Starting the journey

My journey toward minimalism began with a tornado.

On Sunday, May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., destroying the homes of a few of my friends and changing their lives forever. I grew up near Joplin in nearby Baxter Springs, Kansas, which was also hit by a smaller EF2 tornado on Monday, April 28, 2014.

Not long after the the Joplin tornado, my wife and I went there to help in the cleanup. We helped people as they rummaged through the debris for what they could salvage from their former livelihood.

During that experience, I found something really striking about the people whose homes we helped clean: they didn’t care about most of their possessions. Instead, we ended up being on a mission to find that one family keepsake they wanted to salvage, or that couple of personal items that they hoped we could find in the wreckage.

After the cleanup, after I had time to think about all I had seen, it made me wonder: why do we keep so many things that we don’t think are exceptionally important?

Not long after that I stumbled across The Minimalists, a team of two friends who were enriching the world through their blog about a life of more substance and less things. I was intrigued, but not so much that I changed my life overnight. But it got me to think, and that’s always a good important first step.

Now we fast-forward to 2014. I look at my two children and their room, and I think I’m a guest on the TV show Hoarders. I realize how much children absorb from their parents. My life is no different. I have things in my home that I keep for nothing more than sentimental value but very little utility. I’ve coined my illness sentimental attachment disorderbecause every time I go to throw things away, I’m paralyzed. Maybe I should keep this because of the memories I have from it. What if I need this later? Shouldn’t I have a backup of this thing just in case? I would hate to just give it away or sell it, because I paid more for it and I’d lose money.

The excuses are endless for why we hold onto things.

And then, a sea change. The Minimalists came to Kansas City on April 24, 2014 for a tour of their latest book, Everything That Remains. Hearing them speak gave me a renewed sense of urgency. I need less things. I need more things of value. The most meaningful tactic they taught me was one sentence. That is to say, whenever you start to purchase something, or whenever you are trying to decide to keep something, ask yourself this question: Will this thing add value to my life?

They also offered a challenge; a 21-day one, in fact. Their 21-day challenge is where you get rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two, and so on, for 21 days. I started it in May of 2014 but didn’t finish for two reasons. First off, life got in the way and it became quite a chore to keep up consistently (I made it to day 12). But second, I found my sentimental attachment disorder getting in the way of getting rid of some items that I knew had to go.

This is where The Chaff comes in. I will continue my journey to minimalism through here and I hope you find some inspiration. Along the way, I will tell the story of the items I’m letting go for my own closure. In turn, I hope you find the strength to do the same if that’s your calling.

In the novel and film Fight Club, there’s a powerful line that sums up the problem with a personal obsession of the accumulation of stuff: “The things you own end up owning you.”

I have found this to be true, and frankly, I’m tired of it. I refuse to be a slave to my possessions and instead choose to pursue a more meaningful, rich and full life of experiences, relationships, and personal freedom.

Thank you for reading my story. Feel free to come along on my journey.

– EJG

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