The Good, the Bad, the Ugly- Forced minimalism

So it is a weird thing to loose all of your possessions overnight. It is in effect forced minimalism.

Now I have no problems with minimalism, though I am a self proclaimed moderatist.  In fact I had finished reading Josh Becker’s The More of Less (I will make some cash if you buy the book through the link) on Wednesday night before the fire. By Monday everything was gone.

From Wednesday until Monday I had played out in my mind how we could simplify our lives and our possessions. We were living in a 3200 square foot home, fully furnished, brimming with toys and books. It was a standard “This American Life”.

And life was good. I mean, sure I stressed about the mortgage even though I could afford it and was saving 25-30% of my income. I stressed about the waste of living in such a large space. I even stressed about what it would mean for my son to grow up in a bigger house. What values was I teaching him. But that is simple stress.

The kind of stress people privileged enough to not worry about where a paycheck is coming from or how to get food on the table have. Real stress, but fake stress too (compared to what many in this world locally and internationally go through).

So I pondered. I worked out in my mind how I could reduce the stuff in the garage. Then my closet. Then my books, cds, dvds, etc. All of that stuff. Then it would be done. Minimalism would begin.

Hold up…not so quick. Sure I could reduce my stuff, but what about my wife and kids. No way was I going to force this hair brained scheme on them. I wouldn’t ask my wife to take the time and sift through her closet or cookbooks. Not unless she wanted to. So maybe I lead by example…

As for my son, he is too young to get it, though we try to discuss how to get him to appreciate that life is about people and experiences, not stuff. Still it would be hard justifying getting rid of the toys that he enjoys.

So I continued to ponder. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and even Sunday…ponder, ponder, ponder.

Then the fires came

There is nothing quite so purifying as a fire. It truly is a cleansing process. When we went back to our home, the only things that survived were metal and ceramics. All else was ash. No pictures. No books. No DVDs. No chairs. No toilets even.

What happened to the toilets? How did those disappear?

It is quite nuts.

Well so much for having to wonder how to get my family on board with my hair brained scheme. Life has forced it upon us.

Minimalism ensues, kind of.

By Monday morning we were possessionless. We ran out with the clothes on our back and a few camping items. Talk about reducing your life swiftly.

No sorting through books. No garage sales. No car trips to the donation center.

Fast and furious and complete.

Now we have choices

Endless choices. That is the one thing we are full of. Choices and space.

We can choose. Choose to go back to how things were, to live minimally, or something in between (Moderatism anyone?).

I suspect we will be somewhere in between. For now, people are being generous and donating lots and lots of stuff. Honestly more stuff then we need or want, but we keep it for now. We will redistribute it when we are more settled.

Personally, now, I am trying to be more of a minimalist. Mindful of all of my personal purchases.

I have 5 dress shirts, one tie, and 2 pairs of khakis. A coat. Jeans x 1. 3 pairs of shoes (Dress, casual, and running). Then there is the underwear, but we will separate that out.

My wife is somewhere in between. She has bought some clothes and received donations from others. She does not want to go shopping, but wants clothes that fit. Tonight she said she just wants her old clothes back.

I get it. There are things you grab for that are long gone, like my sweatshirt from college. It was well broken into and comfy as can be after 18 years.

Do we really miss the things though

While the sweatshirt is comfy, we have not found ourselves missing too many things. We do mourn the loss of our prior life, but now it is time to build a new life. The memories of our things are like bee stings. Momentary pain and then forgotten. No honey for all the effort though.

So what do we miss?

As I said, the memory of these items come, sting for a second, then fade.

  • My grandmother’s goat skin rug
  • Our antique Persian rugs
  • My wife’s grandfather’s Guiro. He planted a seed, grew the plant and then made the instrument back in Puerto Rico.
  • Our son’s embroidered blanket
  • My backgammon table bought in Turkey for my birthday
  • Our son’s year 1 and 2 art work. He drew on canvas and they were hanging on the wall.
  • Pictures…lots and lots of pictures (I did go to and found lots of our pictures online! I had downloaded them years ago I suppose).
  • My Persian and Arabic drum.
  • An old blanket that I had a as a child and my grandfather used for years before he died.
  • The letters offering me a finalist interview for an Astronaut position. I had just framed them.
  • My space memorabilia including a patch that had been in space.
  • My father-in-laws swords and nunchucks. Gifts given to us for our wedding.
  • The watch my wife gave me years ago.
  • My wife’s engagement ring…kind of. While we are content with are new wedding bands, loosing a engagement ring suddenly is an unfortunate way to go about downsizing.
  • My mother’s pillow from when she was a baby

I am sure there are other things we miss too, but I just don’t remember now. The things above are fairly irreplaceable and that is what makes them special.

