by Hannah Galpin
If 15-year-old Hannah, met 25-year-old Hannah, via some Back to the Future type escapades, she'd call her a hippy. She would be completely confused by her aversion to spending a Saturday shopping, her vegetarian dietary choices, and her make-up free face. That last thing would have likely frightened her too. Luckily, that shy, fearful, sometimes judgmental teenager she once was, eventually outgrew her insecurity, opened her eyes and arms to the world, and discovered her life philosophy. Before I got to where I am today, I had to go learn some valuable life lessons the hard way, and experience difficulty with the concepts of money, consumerism, and relationships.
Today I live my life by 3 minimalist principles, all based around the idea of living a smaller, more intentional life, and by small, I mean one less encumbered by things, responsibilities, conflicts, distractions, and the resultant stress. I approach everyday life with these ideas: I acquire only what I need and thus spend wisely, I don't chase wealth and place more importance on relationships and experiences, and I cultivate a calmer more quiet mind with creativity and honesty.
That's my convoluted way of saying that I simplified my life. I find it easy to live by these ideas especially now that I am traveling. I exist on a tight budget and my wardrobe fits into one-third of a backpack. But somewhere down the line, I envision living in a tiny house, or at least a small home, a place to raise a small family, and focus on enjoying the simpler pleasures. Until then its going to be a few years of nomadic life, which I feel so fulfilled by right now, mainly because of what it took to get me here.
Minimalism came into my mindset when I needed it most. I had been on a path where I was the perfect consumer, partaking in impulse spending, using credit, buying a brand new car on finance, all the while feeling utterly miserable. I had a job in a bank that made me feel incredibly cynical about many things, and left me yearning for escape. It's sad that I believed following that path was the right thing to do, with me failing to connect my mood and self-esteem with my quest for the markers of what I believed signified an successful and appealing individual. I truly believed that I had no power within myself to become more content and at peace, so I tried to buy happiness, as I had always been taught that I could, and should. Although a part of me knew that I wasn't going to find happiness on that route, something I learned in my childhood.
"I had been on a path where I was the perfect consumer, partaking in impulse spending, using credit, buying a brand new car on finance, all the while feeling utterly miserable."
Growing up I had lived in nice houses, always had plenty of nice things, and always had a trip abroad each year. There was an abundance of everything, from food in the cupboards, to stuff in every square foot in my fairly large homes. Funnily enough, there was also an abundance of conflict. My family, blessed with financial security thanks to a hard-working father who built his way up from absolutely nothing, was also rife with anger, bitterness and disillusionment. Its a harsh truth that I remember the fights and the lonely tears of confusion sometimes better than what the gifts were piled up under the giant Christmas tree. Thankfully, my family and I have come out the other side of our turmoil, and are now, closer than ever.
I have made peace with the distant past, and I can see clearly how my inner discord, that I was still embroiled in just 3 years ago, came from trying to re-create all the positive parts of my childhood, via acquiring wealth, all whilst suppressing my true self. I didn't want to develop my inner truth and live by it, because it scared me. I was scared of not fitting in, and so I consumed as soon as I was able to, as soon as I was able to have a Saturday job to pay for my weekly trips to town, to buy clothes that would impress my friends.
Its a rite of passage in many ways, expressing yourself through different fashion choices, and giving yourself a fighting chance of fitting in with other equally afraid teenagers by doing the things they do. But my frivolous spending addiction didn't stay in my teens, I took this consumer mindset into my 20's, where it could really do me some damage. By the age of 22 I was a graduate, with a heap of overdraft debt. I then experienced a fairly traumatic break-up, the ending of my first big relationship, which lead to credit card spending. It started with ordering a few takeaway meals, because I felt too sad to go out and buy food. Then it escalated to online shopping to make myself feel better, to try and re-create myself, as if that was the only way to overcome my break-up. And then I got the bank job I hated, and the shopping problem worsened because I now worked 5 minutes from my favourite cheap clothes-store. It was a perfect storm of negative life circumstances, job stress and loneliness, and I was at the epicentre, with no idea how to change things.
Things did change. They did get better, and I did head down a healthier and self-empowered path. This was partly due to someone new and refreshing entering my life in 2013. Taran, my partner in love and in travel, helped me consider an alternative way of living, one where it's okay to not have 25 outfit choices, to not wear a full face of make-up each day, and to give time and attention to my creative pursuits, not the pursuit of a full bank account. He was unlike anyone else I had ever met, and he seemed so light, content and laid-back. He was also completely disinterested in buying things and proudly wore clothing he had owned for years.
Taran didn't have the kind of financial security growing up that I did. His foundations were built on there being lots of love, support, acceptance and fun. That's not to say my family weren't loving, they were their own mixture of personalities fighting to find their own happiness, and its possible money and stress were just getting in their way.
So it was just 3 years ago that I first came to consider myself a minimalist, which began when I started embracing de-cluttering. I had always loved cleaning, it was my de-stressing technique back then and still is today. I began to want less and less stuff, even a smaller bedroom, and just less things demanding my attention. I was also trying to clear my debts at the same time, with the intention of never using credit again, so my financial habits had to change to prevent this.
I began paying close attention to what I spent my money on, every little amount, and I started to save instead of spend. I built my dream upon having a savings account bulging at the seams, not a wardrobe exploding with material goods. I realized that money could buy something worth experiencing, and that was travel.
"I built my dream upon having a savings account bulging at the seams, not a wardrobe exploding with material goods."
I see now that being somewhat frugal and mindful with my spending helps me feel less anxious also, because I believe in my ability to live within my means, and thus feel less drive to work all the hours of the week to have more. I feel as if my family life may have suffered because I had parents who were compelled by this drive, and it swallowed them up.
I now believe that I, and those around me, can still be happy despite spending less, earning less and owning less. I draw contentment from my relationships these days, and I try to keep conflict and arguments at a minimum by letting go of the pride and defensiveness that defined by younger years. I have learned the value of simplicity, and that investing time in our families is what feeds our souls and helps us navigate this challenging and complex world. For so long I let my emotions guide me toward things which provided only momentary relief and distraction, whereas now my emotions pull me toward my family, friends, and my creative path as a blogger.
Minimalism is infinitely more than just having less, its turning our focus inwards to ourselves, and to our tribe. We can still want and have stuff, but we prioritize valuing our life's artifacts instead of contributing to waste with cheap, low-quality items. We still need money, but we can also cultivate a fulfilling yet simple life that can withstand times of financial stress. I am so glad I discovered this truth, because that's what it is, its the inner truth of a large section of society, many just don't realize it yet. But the long-term benefits of minimalist thinking are endless, and available to everyone, in small increments, or life-affirming amounts.
Hannah Galpin is 25, is traveling the world, and blogging about it on nomaderhowfar.com. She embraced minimalism 2 years ago, to rid herself of a myriad of stress, from debt, to clutter, to dealing with some deeper issues on the inside. She has recently wrote a book, “Minimalism: Cleanse Your Life, Become a Calmer Person”, where she uses her own experiences to advocate minimalist principles and habits. (You can find the UK version of her book here.)