Minimalism Life

The real estate agent mechanically recited the property's impressive square footage and bespoke features as our procession navigated the serpentine path through the spacious condo on a tree-lined street in a swanky, hip neighborhood.

The imagery and narrative I had been conditioned by through my years of mindless entertainment and advertisement consumption appeared to have worked flawlessly. All culminating to this one moment. With a few flicks of pen (well, it was several dozen), I was a homeowner at last. To be more specific, I signed a 30-year promissory note with a bank that technically owned it until I fulfilled that obligation when I would be 62 years old — then I would own it outright.

Well, not to split hairs, but even after I paid off the mortgage, I would have an obligation in perpetuity to the county I lived in, which happens to have some of the highest property taxes in the country. They would take ownership of my home if I failed to meet that obligation, regardless of my ability to trade my labor for my money. Oh, and there was also that little detail the real estate agent got dodgy about when mentioned: the substantial financial commitment to my new HOA (Homeowners Association). But yay! I was a homeowner.

While my salary had grown into the six figures now. My financial burden had increased in parity. I was earning more than ever, but I was also spending more than ever. And saving basically nothing. And as a new homeowner, I was faced with a massive issue right out of the gate that seemed to fly in the face of my values.

I felt more empty than ever walking into this new space I called my home. I had two bedrooms and two bathrooms of space to fill. Over 1,700 square feet of blank canvas to occupy with reflections of my remarkable identity and bespoke personality. IKEA seemed like an apropos destination to seek answers in their meandering consumer displays of "homey" trinkets and particle board furniture. 

A pang of depression set in as I approached the suburban monument to consumerism. I parked my car in the shadow of the foreboding monolith structure and navigated my way past snarled queues of shuttle buses, SUVs, and minivans, all lurching forward in sluggish intervals. As I ascended a vast escalator up to an ornate showroom, I observed the throngs of other IKEA shoppers ostensibly all making an identical pilgrimage. An attempt to give their homes this elusive, fleeting feeling to let us know we are happy, settled, fulfilled, desirable in the eyes of others, adults, responsible, and worthy. 

But seeing the economies of scale of this level of consumption was beyond disturbing. Pallets stacked precariously high with unassembled bedroom accent chairs and stylish armoires. Oversized carts overflowing with all manner of home decor: vases, fruit bowls, mass produced wall art, clocks, and mirrors. I just couldn’t imagine a world where a mountain of any of these items, regardless of their sheik, ascetically pleasing facades, would quell this restlessness that had been building within me for several years now. Even if all the rooms in my new condo matched these precisely calculated and curated displays illuminated by seductive lighting, would my life change for the better?

And the realization came to me as I ascended further toward the Swedish meatball apex of the shopping center. I was buying all these things, these lifestyle accessories, the condo, the car, and the trinkets, not for myself, but as a result of my almost ceaseless comparison with others. I wasn't at the wheel of my life. Expectations from others, usually strangers, seemed to be driving all my decisions. Is sacrificing my values, including concerns for the environment and humanity, worth these purported ornaments of success? Is going further into debt a reasonable choice to acquire these objects?

I left the IKEA empty-handed that day.

Less than two years later, I defied all advice and sold my condo (still with many empty spaces throughout) and moved into a studio apartment for far less financial commitment. My primary motivation was to remove financial commitments and obligations from my life that got in the way of pursuing my passions. And to break free from financial entanglements that tethered me to a miserable job and compromised my health and well-being. I no longer wanted to be beholden by the expectations of others. Freedom from the American Dream is my pursuit of happiness.