What do we not miss?

Pretty much everything else. The clothes, books, kitchenware. It is all replaceable and this is very clear to us at the moment. Minimalism is not so hard when forced into it. It just takes some adjusting too.

So what do you think? Would you like a hard reset in life like we had? Forced minimalism? It’s okay to think yes. As I said, there is something purifying about a fire.

Personally, I would not wish this upon anyone. There are benefits like getting a new home after 2 years of pain. Buying what you need and not just keeping stuff you had bought. Potential insurance money from possessions lost that will not be replaced. But once again, the uncertainty and hassle is not worth it.

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I am a Dad and Doctor trying to make sure I am living life in the best way possible. Whether it is having my finances together, being a great parent, or balancing my home life with work, I am here to kick a$$ and help you do the same.

26 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly- Forced minimalism

  • November 25, 2017 at 9:06 am

    I somehow missed the news about the fire. OMG. I can’t imagine going through that.
    It sounds like you have made the best out of a horrendous situation.
    Have you read stoic philosophy? It sounds like you may not need to, but you would enjoy it if you haven’t

    • November 25, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks doc! I have read some stoic philosophy but it may be time to revisit.

  • November 17, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    DDD you are awesome. Took me a hell of a lot longer than a month to get to where you are. Sometimes when I tune in however I have a little trepidation because it takes me back. That picture could have been of my house, and those ashes of my stuff.

    I didn’t have insurance. I was in the service and renting. The check for the renters insurance was on the coffee table ready to mail. What that meant is I had to write off my losses on my taxes. I had to go and try to remember what stuff was in each room, evaluate it at present value and put it on the list. This was in 1989 BEFORE the internet. It was well over $100K so for a guy living on a Lieutenant’s salary it was definitely worth doing but it REALLY SUCKED. It’s 28 years later and I miss only a couple things. I had a Les Paul that I played in a rock band I was in and a lot of good times were tied up in that. I also had a Gretch White Falcon which is at the other end of guitar land. It’s a big bad hollow body jazz masterpiece. It’s like Bo’ Jangles, his dog up and dies and after 20 years he still grieves. That’s about all I grieve now, my stupid jazz guitar. Strange how it shakes out. My wife was more sentimental and it was harder for her, but she rose to the occasion big time.

    We were minimalist, and just didn’t buy much new stuff. But what we bought was quality. We didn’t buy a bedroom suite for example just a really nice bed, a chest and a couple end tables. When the chest was filled, we had enough stuff. The chest has 6 drawers 2 for me 4 for her. Maybe that will be a good metaphor for you.

    I’m glad you’re writing this saga.

    • November 17, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      Were you minimalists after the initial fire? I imagine we will be on a similar journey. Buying few things over the next 2 years. Then once we are in a home that may all change.

      • November 18, 2017 at 5:18 pm

        We were probably not too different from you. We were 8 months married DINKs in a relationship for about 6 years, both medical professionals (she’s a pediatric OT) and had accumulated stuff based on household need. I had always been into living within my means but not heavily into self denial, I guess I was PAYGO. I would use debt to temporize but pay it down immediately. After the fire and when I moved to this town after my locums life, we had to decide where to live so we rented a 3br house for 2 years to scour the real estate market. It was the start of the 1992 recession and I could afford about anything on the market. People thought they owned gold. Here is the thing about custom homes, they are built to your spec and don’t necessarily fit anybody else’s dream. As the recession dragged on I started getting calls from sellers: “just make me an offer!!”, but I didn’t really want to live in something I didn’t like and pay that mortgage. So what I did was to buy a standard 2400 sq ft house on 2 acres out in the stix but only 10 min from the hospital so I could take call from home, NO HOMEOWNERS ASSC. That house was the house an average or a little senior space worker could afford. It had a 30×50 out building for storing RV’s and boats and a workshop. I was the builders home so it had upgraded windows and roof and doors important in a hurricane area. It was 33ft ASL important if you worry about storm surge and flooding. My property holds no water it drains immediately.

