Being a minimalist means looking at every single item in your life and asking yourself honestly if it brings you value. If the answer is no, then you have to be willing to cut ties with it. The difficult part is that the only person you have to be honest with is yourself. You need to ask yourself honestly if you really need this thing in your life.
Once I had a house with lots of stuff in it. There were TVs and books and exercise equipment and pots and pans and t-shirts and shoes and lamps and chairs. Lots and lots of chairs. One day I came home and took a good long look at one of those chairs. Red leather. After several minutes of deep and honest thought, I decided the chair was not adding any value to my life. So I took it out to the curb and left it there. The next day a garbage man took the chair and it was out of my life forever.
Liberated! One less thing cluttering up my life. The space where that chair once stood was now open and free. I decided the rest of my home should be so open and free. So I gathered up all the chairs in the house. The sectional couch in the living room. The swiveling computer chair in my office. My son’s bean bag chair and my daughter’s booster seat. I took them to the curb outside my house.
My wife came running after me. She complained that there would be nowhere to sit when we watched TV. She said I was acting crazy. I told her to trust me. I told her I am doing what is best for this family. I disposed of the chairs. Now we had nothing to sit around the dinner table with. We had nothing to sit on to watch TV. The couches that flanked the coffee table in the living room were gone. So I began to think that if we have no chairs, why do we need the items we use when sitting on the chairs? I grabbed the TV, the dinner table, the coffee table, the desk, the computer, everything. If I sat in a chair when I used it, I wanted it out of my life. I put all of these possessions in a big wheelbarrow and I wheeled them to the dumpster down the block. Once I had relieved myself of all those possessions, I tossed the wheelbarrow in too.
That night my family and I sat on the kitchen floor and ate our dinner. My wife decided she wasn’t going to talk to me. My kids were confused. I knew I was doing what was best for them. All this stuff they surround themselves with, they can’t take it with them when they die. None of them could see it, but I was freeing them from a life of consumption. We surround ourselves with stuff so that we feel comfortable, but the only comfort we truly need is from each other. I felt very comfortable. My son dropped some food on the floor while we ate. Instead of throwing it out he picked it up and ate it right off the floor.
The next day I grabbed all the plates and cups and silverware in our kitchen and I dumped them all in the garbage. Why should we dine the way society says we need to dine? Why should we spend hours and hours in Bed Bath & Beyond trying to find the dining set that matches the placemats and the kitchen drapes? When mankind first walked this earth he slept under rocks and ate food off the ground. Besides, we can’t take the dishes with us when we die.
I took the garbage bag full of dishes down the block to the dumpster. I tossed everything inside. When I came back to the house I found a suitcase full of my clothing. The implication was clear. My wife wanted me out of the house. She couldn’t see that I was trying to help her. But then I realized that she had helped me.
I went to the hardware store and bought an industrial grade wood chipper. I took it home and set it up on the lawn. I took the suitcase full of clothing and began shredding it. My suit jackets and pants and t-shirts rained across the yard like confetti. After I had shredded all of my clothing I went upstairs and grabbed my children’s clothing. I spent the rest of the afternoon building a mountain of shredded cotton, wool and polyester in the front yard. My wife had locked herself in our bedroom, so I couldn’t retrieve her clothing.
That night I slept naked on the kitchen floor. I awoke the next morning to find my wife standing over me, tears streaming down her face. She dropped to her knees and begged me to stop giving away all of our family’s stuff. While she spoke I marveled at how comfortably I had slept on the hard tile floor. It occurred to me that mattresses are such an unnecessary luxury. When man first walked this earth he slept on the floor, and when we all enter the eternal sleep we will be resting on something far less comfortable than a bed. Why then should we erect these great thrones of slumber upon which we will fritter away a third of our waking lives in a coma?
I marched upstairs and dragged the king sized mattress out of my bedroom. I pushed it down the steps and across the lawn. My wife came running out and grabbed the mattress and tried to yank it away from me. She said if I get rid of the mattress she would take the kids and leave. She is so weak. She cannot understand that I am trying to rescue her. Materialistic demons have infected her brain. She needs an exorcism! So I let her take the mattress back inside. While she lugged it across the lawn I went up to her closet and grabbed all her cloths. I brought them outside and began shredding them. She dropped the mattress and began chasing me. I ran into the house and locked the door. Then I went to my kids’ rooms and scooped up all their toys. They began crying. The demons had infected them too.
I opened the door to bring the toys to the wood chipper. My wife had piled her cloths onto the mattress and was trying to lug all of it across the yard and back into the house. Pitiful. I grabbed the garden hose and began spraying the mattress. Before long the mattress was water logged and weighed a ton. I walked over to the wood chipper and proceeded to shred everything: the cloths, the toys and the mattress. My wife fell to her knees and began sobbing. My kids sat on the stoop crying.
At that moment something peculiar happened. I took a long hard look at the pile of chopped up stuff that used to be all of our possessions. I looked at my family’s red puffy faces. Then I turned inward. I asked myself honestly if my family was still bringing value to my life. The answer was undeniable.
So I cut ties.
That was five years ago. Today I am a complete man. I walk the earth naked and unafraid. I do not want for anything because I already know I have everything. I eat what I can find and sleep on the ground, just like my ancestors. I am truly free.
Yesterday a woman approached me on the street and tried to hand me a blanket. She said I looked unwell and needed some warmth. I slapped her offering away and spat in her face.
She doesn’t realize. None of them do. You can’t take any of it with you when you die.