Minimalism: As a Military Member

Minimalism

As a military member, you are by default a nomad.  You’re going to move more times than you really want to.  Change is good and it’s important to grow professionally in our careers.  Each place we move to I dread the unpacking.  So much stuff!  In our most recent move, July 2016, we still have boxes packed!  Which means nothing in those boxes we’ve needed in the last 11 months.  

Sure, there may be some sentimental items in there, but for the most part I’m sure the ‘things’ in there we can afford to throw away or donate.  Every now and then I’ll rumble through trying to find something tiny like my tie clip.  I was attending a formal event recently and couldn’t find my tie clip.  Could I have done without it?  Yes.  I knew where it was, though so I went digging.  The point is the things we think we need are some things we’ll never use. 

Image how much easier moving would be if you owned less than you actually purposefully needed.  We spent four years at our first assignment.  In those four years we still had boxes packed.  At least three.  During the Summer of 2014 my wife and I took time off work to finally get to the last few boxes unpacked.  That morning I made a comment on Facebook, “Now that our last box is unpacked watch us get a new assignment.”  Later that day I got an email with notification of a new assignment.  Go figure.  It was now time to move again.  The crazy thing is we could have kept the box packed because for four years in one spot we never needed it opened, which means we could have got rid of everything in them, but instead we insisted on ‘thinking’ we ‘have’ to keep things.  Perhaps we have the mentality that if we bought it we need to keep it as long as we can.  It might be the case in some instances, but not all. 

Think of all the uniforms you have as a military member.  Your utility set, your services set and your physical training set.  That’s 12 sets of clothes given to you once you start basic training.  I never owned 12 shirts at one time in my life.  And now I have that plus my normal civilian clothes.  Over the years I’ve replaced old uniforms and bought new ones.  I recently donated all of my older uniforms that were serviceable for reuse.  The others I threw away.  My closet got smaller.  I did the same with the few civilian clothes I had.  I now only have 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of blue jeans, 2 pairs of cargo pants(my favorite) and 6 shirts, all black.  Other than furniture I will be able to fit everything I own in my trunk. 

Just a few days ago I saw a moving truck down the street.  The next day I saw a curb full of things that I guess the family didn’t need or want to take with them.  It was a lot of stuff.  We did the same during our first move back on 2014.  We left a curbside full of random things that we just didn’t need or wanted to take to our new home.  

I’ve come to realize that all that stuff that we think we need is not really necessary after all.  It’s okay to live with less especially when you know you’re going to be moving again.  For any military member out there, if you dread the move, think about minimalism as a way to make moving simple.  I am certain our next move will be a piece of cake.  

As a challenge for your next move, if you can’t fit everything that you essentially need in one vehicle, then perhaps you really don’t need it.  I know for a fact that for my next move I’ll be able to fit everything I need in the trunk of my Toyota Corolla and that is quite refreshing to know.  

Letting go of ‘Might Use”

Minimalism
Today, I went through five boxes of things that I “might use.”  As I was going through the boxes I would put things aside with the justification of, “I actually might use this.”  After a few minutes I would pick them up again and put them back down.  I did this about four times.  When I was throwing out my last trash bag I picked up the “actually might use” items and put them in the trash bag.  I was done debating.

One of my “actually might use” stacks were my songwriting notebooks that I’ve had for about 12 years.  I’ve written a lot of songs in them, but they were just sitting in a box.  What did I need them for?  Nostalgia?

I made a decision that “might use” wasn’t enough for me to hold onto anything.  It wasn’t enough to change my happiness with or without.  Thus, everything was thrown into the trash.  The best part?  I feel great about it and have no regret not keeping anything.

I was able to flatten five boxes and fill up four 30 gallon trash bags for the trash.  I will never have to think about all that stuff again.  It’s gone.  And guess what?  My happiness remains even though I let go of “might use.”

You’re valuable, your things are not.

Minimalism

I found myself looking around telling myself how I wanted this, I wanted that.  I liked the idea of ‘having’ everything I looked at.  I could have bought a few items today and I decided not to.  Not because I wouldn’t use them, but because I knew I didn’t need them and I knew they weren’t going to provide any value to my life.  My happiness wouldn’t change from having them. 

Consumerism consumes us in ways that overshadows the reality of what we’re doing.  What we’re doing is buying and buying not because of necessity or purpose, but because it’s what we’ve been taught to do.  