        The house had some features in the floor plan, that allowed me to convert part of the garage into an inside room of the house, by simply moving the door that went to he garage and putting up a wall. Suddenly I had 2700 sq ft under air and an office. I had a porch next to the pool which I tiled, added some french doors, glassed it in, and I had a gym/party room after I added A/C and a TV for football. I built a screened Gazebo behind the pool for kids/adults to congregate to eat the BBQ during pool parties. The construction for all of this was an extra $7K on the note, done by the builder whom I was buying the house from, and I wound up with 3200 sq ft under air. After I was done he said “damn I wish I was still living here”. If I had to move, it was a house I could sell in a week rain shine recession or no and come out plenty in the black.

        So does that count as minimalism? From an economic perspective I think it does. I live in a little fruit town in central FL. It’s a very salt of the earth kind of place. So from a life style perspective it does too. I have a blueberry farm 1 block from my house, a strawberry farm 0.7 mile in the other direction (get a bucket you pick ) and orange groves on the way to the strawberry patch. I have a 100 acre farm across the street with cows and goats. When my kids were growing up they would go to the produce manager at the food store and pick up lettuce and cabbage they were throwing out so they could go ride their bikes and “feed the goats”. My kids knew all their names. We have little bitty Enole lizards here and my kid kept a few and we went to the pets mart to get crickets and calcium. Good way for a Daddy to hang with his daughter. If I want fancy or I want to fly to London, I hop in the car and drive 40 minutes to Orlando. When I lived in Chicago it was 45 minutes every day to work, in house call, and an hour bumper to bumper to “fancy” or the airport.

        My wife rebuilt her kitchen with quality. She likes to cook and she has the best of what she needs, but that’s all she has, is what she needs. I built my gym, it has a commercial grade treadmill with a built in odometer that is 25 years old. It has 12,300 miles on it, near half way around the world. It was damn expensive, I think $4500 back in 1993 dollars, but has never given me a lick of trouble. Having a gym means I don’t have to “go to the gym” saving me a ton of time and eliminating any excuses. Is that minimalism? To hang clothes to dry I put up a little rope across a corner screwed into the header beams so people wouldn’t use my treadmill or weight machine. A ROPE, NOW THAT IS MINIMALISM!

        I guess my point is I’m into what makes sense in extending the efficiency in my life, and I’ll spend the money to do that, not as a specific philosophy. My old business partner like to show off his Rolex and his Mercedes SUV. I have a Honda and a “waveceptor” My waveceptor is really cool it has a built in radio that receives WWV from Boulder. Every night the time automatically resets to within 1 second from of the actual time, and it’s solar powered, $103 at Target. So that’s where my head is at.

        • November 18, 2017 at 8:20 pm

          Minimalism is a tricky thing. Some would think it is the absence of possessions, but in reality it is absence of noise. Of the things (items, meetings, people, etc.) that distract us from living a meaningful life.

  • November 14, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Hey, DDD. I admire your spirit. Very inspiring. And your “miss list” was very moving as well. Letting go of such things as grandpa’s Guiro and mom’s baby pillow can’t be easy. I wish I could write something that would make the pain go away, but I can’t. I think Jim summed it up best: Sharing your nature-induced minimalism will provided your readers with very powerful lessons. Perhaps that will make the transition back to normal somewhat tolerable. Best of luck, my friend.

    • November 14, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks Mr. Groovy…We are transitioning slowly but surely. Congrats on your new land purchase! 3 acres sounds awesome.

  • November 14, 2017 at 8:30 am

    There is no way anyone could go through something like that and not have their perspective changed. I do think people cling to material things to often in our society. With that being said though I am not a minimalist, I enjoy having things but keep it all in check. I never buy something new without getting rid of something else. Thanks for sharing where do you think you are most guilty of being materialistic?

    • November 14, 2017 at 10:02 am

      Photos. I have a lot of photos from years of life. They dont take much physical space anymore but still require time and mental energy to sift and curate them. I thought I had lost them with the fire but found a lot of them on I am not sure I will print photo albums out anymore but was happy to have them. Also I am now backing them up to Google Photos like crazy.

  • November 13, 2017 at 11:52 am

    It struck me to read about the g├╝iro – I was born and raised in Puerto Rico.

    I just want to say that it was moving and very educational to read this post. I have very few heirlooms and have never had something like this happen to me, so I can’t begin to imagine how it feels to go through such an experience. This definitely gave me pause.

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      Puerto Rico sadly is not doing well now too, though I love the island. I hope that the recovery there ends up better than before (kind of like happened with New Orleans). Federal funding can boost growth.

      Heirlooms are a funny thing. No monetary value necessarily but deep emotional value. Still I would recommend having those items out to enjoy, because the likelihood of a disaster at this level is so rare.

