From 2500 Square Feet to 675; Our Journey into Minimalism
Almost four years ago, I lived in a giant, Victorian home. I remember when we first moved in. I was six-years-old, and I thought it smelled terrible. The walls were painted like a rainbow - midnight blue in the foyer, bubblegum pink in the parlor, black + cabbage rose wallpaper in the dining room. The nineties had erupted inside that place. The house was originally built around 1904 by a man who owned a lumber company. It was his starter home for his wife, who found it too small and had him build a second, larger house two blocks away. Our house had three upstairs bedrooms, a full spacial attic, foyer, parlor, dining room, kitchen, servant's staircase, and an addition added sometimes in the 70s or 80s that we used an office but was originally a sunporch. It was around 2550 square feet, beautiful, and we had it filled to the brim with stuff.
I remember being little and running up and down the staircase, running my fingers over the original bannister, and thinking about who might have lived there before me. I also remember watching my bedroom evolve over the years from Harry Potter themed, to pink polka dots, to black and white with Parisian decor items. It kind of gives me the shivers, to be honest with you. It was a posh place; there was a walk-in closet with gobs of clothing and shoes and hats and scarves and jewelry I had collected throughout my adolescence. I had a vanity filled to the brim with eyeshadow pallets and blushes that only had one or two colors used. My parent's room wasn't any better. They had an entire wall of closet space filled with things they never used, things that were just in case. We weren't careful with where we spent out money, even though we thought we were.
I was a junior in high school, almost entering summer, when my parents announced that we would be moving to Texas. My dad had found a new job, Illinois was going through a rough patch (it still is), and they thought that a new adventure might be good for us. I was excited to try going to school somewhere else; it was kind of a fantasy-made-reality. You leave your small town high school and head into the big city to find adventure, maybe there was something new waiting for me. Well, high school was the same as it was at home, just bigger and with a lot more expectations (Texas education is crazy extreme!). Either way, in the months before we moved, we decided that we should just get rid of our furniture. It was expensive to move it across the country, and my parents were at the point where they just didn't like it anymore. We would be living in a suburb of Houston, so the house was new, and our antique furniture just didn't seem to fit us anymore.
After a large purge, a giant garage sale, gifting to friends and neighbors, and several donations later, we left Illinois with a giant wooden display cabinet and... I think that's it! We bought new mattresses, a new couch, an armchair, a kitchen table, and a desk for my room. A few chairs, of course. I had emptied my wardrobe, though it still filled up two small closets. I kept all of my books. They were too difficult to part with. My parents purged on their belongings as well, and we moved into a much smaller rental home. It was killing my parents not to paint and demo the house - they were house flippers when I was younger, before the market crashed.
A year later, I moved back to Illinois for the summer, taking a small wardrobe with me until college started. I learned to live off of the small amount of clothing I had. When I learned of my pregnancy, I moved back to Texas. My parents had moved again, this time into an even smaller house, around 1000 square feet. They still had the wooden display cabinet, the couch, the armchair, our mattresses, and the kitchen table. I only bought maternity clothes that year. While we prepared for Tad's arrival, I bought him a crib (that he never used) and a rug. He had a shelving unit we had picked up on the side of the road.
A month after he was born, we decided that Texas didn't fit us (too many critters and way too hot!) and we moved to Kalona. The cottage we bought, without ever seeing it, was 900 square feet. It was the smallest house we had ever lived in as a family, and is where we are currently living. We left the wooden display cabinet and the armchair behind. I left bottles of shampoo and clothes behind. I left Tad's bookshelves behind. I left my car behind.
Our home is small. Our bedrooms are on either side of one bathroom, Jack and Jill style. We have a large living area and a small kitchen. The entire downstairs is attached, an open concept, but not in the cool Joanna Gaines way. There's an addition, which is our laundry + mud room. My parents' room is 8 ft x 8 ft. There's an upstairs as well, though the ceiling is so low you hit your head. It's unlivable at the moment, and we hardly go up there. It stores some old toys that I couldn't part with, at least not until I know I won't have a daughter, Tad's special baby clothes, the few Christmas decorations we own, and some business related items. Technically, we live in about 675 square feet. It's not perfect, it needs to be gutted, but it's our favorite place we've lived so far.
It's a funny thing, becoming a minimalist. Writing this all down, it's making me realize that we've really reached that point without even planning it, without trying too hard. In the end, our purges came from necessity - we didn't want to pay to take our old things with us. I suppose you could turn that into a metaphor if you wanted. The reason it's funny, to me, is that when we lived in our old Victorian home, people treated us a differently than they do now. We almost had a status to us. Because we lived in such a lavish home, others assumed that we had more. Now that we live with so little, in such a small house, we are looked at differently, treated differently. Just because we choose to live with less, does not mean we don't have plenty. I think some people are afraid to embrace minimalism for the status it will give them, but your belongings do not measure your worth, only your character can do that.
For me, minimalism is now a lifestyle. I hope to do another closet purge when the weather warms up, so I can pull out my summer clothes. I've purged Tad's closet. When he was a newborn, I didn't know what to expect. He had a lot of useless clothing that were gifts. He doesn't need much. If we buy anything, it's quality. Since becoming minimalists, we own the nicest things we've ever owned in our lives! It's changed the quality of life in so many ways. Now we can spend our money on experiences, on our garden, on our livelihood. My goal for this year is to not purchase myself any new clothing or luxuries - not a single thing, except perhaps a new book or two. If you're planning to become a minimalist, don't feel like you have give up on the objects that you love. You can keep the items that make you happy, but remove the mindset to keep the things that don't bring you joy. It's a difficult task to begin, but I promise, it gets easier. It's breathing easy.