should own has nothing to do with a certain number, it’s about whether the items you own fit into the lifestyle you want.
Eventually, my desire to leave the UK for a life in mainland Europe became more important to me than any item of furniture, any book on my shelf (save a couple of those recipe books), or any piece of clothing.
Every single person on this mailing list will have differing priorities. Mine was living in mainland Europe, yours could be something wholly different. Whatever they are, your stuff should fit into that priority, not be that priority.
Setting up your weekend
For those of you new here, this is the time when I recommend the best content I’ve found across the World Wide Web this week, as well as any posts I’ve written over on Medium, paywall-free. It’s my way to set you up for the weekend:
3 articles from my collection
A Realistic Guide to Owning Fewer Clothes (No Capsule Wardrobe Required)
How Living in a 200-Square-Foot Apartment Made Me Question Our Obsession with Huge Houses
3 of the best pieces of content I’ve consumed this week
This was a recommendation from a writer acquaintance of mine and man, am I pleased it’s now in my life. The podcast is hosted by Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame and research psychologist Angela Duckworth. The duo delve into anything and everything, from Is It Weird for Adults to Have Imaginary Friends? to Are Women Really Less Happy Than Men.
Documentary - Oasis: Supersonic
Like many teenage Brits, Oasis was one of my favorite bands so I spent an evening this week re-living my youth with their 2016 documentary Supersonic, now on Netflix. Recommended for a night when you need to switch off.
Article - Stop Calling Them Luxury Goods And Designer Products
I really like the work of anonymous British blogger Argumentative Penguin and this article is no exception. A great read for anyone unimpressed by designer labels.