  • November 13, 2017 at 8:37 am

    When I was forced to quickly evacuate a fire years ago, it made me realize what the important things were. I didn’t have any of that with me, but fortunately the fire burned downed to the driveway and didn’t touch the house. Pictures was one of the main things that when I was evacuated I wish I had. It is pretty awesome to be able to find them online which is a great place to store them, especially in case of emergency.

    Last month, I was having a discussion with someone at Chautauqua about decluttering and she made the comment that she wished her house would just burn down so she didn’t have to go through everything. Ever since I heard of your story, that conversation has stuck with me.

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      It is one way to become a minimalist…though stuff accumulates super quick. We are currently talking about moving from our apartment to a home in December and I am curious to see how much stuff we actually already have. Now granted most of it is my son’s toys and books.

      Glad you guys made it okay years ago. It is quite crazy and I am now backing up photos on the cloud religiously.

  • November 11, 2017 at 9:25 am

    What a crazy way to go about this. I’m sorry for the loss of all the heirlooms. But how interesting too completely press reset and build your stuff from what you actually need opposed to down sizing.

    Life has a weird way of working. As you start to change your mind set… you’re forced into really thinking about if this change is really something you want, or just a fun thought exercise.

    Best of luck…

  • November 11, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Oddly an hour before reading this I got a text from someone my phone didn’t recognize. They had a bad house fire last night and were texting another guy named Steve. They obviously knew me but I didn’t have that number in my contacts. Nobody got hurt thankfully but I can’t stop wondering who it was.

  • November 11, 2017 at 5:44 am

    Dad, amazing how you had just completed that book, and spent so much mental energy on the challenge of downsizing in the days before the fire. I could SO relate to your thinking, we had many of the same thoughts while living in our “big house in the city”. Now that we’ve downsized (the long, slow but easier route), those anxieties are gone. It’s a good mental approach to seek the positives in all circumstances, and I agree the “forced minimalism” is a good way to think about a terrible situation. Hang in there, my friend!

    • November 11, 2017 at 6:27 am

      Thanks Fritz. I thought about naming the post from Good to Great…Forced Minimalism in reference to one of my favorite blogs…

  • November 11, 2017 at 5:38 am

    We’ve moved so much for medical training and jobs that we have downsized each time and forced minimalism. I frickin love it. The kids stuff now makes up the bulk of out new things.

    I was thinking of what I would miss in a total loss so that maybe we could spare some things learned from you.
    Pictures (most are digital so need to back these up onto a cloud)
    Kids baby stuff – I don’t like offsite storage so these will be lost
    Artwork – we collect art from places we visit. I mean nice stuff, this would be grabbed or gone. Can put it away now, it’s too beautiful and reminds us of good times.
    My files – sadly I have a file cabinet. Need to see what can be digitized and clouded.
    Grandmothers cookbook – an original, and not many remaining.
    Grandfathers yearbooks from medical school and doctor black bag – again, I like looking at these so no offsite or safe deposit box. grandfather world war 2 diary and POW experience- probably should safe deposit this one
    My books with notes and highlights – I tend to reference these. Oh well, no harm in re reading the whole thing. Might learn something.

    I’m sure there would be more. This was an interesting mini exercise in gratitude. Turns out I won’t miss the big stuff. But I sort of knew that.

    Hang in there DDD and stay minimalist/moderatist!

    • November 11, 2017 at 6:26 am

      Wow your granddads diary would be a big one for sure. The Minimalist recommend taking photos of those precious items. That way if you give them away or loose them there is always a record/memory for you.

      Fun to see you do the exercise. Thanks!

  • November 11, 2017 at 4:46 am

    In the day to day, with the stresses and pressures of life (created/perceived and actual), we often mistake what’s actually important versus what we merely think is important. I’ve probably commented this many times but I still want to say it again- thanks for sharing the story because others can learn powerful lessons from your experience.

    • November 11, 2017 at 6:21 am

      Thanks Jim. Appreciate the support. Just yesterday I was stressing about my mortgage company. Then I went out during lunch to run an errand. I started talking to another fire victim. He lost everything physical. His neighbor on the other hand lost his life.
      Needless to say I straightened my attitude real quick.

  • November 11, 2017 at 3:50 am

    Wow that is a really powerful story. Fantastic attitude you have about the situation.

    I think most people want to embrace a more minimalist way of life but are at conflict with their short term pleasure seeking brain that just wants more.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • November 11, 2017 at 6:19 am

      True and letting go of stuff really is hard to do. We give so much emotional value to things.


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