we've learned

Living Simply with Plenty of Stuff // Why We Never Plan to Downsize Radically

today’s post is the third consecutive wednesday post published via in-flight wifi on an obscenely early flight. the things we put ourselves through for a buck…

the movement to live simply is all around us. minimalism. tiny houses. the push to reject consumerism. the urban homesteading movement. slow food.

we love the growth in consciousness that this movement represents – the rejection of the superficial, the overprocessed, the unnecessary. we think we will all be better off the less we buy, the more we make ourselves, the more we eat real food, especially if we produce some of it at home. and we love that the movement seems to be gathering steam every day.

we are big proponents of simple living, but we have no plans to get rid of all of our stuff, or to move into a radically smaller home. to us, living simply doesn’t have to mean downsizing your life, it just means right-sizing your life, and not using more resources than you need. of course, if your definition of simple living means carrying the minimalist mantle, then good on you. we’re positive that’s the right path for a lot of people. just not for us. something we’ve noticed as a trend among those who love minimalism is deliberately choosing less choice. we especially see a mindset of being comfortable excluding certain activities or hobbies in the interest of simpler living. and that just doesn’t work for us. while we’ve defended the movement toward owning less and renting more (we love spotify, for example, and car sharing in cities, and don’t know what we’d do without rug doctor rentals), we also want the ability to be spontaneous. to hop on a mountain bike one morning because it seems like a good day for that, without having to go rent said mountain bike. to decide to do some home improvement projects without having to go to the hardware store or rent basic equipment. and comfort – that’s huge for us, too. we’ll get to that.

yes, we’re talking about owning stuff, including stuff we don’t use every day. but this isn’t a defense of consumerism. just like most financial independence advocates out there, and especially like most environmentally inclined people, we think that the current mode of consumerism is a financial tragedy at the individual level, and an environmental and human rights tragedy on a global scale. we are rapidly depleting our planet of resources in the rush to produce more crap just as we are rapidly bankrupting ourselves and forcing ourselves into jobs we hate to buy crap we don’t need (thank you, tyler durden).

the key for us is consciousness. being conscious and deliberate to buy only the things that add quality to your life and allow you to live your own values. making thoughtful decisions when you do buy things, including buying secondhand whenever possible – both a frugal choice, and a better one for the planet. it’s also not a defense of owning a bloated home with 1000 square feet per person and the excessive heating and cooling required to make such a palace liveable. again, right-sizing. we very well may downsize our home at some point in the future, but it’s hard to imagine us ever moving into a tiny house, or something remotely that small.

as with most things, we’ve thought a lot about this topic, and here’s why our version of simple living looks a little more maximalist, and a little less minimalist:

we like to make things

visit us during the summer, and you’ll likely find us about to can something, in the midst of a big canning batch, or making labels for our recently canned bounty. since moving to the mountains, we can’t grow our own food (too short a growing season, and too much shade from our big trees), but we go nuts at the farmers market and make a lot of things that we can for the fall and winter – jam and conserves, salsa, pasta sauce, pesto, and preserved fruits and vegetables. and then there’s what you’ll find in our medicine cabinets – we make most of that, too: lip balms, creams and lotions, face and body scrubs, headache and cold balms, deodorant, toothpaste, all of our home cleaning products, the list goes on. we don’t can food or make toiletries to save money, we do it because we like knowing exactly what we put in and on our bodies, and because there’s joy in making things with our hands. and making this stuff requires gear – a big water bath canning pot, a pressure canner, lots of jars, and the various oils, herbs and containers needed for the beauty products. that’s not to mention the craft supplies that let us make gifts for people instead of always buying them – a subject for another post.

