But owning ‘stuff’ and shuffling it from room to room, from house to house, takes a tremendous amount of mental and physical effort. Johnny’s fingerpaint posters, Sally’s egg carton Christmas ornament hold such intrinsic value that to let them go would be an insult to the memory.
My first reduction happened when my husband and I moved from a large homestead in Nanton filled with knick-knacks and period furniture to a smaller modular home in Drayton Valley. That sort of cleansing is therapeutic—a clean slate.
I won’t lie, it’s just not that easy. One is commended for attempting it; there are always buyers that will snap up the unused lead-painted teapots, the lamps still covered in plastic, the gifts still in their original box, or the clothing that went out of style years ago. These yard sales are so vehemently frequented by the bartering twenty-five-cent club and are a rite of passage. In a way, there is a message deeply embedded in the price that those strangers are willing to pay for Granny’s prized possession: the Blue Mountain Pottery vase that was too good to keep flowers in and sat in the china cabinet empty for all those years.
I should mention here that even after that precious vase that once belonged to the family matriarch was sold, our feelings for the woman and her memories remained intact. The secret was revealed; there was no need to rub the vase three times to see the woman’s image and know how deeply she was loved.
The move from homestead to modular shifted our lifestyle from shabby chic to a more contemporary look influenced by antique leftovers and fashionably comfortable newer furniture, and so much less clutter.
When the blood bath happened in 2010, my husband and I sold everything: cars, beds, towels, dishes, shovels, clothing, tools, race cars, and engines, and everything in between that didn’t fit into the four suitcases and one trunk. Again, there was pain involved in letting go; however, it was a freeing moment—sort of like what stripping the brassieres in the sixties must have done for women.
And like tattooing, getting rid of belongings becomes addicting; one can always do one better. When the trunk arrived that we shipped from Canada to Panama a year later, the best thing in the trunk was the box of melted Purdy’s Hedgehog chocolates that my sister snuck inside.
Unpacking the contents amazed us. That we kept those items and that we thought they were essential to our existence was revealing. We’re not going to lie, some of the treasures were a joy to rediscover, but only a few of those items made the next round of cuts when six years later, we were down to three suitcases and three cartons we shipped back to Canada and which haven’t been opened since.
While living this unique and minimalist lifestyle, I learned so many things about myself and that life without the latest this or that has a new and self-fulfilling meaning. My spouse became the most essential element in my life. I learned to reinvent who I am and probably always was if it hadn’t been for all that time spent worrying about the stuff in my possession. The same stuff is flogged to me via every conceivable medium known to mankind, and that I am told I have to have to belong to the global community that I was trying to escape. I had become divergent.
I learned in Panama that the happiest people have very little beyond shelter, food, and family. They engage in conversation, they belong to one another, they enjoy the simple things in life. And I also understand their lives aren’t easy by any means.
During our time in Panama, I only once heard a child having a tantrum about something they demanded and made people uncomfortable in an entirely different manner. I’ve seen children play with sticks and broken toys and laughing while doing so. If there is one memory about the children in Panama that stands out: it’s their constant smiles.
When we downsized yet again, and our belongings fit inside one medium suitcase and two carry-ons, life became easier still. Traveling was less of a chore, and I always knew what shoes went with what outfit because there was only one choice (seldom two). (The shoe thing is more of an issue for the female part of this duo.) Of course, winter in Canada is challenging; summer dresses and shorts take up less space than sweaters and coats. I learned to adjust, and I’m happy to make do with hand-me-downs. There is no shame in buying something from a second-hand store.
Being minimalists and nomads who shift from home to home because my husband and I are now qualified and certified international house and pet sitters, we adapt like shapeshifters to every situation.
(Those individuals who are still listening after the bombshell ‘nothing’ registers want to know how much we get paid to house sit. It’s only natural curiosity though also private. But when we answer nothing, they start to twitch. However, we never pay rent, taxes, utilities, car payments, internet, or have any home repair expenses. Since we specialize in longer-term housesits, we’ve been invited to stay in a gorgeous historic mansion in the UK for a month, in a stunning hacienda with a fruit orchard in Mexico for five months (the owners bought us a vehicle to use), a condo in Canada with amazing views and amenities. Just to name a few. The value of traveling is priceless.)
I no longer buy phone service for the iPhones, so graciously donated to us because it makes our family more comfortable, because I’ve become so savvy that I no longer need a phone number. And there is nothing funnier than telling people that we exist without phone service; they assume we are lying or stupid or both. Being a minimalist, I learned to use Google Hangouts to call anyone, and even though I was told it’s impossible to have WhatsApp without a phone number, yet I can, and it makes that feeling of “Oh I’m so tech-savvy “resonate.
Most people who learn of the ‘nothing’ theory lifestyle can’t for the life of them figure out how it is possible to survive without owning a toaster, bedding, a home, or a car. It seems to physically pain them to even just imagine not having those possessions. Yet my husband and I manage quite well, and the thought of going backward and outfitting a home leaves us overwhelmed. A new sort of panic envelops us because we remember the tremendous amount of work involved in managing ‘stuff.’
We hoard experiences, cultural exchanges, and the love of pets belonging to other people in this endeavor to survive in a world that constantly sets new pressures on the path of living. My husband and I have seen things that make us stronger; we walk on the beach while our contemporaries are busy clicking away on the computer, never looking up at the sunset because their job is so demanding. And we want people to understand that despite our drastic choices, we live well, and we are happy.
What remains with me is the need to explain and in some ways defend our choices in a world that measures people based on belongings. And that remains the crux and also the weight that affects the planet.