In October 2016 I was contacted by Fabian, one of the editors of a new online minimalist lifestyle magazine called Elementarist. He’d enjoyed an article he’d read on this blog and asked me if I would like to write something for his magazine. I was happy to do so and chose to write about my journey to a simpler life with less stuff. The Article was published the following month and, although a few edits had been made here and there, and some of the pictures I’d provided were not used, I was very impressed with the way the article was formatted and presented.
Despite a promising start, Elementarist didn’t last a year. I visited the site a few weeks ago and found it was gone. I checked again earlier this week and the site was still down so I contacted Fabian and asked whether his minimalist lifestyle magazine was likely to make a return.
It took a few days to get a reply, but Fabian told me the year had been really work intensive and there had been no further chances of populating the site. That didn’t explain why the existing content was removed, but he also said he’s currently working on migrating the content over to medium.com.
I worked hard on my minimalist story and I never like to see hard work going to waste, so I’ve decided to republish the article here. I’ve also included the pictures that were not published on the Elementarist website because I think they help bring the story to life.
If I were to tell you that I walked away from my marriage, got rid of nearly all my possessions, ditched my job and became a digital nomad , would you think I’d had a mental breakdown? Then if I admitted I was in my 40s at the time, would you nod your head knowingly and say, “Ahh! I get it. Mid-life crisis.” If either of those ideas is passing through your mind you are wrong. My gray matter was still functioning perfectly and there was no crisis as such. I was just terribly unhappy with my life and, even before I knew what minimalism was, I was moving towards a way of living where less is more. I’d realized that “stuff” is just stuff. It can’t make you happy, but it can tie you down.
Thinking back to all the times people asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told them I didn’t need anything, I was probably becoming minimalist then to a certain extent because I was saying, “No! I’ve got enough. No more stuff!” But I was still yet to learn what minimalism was and had no idea what an important change it would make to my life.
A House Full of Stuff
I used to own a house with a garden that was 110 feet long. It had two sheds and, like the house, they were filled with stuff that I was hoarding and didn’t really need. When my wife and I went to Cornwall for a week the preparation was quite stressful. I bought a burglar alarm, made sure all the curtains were not quite fully drawn and set timers that would make the lights switch on and off at specific times. I felt I had to do these things to keep the buglers away and protect all our stuff. Things are different now. Nearly everything I own fits into my backpack and I have a smaller bag for transporting my Electronics. I travel light and it doesn’t just mean there is less to physically weigh me down. Getting rid of all that unnecessary stuff has been a weight off my mind.
A Homeowner No More
The reasons for this are not relevant to my minimalist journey, but my wife and I decided to sell the house and rent a bungalow. I paid off all my debts and bought a small Ford Escort van. I’d embarked on a new adventure as a second-hand book dealer and I needed a van for my business. I also slept in it from time to time because I was experimenting with the idea of living in a van. As my marriage continued to fail I moved all my stuff into one of the two 20-foot-long storage containers I needed for my books. When my business failed I got rid of most of the books and a lot of other stuff and managed to make do with one storage container.
By this time I was very interested in being completely self-sufficient and living full-time in a van. I began reading blogs and watching videos created by people living alternative lifestyles. That’s when I discovered Tynan. The guy was living in an RV some of the time and spending the rest of his time traveling the world. How cool is that? I had a new hero. I wanted an RV too, but could only afford a semi-converted meat wagon, with a choice of two couches to sleep on and its very own chemical-powered loo.
Lessons in Minimalism
The thing about Tynan is he travels light. The first time I encountered the word “minimalist” was in one of his blog posts. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about the minimalist lifestyle. In due time, my research led me to a YouTube video by the Minimalists. It’s called A Rich Life With Less Stuff. The title sums up the life lessons the video contains. That video changed everything for me and I realized I needed to get rid of my van. It was a bugger to park and cost a lot to run. It was not conducive to the simpler, richer life I craved. I exchanged my van for a Skoda and began living in a car instead. But not before I’d used it to get rid of some more stuff. I downsized to a smaller storage container and began paying £11 per week instead of £25. That’s a reasonable saving, but I was still paying out money just so I could hang onto stuff.
When the engine of my car blew out a big cloud of blue smoke, my days of sleeping in dodgy lay-byes were over. Paying car tax and insurance and feeding a motor with fuel, is expensive. I wanted no more, so I began renting a room in a very rough neighborhood in Stockton on Tees. It turned out to be cheaper than living in my car and life became much simpler.
“Things” Were Still Holding Me Back
I had already enjoyed modest success as a horror writer, so when my second-hand book business failed I stopped writing fiction, found some clients, and became a freelance writer for hire. I don’t like the UK, so this was a planned move. When you are a digital nomad it does not matter where you live and I wanted to live abroad. The only thing that was holding me back was the rest of my stuff. I couldn’t take it with me but did not want to go on paying storage fees. It would have complicated my life, so it was time to say goodbye to some more stuff. But it was getting harder now.
Most of my remaining possessions had sentimental value. Would you believe I still had several teddy bears and assorted cuddly toys that I’d saved from my childhood? I also had a collection of Rupert the Bear annuals. One for nearly every year of my life. The early ones had inscriptions that read, “Happy Christmas Stephen! Love from Santa.” Later ones said. “Love from mum.” The majority of them had nothing written inside them at all because I’d bought them myself. I was keeping track of my life with Rupert books. I had over 40 of them and they meant a lot to me. The size of my collection also made me feel old. They had to go.
Saying goodbye to my telescope was one of the hardest things of all. It was a good one with a built-in tracking device that allowed it to lock-on to the stars. I never wanted the damn thing, but it was still incredibly hard to let go. When I was a child I wanted a telescope very badly, but my parents couldn’t afford one. This had cropped up in a conversation with my wife; so one year when she said, “What do you want for Christmas?” and I said nothing, she bought me a telescope and it was not cheap because she wanted me to have the best. The desires of a full grown man are very different to those of a seven-year-old boy, but the reason behind the gift was more important than the gift itself. I was touched. But I wanted no more storage fees, so I took a photograph of my telescope and I keep that instead.
The Freedom to Follow My Heart
In the end, I was left with two plastic boxes that contained the really special stuff, such as my karate trophies. I also kept some magazines and books that contain examples of my work. There were a few other bits and bobs and—yep!—my Top 3 Rupert annuals (will I ever live this down?). I am still on good terms with my wife, so she is looking after the boxes for me, even though we now live in different countries. She is in the UK and I am in the Netherlands. I still plan to do some more traveling in the future, but the Netherlands is where my heart is. It’s the place I always wanted to be and the place I call home. I rent a room and I have no car. If I need a bike there is one here I can borrow. I do not need much stuff. The only things I do want are things that money can’t buy. When you can put the desire for stuff behind you, it enables you to concentrate on what is important, but there’s a flip-side. If something important is unobtainable, you feel it more because you have less to distract you. That’s just life I guess, but I achieved my ambition. I live a richer life with less stuff.