we love hobbies that require gear

we’d never be accused of having a minimalist garage. in it, you’ll find multiple pairs of skis for each of us (resort, powder, backcountry), mountain and road bikes, car camping gear, backpacking gear, climbing gear, plus an upright freezer for the bounty we don’t can. we absolutely believe you can enjoy the outdoors without needing a lot of gear – it’s free to talk a walk, after all – but we like having choices, because there are so many incredible ways to experience this big beautiful world we live in. our love of choice and spontaneity inclines us to be prepared for a range of possible adventures, and choose how to tackle them – on foot, on a bike, on hands and feet, on skis. this will only be more true when we retire. we are beyond excited to wake up each day and ask ourselves, “what do we feel like doing today?” we don’t want to be limited to hiking or basic biking, or to have to visit a rental shop and shell out cash before we can embark on that day’s adventure.

we like to handle our business

keeping all of that gear in top shape is an ongoing process. paying other people to tune our skis or bikes, or keep our yard trimmed up (we live in wildfire country – defensible space is an ongoing job!), or shovel our snow is both a wasteful expenditure and a hurtful notion to our souls. we recognize that we may never be fully self-sufficient, but we certainly like to handle our own business, and take care of what we own. (also, full disclosure – we do currently pay for snow plowing, while we’re still working, but this will change once we quit!) again, it’s that whole notion of taking pleasure in doing or making something. knowing how to fix things when they’re broken, rather than sending them to the landfill and buying another cheap widget. and we plan to level up in this regard when we retire – learning how to do more of our own car servicing and taking on more of the home maintenance projects that we’ve had to outsource to this point, mostly because of time constraints of our jobs. we always want to be able to fix things ourselves, but again, this requires a certain set of tools and equipment, and we feel better having them on hand.

we crave a home base

we’ve considered going full-time nomad or living in an rv, and as much as we love adventure, we feel a powerful desire to have a home base. we’ve traveled more by our mid-30s than most folks will travel in their lives, albeit mostly for work, and we’re always comforted by the notion of going home. not having a home to go back to feels sad to us, though we admire others who can thrive in a rootless existence. (going full-time nomad would allow us to retire now, a fact that has not escaped our notice.)

we’re sentimental

it’s worth saying. we don’t want to get rid of all the stuff that has memories attached, which we’re pretty sure means we’ll never be able to join the minimalist club. we’ve done a good job of letting go of a lot of stuff, especially when we helped both of our parents move. but memories aren’t always enough – sometimes we want to put our hands on the physical objects that represent some other moment in our lives. as long as our home is never crammed with sentimental but otherwise useless junk, we’re okay with holding on to certain things.

we’re lazy couch loungers

more embarrassing truth. we’ve seen so many beautiful homes with these petite, upright little love seats, or the tiny sofas featured in tiny homes, and we think, “wow, that space is lovely, but we’d never be able to do it.” when we lived in the big city, we had a stylish couch that was cool as hell, but which was terrible for lounging. and it looked pretty in pictures, but we hated it. one of the draws of our current house was the big family room which let us get a big, deep sectional sofa that we can both lay down on. as active as we like to be, we’re also the ones who will always lay down instead of sit up, if given the option. we know this about ourselves, and know we’ll never be happy in a home that doesn’t give us room for a big, comfy, loungy couch to spread our lazy ass bodies out on.

we’re still part analog

we’re a kindle and ipad household, and we devour ebooks from the library like nobody’s business. but we love our real books too. we often find ourselves going back to books we read years ago to reread them, or find a passage we love. we hang onto magazines and love flipping through them (though we’ve mostly switched to electronic subscriptions to avoid wasting paper – but we’ve kept many old issues). the thought of getting rid of books that we’ve already read feels nearly sacrilegious to us, as does the idea of not buying any new books every again (or new used books – same thing). we spend so much of our time staring at screens now, and we want a lot less of that in retirement. that means hanging onto books, hanging onto magazines, enjoying physical art on our walls. it means not getting rid of our coffee table books, or our old notebooks, or our collection of stationary that we don’t use as often as we should. in our ever-more-digital world, we feel compelled to hang onto some pieces of the remaining physical word. reading words and pictures on real paper helps keep us grounded too.

how about you? are you finding yourself more inclined toward minimalism? a more maximalist approach to simple living like us? or full-on maximalism, even? (no judgment!) we’d love to hear where you guys are on this.

