The birth of a minimalist

What my five-year-old son taught me about living clutter-free

“Simplicity, clarity, singleness: These are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy.”
—Richard Holloway

If you had told me years ago I’d be writing full-time about clutter-free living, I would have said you were crazy. And if I didn’t have the chance to say it, my wife would have done it for me. We had been together for too many years, she knew me too well, and organising was not in my blood. It was painfully obvious.

I’ve lived most of my life as a terribly disorganised person. And to make it worse, I’m a bit of a pack rat by nature and way too forgetful for my own good. Every morning, if I wasn’t searching for my car keys, I was looking for my shoes, my belt, or my watch. Chances were, they were never in the place they belonged and even if they were, I would have never thought to check there first.

Here’s what turned by life around

Five years ago, everything changed. A light-bulb clicked. And I owe it all to a five-year-old.

Now, I write about simplicity and organisation full-time on my blog, Becoming Minimalist. I’ve promoted living with less on television, radio, newspaper, and various venues all around the world. I stand as living proof that anybody can become an organised person, live clutter-free, and find a better, more-freeing life because of it.

But for me, it started with an incredibly important lesson I learned one morning while trying to clean out my garage with my son.

I remember it quite well. It was a spring weekend in Vermont. I woke up early that Saturday with one goal in mind: clean the garage. After the long, cold winter, I knew it was going to be an all-day project. So I set my alarm early to get a good start.

My wife and I had decided to spend our spring weekend cleaning the house from top to bottom. After all, that’s what disorganised [and organised] families do in the springtime, right? It’s the same thing that Indian families do just before a big festival like Diwali. And we were, by definition, just your standard, run-of-the-mill, middle-class family of four living in the suburbs.

The project started harmlessly enough as we set out to begin cleaning the garage. I invited my son to help me not because I thought he’d be super-helpful, but because I wanted to spend some time with him after working all week. For some reason, I thought he’d enjoy pulling out everything from the garage, hosing it down, and moving everything back in. Boy, was I mistaken!

If I recall correctly, he lasted about four minutes [and that may be on the generous side]. To be fair, he did pull out one blue bin full of summer toys. But while reaching for the next plastic bin, he noticed his baseball bat and whiffle ball. And he decided to quit. He grabbed his bat and ball, looked me in the eye, and said, “Can I go to the backyard and play?”

Reluctantly, I agreed as I headed back into the garage to grab more stuff. I lamented the fact that the quality time I had hoped to spend with him lasted only four minutes.

I stand as living proof that anybody can become an organised person, live clutter-free, and find a better, more-freeing life because of it.

Three hours later

Nearly three hours later, I was still working on the same garage—my son still in the backyard, now swinging on the swing set. My neighbour, who happened to be outside working on her home at the same time, noticed my growing frustration. She turned to me and said sarcastically, “Oh, the joys of home ownership.”

I responded by saying, “Well, you know what they say, ‘The more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you’.” Her next sentence struck a chord with my mind, heart, and soul. It eventually changed the course of my life forever.

She responded, “Yeah, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need all this stuff!”

I had never heard the word minimalist before. But after working all morning in my garage, it sounded surprisingly attractive. And in that moment, everything changed.

My son… my garage… my growing frustration… it all started to make sense and pointed to one incredibly valuable, life-changing lesson: Living life is more enjoyable than managing and organising stuff!

It was the lesson my five-year-old son knew far better than me and had tried to teach me when he ran into the backyard. But I didn’t see it. At least, not until my neighbour identified the roadblocks keeping me from that type of freedom.

Life would be better lived if there was less stuff to manage and organise and clean, I realised. Not only were my possessions not bringing me joy, they were actually distracting me from the very things that did.

Nearly three hours later, I was still working on the same garage—my son still in the backyard, now swinging on the swing set

And a minimalist was born

Life becomes easier when you have less stuff to manage, organise and clean

Along with my wife and two kids, we immediately began going through each room, closet, and drawer in our home; removing as many unneeded items as possible. The goal was to live with only the possessions we needed or loved. And from that day forward, rather than seeking to live with more and more stuff in our home, we have tried to live with less and less.

As a result, we have found cleaning to be easier, organising to be less painful, and managing our life less stressful. We have discovered more time to be together and more opportunity to live life in the backyard, rather than cleaning out the garage.

Suddenly, living clutter-free didn’t seem so difficult. Drawers had plenty of room. Closets had space to breathe. Toy rooms were less crowded. Clean-up was a snap. And the house almost always looked cleaned.

I became an organised person with a passion to inspire others to live more life by owning less stuff. And my five-year-old son had held the secret all along: living life is indeed far more enjoyable than managing and organising stuff!

There is more joy to be found in owning less than can ever be found in organising more.

This is a foundational understanding that is rare in our culture. Our society has trained us to think just the opposite. But it is important to take a step back and rethink our passion for possessions.

Excerpted with permission from Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker

This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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