Minimalism seems to be something more and more people are turning towards these days and there are many good minimalist blogs already so why read this one?
I think the great thing about minimalism is that different people embrace it in different ways and to different extents. From people just trying to reduce the clutter of years of accidental hoarding in their houses to extreme “I’m going to go and live in the forest and this teaspoon will be my only possession and with it I will build a log cabin, hunt for food and….um..eat yoghurt”.
For the people who like to turn to the last page of a book so they know what’s going to happen (mum that’s you!): we’re approaching minimalism from a point somewhere in the middle between the two examples and that’s the standpoint this blog will be coming from.
OK So why am I doing this, well firstly it’s we not I. Luckily I am blessed with a girlfriend who feels the same way I do about the clutter of modern life and the rampant consumerism that is leading the world in a far from happy direction. Don’t get me wrong, we are not the teaspoon wielding extremists but we do believe that a simpler way of life, embracing experiences rather than things, foraging, growing and hunting food, avoidance of chemicals etc. is a healthier and happier way to be.
How did we get here? Well, as I think is often the case it took extreme circumstances to shake us from our slumber, read on and we shall tell the tale but I recommend a comfy seat and a pot of tea as it’s a bit of a long story:
We live in Christchurch, on the South Island of the beautiful country of New Zealand. I’m Greg, I’m Scottish and have been here since 2002 and my girlfriend, Astrid, is a New Zealander. In September 2010 we had a large and quite unexpected earthquake centred near the city which woke us up, scared the hell out of us and broke a few things. On February 22nd, after enduring 6 months of endless aftershocks, at 12.51pm a second quake hit, “only” a 6.3 this time but centred basically under the city and very shallow. 185 people died, one being our neighbour’s sister, her daughter also was trapped and crippled when the building she worked in collapsed. Much of the city was damaged and many buildings destroyed and it will be many years I suspect before “The Garden City” returns to anything resembling normality. Our house was one of many damaged so badly we could no longer live in it and we scraped up the remains of our belongings (many of which were now inexplicably covered in chili sauce) and moved to a small caravan on the rural property of my girlfriend’s parents. Shocked but feeling lucky to be alive and unhurt and being lucky enough to have somewhere to go we stumbled bleary-eyed through the next few weeks adjusting to the new reality.
We decided if we were to live in a caravan for a while (rental properties were basically unattainable due to demand) then we might as well embrace it and enjoy it so we bought an old VW camper van and headed off on a 3 month trip around New Zealand to escape the endless aftershocks which still continue over a year later. This is our camper who we named Newt:
OK, it’s not his best angle, he was a good looking van, honestly. So this small, spluttery, slow but curiously likeable vehicle was our house for 3 months and took us to some lovely places, where we invariably made coffee and bacon sandwiches. Coffee and bacon sandwiches never taste better than when cooked in a camper van in a spot like this:
So we had a great trip, we foraged what we could and caught quite a few fish but through necessity the trip was during late Autumn and winter so opportunities were not at their best.
It had been a long time since I’d been away from work for this long, just living simply, in a tiny space with barely any belongings. We had what we needed though: fishing stuff, rock-climbing gear, cameras and my trusty Macbook Pro which ably coped with a variety of duties including acting as our TV for the duration of the trip. We cooked up some amazing meals on the little 2 burner gas cooker, I spent hours and hours reading which was something I loved so much when I was younger but latterly seemed to never find the time for. For 3 months, we were happy like we hadn’t been in years.
When the trip was finished we sadly sold the van to a couple of young tourists who took Newt happily spluttering off for another few months driving round New Zealand. We moved back into the caravan and unhappily returned to work.
Things had changed however and there was no going back.
Before the earthquake we were earning plenty of money doing stuff we didn’t enjoy and this money disappeared as quickly as it was earned. We had a lot of things, we shopped pretty much daily without worrying about the unecessary expense of that behaviour, we ate out or had takeaway food 3 or 4 times a week etc. etc. etc. I’ve written music since I was young and I had built up quite a collection of equipment but never really seemed to finish anything I started to write. I bought books but didn’t have time to read them. I hated my job and had done for many years. And then – there was the earthquake, the camper trip and life in a caravan…
You’d think this drastic reduction in space and “stuff” would be a shock and yes I’ll admit it was initially but it gradually sank in that for all we had very little space we actually had pretty much everything we needed. We went out alot more for day trips and hikes, fishing trips and foraging expeditions. We sat in the sun reading books instead of flicking endlessly through web pages as we had no internet access. Instead of a huge flat screen tv we watched tv and movies on my laptop and one of the biggest changes for me was my studio. Luckily these days it has become quite possible to replace a huge studio full of hardware gear with a modest laptop and a few pieces of software. No it’s not quite the same in terms of sound but it’s increasingly close and the gains in lack of clutter, cabling and distractions of just sitting fiddling with gear cannot be argued with. I actually produced finished pieces of music and even released a single on iTunes. I’m currently working on an album but more of this in another post lest this introduction become a novel.
Ultimately when all the stuff was taken away we had realised we didn’t need all of that stuff to make us happy. Did we miss anything? Yes of course, like I said earlier the simple way of the lone teaspoon is not for us. Along the way I handed in my notice and left my IT job with barely a moment of regret and am now working on an album of downtempo electronica, a children’s book and we are getting together recipes for a foraging/hunting/fishing/minimalist lifestyle cookbook. Do I miss the security of a steady income? Yes sometimes but this sense of security is false and tenuous in the modern financially unstable world, better to generate your own security. For me the security of wages have been replaced by the security of knowing how to raise, look after, humanely kill, gut and prepare a chicken for eating. Knowing where to find free food in the countryside. Knowing how and where to catch fish (thanks Dad). Finding out about raising sheep and pigs for meat although veggies provide us with more of our meals than meat does and learning how to plant and maintain a good veg patch has been very rewarding. We make many things that we used to buy and we spend a fraction of what we used to on trips to the supermarket.
We lived in that caravan for a year and now we live in a small 80 sq.m barn which seems palatial in comparison. My studio now consists of the laptop and just a couple of really nice analog synths and everything else is sold and I’ve never been more productive. Yes the flat-screen tv is back out of storage and it is very much appreciated as we love watching movies but the difference now is that I don’t feel the need to upgrade to ever bigger screens or the newest 3d TVs or just to upgrade because my mate just got a bigger one.
Basically where we are now is that the “things” we have are not things any longer they are valued possessions which we appreciate and realise they do enrichen our lives. Every few months we have a lunch out and really really appreciate it as a treat. We don’t have heaps of money and I’ll admit we will be happier when one or more of our self-employed endeavours starts to generate some income, in the main so that we can buy some land up in Golden Bay and start building a small eco-house on it. Neither of us have a desire to be rich, just to have enough to own our own house and be comfortable now that we actually know how little it actually takes for us to be comfortable.
I hope you will follow us through this blog, share your own experiences or great minimalist discoveries in the comments, tell your friends if you’ve enjoyed what you read, you can always email us if you have any questions.
All the best from New Zealand.
Greg & Astrid.