Lessons from Less
When I was 16, I wanted more. When I was 24, I wanted even more than that. So, I worked harder, earned more, spent more, to have more, only to owe more. I was exhausted at the end of the day and tired when I woke up most mornings. I ate on the fly, fell behind, ran late and could never catch up. Sound familiar?
I thought everything I was doing was for a better life. I thought what I was doing was normal and right. I had become so used to bills in the mailbox, and feeling rundown, that I didn’t know anything was wrong. So, how did I go from wanting more, more, more to craving less? I would love to tell you that I woke up one morning a changed person, but that’s not the way it went down. Even though I had begun to make small changes, I needed a wake up call … and it had to be really loud.
On July, 7th 2006 I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis. That was my wake up call, and to say it was loud is an understatement. The diagnosis was nothing short of traumatic. I didn’t have enough information to take action. I only knew enough to be really scared. I had so many questions. Could I still ski with my family? Would I be able to help my daughter with homework? Would I even be walking in a year?
No one had the answers to those overwhelming questions, so I had to focus on what was most important: my health and my family. Nothing else mattered. If I had moved forward with these big questions and fearful thinking, my daughter and husband would have been so worried. I realized that if I started thinking differently, so would they. My questions went from, “What is this disease going to do to my body and mind?” to “How am I going to reverse MS?”
The answer to my question was change. Small shifts and big change were necessary to become the best possible version of myself. When I started making changes in my life, I didn’t know that they would lead to minimalism, but they did. In fact, while the changes I made were fighting MS, they were also redefining my whole life. The changes I made are not all essential in the life of a minimalist, but they are all essential to my minimalist lifestyle.
What I did to change my life:
I became a vegetarian. Research shows that MS patients, and people dealing with other autoimmune conditions that eat fewer saturated fats and “inflammatory foods” maintain better health. (I would challenge that this goes for most everyone.) Giving up meat was one of the best ways I could really “do something” about my new diagnosis. I stopped eating meat to achieve better health.
When I started my vegetarian journey, I started reading. I read about raising animals for meat. I read about factory farming. I learned about the impact of our actions on our bodies, animals and the earth. By really opening my eyes and heart to how meat was put on my plate, I lost my appetite for it. I was motivated by health and changed with compassion.
I fell in love with yoga. Practicing Yoga gives me strength, flexibility, focus, peace of mind and freedom from fear. I want to keep my body strong, and my mind calm and focused so I can effectively fight this disease and take care of my family. While I am in search of less, I want to be more sensitive and loving, more adaptive and more resilient. Yoga gives me that, too.
I got rid of my stuff. While I always felt compelled to put something on an empty surface, I have come to love an empty space. It takes living without it to realize how clutter affects your life and takes away from your freedom and creativity. I am reminded of that every time I walk into my kitchen and instead of seeing a cluttered counter, I see sunlight streaming in from the kitchen window. I am still letting go of my stuff and feel lighter everyday.
I decided to live without debt. You may not think that your bank account can affect your health, but considering money can cause great stress, and stress can make you sick, it only makes sense that poor money management equals poor health. My husband and I made the decision to be debt free, and paid off our last debt this summer except for our house. What will we do with our money now that we don’t have any monthly payments? Whatever we want.
I hung up the phone. I do not use my phone when I’m driving anymore. I don’t text at red lights or make calls on the back roads. I can remember too many times where I would arrive at a destination and not remember how I got there because I was so involved in a phone call. Admitting that I had essentially been risking my life and the lives of other drivers wasn’t easy, but it was necessary to make the change and the commitment to be phone free in the car.
Another benefit is that now, when I pick my daughter up from school, she has my full attention. She doesn’t have to compete with business or other phone fueled distractions. I am there for her.
I redefined better. As I mentioned before, all of my bad habits came from wanting something better, something more. In the changes I’ve made, I have redefined what better means to me and my family. The health and happiness of my marriage and family comes before everything else. My husband and I have decided that “more” isn’t the answer for us.
Now at 41, forever changed, and virtually symptom free, I am becoming me. I know I haven’t figured it all out but am content. I don’t make as much as I used to. I didn’t take a big vacation this year or make any big purchases, but there is no doubt that I am happier. Less speaks to me. Less lets me love more deeply and less lets me really be me.
My wake up calls have become more subtle, but because I have the time and space to pay attention, I hear them loud and clear. When I first started to practice doing less and being more, I discovered Zen Habits. It was another wake up call, but it sounded like a whisper, “You can do this. You can change.” It is not a coincidence that Leo Babauta’s story of change changed me. I was ready to listen, ready to change.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that less is enough. Of course, I am still learning, still changing and still a work in progress, but now it is my turn to inspire change with my story.