I started to minimize eight years ago when my daughter Sunday was born.
She was a whirlwind. She was either awake or asleep, no in-between. Some would say she takes after her mother. I couldn’t cope. I was a fitness instructor under pressure to take classes again six weeks after a c-section. Not just that, but to look the part as well. Always someone younger ready to jump in. I was under pressure to have a job as well as a baby—to prove I could. My husband had just qualified as an accountant after years and years. We had to borrow money from my mum and dad for a car. It was all very difficult.
Eight years later, and are much more in control and happiness finds us more easily. We still live in the same small two-up-two-down house close to the good schools in the centre of Belfast. We also now have a third baby. And I don’t work. It’s been a journey, and I’ve taken some wrong turns—but always in an attempt to simplify. I felt that life was eluding me before—the clutter of finance, relationships, and physical items was muddying the waters, and I couldn’t breathe—to mix a metaphor.
I can’t remember whether Marie Kondo or The Minimalists entered my life first. I know the financial crash of 2009 entered my life. Everything felt desperately insecure. But there was also an opportunity. We could buy a house at a reasonable price. So we did. A lot of our friends were in negative equity, we were okay and for years paid interest only. The upside was that we could send our eldest daughter to the best primary school in Belfast. We were very happy to compromise on space for this education. So the underlying values of minimalism were already there.
Probably Marie Kondo. The idea that I was allowed to have things that "sparked joy" was very opposite my rather puritanical upbringing where desire—passion—was bad unless for religious goals. I was moving away from that too. I experienced so much happiness as I saw who I was by what sparked my joy. White. Books. Space. If you came to my house now that’s what you would see. And a crawling ten month old. We threw away so much stuff. Immediately our daily lives became so much more comfortable. The things we loved stood out, and just the space and light... I could breathe more easily.
I watched The Minimalism documentary on Netflix and proceeded to devour everything I could. Podcasts, audible, podcasts again.
I began a journey to minimise our finances. We didn’t have very much money. £89,000 mortgage. Old cars. My job was waning—I was spending as much getting to my classes as I was earning and was exhausted. Childcare was awful. We had Mark's student loan—large—and a credit card debt—maybe £1,000. So we used Dave Ramsays snowball method. Saving that first £1000 emergency fund felt impossible. Then Mark got a new job, which paid £15,000 more. We didn’t use any of the extra—all of it went on the credit card first, saving three months in case and then paying off student loans. Then Mark wanted to get his teeth done, so Invisalign too.
Making those difficult decisions, "living on baked beans" as it were, made it easy to make difficult decisions in other areas. Mark stayed in a very difficult job, but the experience he gained has allowed him to climb the ladder quickly. His attitude of confidence gleaned from his salary not being connected to our mortgage (as I said, we still live here—with a few alterations) was very important in climbing the ladder, because he became untouchable. And he stood out among his peers. Covid hit and I stopped work to school the children and a longed-for third child is now with us.
We live counter-culturally. A lot of our more outwardly wealthy friends often look at us askance. But I still have my books, my white, my space, and my baby. Mark has his CrossFit membership and we can afford ski trips, etc., for our children.
But most most important of all, we do not belong to anyone but ourselves. Not the bank. Not society’s expectations, not our jobs, not our parents. And, genuinely, there is no greater feeling.