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

58 replies »

  1. We’re minimalists in the sense that we’ve stopped keeping stuff that no longer has value. We have mountain bikes, kayaks, a camper, tent, and a ton of other sports equipment that we’ll never get rid of. The things we “max” tend to be related to activities that keep us moving, so we’re in the market for skis and folding bikes. While we’re downsizing our home and a bunch of other useless stuff, we’re upsizing our range of activities! :)

    • Your approach sounds great! We didn’t say this in the post, but we ruthlessly edit out things we don’t use or love… we just still have a lot leftover after we do that. :-)

  2. I agree that simple living looks different for everyone. I personally though prefer a more nomadic life over a home base, so that means less stuff for me. I’m hard core minimalist, but I know that very, very few people would want to live like me. I’m actually writing a post right now about the science behind my minimalistic choices. We don’t live in tiny spaces, but we do own a few condos. We live in one and will rent it out to travel for several months. Also, I prefer walkable, city areas. I couldn’t be a homesteader or a tiny house dweller either. Again, everyone has their own preference. I think it is really cool that you make all your own personal care products, and see a potential side hustle, but that doesn’t appeal to me. Baking soda and coconut oil take care of most of my needs. :)

    • Looking forward to your post! Even though we live in the mountains, we’re like you — we couldn’t live out in some remote area. Our town doesn’t have much housing in the downtown core, so living somewhere walkable isn’t an option, BUT we do have an incredible trail network, so we’re able to bike downtown, which is almost as good. To be honest, we really only use a few of the personal care products on a regular basis — a lot we just make for gifts or for fun. :-)

  3. This is a great post to read right now! Since my fiancé & I will be downsizing to an apartment, we’re trying to find ways to embrace even more minimalism while maximizing what we decide to continue to own. Also, with our wedding coming up next year we feel that a traditional registry that just entails accumulating more “stuff” is definitely not for us! We are so thankful that alternative registries (that allow options to donate, contribute to experiences/travels) exist. That is definitely the route we will choose to go. We are also huge advocates of tangible books! The act of reading with a physical book with weathered pages is one of our favorite things to do. We utilize the library often, but if we do purchase physical copies to increase our little library we visit second hand mom & pop shops in town! Thanks for sharing the maximizing approach, I think that’s fantastic. :)

    • Thanks, Alyssa! So great that you guys are thinking about doing an alternative registry — we love SoKind for our Christmas lists. And our advice as you downsize is not to get overzealous — you can always get rid of more later, and some things you might toss are impossible or expensive to replace if you have tosser’s remorse. :-)

  4. We did the full time RV thing for five years. We bought a small house for two reasons. 1) It’s just too cold to live in an RV in Manitoba for the six months each year required to keep your health care. 2) Campground life, especially in Manitoba, can be as confining as suburbia. If we could live in the US year around we might have stayed full-time in the RV. The house has been worth the effort and money drain it has been thus far though. Our time in Manitoba has been peaceful and comfortable.

    • Great to know! We’ve for sure wondered about campgrounds, so thanks for that perspective. We’d probably prefer boondocking more of the time if we had an RV, because campgrounds are so often loud and full of rambunctious kids. But boondocking brings lots of its own challenges, and feels harder to sustain.

      • People who hate suburban style campgrounds (like us) tend to seek out the quiet isolated places and do a lot of boon docking or camping without full services. There are a lot of lovely places to go that aren’t suburban. But, after a week of boon docking, it sure can be nice to pull into a suburban style campground and have a full hook up, a proper shower, get some shopping done, and enjoy some cable television for a change.

  5. I would like to become more minimalist. Lately my stuff seems to be taking up a lot of my time! But that said, I can’t ever see myself getting rid of a huge portion of my belongings. Like you said, some of my hobbies involve stuff. I like those hobbies, and I like having a comfortable home. I would like to cut down on things like clothing and shoes – they take so much space and I don’t even use them all!

