My husband Randy has always been a minimalist. He was born and raised in Grosse Pointe, an affluent suburb of Detroit full of 1920’s mansions. His teen years were spent painting for many of the wealthy homeowners. He saw first hand that money and excessive consumption don’t create happiness.
At a young age, he proactively sought out a simple life.
In his early 20’s Randy backpacked the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails carrying his belongings on his back for both 6-month treks. Over the next decade, he brought only what could fit in the small bulkhead—food, water and shelter on his many solo kayaking trips. In his 30’s he rode his bicycle through 20,000 kilometers of southeast Asia with only the essentials stored in his bike panniers.
A simple life to Randy has always meant free time, solitude and nature.
When Randy and I met close to 20 years ago, I was a maximalist.
When I traveled, I bought souvenirs. If someone knocked on my door selling magazines, I signed up rather than experience the discomfort of saying no. If I didn’t feel like doing laundry, I ran to Ann Taylor or Gap to pick up an outfit for the next day.
And I talked and I talked and I talked. I’m an extravert with an insane amount of energy and I processed my thoughts out-loud, without pause, even if I was the only person in the room.
I asked Randy why he was drawn to me all those years ago. “You were complicated, but your light was bright,” he said.
Maybe he had secretly hoped he could turn me into a minimalist.
But it wasn’t Randy who did.
It was me. It was 3 years ago when I cold-turkey stopped buying things spontaneously. When I knew I had to get rid of the clutter in my life. When I started to realize that less is so much more.
What was the trigger? With a confident heart, I walked away from 20 years of corporate paychecks to take a risk—to try my hand at something that could potentially fill me in a way that no souvenir, magazine or outfit could.
I left my 20-year corporate career for a calling—and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I went back to school to become a functional medicine certified and then a national board-certified health & wellness coach.
With my last paycheck in the bank, it hit me that I had spent the last 2 decades busy distracting myself by consuming people, places and things solely because I was so utterly unfulfilled in my career. There were bright and interesting moments woven throughout the 20 years, but they were much too infrequent.
I had climbed the ladder and had the title, the international travel, and the best cube in the row and was told I should be happy. I knew I was fooling everyone, but myself.
Office politics had so stunted my creativity that even my husband, our two boys, and all my friends couldn’t fill the holes this fact left in me. As I went through the motions of my day-to-day I took out my credit card over and over again to buffer myself from the gnawing feeling that I should be doing something different, something more, with my life.
Leaving corporate shook me wide awake. I wanted my new business to be a success. I had zero time for distractions that involved me pulling out my credit card just because. Not spending money felt weird at first and I stumbled a bit. But out of necessity, I needed to embrace it. Learning the skill of leaving my credit card in my wallet is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
Today instead of shopping I schedule in white space. Over the last three years, I’ve seen a connection between solitude and success. I’m still an enthusiastic extravert, but one who relishes the quiet time to be able to think and come up with ideas. I talk, but I also listen. I’m figuring out this entrepreneur thing and while it’s challenging, it’s also exhilarating to be able to create the life I want to live.
I used to think I wanted one of those beautiful Grosse Pointe mansions. Today, I know without a doubt, that I don’t. I love my 1300 square foot happy and healthy home. With my sights focused on making a meaningful difference, I no longer look to my boys, my husband or my credit card to fill my holes.
I like Randy’s definition of a simple life.
But I like my definition as well.
A simple life to me means a full life focused on what matters most—appreciating simple backyard moments with Randy and the boys, igniting my personal evolution and growth, and making a lasting difference among other middle-aged women who are open to getting rid of their own clutter so that they can create a body and life they love.
What does a simple life mean to you?
About the Author: Heather Aardema is a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach living in Colorado with her husband and two grade-school boys. You can find more of her essays focused on growing healthy and living fully at RootofWellbeing.com.