Recently, a Facebook post asked how those within the group came to live minimalist lifestyles — whether many of us pursue it in the wake of personal tragedy. This is an easy presumption considering the idea society has painted of what depression looks like. I however, posit the root of simplicity to be a question of material worth. What value does every item I bring into my life truly have for me?
It was 2011; my husband was deployed in the Mediterranean. We were young, a bit impressionable, and we saw other couples and how they lived. Up to that point, it had never occurred to us that things such as a sofa weren’t ‘needs’. We simply accepted that this is how we live in America. We marry, buy homes or rent apartments and fill them with furniture and whatever else we’re impressed by; teaching financial realities is a challenge our current society hasn’t fully met.
Ironically, our clutter (or perhaps multiple gallons of McDonald’s sweet tea) tipped me over the edge. As is typical, I tried to fix clutter with clutter. I found myself at Wal*Mart at 0200 (2am for civilians) wheeling my cart up and down the home goods aisles searching for just the right bathroom shelving and TV stand. To be clear, early morning Wal*Mart trips are the norm for some families in the Norfolk area… it’s an escape from the payday Commissary mayhem and an attempt to avoid the lengthy checkout lanes at Wal*Mart. 2 registers open, 15 employees milling about, never quite mustering the moxie to flash mob us.
2012 was a year of heartbreak and trial for us. We moved into a new apartment just as 4 people in our families were hospitalized repeatedly or for surgeries. Then my grandma passed away. Two days following her passing, we were evicted. There was a mistake in the pay system on DFAS’s end and we never received our housing allowance, so we couldn’t pay our rent. At the end of 2012, Drew was discharged a month following his re-enlistment. He was wrongfully accused of having stolen another sailor’s uniform. Since then, we’ve been in survival mode, stuck in a cycle of circumstances we aren’t always in control of. We’ve been married nearly 8 years, half of which have been spent jobless and homeless.
Summer of 2012, a friend introduced me to minimalism. I had driven over 9 hours in an overloaded truck and now all that crap was suffocating me. I was ready to be rid of it all, as I breathlessly explained to my baffled spouse over the phone that evening. “…MINIMALISM…bla bla yada… So, y’know I somehow ended up with most of your civilian clothes here? Well, I was thinking that you hardly ever get to wear them anyway and maybe if you could just tell me which ones you like best I can burn the rest with Daddy’s trash…” [Note: Minimalism doesn’t quite work that way and I don’t recommend this method to anyone.]
We’ve seen the best and worst of materialism. But in times when we were homeless, we were able to make the best of our circumstances because of minimalism. It didn’t “save” us — I mean, I wish I could boast the hundreds of dollars we saved in the last few years because “we were living minimally”. But that’s just not the case. This lifestyle has given us permission and freedom to let go of things we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Have I chosen minimalism in the face of tragic circumstances? Yes. But I was already there. I was already fighting my way out of my ‘clutter forest’. I was already asking the question — and maybe you’ve found yourself there, too. So I’ll ask it again:
What is worth?