    • That’s what we do, too — we’re pretty ruthless about editing out shoes, clothes and random things we don’t use, but no guilt about keeping the stuff we use and love! :-)

  6. I align with a lot of what you’ve written here; it’s a great post. My husband, in particular, likes a lot of gear (we ski, snowboard, snowshoe, and cross-country ski all winter), we are definitely lazy couch loungers, and I, in particular always crave a home base. Our minimalism is about not having excess or clutter, and only buying what we need. As you write, “the key . . . is consciousness.” I quite agree with that.

    • Hooray for lazy couch loungers! :-) And winter sports enthusiasts! It’s so important to know yourself and know if you need a home base. We wonder how many people who go full-time nomad end up regretting it?

  7. Hey there ONL! We are more on the sensible side regarding our positions and are actively getting rid of crap that we don’t use much. We love to downsize because, for us, life becomes much more simple with the less stuff that we have. It works for us.

    Regarding full time nomad’ing, I understand your desire for a home base. But when you say “not having a home to go back to feels sad to us”, remember that the RV that you choose IS your home. You always have your own bed, your own possessions, your own bikes, your own…everything, with you 100% of the time.

    If you enjoy traveling and seeing the sights, it’s the best of both worlds – at least to my wife and I. We get to be where ever we want to be. We get to experience what we want to experience. We get to park our home right next to a lake, an ocean, a mountain, an “anything”, and still have our own comfortable bed to return to every night.

    My folks did it for 13 years and enjoyed every minute of it! It’s definitely not for everyone, but “home” in this lifestyle is always with you, 100% of the time. :)

    • No argument there! We just feel that for us home is a lot about the geographical place, too. We definitely plan to do some long-term RV travel, but will go with a more minimalist camper van and keep our house for when we’re ready to get off the road. :-) It’s one of our favorite things about ER that we can each make it exactly what we want it to be, and your vision sounds fantastic!

    • P.S. “Sad” meant “it would make us sad not to have roots,” not “we think it’s sad when others have no house other than the RV.” ;-)

  8. I would definitely not say I’m a minimalist but I have definitely gotten much better at buying stuff such as TV’s, watches, etc. I was never a shopper, so it wasn’t that hard to do. Lately I have been talking with my gf a lot more about trying the RV life. I think we could make it work. I’d need a laptop, fishing pole, some books, a hammock, and maybe a guitar. That stuff should be able to fit!

    • If that’s all you need, then RVing sounds perfect! We’d have a hard time fitting all our outdoor gear, so we want to keep our house partly for gear storage! ;-)

  9. I would love to hear your recipes for body scrub. My only attempt was a total disaster!

    I struggle with this whole minimalism thing. I want to slow travel, but I also like the idea of a home base. If you have a home with stuff in it, what do you do when you leave it for long periods of time? I’m still trying to figure out what would be ideal.

    • TBD on what we’ll do with our house while we’re away. We suspect rent it out, but not sure if it’s a long-term rental, Airbnb-style, or have a friend or family member house-sit. Likely will involve putting some personal stuff in storage, so another good incentive to downsize before then!

      Scrubs are super easy! You can use a coarse sugar or a coarse salt as the base, add in any sort of “bonus” ingredients like lavender flowers or coffee grounds just enough to provide scent, and then add a body friendly oil like sunflower, avocado or almond until the sugar or salt is saturated. No need for an official recipe. But email if you want more detail. :-) Our favorite body and hand scrub is coarse sea salt, sunflower oil, and dried lavender and calendula flowers.

  10. I totally agree with you on this. I buy and bought things deliberately so I have the stuff I want and need for our early retirement lifestyle. That started while on our FI journey and continues now that we are in early retirement. It is all about being conscious about what it is that matters and brings happiness to our life. Like you that includes tools to maintain everything ourselves. There is a lot of crap I just never owned nor felt the need to own just because its the trend to own. On the other hand I have an automotive hobby that includes a sports car and a 34 year old custom truck I have been driving since 1993 that minimalist and some others would decry but hey, I didn’t retire to an extreme frugal lifestyle, just a smart frugal one that includes a toy or two. It is part of what I retired to. I still use our VCR so we are also in the analog lane on some things. I haven’t found the need for a DVR in my life.

