Shattered

This week began like any other. My alarm got me out of bed at 0445 am. I was dressed for the gym and finished my journal entry for the morning by 0515 am. I got a great workout in on the spin bike. I finished my workout and my shower and left the gym to get to work. As I approached my car beneath the street light, my first thought was “oh that’s weird, why did my passenger window frost over like that? And my other windows have no frost at all?” Then my brain finally put together the fact that I was looking directly inside my vehicle through a broken window. I stood there blinking at it for a moment, dumbly dazed, before it occurred to me that my messenger bag was missing from the seat where I had left it. My brain was moving so slowly through each logical step; it had no categories in which to sort what it was taking in. My window was broken, bag stolen, property and domain violated.

It all felt like a moment of divine comedy. As I quietly snapped pictures of the scene for the police and searched the surrounding area to see if that bag had been ditched, the irony was not lost on me that I had written about unfortunate circumstances like this recently in B27. “This just is. Do you want to stay mad about these circumstances largely out of your control?” I arranged to come in late to work, checked insurance information, vacuumed out the shattered safety glass from my seats, and made a quick appointment to get the window fixed at the shop.

Throughout the process, I was honestly surprised by the relaxed equanimity in my response to the unfolding morning. (If that sounds like bragging, it’s because it probably is.) I never felt a flash of rage or anger. I never lost my temper and threw a tantrum about “the injustice!” Being an Enneagram 1, my relationship with anger tends to manifest more as quiet bitterness and resentment with sudden, yet seldom, bursts. But not here, not this time. Not even resentment came out to play.

Don’t get me wrong, I was and am certainly confused, perplexed, disappointed. Mostly just releasing a long sigh with “why?” somewhere there in the wind. What a petty and childish way to get what you want and don’t have. These kinds of thoughts have visited too, but I’ve mostly been debriefing on a few items I’ve learned and realized as a result.

First, I am so glad that Dixie and I found the wisdom and the willpower to begin our minimalist journey a few years ago. My relationship to things has changed and grown so much that it was easy, even in the moment, to recognize and tell myself that all things like this are replaceable. Yes, the bag had some sentimental value, being a gift from my dad one Christmas in high school. And yes, the notebook I had tucked in there had ideas and items that I hadn’t transferred yet to my Evernote. But they are ultimately just things. The bag was a daily reminder of the fantastic relationship my father and I have built following some rough years in high school. I lost the bag, but certainly not the relationship. The notebook had good ideas in it, but if the idea really was worth keeping track of, it’ll return in it’s time. We love people and use things, because the opposite never works.

Second, I am so grateful for the lessons in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. It was because of this program that the financial cost to replace the window was a non-concern. Even if we were working on getting out of debt still, Baby Step 1 is to save $1,000. It is precisely for out-of-the-blue moments like these that this starter emergency fund exists. Thankfully, we paid our debt off completely back in October of 2019, so our emergency fund is much larger in Baby Step 3 as we work to fully fund that account. It was such a weight off our shoulders to know we’d be financially covered and that we would easily recover from the setback.

Finally, I’ve learned in the aftermath that I can be proud of the inner work I’ve done with myself to grow in equanimity, serenity, and forgiveness. I found myself praying throughout the day that they at least enjoyed my lunch. I even posted what I thought to be a pretty funny Instagram story that read, “To the person who stole my bag this morning, I hope you are as perplexed by my collection of Rubix cubes as I was perplexed by my broken window.” Cheeky, I thought. I really am happy with how my instincts have shifted in response to sudden difficulties like this. I have been stolen from twice before, and I can promise I did not respond this well in the past. Funny how the story of my young adulthood is told in stories like these, and not just all the good times.

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Minimal

Have you ever had a realization, a lesson learned, a question answered? Those sticky ones that seem to follow you once they’re here with you? Like once you see, you can’t unsee; once you’ve heard, you can’t unhear. I’ve had two of these moments, as such. One of them, I want to illuminate: minimalism.

When we first got married, Dixie and I found ourselves packed tight into our first small apartment. The bedroom was lined with two dressers and three book cases crammed with things, making navigating the queen sized bed a chore in and of itself. Closets were stuffed with clothes dating back to when I was seven years old, as if I hoped to one day fit in them one day again. Hanging bars were completely full of jackets, pants, old choir tuxedos, and dresses. Kitchen cabinets and drawers overflowed with multiple sets of dishes and utensils. The dining table was often stacked with mail, keys, bags, paper “to file away”. The living room housed a large six person sectional, allowing for an ottoman and a TV stand, which itself was covered in consoles, remotes, and DVD cases. We also kept a book case out for more books that didn’t fit in the bedroom and a rack showing off an eclectic CD collection I had acquired over my many high school tastes and phases of music. Stacked in the corner, my multiple cases full of drum equipment towered next to an upright piano Dixie and picked up for free one day. This was the life we found when we combined our belongings under the same roof. And I didn’t even mention the boxes upon boxes of miscellaneous tools, childhood toys, and hobby materials that were packed away in our garage. We had a single car garage to our advantage and we had packed it with enough things, all accounted for, made a stack and pile bigger than a large suburban. We had stuff. Or maybe the stuff had us?

