I’ve come so far in the last three years. I started out as a miserable fuck, slaving away in a cubical. I had the conventional lifestyle locked down: a cushy corporate job, an awesome wife, a cute little house in an old, safe neighborhood, two cars, and a boat. It all appeared good on the surface. But I was more miserable and depressed than I had ever been in my life.
Around age 20 I decided to take a nod from conventional wisdom. I decided to ‘grow up’ and finish my college degree instead of pursuing my passion, which at the time was surfing (this was before I discovered sailing). I remember the decision clearly: It was New Year’s Day of my 20th year of life. I felt I was at a fork in the road, and I decided to take the one well-traveled. If I was a salmon, I’d be one of the few to climb those waterfalls. I’d beat the system at its own game. If we were all sheep, I’d be the sheepiest.
Three years ago I reached my zenith in that endeavor. The hard part was behind me and all I had to do was ride the conventional gravy train to retirement. I was suicidal several times as a kid, and I learned to deal with those thoughts early. Basically I reached the conclusion that I’m going to die some day; it’s inevitable. So why hasten it? But now I was realizing that I was binge drinking and smoking way too much pot, just to numb the pain of the monotony. Instead of killing myself quickly, I was just killing myself slowly. My weekends on the boat left me with a heart pumping, emotional high. The weekdays left me feeling hollow and humiliated, with the pervasive sense that I was not in control of my life.Am I so un-normal? Maybe the “normal” thing to do would have been to stay miserable and just have faith in the “system“. To “have faith” that “everything happens for a reason” or believe that “God has a plan for my life“. I engaged psychologists and medication to maintain the status-quo. That’s the sort of thing that “normal” people do. I tried all that, but eventually I did what I think is totally ‘natural’: I imploded.
My fantasies about living on the boat and cruising the San Juan Islands became harder and harder to resist. The more miserable I became the easier it seemed to do something drastic. My work-life and marriage began to crumble apart, but throughout that time I downsized. Little steps at first. One room at a time. One trip to Goodwill at a time. Eventually we moved onto the boat and downsized even further. I set a date to quit my cushy job and stuck to it. After things fell apart with the marriage, I got a smaller boat and got rid of almost all my worldly possessions. The point is that I didn’t downsize in one fell swoop. I eased into it over the last two and a half years. I made it a priority and worked at it.
Six months ago, I reached a zenith of the opposite sort. I downsized until my huge storage unit turned into a tiny 10 foot cargo trailer. Solace was outfitted and ready for a long-term cruise. As a result of all this downsizing, I had almost no bills. Moorage was my biggest monthly bill, which I got rid of when I cut the dock lines for the summer. I was healthy, happy, and very much in control of my life.
The cruise this last summer was totally necessary. After years of relentlessly chasing my dream, I got to actualize it. But I was not yet financially free, and I knew it. I knew I’d have to get a job at the end of the summer. I couldn’t afford to cruise for more than a few months. That knowledge was like a hollow lump in my gut. Easy to ignore, but ever present.
But now, finally, I feel like I’ve reached my Zen. My work is starting to feel like work. But only working three days a week, and doing work that I feel passionate about, makes this chore an easy pill to swallow. I could work longer or for more money elsewhere, but right now I have time and money. Mixing and matching between the job, freelance work, and my own hobbies keep me intellectually stimulated and economically productive. My life is sustainable, both emotionally and financially.None of this would be possible if I hadn’t adopted a life of minimalism. The passion to be a full-time cruiser is what inspired me to embrace minimalism. The minimalist lifestyle and the reduction in bills that results from it, enabled me to scale back the amount of income I needed to sustain my life. That left me with more time to attend to my emotional needs and to explore alternative income streams. Emotional health will allow me to succeed over the long-term. Diversity of income streams will likewise sustain my lifestyle over the long-term. Minimalism is the key to all of it.
I am on track to achieve my goal of 100% debt freedom in the next year. Over the ensuing next few years I plan to invest money and build up a passive investment portfolio for ‘retirement’. This includes conventional investments like bonds, but also books I plan to write and inventions I plan to build. At some point my investments and minimalism will converge to the point where work is optional. More importantly though, as I approach that point, a lifestyle of pseudo-nonstop sailing will simply get easier and easier to maintain.
So there is my other point: it gets easier. Getting started on the road to minimalism is the hardest part. Getting your mind set on perusing minimalism, regardless of what your friends and family may think, is the hardest part. The longer you go down that road, the more things fall into place. Less and less effort is required and the benefits grow greater.
Have I peeked your interest? Want to know more about what all this minimalism stuff is about? Start by reading my article on True Wealth. There are also a couple of great websites dedicated to helping people get started with minimalism. Check out The Minimalists and Becoming Minimalist.