    • What is V C R ??? Just kidding. ;-)

      It’s great to know your perspective, since you’re ahead of us on this path. We’re still pretty ruthless about avoiding most popular purchases, and weeding out things we don’t use, but we definitely buy stuff and keep stuff if it adds value to our lives, especially if it lets us DO more stuff. We’re total doers, which we think will help us not suck at early retirement. :-)

  11. My husband and I both have hobbies that mean we collect things. So we’ll never be minimalists. That said, I like to think we can keep this stuff in check because clutter makes me anxious. As it is, I want another bookcase or display case to be space out my husband’s collectibles in the living room.

    I think what matters is mindful acquisition rather than mindless consumption. Sometimes I find we’re starting to lean too far toward the latter, so I go through and see what we can pare down. And get us back into the (mostly) no-buying mode.

    • It’s great that you’re able to self-adjust as needed. We also hate clutter, so never want stuff around just to have it. Like you said, it’s about being mindful about the stuff that adds value to your life, and avoiding purchasing all the rest.

  12. Hey Guys! Hope you’re doing well :) I hear ya about early morning flights – I have a couple coming up next month for work and not looking forward to it! We don’t really consider ourselves minimalists, but do like the lifestyle. I think what attracts us about it is how clutter-free and organized things appear. We continue to evaluate our possessions and if they are not used as much, we have no problems getting rid of it (and make money at it if we can resell it). Having less has made things easier for us – especially when it comes to packing up and moving. We still do not know if/when we will settle down in one place, so having less things to carry around with us as we move from one place to another, has been quite nice.

    • Hi! Good luck with your early flights — I’m about to go to bed at 9 pm on the east coast… not even end of day on the west! :-) That’s how tired I am.

      You’re so right that moving is such a pain, especially if you have too much stuff. It makes tons of sense for you guys to keep things to a minimum, at least for the time being — though that seems like it must be a challenge with the baby! Not that you guys would buy a ton of baby stuff and tons, but those things seem to come to you when you have a little one at home.

      • We were afraid about the ton of baby stuff too, but that is one advantage of not living close to our family and friends – we didn’t get much gifts and we didn’t have a baby registry :). So we were able to get the essentials and keep the baby things to a minimum as much as possible.

  13. Number one issue I have with having lots of possessions is maintenance, which you pointed out. I used to be anal about cleaning things to the point I was spending more time maintaining possessions than using them…. obviously consciousness and mindfulness can alleviate this issue. Another great post!

    • Thanks! We never want to be spending all of our time maintaining our gear and not actually using it, so that’s a balance we mostly but don’t always get right. Like right now, three of our bikes need service — d’oh. It’s all just trial and error. :-)

  14. I love the way you put it: “right-sizing.” For me, I tend toward the minimal. It helps that I don’t have many gear-intensive hobbies. I’ve never much had an attachment for things, and have prided myself for having so few possessions I could happily live out of a suitcase. I’ve also been told mine looks like a weird “serial-killer’s room” because I didn’t have any decorations anywhere / lived super Spartan? (I’ve since added a couple posters so in part so I don’t have to hear that again.) My partner on the other hand is super crafty and a bit of a packrat so stuff, stuff galore! Between the two of us, we make it work pretty balancedly.

    • We’ve envious of you for being naturally inclined toward minimalism! You’ll spend less, you’ll spare yourself the pain of decluttering, etc. (not counting your partner at least). No shame. :-)

  15. I am like you guys. I buy what I need and love, leaving the rest at the store.
    It is a happy medium between a nothingist and hoarder.