Our possessions become a part of us.  The things we have identify the type of people we are.  We put a monetary value in what we have and try to place that value on ourself.  You may have a brand new Corvette and that one object in your eyes puts a number on your life.  I’m worth this.  I’m worth that.  

We’ve all heard the saying, “To feel like a million dollars.”  I’ve never had a million dollars nor will I probably ever own that much money at one time.  Most of the world will never know that feeling so how do we begin to compare a price with feeling?  Are millionaires even happy?  

This rich and famous culture changes our perception on how we should live and feel.  We want what they have because they ‘look’ happy.  Media portrays people in the ‘good light’ and we rarely see inside the actual feelings of the rich and famous.  Social media provides many filters in the lives of people.  We can filter our life to look how we want others to see it, but behind the cell phone and behind the computer how do you really feel?  Is that happiness because of the items in your house or because you have made a decision to be happy with who you are and not what you have or don’t have?

I’m reminded of the quote from Jim Cary that I heard from Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things. 

“I wish everyone could experience being rich and famous so they could realize it’s not the answer.” 

What is your goal when buying new things?  Do you buy things just because you can and have they money to do it?  Do you replace the old item with the new item?  Do you find true non-monetary value in the items you buy?  Do they make you happy?  Do they increase YOUR value because of the price tag?  

You’re valuable, your things are not.  Your things serve a purpose, but things were never created to specifically provide happiness.  They’re created to fill a need.  A use.  A tool.  A resource.  I love coffee, but just because I like the taste or how it gives me a boost doesn’t mean that if I never had it again I’d be unhappy.  I’m valuable because of who I am, not what I have.  You’re valuable because of who you are, not what you have.  Though, there are some unique items that do become a part of us and do impact who we are, not every item provides us with that type of worth.  Know what does and what doesn’t. 

The Start of Less

Minimalism

I was in college and I owned very little.  In fact, I could carry all my possessions in both my hands.  I had two guitar cases and a laptop with a case.  One guitar case had my actual guitar.  The other case had every clothing item I owned.  I lived quite simple.  I didn’t even own a cell at the time.  

12 years later I have a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house.  I have thousands of items in my house and I couldn’t carry everything I own if I wanted to.  Then again, back then I was living in a dorm and couch to couch.  Today, I have a family and a house.  You tend to accumulate things as you grow and move.  

Our third bedroom is sort of like an office with a walk-in closet…well, it’s suppose to be a walk in closet.  We use it for storage for things we honestly don’t use.  Six months after moving into our house nothing in that room was being used. We’d occasionally go search through a box for something small, but out of thousands of items in that room we really only need less than 1%.

I keep old songwriting notebooks.  High school sports medals.  Trinkets, souvenirs, things that provide no real value to my daily operations around the house.  I won’t even go into what my wife keeps because I honestly have no clue what’s in there.  That shows how often we use anything in the boxes. 

I didn’t know it, but in college, I was a minimalist.  I rarely bought anything and I lived with very little. 

A few months ago, the documentary called MMINIMALISM: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE IMPORTANT THINGS hit Netflix and it has just gone world wide via Netflix.  It’s gaining attention and has become a growing idea.  The whole concept is to look at the big picture of what you actually own.  Sometimes we chase happiness through material items and merchandise, but all the money in the world still wouldn’t make you happy because happiness is not something you own.  You’d have to see the film to get the full scope, but that’s a good summary. 

Two months ago I sorted through all of my clothing items.  I found 55 items I did not need.  Had shoes I never worn.  Had t-shirts and pants with price tags still on them.  I now own 3 pairs of paints and about 6 t-shirts.  I have a few uniforms for work and a few pairs of shoes.  I feel a bit more liberated with knowing that the next time we move I don’t have to pack so much stuff.  In fact, I could pack almost everything in just a few suitcases if I had really had to.  I still own a few things that serve no purpose and I will get to them.  The Minimalists like to say, “One day or day one.”  I believe I started day one two months ago, but I believe minimalism isn’t an overnight transformation.  It will take time and I believe I’m on the right path.  As The Minimalists said, “It’s not a radical lifestyle.  It’s a practical lifestyle.”

There are things that I will keep and things that I will easily get rid of.  I already know when I open my box of notebooks and journals that it will be a bit difficult to get rid of the writing I did 10 years ago, but I know I can do it and I know I will do it.  Besides, if they really mattered I wouldn’t have them in a box.  

My journey to be as minimal as possible is happening.  Stay tuned. 

You can see progress on my instagram page as I post items and such @iampeteblog.