Filter Your Way to Minimalism
A filter is an object that is used to separate things. You push stuff through a filter and some goes through and some gets filtered out. What gets filtered out depends on the filter. It occurred to me the other day that this is a good analogy for how I went about getting rid of about 95% of what I owned.
I started with a 3 bedroom house, with a 1000 square foot basement and a garage, for just my wife and I. We had two living rooms! Plus, two dining room tables. Doesn’t everyone need BOTH a formal and informal dining room table? Every room was furnished, and the basement was lined with those rolling storage shelves. We had lots and lots of stuff. I came from a smaller home, with less stuff. I thought, like most people, that upgrading homes (bigger!) would make me happy but it didn’t really do anything for me at all. I was lucky though. I was in the Navy and got orders to San Diego. If you know San Diego you know that renting or buying a large 3 bedroom home is very expensive. That is a bit of an understatement. So we decided to look for something smaller, which turned out to be my first filter.
Filter #1: Clear my garage so I can park both cars in it. We moved into a 2 bedroom condo in San Diego with a 2 car garage. The movers started delivering our stuff and we started directing it to the various rooms in the condo. When the condo was full, we started putting stuff in the garage. When they finished, you couldn’t wedge a bicycle in there the garage was so full. It was ridiculous. We decided to begin to sell our stuff until we cleared the garage. This worked great as a filter because it was a definite and finite goal. It took about 3 months. What did not sell was donated to Goodwill. After 3 months, the garage was clear, both cars were parked inside and we had downsized quite a bit.
Filter #2: Fit into a smaller condo. My wife always wanted to live on Coronado Island. It is an idyllic community, on an island, in San Diego Bay. Beautiful place. I always told her that there was no use even looking because we couldn’t afford anything there. Well, she looked. And she found something very interesting. It was a one bedroom apartment, right on the beach! Plus, it was cheaper than our current condo! The catch? It was small, and had no garage, but did have a storage closet. We took a look at our stuff and figured we could work it out. So we signed the lease and had about a month to downsize again. We were relentless and shed more furniture and other items. In the end, we made it. Shedding that stuff allowed us to live in an ideal location, right on the beach in Coronado Island. Our place was small but we had the best back yard in Southern California. I surfed nearly every day. By this point we had gotten rid of probably 70% of what we owned in the 3 bedroom house.
Filter #3: Downsize to only what can fit in my Honda Element and large Yakima storage box. Well, a couple of years, and another Navy move later, we were living in another small apartment on the beach, this time in Perdido Key, FL (you can live in some great locations if you live small). I was retiring from the Navy and moving to Seattle. We had one more Navy move, but then would be on our own for moving expenses. We decided to downsize to only what would fit in our car and storage box, so that if we moved from Seattle, we could do it without a moving van. What about furniture you ask? By this point we were living mostly without furniture (see the article on my site about living without furniture. It’s great!). We got rid of a few things and moved out to Seattle so that I could start school in retirement. Again, we moved into a small apartment in a great location (in Kirkland, WA, right on Lake Washington).
Filter #4: Downsize to only what we need to live in the camper van. This is our next filter and we are not quite there yet, but we are close. I am in the middle of a 2 month camper van trip to figure out what I need for a longer term trip. I have a pile of “Craigslist” items at the apartment waiting for sale when I get back.
I realize now that every time I gave up stuff, I got something back. First it was living in beautiful San Diego. Then Coronado Island, then a succession of great locations, in small apartments (affordable because they were small). Finally, an adventurous life traveling in the camper van. Each time I used a specific “filter” to get it done. It was simple because there was an obvious downsizing goal and a clear indication of when I was “done.” It was also painless because there was always a positive trade off at the other end.
What is your next filter?