    Loved your post

  16. We moved into the RV full-time 2 years ago on a whim. Partly because we didn’t want to keep living where we were. I do miss a “home base” and we are on a quest to find where we want one. I like your idea of travel with a smaller unit. Sounds like the perfect set up offering tons of flexibility. Hauling all kinds of toys around all the time, is a hassle. And I’ll admit, I miss all my stuff in storage. A couple of small homes (one with wheels) sounds perfect to me :-)

    • So good to know your perspective, since you’re living the RV life. Thanks for that! Little house and little RV sounds like a great way to live. :-)

  17. Great post! I’ve been trying to be more minimalist, but many of the obstacles I face are the ones you mention here. Sigh! At least I have made some progress.

  18. “We’ll never be happy in a home that doesn’t give us room for a big, comfy, loungy couch to spread our lazy ass bodies out on.” I love it. That’s totally us, too. We have a ridiculously large (like, people say “woah” when they come into our basement large) sectional downstairs that we absolutely love. No sitting aloud while watching TV, only laying out on either end with Mr. FI and my toes barely touching and Russell in the middle. Pure bliss ;)

    As for being a maximalist or minimalist, we’re closer to your idea of minimalism then say, a hardcore minimalist’s. We try not to buy things we don’t need or won’t use regularly and we try and make as much as we can from scratch for food among other things, but we aren’t afraid to get a new appliance for the kitchen if it will make life easier or keep at least one car to make necessary (to us) road trips to the mountains.

    P.S. Do you can/make pickles? If so, our garden has kicked out an unreasonable amount of pickling cucumbers already and I’d love to pick your brain!

    • Hooray for giant couches!

      We haven’t made pickles! We can’t garden, and always find that pickling cucumbers are so expensive! So no good advice to offer — sorry!

  19. We are trying to purge our excess belongings, but I don’t think we could ever truly be minimalists. Some things it’s just cheaper to own. We tried renting kayaks, but found that it was more expensive than just buying our own & taking them out whenever we wanted.

    • That’s what we’ve found too! Some rentals are pricey, while the items you’re wanting to rent can be had for not that much on Craigslist. Some of it is mindset, too — if we have to go out and rent something, we’ll often just skip that activity altogether. But if we own it, then there’s no reason not to!

  20. I feel like you are writing exactly how I feel in this article. I have a long way to go to get my house and possessions in a state where I am happy with them (organized so that I can find the “just-in-case” supplies that I decide are worthy of keeping), but I will never be a true minimalist… and the comment about the couches… man, you should have seen my sister and I hanging out yesterday afternoon when we got back from my bachelorette weekend… we each had one of the couches and were in full-on lounge mode… My fiance laughed at us when he got home from work.

  21. I also have hobbies that require decent amounts of gear. Home brewing, fly tying, wood working, banjo playing (ok that just requires a banjo) but I don’t know that I could get really minimal without cutting out a lot of hobbies, and then it would feel forced and not as enjoyable. I could do a small house, but tiny house? Only if we end up with a vacation plot of land somewhere and then we would probably do VRBO to get some side cash from it. Like mentioned earlier – giant couches are awesome!

    • That’s our thinking, too — if we one day had a patch of land in the redwoods, that would be a marvelous place to put a tiny house that we use as a cabin and rent out the rest of the time.

  22. I know this post is much deeper than this – but inquiring minds want to know – do you own a pair of rock skis? Or do your resort skis count as that? I thought about unloading my rock board this year but I still haven’t…. :) I don’t have a backcountry/split board (that’s a down the road activity for when the kiddo gets older) but I have 3 and I feel ridiculous about it sometimes.

    • Ha. I didn’t until recently, but do now only because my last pair of resort skis became unsellable (system ski with loose bindings, and no fix for that). So rather than trash them when I got new (used) ones, I just kept ’em, and could now bust them out when it’s low tide. But I’ll confess… living in a ski town has made me way pickier about conditions, because I am spoiled, so I’m unlikely to even want to go out if there is that much sharkbite potential. And if you feel ridiculous about your number, know that I have 4 pairs, and Mr. ONL has 5 or 6. If snowboarding is a true love of yours, don’t worry about whether you have a few spares. ;-)