Then, I got a job that allows me some freedom to listen to podcasts and music at my desk. I put a short Facebook status up asking any and all friends for podcast recommendations for me to check out, and some saint linked me to theminimalists.com. These two guys, who started their podcast and blog out of Missoula, Montana, started to help us change our lives. The idea appealed to me immediately and I took my enthusiasm home and pitched the idea to Dixie with about as much grace and tact as a charging rhinoceros. I might have even been foaming at the mouth, telling Dixie about how I want to go through our stuff and potentially purge 75% of our collective possessions. Unsurprisingly, this idea was not received well. (Understatement of the year). So I took another angle.

As I have mentioned, at the time, we had stacks of plates, bowls, tupperware, forks, spoons, pans, mugs, cups, water bottles, travel mugs, utensils, and any other kitchen tool you can probably think of. As you may know as well, this many dishes tend to stack in the sink pretty quickly. I noticed at one point that of my available free time in the evenings, I could spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours every night just doing that day’s dishes, and I was sick of it. I proposed that we whittle down these piles down to a simple set of two of everything. We wouldn’t need to get rid of the rest yet, but as a trial, just pack the excess away and see how we fared for a week or two. And according to plan, at the end of a week, I was spending maybe only 10 minutes putting away food after a meal and doing all the dishes. This was the first taste of freedom from minimalism that we both truly enjoyed.

After that the decisions came easier. We systematically went through each room, treating it almost as a game, sorting our piles of dust collecting, unused items into donate, sell, recycle, and trash piles. Many trips to Goodwill, some sales on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, a few garage sales, and a trip to the dump later, we had pared our lives down by about 60%, and everything that remained truly meant something to us.

The story could of course be longer, more embellished, with plenty of details, but that wouldn’t be very minimal of me would it? As long as the story is allowed to rest here, I do have some thoughts on minimalism that may help you “see and not unsee” the value it could add to your life as well.


  • Minimalism is not about austerity, it’s about intentionality. I still have a book case full of books that I love to read, lend, and reread. We have a collection of records to spin on our record player in our living room. At this point, we do have more than 2 plates. We never wanted to be the kind of people who live out of a backpack in a 100 sq ft apartment. The intent for our home is for the things we own to serve a purpose, bring utility, add value, and tell a story. It’s about meaningful materials, purposeful possession.
  • Your stuff pays rent. If you only ever collect more items that you can’t part with, then you may fill your house to the brim, before you cave and buy a bigger house to put all your stuff in. In a way, the stuff you own forces you to pay more rent or get a bigger mortgage to keep it all.
  • Less stuff, less cleaning. As the dishes were for me, it may be the laundry for you. If you’re sick of spending so much of your waking life cleaning the stuff you own, it may be time for you to permanently wipe it out of your home.
  • A place for everything. Does that junk drawer in the kitchen actually seem to haunt you sometimes? Like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter, things wanting to get lost find their way to that drawer? Or maybe it’s a whole room dedicated to miscellany and misfits? Hobbits call this the “Mathom room.” When you sort through the unnecessary clutter, these things tend to find a home. And if they don’t, then they really don’t belong anywhere do they?
  • New starts. The hardest area for us to work through were our overflowing clothes closets. Many articles carried a certain degree of sentimentality that were difficult to part with. Maybe they represented a happier era in my childhood, or me before the weight gain. I discovered though, after getting my wardrobe down to a measly 33 pieces, that I am actually more satisfied knowing that every single article that I could wear gives me confidence.
  • Passion. Maybe a corny word in the era of self help “gurus”, but honestly, minimalism frees much time and energy to do things you’re passionate about. Like me, finally starting a blog.
  • Relationships. More than just gained time, minimalism sheds the excess things that often take up mental and emotional energy for the relationships that matter most. My marriage is maximally more rich for living as a material minimalist. This is what really matters.

There’s plenty more to be said, more for me to say in one essay, so as the minimalists say at the close of each of their podcasts:

“love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”